Dark Cloud 2 - Reader Re-Retroview  

A Lighter Dark Cloud
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

30-50 Hours
+ Solid weapon system.
+ Good soundtrack.
+ Excellent visuals.
- Feels way too drawn-out.
- Terrible story.
- Embarrassing voicework.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Before the Playstation 2, Level-5 wasn't a household name when it came to RPGs, only starting to come into the spotlight when they produced Dark Cloud, one of the first titles for the system. Almost immediately afterward, the company began developing a sequel to the game, giving it a cel-shaded look that would be part of most of its future titles (and which the original game would have had if not for Sony rushing its development). Known to most of the world as Dark Chronicle but only to North America as Dark Cloud 2, the sequel features many improvements over its predecessor. Certainly, it does have its flaws, such as a general "kiddy" feel, but is nonetheless an enjoyable romp and feather in Level-5's cap.

   Rather than opening with a terrorist bombing or an ancient evil vowing to return in a millennium, Dark Cloud 2 begins in a fashion that puts all other RPGs to shame: with a circus coming to town. Maximilian, a spoiled rich kid whose mother is suspiciously missing and who likes to invent stuff for a living, decides to attend said circus, managing to overhear the town's corrupt mayor talking with the circus ringleader, who believes a mysterious object of wonder that Max just so happens to have is in the town, Palm Brinks. After escaping through the city's sewers, which for some reason are randomly-generated, Max encounters a girl from the future named Monica, who wishes to avenge her father (and has another mysterious object of wonder the villains seek), and with whom he joins to put a stop to a supposedly-evil emperor named Griffon.

   While Max is escaping through the sewers of Palm Brinks, players will immediately notice the game's methodical nature, much akin to the original. Every dungeon consists of a number of randomly-generated (and magically regenerating, to boot) areas, where the player must kill a certain enemy to obtain a key needed to advance to the next floor. This time, the sequel rewards players with medals for fulfilling conditions such as killing every enemy in a certain time, successfully playing a satanic golf incarnate known as Spheda, and killing every enemy using only one of Max or Monica's weapons. Things from the first game such as trapped/locked treasure chests return, along with new features such as spinning medals that can have a positive or negative effect on the active character.

You honor me by giving me gas! Propane and propane accessories

   Most of the player's time, however, will likely be spent fighting enemies populating these dungeons, with many elements of the original game's battle system returning, such as real-time battle mode activating whenever the player draws near enemies, along with the ability to lock-on enemies to fix the camera and active character on them. While the first Dark Cloud featured six different characters with one type of weapon each, its sequel drops that down to two characters, each with a melee and ranged weapon, not to mention an additional power such as Max's giant fighting robot that the player can customize outside of battle with different parts and weapons, and Monica's monster-changing ability, at one point necessary to advance the main storyline, but generally useless otherwise.

   All enemies have some kind of strength/weakness to Max and Monica's arsenal of weapons, with the player able to buy a book that mercifully keeps track of all this stuff, should they have to fight the same enemy types again, and which adds some semblance of strategy to combat. Once either hero kills enemies, they drop a bunch of blue balls that upgrade the weapon that they used in the killing blow. Interestingly, during this time, the player can switch characters/forms so that another character/form will receive the balls. In the case of weapons, collecting enough of said balls levels them up, in which case they gain a certain number of points for upgrades.

   The actual means of upgrading weapons is different in the sequel than in the original. Instead of having to use gem attachments to upgrade weapons, the player must instead "spectrumize" a certain number of a type of item to create a Synth Sphere that consumes a number of skill points based on how many of that item was used to create the Sphere, and increases a particular stat by a certain amount. Like in the original game, however, the player can upgrade weapons to more powerful forms after increasing specific stats by a certain amounts, and repeat the process as often as desired, although eventually, the player must kill specific kinds of enemies with that weapon to access more powerful forms.

