Review: Dark Cloud 2 (PS2)

There are not enough words to adequately describe how much I love Dark Cloud 2, also known as Dark Chronicle in PAL regions. It’s a wonderful, innovative dungeon crawler created by Level-5 that’s full of charming characters, customizable outfits and weapons, randomized dungeons, and a plethora of things to do on and off the main quest. You can take photographs, create inventions from said photographs, perfect the ideal robot for murdering monsters, go fishing, raise fish to enter contests, play a little Spheda (golf, basically) to repair distortions in time, and recruit townspeople to come travel the world. Needless to say, there’s enough content to keep you seated for hours on end.

You take control of Max, a young boy from the small, isolated town of Palm Brinks and Monica, a girl from the future. They cross paths in Max’s time when everything seems peaceful inside of the high walls of Palm Brinks. People have accepted that it’s too dangerous to go outside the main gates and remain blissfully unaware of the reality of the situation beyond the town (although no one seems to question how a circus troupe could survive out there). However, after being chased by evil, determined clowns one evening, Max resolves to venture out into the outside world via sewers and find some answers as to why the circus folk wanted his pendant so much.

As it turns out, the pendant is known as an Atlamillia, filled with powerful magic. Oh, and the world needs help. Origin points of important places and people in the future have been destroyed, leaving the world a hundred years in the future defenseless in both strength and knowledge against someone who calls himself Emperor Griffin. Monica has traveled back to the past to restore these origin points and with Max’s Atlamillia combined with her own, they can freely travel to the future and back again to ensure the world is being properly rebuilt.

Rebuilding the world is a mechanic brought over from the original Dark Cloud. How it goes is that you first find a Geostone in a dungeon. It used to be that you had to find a number of balls scattered about, but here it’s been simplified to a single piece of glowing rock. Inside the Geostones is information on structures like houses, benches, trees, torches, mailboxes, chimneys, a river, and so on. All of this is loaded into the Carpenterion, a terraforming machine, allowing you to create new things, so long as you have the necessary materials, or revealing new Georama conditions to restore the origin points. As long as those conditions are fulfilled and everything stays within the Polyn count (can’t have too many polygons on screen), you can build almost whatever you want where you want it. As the game progresses the conditions become stricter, but by no means less fun. Want everyone to have a mailbox, a bench, or a laundry pole? Do it. Want to take up the remaining polygons with gates, trees, or fences? Go for it. Want to paint as many roofs as you can pink? If you can afford that many paint cans, then by all means spruce up the budding village.

The only thing in the way between you and 5 houses painted pink with all the bells and whistles is money. Unneeded things can be broken down into base materials but sooner or later you’ll have to purchase whatever else is required to rebuild the past. As you can imagine some scrap metal here and a hunk of copper there quickly adds up, especially early on. Luckily, most of the materials for Georama are found in the dungeons, saving your wallet from being constantly emptied.

The dungeons are split up into floors where Max and Monica walk around a randomly generated area, kill enemies, find the gate key (which varies from location to location; like a saw in the woods or a slab of meat in the mountains), and use it to continue on to the next area. Combat happens in real time with no transitions to a battlefield, making your immediate options upon finding an enemy flexible. You can lock on and get in close with a wrench or sword, charge up the melee weapon for a powerful blow, stand back and shoot, toss an offensive item, or switch to one of the kids’ supplementary combat modes. Max gets a killer robot in Steve the Ridepod while Monica can transform into monsters as long as she has the appropriate pin. Steve and Monica’s monster forms can earn experience points, the former being able to exchange EXP for upgrades. You can make most them out of photographs but until you know the right combinations of ideas, this is your best bet to making the slow Ridepod go faster and be able to pulverize anything that gets in its way. The parts just get better and better – the ones you can make in particular being superior – until Steve turns into a death machine, capable of taking down every monster and nearly every boss. Nothing like a speeding, katana-wielding, clown-bodied robot of doom to ensure a quick demise for anything that dares to stand in the way of Maximilian.

Steve the Battlebot. Batteries sold separately.

Max’s and Monica’s weapons can also earn experience in the form of absorption points (ABS), every level up boosting damage output and adding on one skill point to the weapon. Skill points are spent on synthesizing items to the weapons, increasing durability and damage to certain types of monsters depending on what was fused in the first place. Just about anything can be synthesized up to, and including, cures for status ailments and other weapons. After certain attributes have been built up enough, you can build up the weapon to change it into something better, sometimes being able to change the weapon completely.

