Dark Cloud - Review

Good Enough

By: Traks

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 6
   Plot 8
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

35 - 50 hours


Title Screen

   When Sony released the Playstation 2, three mediocre RPGs were released with it. These games were Orphen, Summoner, and Eternal Ring. For a while, RPGers who owned the Playstation 2 had only these three, poor titles to chose from (if they wanted a Fourth Generation game, that is). However, this soon changed when the SCEI-developed RPG Dark Cloud was released on May 30, 2001.

   When people first started playing Dark Cloud, they noticed that elements within it borrowed heavily from other games' elements. For example, the battle system is nearly identical to Zelda 64, except with hit points. You press a button to lock-on to the enemy, then press the attack button several times to execute a combo. With this battle system, timing is everything. Knowing how enemies move and attack is critical to staying unharmed. While not very original, the battle system in Dark Cloud certainly works.

   While the battle system is all peaches and cream, the actual gameplay is somewhat lacking. Your characters move incredibly slowly within the dungeons, which are gargantuan. The giant dungeons are randomly-generated, and have monsters, treasure chests, Atla, and healing springs sprinkled througout. Atla are the building blocks of the world, which needs to be rebuilt (like in Legend of Mana). Whenever you strike a monster, your weapon degrades (like in SaGa Frontier II), and the only way to recover them while in a dungeon is by using an item. As for the humongous caves and temples, there is an item that makes your character run faster. Luckily, items are easy to come across. However, opening and closing the status screen all the time becomes tedious. The menus within, though, are easily navigated and not confusing. There is weapon customization like that found in Vagrant Story, but much more simple. While Dark Cloud borrows the poor gameplay elements from bad games, it meshes them together in a working way that makes the game fun to play.

Get 'im, Toan!
Show him who's boss!  

   While the actual music in the game is repetitous and boring (as you hear, for example, the dungeon music for hours on end), the sound is very dynamic overall. When you near an enemy, the wandering dungeon music changes to a sinister battle music. The enemy footsteps echo in empty corridors. Swords clang and skeletons rattle. Your weapons make a clean swoosh as they swing through the air. Unfortunately, the music is such that you'll want to have the sound off as to avoid not going insane.

   Dark Cloud is very original in terms of gameplay. Plot, however, is another story. Dungeons to get from Point A to Point B are 20 levels deep and take several hours to complete. This hinders the plot, but not necessarily the gameplay. Several dungeons have their own little side-story. For example, the Sunken Ship dungeon tells a tale of two lovers separated for years. The way the dungeons are put together limit the amount of story you can see in each town, and it keeps the events in order in a good way. Quite possible Dark Cloud's greatest and most original feature is the ability to go anywhere by simply selecting it on the map. Dark Cloud has no boring wandering from place to place just to buy some potions, since you can just select the town on the map, open up a sub-screen, move a cursor, and end up where you want to be. This system eliminates much of the monotony found in other games.

   One doesn't encounter much of the main plot for the first 85% of the game. This isn't a hindrance, though, as there are many good things going on as well. Even though Dark Cloud is a dungeon crawl, the characters have much depth. At least, a fraction of them do. Two of the characters are only there to help you advance in the dungeons. The other characters are developed have good characterization. The main plot is not dealt with until the final dungeon, but it tells an excellent story in a unique way.

   The localization is very good. The only noticible mistakes are of R and L: once you hear the name Muska Racka, next you hear Muska Lacka. Other than that, speech is coherent and text is errorless.

Gaffer's Buggy
Gaffer's Buggy  

   Dark Cloud isn't a game you're going to sit down and play ten times over. While the weapon customization is fun, and fighting isn't a bore, by the end of the game you've had enough. There is an optional 100-floor dungeon that you can go through after you beat the game. There is an ultimate weapon for each character. However, all these things are accessible the first time through, so replaying is only an option for those who really want to.

This game makes excellent use of the Playstation 2 hardware. The visuals are excellent. Colors are bright and vibrant. Enemies move naturally. The big, fat antagonist jiggles realistically. Story scenes are simply gorgeous. The best graphics in Dark Cloud come from the site distance. You can see incredibly far in the towns and dungeons in this game. This eliminates the pop-up seen in countless Playstation titles.

You won't be crying with frustration when you try to play this game. At no point will you throw your controller to the floor and scream at the TV. When a character dies, you can leave the dungeon (and lose half of your money) or you can change to a different character. In fact, I doubt there even is a "Game Over" screen in Dark Cloud, since you can just leave the dungeon if all the characters die. The enemies aren't impossible, but they're not mind-numbingly easy, either. The bosses could've been a little bit bigger and more threatening (like in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), but they work just fine.

Gunna make some snake jerky.
An action-oriented scene.  

If you take your time, like I did, when you play Dark Cloud, you'll probably finish within forty hours. If you want to do the insane 100-layer dungeon, then you'll probably put that number up to fifty hours. If maxing out each character with their strongest equipment is your thing, it'll probably take you another ten hours. This game is long enough to when you're glad its over, but not so long that you feel like it is your life.

While this game was "good enough" to make me finish it, it wasn't good enough to make me want to play it again within the next year. Playing Dark Cloud won't make you feel like you wasted your time, but it certainly won't make you feel that your life is changed, either.

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