   Outside battle, moreover, Max can photograph various objects to use as ideas for inventions (with three ideas being necessary to unveil each invention), which require a certain amount of raw materials to create. Actual combinations of ideas are found occasionally in the world, with invention also sometimes being necessary to advance the storyline. Finally, increasing Max and Monica's max HP and defense requires items sprinkled across the future versions of simulation areas as the player rebuilds each town. All in all, combat is fairly enjoyable, with weapon-building being the most enjoyable aspect, with only a few minor hiccups such as the camera, which can sometimes go berserk if the player is fighting multiple enemies or close to walls.

Time to rap Robot boombox

   The simulation aspect that defined the original game returns to the sequel in a different form, with several areas the player must rebuild to advance the storyline. The player obtains rebuilding objectives and blueprints for various objects such as buildings, trees, and so forth, from Geostones in dungeon areas. Each area to rebuild, moreover, has a "future" version that gradually shows itself as the player fulfills reconstruction objectives in the present, with treasure chests containing HP and defense-increasing items, and maybe some other goodies, popping up as well. Sometimes, fulfilling reconstruction objectives might require NPCs (one of which the player can also bring along in dungeons for a certain effect) the player can obtain after fulfilling various conditions, although finding recruitable NPCs in the first place may require a guide.

   Other areas of interaction are better than in the original; for instance, inventory space is far more generous, given the introduction of stackable items, and the player can both pause and skip cutscenes, which are more common than in the original. Despite this, the sequel feels fairly drawn out, given the repetitive nature of the dungeons, and the constant need to scour future areas for new items to increase Max and Monica's maximum HP and defense. Thus, some sort of indicator as to where said chests were would have been nice and saved the player some time. Overall, the interface is okay, although there are some parts that could have been better.

   Dark Cloud 2 features a number of twists on the original's dungeons, simulation, and combat, to make it feel more distinct, such as the medals rewarded for fulfilling certain conditions while exploring each area, the deeper nature of simulation, Max's customizable robot, both characters' dual-weapon-wielding, and so forth. The sequel does retain plenty from its predecessor, though, to feel like a logical continuation of the franchise, and the plot is a little derivative, but still has enough features to feel somewhat differently from most other RPGs.

   The story, though, definitely doesn't enhance the sequel's feeling of uniqueness, very well lending the impression that its writers watched a little too much Star Wars, played one too many other RPGs, and decided to steal ideas from them piecemeal. Many tired film and RPG elements are here: the heroes with the mysterious objects of wonder the villains desperately seek, the rebellion against the evil emperor (who ironically doesn't exactly have an "empire"), villains with tragic pasts, long-lost family, time travel, revenge, and so forth. The plot is also maddening in its utter reluctance to paint anyone as a true adversary, since just about anyone that the heroes fight is canonized somehow. The plot is definitely deeper than that in the first game, yet very much puts quantity over quality, and is easily the sequel's nadir.

Take the treasure and die When evil treasure chests attack

   Not helping the plot is the voice acting, which has a very cartoony feel and can make the story scenes embarrassing to watch, especially if others are in the same room as the player. Some of the voices are also miscast; for instance, Max sounds more like a teenage Michael J. Fox than a young boy, and many nonhuman characters sound decisively human. The soundtrack, however, is definitely a step above that in the first game, for instance, with the battle music, which is as with before the most common track, being far better, even changing in the last dungeon, and other tracks having some kind of catchy interlude and sticking well within the player's head. All in all, the voicework definitely won't win any awards, but full marks do go to the music.

   As would be the case with Level-5's productions onward, Dark Cloud 2 features nice-looking cel-shaded visuals, with bright, colorful characters and environments. There are some minor imperfections such as occasional bland texturing when scenery is close to the camera, but otherwise, the graphics come pretty close to perfection.

   Finally, the sequel is about forty hours long, with things such as collecting every medal for every dungeon floor and an extra post-game dungeon boosting playing time well beyond that point. Ultimately, Dark Cloud 2 is a solid sequel that improves upon most aspects of the original, what with solid combat, music, and visuals, even if it's not without its shortcomings such as its story and general "kiddy" feel. As such, it might not be the kind of title most gamers would feel comfortable playing if living with others, let along sharing with friends and family, although it definitely has much going for it, and is very much worth a look.

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