Dark Cloud 2
(the Japanese, and therefore "awesomer" title: Dark Chronicle) is the long-awaited sequel to the original Dark Cloud
, still published by Sony
. It comes on DVD-ROM
with fairly nice cover art
. The manual is full-color and fairly informative. Of course, you probably don't care about what's on the outside, so...
I guess the first place to start is with the graphics. Since Jet Set Radio, it seems that nearly every game is cell shaded. Often the results are mediocre, but in Dark Cloud 2, the results are amazing. Everything is bright, colorful, and very fluid. If you're thinking Zelda, you're wrong. The characters and environments look much more like paper dolls than anything else. Since it is a Playstation 2 game, it does suffer from a few jaggies, but the clean on-screen images let you ignore them fairly easily. If you buy your games for eye candy, this game is a winner.
The sound effects are nice, and the music is top-notch. I really can't stress how absolutely appropriate the music is. No, it isn't Final Fantasy fully-orchestrated music, but it often "fits" much more naturally. Additionally, all cut scenes include voice acting. Allay your fears and repeat, "Resident Evil was a bad, bad dream." The lip synch is non-existent, but the acting is amazing. Speech is clear, not spoken too quickly, and natural. Regardless of what the characters are talking about, the conversation always sounds like two people speaking, not two people reading scripts.
Of course, good graphics and sound only constitute a small part of a good game. Thus comes the gameplay. Dark Cloud 2 primarily consists of dungeon diving. Each large area consists of many, many smaller dungeons. Combat is real-time (e.g. Secret of Mana, Kingdom Hearts) with a very capable lock-on system. Both characters have a melee and a ranged weapon. Weapons have their own hit points (Weapon Hit Points or WHP) and will break if not repaired with special items. However, it takes quite a bit of attacking to actually deplete a weapon's WHP, and the repair items are relatively abundant even in the early game. Also, instead of characters gaining levels, weapons gain levels. They have their own statistics which grow after defeating enemies. When a weapon levels up, it receives synthesis points. Every item in the game can be "spectrumized" (the item is lost, but a synthesis item is created) and then combined with the weapon, increasing certain stats. For example, a bone will increase a weapon's Exorcism (damage vs. undead), while fishing bait will increase a weapon's Beast (damage vs. natural monsters). After increasing the right stats, a weapon can be upgraded into a more powerful version. Usually this only involves a stat boost, but sometimes the upgrade can include special abilities, such as item stealing and health draining. Overall, combat is challenging but possible. Be warned that the final dungeon is brutal.
For combat, you also get the Ridepod (Max) and monster transformations (Monica). They can be upgraded in unique manners, and often they can make a tough fight much easier. They're also important for another interesting part of the dungeon experience: medal collecting. If you complete certain tasks (record time for clearing a dungeon and completing the dungeon with only one specified weapon type), you win medals. Medals can be traded in at a later time for special items, though none are pertinant to the game.
If you played Dark Cloud, you know that there's another huge part to the game: Georama. With Georama, you take elements found in the dungeon (or bought from merchants) and build a town. Some Georama is necessary, but completely rebuilding a town results in a special gift. The system is usually intuitive, and the objectives are always clear (up until the last town...). You find out exactly what must be done in a town by collecting Geo Stones, usually one from each dungeon. Since you build towns, you also need to populate them. You recruit individuals from the first town by completing a variety of tasks. Most tasks are fairly easy, but they are all different and usually fun. Once you place your townspeople, you can buy items from them.
And minigames. What could we do without minigames? There's fishing, fish-racing, and dungeon golf. That's right. Dungeon golf. It's called Spheda, but it's golf through and through. These games are addictive. You have been warned.
That pretty much wraps up Dark Cloud 2. I could go on about the story, but it's not really the focus of the game. The plot is logical but hokey. Basically, it's a pre-adolescent fantasy. Still, the plot matures at times and really shines. If you have played the game and think I'm way off, keep in mind that I'm currently playing Xenosaga Episode I, another node. Over anything else, the game is fun. I finished it in about 60 hours, but that does not include the eighth and final chapter. If you have a PS2 and you even remotely like the action RPG genre, you need to pick up a copy of this game. With a launch price of $39.99 in the US, you really can't go wrong.
Okay, I went through the entire game in 85 hours or so. However, this just gives me more time for the mini-games that I ignored. I'll be brief.
Spheda Spheda is dungeon golf. That's all there is to it. You use one of several clubs, each with different hitting characteristics, to hit the spheda ball into the dimensional rift, otherwise known as a hole. You line up the shot, then you get to build power. The slider goes all the way to the left (the farther left, the more powerful the shot), then it will bounce back to the right. There's a small area on the guage where you need to stop the slider in order to get an accurate hit. The more powerful clubs generally have smaller strike zones. Also, you can move the left analog stick either up (topspin, makes the ball move forward after it lands), down (backspin, keeps the ball from moving when it lands), right (slice, ball goes to the left when you hit it), and left (hook, ball goes to the right when you hit it). Some of the shots are very, very tricky. Some are simply impossible, apparently due to some design mistakes. This game is fairly fun and moderately frustrating
Fishing Fishing is just what you think it is. Get a pole, some bait, and some water, then fish. You get to choose from a wide variety of baits, each which catches different kinds of fish. Basically you cast with your fishing rod and wait until a fish bites. Once a fish bites, you pull down on the left control stick and press x to set the hook. From then on, all you have to do is reel it in. The faster you reel in, the more tension your line has. You can relieve tension by not reeling and by pressing left or right when the fish changes directions (indicated by nice, big arrows). For every fish you catch, you get the fish as well as fishing points (FP). You use FP to raise your rod's stats. The better the stats, the better the fish, the faster you reel them in. About halfway through the game, you can get a rod that uses lures. This is far, far more effective for catching fish than the fishing rod. However, you actually have to move the lures, unlike the bait which can catch fish just sitting there. Fishing is more addictive than anything, as it tends to get boring quickly.
Fishing Contest You catch fish for the contest. The highest total weight wins. These contests occur at regular intervals, occurring once every twelve in-game days. You can enter up to ten fish for the contest, but all must be caught as-is; you can't raise them in the tank. You get a variety of prizes depending on how you place. If you've built up your rods, you'll stand a good chance at winning.
Finny Frenzy Level 5 realized that the Pokemon-esque collecting minigames drive people nuts, so they included it here. Basically, you catch fish, put them in your aquarium, then feed them accordingly. Different baits give fish different statistics. After going through all this trouble, you enter them into the Fenny Frenzy contest. Like the fishing contest, Finny Frenzy occurs every twelve days (three days of no contest, three days of fishing, three days of no contest, three days of Finny Frenzy, and so on) You race your fish against other fish. It's completely based on stats and the preparation tank you put your fish in. The various tanks determine how your fish will act in the race, from all-out up-front speed, to a last-minute burst. Finny Frenzy is amazingly frustrating. I have fish with low 40s in all important stats (the max is 100), and they simply can't win above the entry-level contest. However, you need to win at least once in order to get a certain townsperson to join your party.