Dark Cloud 2 Review
Where Past, Present, and Future Collide
Sequels have much more to live up to, compared to the usual stand-alone title. It is often difficult to meet or exceed this hype. However, when it comes to Dark Cloud 2, the expectation of an exciting title is thoroughly fulfilled. Through its energized battle system, unique gameplay, and appealing graphics, this title stands out as a rare gem.
As an action-oriented RPG complete with randomly generated dungeon levels, Dark Cloud 2 would fall apart without its appealing battle system. Maximillian and Monica, the two playable characters, are each equipped with a melee weapon (Wrench/Hammer and Sword respectively) in addition to a ranged weapon (Gun and Brassier). This allows for greater choice of attack patterns without the annoyance of swapping characters, as in the original Dark Cloud.
Further strategy is in building up each character’s ultimate weapon. Instead of having Max or Monica gaining experience and levels, their weapons do. At each level up, a weapon’s stats increase slightly; this will eventually bring weapons to a higher incarnation, but only through synthesizing can a weapon attain great levels. Common or rare items — nearly every item in the game — may be broken down, or “synthesized”, and then forged into the weapon, adding new strength or elements, depending upon what was added. Once all the required stats for the new weapon are fulfilled, the weapon may be “Built Up”, allowing more power and higher stat maximums.
Although Max and Monica do not level up, rare items may be found, which cannot be purchased in stores. These increase their hit points and defense values. Additionally, each of the duo has a unique talent: Max controls the Ridepod (affectionally nicknamed Steve) and Monica transforms using Monster Badges (of which 12 may be collected). Both have important uses both in battle and in advancing the plot. The two skills become more important as they are also part of goals set for each dungeon level. Medals may be obtained if an RPGamer can successfully defeat a level and do so meeting certain conditions. This may be a time limit, using only one weapon, using the Ridepod or a Monster Transformation, catching the biggest fish, or successfully shooting a game of Spheda. Medals will later on be traded in for outfits for the characters; this isn’t a necessary part of the game in the least, but it is an enjoyable one.
The story of Dark Cloud 2 is average, not being the high point of the game. Much of it is told as if Max were writing a letter to his mother, making the dialogue occasionally confusing. Also, while the story can easily suck anyone in, it is unfortunately overly predictable. To redeem itself, the story is spread out well between each dungeon, and often between each floor. Every Georama has its own tale to tell, spurring you on towards building the present, and restoring the future.
In comparison, the interface is solid and easy to get used to. Without the straight-forward menus and interactive help system, quick progress would be nearly impossible. One of the best aspects of it is the Georama menu. Once the reconstruction of origin points begins, the menu is used quite often. Separated into subsections, the menus help keep track of what can be built, what needs to be built, and even what colors everything can be painted.
On the downside, this menu is only available in specific areas — it would have been a bonus to access it at all times, since goals to rebuilding the Georamas are not necessarily easily remembered. Also added but rather unnecessary are multiple paths to the same goal in the main menu. Much of this repetition could have been replaces with a more efficient sort function.
Dark Cloud 2 pulls much from its predecessor, and had not new sidequests and a mini-game been added, it would have been for the poorer. Fortunately, even the fishing game was spruced up, complete with new goals and contests. In the end, however, it offers an average modicum of true originality. To its credit, it is often difficult to tell whether more originality would have made any vast improvements.
A pleasant change from the original Dark Cloud was its music and sound. What in all truth could be an annoying circus-type “ditty”, for example, ends up being one of the catchier tunes. The sound effects in battle are also entertaining. It is hard to resist chuckling at some of the cries of surprise of Max or Monica, or the squeal of the Pixie enemy dying. There is little, if anything, that grates on the ears — with perhaps the exception of Steve’s voicebox.
Graphically, Dark Cloud 2 is breathtaking. While not realistic like Final Fantasy X, it still manages to convey a variety of emotion and expression. This is helped by a great display of voice acting talent. There are a handful of instances where Monica’s grand gestures or Max’s speeches don’t quite match up to the conversation; little of it is overtly noticeable unless it is specifically looked for. Aside from a few capitalization flubs and the minor confusion with some of Max’s dialogue, it is easy to follow the progression of the characters in their quest.
Expect to spend about 50 to 70 hours on Dark Cloud 2. Even more time can be spent perfecting weapons, fishing skills, or that impossible Spheda swing. With this, an RPGamer could put in upwards of 100 hours and still be enjoying themselves. As a result of this long playthrough, coupled with the somewhat weak story and little surprises left to uncover, Dark Cloud 2 bears little replay value. It is a game that certainly cannot be beaten in one sitting, but unlike titles like Chrono Trigger, there is no New Game +, and in the end no real need for one either.
Without a doubt, it is definitely challenging to make it to the final showdown. There is no real way to over-level, so brainless force will not win the day as is possible in many other games. Judicious weapon synthesizing as well as heavy experimentation with inventions and/or Monica’s monster forms can certainly help, but only grit and an eye for strategic battle planning will get an RPGamer through to the last stand to save the past, present, and future of the planet.
In the end, the good points heavily outweigh the negatives, and Dark Cloud 2 is definitely worth more than just a once-over. It is truly a pity that it is much overlooked, being released amidst a trio of well publicized PlayStation 2 games (.hack, Breath of Fire V, Xenosaga), for it certainly matches, if not surpasses the offerings any other title at this time provides.