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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

RPG

 

Publisher

SCEA

 

Developer

Level 5

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q1 2003

 

 

- Lighthearted, fun story

- Nice visuals

- Great voice acting

- Building up weapons

- Well balanced city building

- Challenging enemies

- Lots of mini games

 

 

- Some control issues

- Some music feels out of place

- Some of the mini game rewards are hardly worth the trouble

 

 

Review: Dark Cloud (Playstation 2)

Review: Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (PC)

Review: Throne of Darkness (PC)

 

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Dark Cloud 2

Score: 8.0 / 10

After playing this game the first thing that jumped to mind for me was the saying, ďThe more things change, the more they stay the same.Ē  This could not be truer in regards to Dark Cloud 2.  Visually the game is absolutely stunning with its use of cel shading in comparison to the presentation used in the first game.  A longer quest, and a plethora of mini games also help to give the sense that this is a very different experience from the original Dark Cloud.  But not so, as the core, fundamental way in which the first Dark Cloud worked is still the core, fundamental way Dark Cloud 2 works.  Thatís just fine, however, as the end result is more fun hack and slash action through randomly generated dungeons with engaging puzzle-like town building on top.  

dark-cloud-2-ps2-1.jpg (30554 bytes)          dark-cloud-2-ps2-2.jpg (66580 bytes)

Every now and then a game will come along that tries to play like a Saturday morning cartoon with its visuals, especially now that everyone and their mother seems to want to cram some cel shading into their title.  Dark Cloud 2 has really hit the nail on the head with this.  The textured cel shading looks really nice, the way the colors play off of each other, the character and monster design, the motifs of the dungeons and cities, they all have a whimsical, fantasy air to them.  With some nice lighting effects and very smooth animation, even with a number of enemies in close proximity, the visual appeal of Dark Cloud 2 is hard to resist.

The sound on the other hand is a bit sketchier.  The sound effects are fine and dandy, but the music needs some work.  The composition of the tunes is fine, but where the songs are placed in the game feels a little off.  Thereís plenty of dungeons where the music thatís being played in them feels like something more appropriate for a calm, peaceful village.  I want music that will make me want to pummel monsters left and right, or at least something full of mystery and whimsy.  Thankfully there are still plenty of dungeons whose music does feel appropriate, more than making up for the others.  Dark Cloud 2 is a shining example of how games need more varied battle music instead of the same song over and over, however.  The piece used here is fine the first few times you hear it, but it gets old fast.  If there were three or four different songs that loaded up at random it wouldnít be so bad, but as it stands the repetitive, aggravating battle music in the game only encourages players to hustle in finishing a fight so the bloody tune will hurry up and go away.  Surprisingly, the voice acting is very good in the game.  The voices sound just right for each character and thereís no sign of poor acting anywhere.  If only more games were like this.

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The story itself is a wonderfully lighthearted affair.  A villain by the name of Emperor Griffon is making points in history disappear and it falls upon the gameís heroes, Max and Monica, to set things right by rebuilding the world and traveling through time.  Along their journeys thereís a number of little stories in each town that are quite entertaining, not to mention large portions of the storyís plot is told as a letter from Max to his long missing mother.  The story never tries to take itself too seriously, instead simply trying to provide a fun ride and succeeding in this task.   