Oddly enough, the kids themselves don’t gain any experience from defeating enemies. Their health and defense only go up by finding and eating specific items for each of them, usually found in chests around towns in the past or restored locales in the future. The more an origin point is restored, the more of these special items you will find scattered about, among other things.

If you thought it seemed too good, that’s because it is. The catch to combat is that weapons have a health bar of sorts and can break after continued use if a repair powder isn’t used in time, although unlike Dark Cloud the broken weapon won’t disappear. Instead, all you need is some repair powder and you can continue pounding enemies into a fine red mist. However, all of the ABS saved up prior to breaking will have disappeared. Steve has the same limitation with its weapons and fuel. They need to be replenished lest Steve break down in the middle of a fight with a giant Mimic or dragon. Other than that, everything about combat is smooth and enjoyable with plenty of strategizing involved. The monsters have a several recolors thrown in, mostly signifying elemental changes, and the dungeons are far from dull to look at. The level of detail is more than one would expect out of a dungeon crawler, displaying not only eye-catching environments but really hard Spheda courses, too.

For those who want some sort of additional goal while dungeoneering in each section, there are medals up for grabs on every floor. It can be as simple as destroying everything with Steve to as difficult as going after every last monster with a specific weapon, like Monica’s fireball magic. The medals are traded to Mayor Need for new outfits if you’re looking for a new look. As you progress, the Spheda option opens up, allowing you to play a little golf in cleared out areas to fix up time distortions. If successful, you’ll nab a few rewards that vary in usefulness.

This is more fun than it should be.

One of the major appealing aspects of Dark Cloud 2 is that it allows you to do almost anything anytime in whatever order you want. That said there are more than enough objectives on the side when you want to take a break from bashing monsters. About half the populace of Palm Brinks can be recruited and placed on Blackstone One, seated somewhere inside the train until you have a home setup for them (or not). Max’s friend Donny has some rewards for you as your photography level goes up, mostly some things to synthesize or sell with the occasional piece of clothing thrown in.

Catch fish, raise them, race them, go on a photo taking spree, or create new inventions. If that’s not enough there’s an absolutely brutal post-game bonus dungeon that can shut you down before the first branching path, even while using Steve. As well, should you make a new file on the same memory card containing your last adventure, any clothing that you’ve managed to collect can be chosen before the new game. Did you grab up some fancy or odd duds? They’ll be available for your new outing.

Grabbing Max’s photo album in Chapter 2 or later allows you save up to 50 photos on the side, which can be accessed from any game file in either memory card slot. This opens up so many possibilities from rare picture storage to carrying over any photos you need for powerful weapons that can rip through early game enemies with ease. Cutscenes and explanations can be skipped if desired, something of which I’m extremely grateful for. There’s only so many times one can take of being enlightened of the same thing over and over again before boredom sets in. Yes, we understand what Atlamillia and Geostones are the second time around. Thank you Level-5 for making it skippable.

Negative points? What negative points? Yes, you have to grind for the bonus dungeon, but that’s after the main quest. Usually one trip through a dungeon is enough if you’ve defeated every last enemy, although half of a second trip isn’t a bad idea for earning some free materials and additional ABS. The story and gameplay are balanced well and despite the plot containing time travel, it’s perfectly coherent with likable characters. Fantastic voice acting is thrown in, although the lips don’t always sync and some of the voices are not so pleasant to listen to. The music isn’t grating, changing up the further you go into a chapter’s dungeon or if an enemy gets within range. The intro song is kind of cheesy but the rest is pure, excellent ambiance. It’s rather pleasing to the ears and possibly one of the few reasons I don’t mind walking everywhere in Palm Brinks. The cel-shaded graphics are delicious eye candy, lovely for a near 10 year-old game, capturing your attention and refusing to let go. It’s the complete package for any fan of roguelikes with so much content to offer in a single disc.

I can’t put into words how much fun and joy Dark Cloud 2 brings. It’s the kind of game that’s more entertaining to play than to watch, although that mainly depends on who’s playing or commentating. It’s truly a great game, having stood the test of time and standing tall even today. It comes highly recommended and if you can find yourself a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

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About SmashQueen

Staff writer for ACGV.