Dark Cloud was an interesting action/RPG and one that I purchased not long after acquiring a PlayStation 2. It suffered from some design choices, such as permanent weapon breakage, which made it utterly intolerable to play at times and I lost interest in it fairly quickly. The concepts behind that game were so compelling, however, that I was willing to give its sequel a try.
Time travel is an essential element in the game, not only on the part of the characters but on myself as well. Starting up Dark Cloud 2 was essentially like travelling forward in time in chunks of eight to twelve hours at a time in the blink of an eye. With so many options of things to do executed so very, very well, getting lost in this title is incredibly easy.
Title: Dark Cloud 2
Developer: Level 5
Platform: PlayStation 2
The story of Dark Cloud 2 revolves around three central characters. Max is a simple boy from a simple town who has a penchant for fixing things and has no concept of a world which exists outside of his community. There's a reason for this: There isn't much of one any longer. Due to the efforts of the sinister Emperor Griffon, who hails from ten thousand years in the future, the past is being systematically changed to ensure that his rule is absolute. In the process of doing this he ordered the assassination of King Raybrandt 100 years into Max's future, spurring the King's daughter, Monica, to seek revenge.
Convoluted? You bet. This is a game about time travel, after all. The way the game presents the story is much more fluid than my attempt above however, and is told through absolutely gorgeous cutscenes filled with drama, plot twists and excitement. It's still a bit confusing at times, such as during scenes featuring two secondary characters I'll not mention as they are a bit of a spoiler, but the tale is told ably enough.
And, frankly, the story is only tiny part of what makes Dark Cloud 2 such a great game. There is so much game here that it's actually downright easy to forget anything about the plot because you're so busy adventuring, crafting, fishing and ... golfing?!
Essentially a dungeon-crawler, you'll take Max (and eventually Monica) through the dungeons of four major areas of the world. Clearing a level requires you to find a key item that opens the door to the next level. All combat is handled in real-time and each character has four means at their disposal to defeat them with. Basic attacks are your choice of melee or ranged, with each character using weapons specific to them. In addition, single-use items are available and often inflict a considerable amount of damage, provided you aren't attacking with an element that the monster is strong to.
Dungeons have a map of all the levels which exist within it, and can run as many as twenty or more levels. These individual levels are randomly created when you start them, so revisiting a level you've already been on will be completely different than the last time you visited.Going back is important too, as there's a ton of leveling up which needs to be done if you're going to survive.
Each of the characters have a fourth form of attack, essentially a transformation mode. Max has a massive vehicle which he invents early in the game that he can hop into and wreak havoc with. It's completely customizeable with different parts offering new attack and movement abilities. Monica eventually learns how to transform into monster types, provided that she can appease one with a gift, and these evolve into new and more powerful types as you go along.
Here's how you wind up playing for hours: Everything levels up independently. All weapons in the game build stats up from experience earned when that weapon is used to kill a monster. Similarly, Monica's monster forms also gain levels (very very slowly). And as weapons become more potent, they can be synthesized into a crystal which can then be used in the construction of new and still more powerful weapons. The item growth tree is astounding.
In fact, the item crafting on the whole is overwhelming. Nearly every item in the game can be created by Max, provided he has the right materials on-hand and the necessary inspiration on how to make it. The former comes from item drops or can be purchased in shops but the latter requires greater action on the player's part. At any time while controlling Max, you can switch to his camera and take a picture of his surroundings (a la Pokémon Snap) and taking pictures of certain things will give him an idea for how to make something.
Not only are items crafted, but Max crafts the world itself as well. The inhabitants and structures of the world outside of his hometown have been sealed away in Geostones and locked in the dungeons. Almost every dungeon level has one and you'll have to find them all to rebuild the world the way it was supposed to be before Emperor Griffon's interference. Every time you get a geostone, you get access to a new building, tree or person that should exist in the world above.
Outside of the dungeons, you must take these elements and recreate them using hints provided from the Geostones as to where structures and people belong. Once you have repaired the damage, that location becomes available to you in the future and you may travel there to get access to new items, invention ideas and activities as well as progressing the story.
This is still only scratching the surface of the gameplay avaiable. Fishing sidequests are popular in RPGs but Dark Cloud 2's fishing game allows you to do multiple things with the fruits of your labor. Instead of just entering them into the many fishing competitions which occur at seemingly random times, you could choose to put them in a tank and train them to compete in fish races. And there are tons of places in the world where you can fish. All you really have to do is drop your rod into a body of water, but you had better make sure you have the right type of bait or you'll come up empty.
Every dungeon level in the game has multiple objectives you can attempt to complete as well. Goals such as clearing a level of monsters under a certain time limit, using only specific weapons or finishing a level without healing once can be completed for medals. These medals can be exchanged with various NPC characters to earn valuable rewards.
Did I mention that there's golf? Once you've progressed about halfway through the game, you learn of Spheda, a sport which was born out of the time disruptions Emperor Griffon's evil deeds have caused. After almost every dungeon level is cleared of monsters, you can pull out your Spheda club and play a round in that level. The ball and the hole both have a polarity to them, but the ball's polarity switches from red to blue and back every time it collides with a surface. In order to succeed, you must get the ball into the hole when the ball is the opposite color from the hole.
Honestly, I often just load up Dark Cloud 2 to play a few rounds of Spheda because, strange as it is to have golf as a subquest in a dungeon crawler, it's incredibly fun to play. All of the subquests and aspects of Dark Cloud 2 are lovingly crafted and the title lacks most of the annoying things about its predecessor which made it aggravating to play (weapon breaking FTL).
And while all of these elements would have seemed overwhelming if simply tossed on to the player, the game does a fantastic job of easing players into them. It just feels like a natural progression with completing a major objective unlocking a totally new aspect of the game that you didn't know existed before, all of which wind up being highly addictive and very fun while still remaining easy to understand.
>Attack: If you like your RPGs to have a near-limitless amount of playtime, enjoy crafting and grinding and want something that you can play casually over a lengthy period of time without feeling lost
>Parry: If you need your RPGs to have a deep, serious or demanding story or don't care for an excessive amount of content on the side.
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