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Once you sink your teeth into the game and log a good number of hours on it, the potential depth and scope of what players can do is truly impressive.  The main quest itself is already a long, involved affair, but with a number of mini games thrown in the size of the game gets a whole lot bigger.  Just like the first game players have the option to go fishing for fun and profit.  Once you get a handle on managing the tension on the fishing line pulling in a catch becomes very easy.  Adding a new element to the whole fishing experience is the ability to keep your fish and raise them in aquariums as pets or for racing.  Itís not too simplified, nor is it overly complicated, landing it right in a happy middle ground for those who just canít get enough of these animal/monster/you name it raising games.  Most hit and miss of the mini games, though, is Spheda, a golf game, which can be played on a floor of a dungeon upon clear it of all the monsters there.  Some of the dungeons are an absolute nightmare to navigate as they are more course hazard than they are golf course with all manner of difficult obstacles out to make it nearly impossible to complete the course.  Even more frustrating is that the prizes won for getting the ball in the whole vary an awful lot.  For the sheer trouble it takes to win a round of Spheda it is a huge let down to get some sort of potion or another equally lackluster item.  If the prizes were largely new weapons, gems, and the like it would make the game a lot more pleasurable.  But despite the downsides, thereís a lot of satisfaction to be had when you win at Spheda if only for completing such arduous courses.  Not so much a mini game is Maxís ability to invent things, then build them with raw materials.  Near the start of the game Max is given a camera which he can use to take pictures of things that may give him some ideas for inventions as well as collecting scoops for one of the games characters, Donny, resulting in various goodies as rewards.  There are lots of items to invent with hints at items scattered throughout the world.  You can try guessing at things to make, but this is a real crapshoot and likely to wind up being a huge waste of time.  Nonetheless, learning how to make new things is very useful, especially if your out in the field and need a specific item, donít have it, but you do have the materials to make it on the spot.   The best thing about these mini games is that they don't distract from the main quest, they're there if you want them, but easily ignored if you want to keep on plunging ahead.

dark-cloud-2-ps2-3.jpg (44028 bytes)         dark-cloud-2-ps2-4.jpg (36058 bytes)

Navigating through the game is generally straightforward.  The controls are very intuitive, feeling natural at all times.  Players can lock onto individual enemies to attack, and switching between close up melee and ranged attacks with ease.  The one problem with the gameís controls comes from being able to switch between Max and Monica by pressing down on the L3 button.  Unfortunately this is also the directional lever on the Dual Shock 2 that controls the charactersí movement.  There have been many times in the heat of battle that Iíve accidentally pressed down on the L3 while trying to dodge enemies resulting in a character being called up that I didnít want to use.  This problem could have been easily avoided by assigning this character switching hot key to one of the shoulder buttons, but that isnít even a choice in the options menu.  Itís a very unfortunate, and glaring fault in the Dark Cloud 2ís control scheme.

Still, it isnít enough to ruin the core gameplay of the title.  Searching through one random dungeon after the next, hoping to find treasure of one sort or another, all the while hacking and blasting away on all sorts of enemies is great.  More importantly, itís very challenging.  The enemies in Dark Cloud 2 wonít go easy on you for a minute so it becomes important to learn their attack habits early on or youíll be restarting from save points frequently.  Blocking, dodging, and carrying lots of healing items are key to performing well in combat here.  When going through the dungeons players can also choose from branching paths at times, but unfortunately they donít provide any non-linearity since youíll be forced back to complete the other path in order to perform some mandatory task or another anyway.  The selectable fighting characters all bring something useful to the table.  Max has a slow attack, but it does a good job of penetrating armor and dishing out high levels of damage, while Monica is all about the finesse with smooth, flowing sword strokes.  On top of this players have access to the Ridepod, a large robot piloted by Max capable of dealing high amounts of damage against larger enemies.  Thereís no real set order to use these characters in, but they each serve a distinct purpose and devising a strategy as for how best to use them is very rewarding.  We also see the return of the highly addictive leveling up of weapons, building them up into newer, shinier bringers of destruction.  A big part of the fun in Dark Cloud 2 is building up a weapon to see what it turns into.  

dark-cloud-2-ps2-5.jpg (37611 bytes)         dark-cloud-2-ps2-6.jpg (31588 bytes)

The Georama portion of the game (aka the city building) is thankfully a lot more forgiving than it was in the original.  Unlike the first game where you needed to fulfill very strict guidelines in order to make everyone in the town happy, in Dark Cloud 2 building and item placement is a lot more open to interpretation.  However, adding a degree of challenge is the need to find the raw materials to make the different things that must be planted in the city youíre trying to rebuild, be it plants, buildings, landmarks or whatever.  Thankfully these materials can be found in the dungeons, but for those who want them quickly a few characters in the game sell the them so you can get back to fixing a city right away (assuming you have enough gold for the materials).

What we have here is a sequel that retains all that made the original an entertaining romp, while adding a whole lot more to fatten it up.  There are a few sticking points that prove to be nuisances, but they arenít nearly bad enough to ruin the game.  There isnít a lot of action RPGs on the PS2, so if youíre looking for a new game in the genre Dark Cloud 2 is definitely one to check out.

- Mr. Nash

(April 6 2003)

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