Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review #119: Dark Cloud 2

 Over 50 hours to finish this one!
 Dark Cloud 2 is one of the PS2's most criminally forgotten gems. While most people mistake this game for an RPG, this is a Rogue-like through and through, but a bit more forgiving than most!

 As Max, son of the wealthiest man in Palm Springs, you are to traverse 8 different dungeons, 1 per chapter, as you right the time-line that is being destroyed by Griffon, an evil being that aims for world destruction. Pretty early on his adventure, Max comes across Monica, a girl from the future who's father was killed by one of Griffon's henchmen. The story is fairly cliched at times, but it's told fairly well, even if there were some characters that were too easily forgiven....
 Each of the eight Chapter features one dungeon, usually, alongside a town that you must rebuild. While it sounds short, the game is quite extensive. Each dungeon is fairly long(Except the first one, which is quite short, and the bonus one from the eight chapter that it's the longest dungeon in the game) featuring a decent amount of floors. While the game is a Rogue like, it's a bit easier than most, for instance, you don't go from floor to floor, instead, after clearing a floor you can exit the dungeon, do your business, and when you return you can pick up from where you left, or just go back to any of the previous floors.

 When you play, you take both Max and Monica, but you only take control of one at a time. You can switch at the touch of a button, or when one of them dies. Max can also pilot Steve, a fully customizable Robot, however, in order to expand the mount of Capacity points it has, you must earn experience for it(Which means neglecting experience for Monica or Max), while Monica can transform into monsters by acquiring their "Monster Coins". Both Monica and Max have different weapons and movesets, Max wields a Gun(That can be evolved into a laser gun, Grenade Launcher or a Machine gun) and a Wrench(That can be turned into a Hammer or, well, a bigger Wrench) and Monica gets a Sword(That can be turned into a heavy sword or a lighter, faster sword) and a Bracelet.
 Each floor is randomly generated each time you visit it, and each one possesses enemies and chests, sometimes trapped, and if you are lucky enough, a healing fountain with unlimited uses. Defeating enemies makes them drop experience gems for the weapon that dealt the last blow, when you level up you weapon, it earns points that are used to evolve them. Keep in mind that weapons break, so taking Repair powder in your inventory is a must! Enemies will also, sometimes, drop items, these can be healing or weapon repairing items, but most of the time, they will be either Georama Items or elemental items. Elemental Items can be "spectrumized" and then fused to a weapon  to raise its stats. Depending on how you raise your weapon is how it will evolve(The game shows you all the evolution branches that your weapon can take, and on which stats you must raise in order to take that branch). You can spectrumize any item in the game, but it's the elemental orbs that will give you the most point on each stat, at least until you find the very rare precious stones.

 Now then, what are Georama items? These are items that are used to build Georama Parts in order to reconstruct towns. Reconstructing towns consists of creating buildings, trying to achieve certain goals(Like "X amount of Y placed") in order to rebuild these towns in the future. While you can take your time to rebuild each town, you will need to do it in order to advance through the game, triggering certain scenes in the future are usually a necessity to get the item needed to reach the chapter's boss. If you don't like these construction aspect of the game, you are out of luck, but at least they are not too involved. Items are also used in order to build items(Projectile tools, healing items, Robot parts, weapons), but you need to photograph ideas first, and then mix these ideas in order to find out what items you need to build it. There's also some NPCs that can be recruited on Palm Springs, by doing small sidequests, and you can then move them into each town(Many a times, having a specific NPC on a Town is one of the Town's goals). These NPCs can also be taken with you on each dungeon for various passive effects, or even allowing you to repair your weapons or baking bread for you. Finally, there's an Spheda minigame on each of the randomly generated floors, Spheda is basically golf with a color twist, Portals(Holes) are either blue or red, and in order to clear it, you must hit it with a ball of the other color, in order to change the color of the ball, you must hit it against something... but you must also keep in mind that you only get a limited amount of swings!
 I found the combat to be quite simple, but it's fairly fun. You also need to keep in mind that the game can get quite challenging, and it's usually advisable to keep both Max's and Monica's weapons up to date. The optional boss requires a set amount of damage to be done by both characters. And if you want your robot not to be a hindrance, you'll have to spend time on it as well. Basically, this is a game that demands a lot of your time, you have to grind for money if you need to buy items in order to rebuild towns(What you find in dungeons will not be enough most of the time) or upgrade your weapons or even to buy healing items, and you also need to at least keep both character with updated weapons. If both characters die, it's game over, no continues, and if the one that had all the upgrades died, you are screwed unless you can find the key to the next floor, and then find the exit.

 It's also not without its flaws, the lock on mechanic will sometimes have trouble with some enemies, getting the camera to try to jerk its way to the enemy, usually failing, so you are better of cancelling the lock, moving the camera yourself, and then locking on again. Another issue is with the items that upgrade Max and Monica's Health and Defense, these spawn after certain floors are cleared, but you are never told when they spawn, or when on the future timeline they are, and even then, they spawn on very small chests that are easy to miss. These are a must-have or enemies will destroy you very easily, so it's a bit annoying, you are better of finding a guide of when and where they spawn. Then there's also the fact that each Floor of each respective dungeon shares a common tileset with the other floors of the dungeon, so every dungeon looks exactly the same, even if the layout and enemies are different, coupled with the fact that you may need to grind for experience or gold, repetition can set in pretty soon.
 I dare say that Dark Cloud 2 is one of the better looking PS2 games out there. The animation is a bit lacking, but the overall visual style is gorgeous. It's a colorful game, with equally colorful and often times weird NPCs. Monster design is also fairly creative, even if there are more palette swaps than I would've liked. Music is excellent, very whimsical or dark according to the moment. There's a particularly peppy song that plays on every second-to-last floor that's really, really good. I would compare the quality of the soundtrack to a Nintendo game, and that's a good thing. Voice acting is really good for the most part, but there's a couple that aren't quite up to snuff.

 Dark Cloud 2 is a game that is not for everyone. You must be willing to dedicate time to it, you'll have to tough up to the challenge. But in the end, it will be worth it.
 9.0 out of 10.

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