Dark Cloud 2 Review
2003 is definitely the year of the RPG. With games like Xenosaga and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter shipping to stores, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find time to sleep. Dark Cloud, one of the top-selling action/RPGs released in the United States is finally getting a sequel. Simply titled Dark Cloud 2, the sequel will take gamers on a journey that's both faster and slower; longer, and at times, more tedious.
Dark Cloud 2 is everything the first game was and more...and less. See, it has many improvements, like faster battles, an expanded weapon-building system, cooler magic spells and more attack commands. It also has a new, silly-looking (but fun to use) robotic contraption called the Ridepod. Dark Cloud 2 also includes many annoyances that were not present in the first game, such as a longer, cheesier storyline; dorkier characters; and voice-overs that are so traumatizing you'll think you were watching an episode of Blues Clues.
After the horrendously long intro (which, thankfully, can be skipped by pressing Start and then the triangle button), Dark Cloud 2 sends the main character, Maximilian, to an underground water channel. This channel is more or less a rehash of the underwater dungeon from the first Dark Cloud. The dungeon randomly generates new paths every time you enter, so while it stays the same aesthetically, it feels like a new level almost every time you play through it.
Seven areas must be explored before you can exit the first dungeon, giving gamers enough time to become familiar (or re-familiarize themselves) with the awesome combat system. As expected, Dark Cloud 2 is the closest thing you'll get to having The Legend of Zelda on PlayStation 2. Max moves a little faster than the lead character from the first game, though his weapon is a bit weaker. The weapon he uses is a (drum roll please) wrench. Not just any wrench though -- a "battle" wrench. If you have the same confused look on your face that Dr. Evil frequently had in Austin Powers 2, you're not alone. The wrench is forgivable though, and believe it or not, this isn't the reason why Max is a dork.
Aside from moving slower than a sword, the battle wrench is actually a pretty good weapon. It's upgradeable via the Synthesis system. Synthesizing is done a little differently this time around. The concept is pretty much the same -- collect as many magic orbs as you can and synthesize them with your weapon. What's changed is how you go about synthesizing. In addition to magic orbs, most of the regular items, such as water and bread, can be spectrumized. When you spectrumize something, it loses its previous ability (if it had one) and becomes an item that can only be synthesized. Synthesis points are required to synthesize items with a weapon -- those are earned by leveling up in battle. There are so many options, so many choices and so many synthesis possibilities that you may be overwhelmed at first. Of course, that's part of the beauty of the game, and that is ultimately what enables Sony Computer Entertainment America to claim that there are 100 hours of gameplay in Dark Cloud 2. Without repetition, it would be no longer than your standard RPG (roughly 40-50 hours).
Weapons have ten attributes, including Attack and Durability. You raise these stats by synthesizing the proper items. Once all of the statistical requirements have been met, you may "build-up" (evolve) the weapon to a new form. The new forms are often stronger and more powerful, which is why it'll take you a really, really long time to max out a weapon's full potential.
Weapons are still breakable, but they don't break as easily as before. There aren't many weapons to acquire early on (outside of using the build-up feature), so the game goes a little easier on you. The monsters, on the other hand, do not. Bats, rats and other familiar creatures have returned, and this time they mean business. If you thought they were a little too challenging at times before, just wait till you try attacking them now. The monsters are faster and more intelligent. They know when to block and when to attack. To defeat them on a consistent basis, you'll have to outsmart them. This is yet another reason to love Dark Cloud 2. I hate losing, but I really hate a game that's easy to beat, and this one is far from easy.
Rather than reiterate the blasé storyline that the game forces players to endure, I'm going to skip right to the main character: Max. Max is a courageous young boy who looks like a dork. I'm not one to judge a person by their looks, but when Max started talking, I ran to the local hardware store to buy some duck tape. Unfortunately, they were sold out. What to do? Skip the annoying cut scenes and turn off the sound. This had two consequences: 1) without sound, you can't hear the music, and 2) if you skip the cut scenes, you may not be able to figure out what to do next. Important information is revealed in some of the movie sequences, but it's impossible to know which ones ahead of time. Whether you like it or not, you're forced to watch them. You're forced to hear Max's annoying voice. And you're forced to suffer. To make matters worse, Max opens his mouth every time he defeats all of the monsters in an area.
To make matters even worse than that, Dark Cloud 2 will make you battle for several hours and play through a few boring mini-games (collect things, fish for items, etc.) before you can begin re-building the world. The whole point of the first game was to rebuild the world. Building pieces were acquired very early on in the game. That's not the case here.
For all its annoyances, Dark Cloud 2 is still a really, really good game. I love the battles, I love the Georama (world-building) system, and I love being able to build my own weapons. But I am also very disappointed in the direction that was taken with the story. Most PlayStation 2 owners are adults; the second biggest age group consists of gamers in the mid to late teens. Why Level 5 felt the need to make this game for kids is beyond me. The gameplay is so challenging that it's unlikely that a six-year-old will even care about it. But the childish voices are so annoying that this game will almost certainly turn off a large number of hardcore gamers who would have otherwise loved it. Life is too short, and games are too expensive for me to recommend this as a must-buy. I cannot praise the first game enough, and I think every PlayStation 2 owner should have it. Dark Cloud 2 should take precedence the next time you plan to rent a game, but I urge you to play it for at least 20 hours before making a purchase.
Dark Cloud 2's gameplay shines above the rest, bringing improved action/RPG entertainment to the world's leading console. When you finally get to rebuild your world, you'll love it. And the battles will keep you entertained for hours. More than 400,000 people bought the first Dark Cloud, and all of them should give this one a try.
If it weren't for the fog, pop-up and poor main character designs, Dark Cloud 2 would be very appealing to the eye. The cel-shaded graphics aren't the best, but the backgrounds have a ton of additional detail not seen in the previous game.
Here we have a major problem. Dark Cloud 2 has decent (but extremely repetitive) music that I would like to listen to. However, it also has agonizing voice-overs and a blasé storyline that could drive a person nuts. The only solution is to turn the sound off, suffer the consequences of not knowing what to do next, and miss out on any good songs that may or may not play at some point in the game.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Because if you do, you'll end up breaking something that worked fine before you attempted to fix it. That is the case here. I love all of the returning elements from the first game -- the combat system, the Georama system, etc. They were introduced in the first game, and are merely "improved" (not revolutionized) in this sequel. On the other hand, all of the new elements, such as the never-ending voice-overs, are absolutely, positively, the most disappointing things that a developer could add to a sequel to one of the greatest PS2 games of all time.
I must say that I am more surprised by Dark Cloud 2's disappointments than I am its achievements. I expected it to be great. I assumed I would enjoy it a lot. But I never once dreamed that its story would be so annoying! As I said before, I love this game. But I don't love everything about it.
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GameZone Review Detail
Dark Cloud 2 is everything the first game was and more...and less.
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 02/24/2003