Dark Cloud Preview
Despite the historically finite first party offering from Sony, the enormous promise of the upcoming action-RPG Dark Cloud may very well make up for the unpretentious quantity of titles from the company's first party development house. Sony has had some success developing RPGs in the past with titles like Legend of Dragoon, and Dark Cloud is showing every indication of building on this fruition. The highly touted action-RPG has generated a good deal of buzz in the videogame industry since its formal display at the PlayStation 2 unveiling last year. Dark Cloud has even managed to step out of the shadows cast by other future blockbusters displayed at the same time; as crowd favorites like The Bouncer and Gran Turismo 3 failed to outshine the appealing adventure from Sony. Despite its obvious parallels to Nintendo's masterful Zelda series (the main character even bears a visual resemblance to a young Link), Dark Cloud is shaping up to be just the killer-app in the RPG genre that the PlayStation 2 needs outside of the Final Fantasy series. Whether or not this title can invent its own unique personality outside the confines of the Zelda standard may very well hold the key to Dark Cloud's success.
In Dark Cloud, gamers will assume the role of a young hero whose quest is to defeat a menacing demon who has devastated the environment. This familiar plot should prove nostalgic for gaming veterans, and Sony hopes that the incredible power of the PlayStation 2 can revive the classic story by including some fresh design concepts. If Sony is successful in their endeavors, then gamers everywhere will get a taste of a classic storyline that has launched countless quality titles.
The mentioned additions to traditional action-RPG fare are numerous, as Sony's efforts to break away from comparisons to Zelda 64 are easy to see. The most notable addition that the game boasts is the "diorama" land building feature. At first glance, this concept may sound very similar to the 'land make' system in Squaresoft's recent RPG Legend of Mana. However, upon further examination of Dark Cloud's ambitious land creation scheme, one will find that it also possesses some unique characteristics. First, gamers must rescue captive townspeople from the game's copious and detailed dungeons, where the citizens are being held in magical capsules. Once this has been accomplished, another task awaits the player. In a refreshing addition, after the dungeons have been conquered and the peasantry rescued, the gamer is responsible for rebuilding the razed villages and towns in which the captives once resided. This is done in the village hub, where the gamer must plan and rebuild the town using materials and resources found in the completed dungeon. This feature is explained by Project Director Kentaro Motomura. "Through a top view, you will place the buildings and other elements as you wish -- you can even set the orientation. The game will even evaluate your skill in editing the village," he commented. However, this statement only scratches the surface. The dynamics of the diorama system go much further, as Motomura elaborates. "The people you have freed will have their own wishes and by meeting their wishes you will increase your score further. These wishes are quite varied too: to be beside a waterfall or to not be by someone and stuff like that." The diorama feature is, to say the least, a novel addition to the traditional realm of RPG gaming.
Dark Cloud features further contrast to Zelda in that six characters are to be playable in the upcoming epic. Not only is the game to feature multiple characters, but the unique abilities of the game's cast members will be needed at specific points in order to progress. Motomura also commented on the usefulness of this feature. "You will actually have to change in a few situations to pass an obstacle or enemy. Especially in the boss stage, which requires you to manage several character abilities in order to defeat the monster." His explanation makes one wonder why this system of character management isn't seen more frequently in this genre.
All of these promising gameplay features will be presented to the gamer with stunning graphical quality. The visuals featured in this title are velvety, almost silken, and appear to suggest an incredible level of fluidity. The surroundings in Dark Cloud are amazingly well lit, as nearly every object in the game is lush and descript. Perhaps the only aspect of the game's aesthetics to complain about are the jagged edges that rear their ugly heads in some of the game's stages. Despite the standard gripes, the visuals should at least hold their own when compared to the more advanced titles that Dark Cloud will be competing against upon the game's release.
Perhaps the only spot where the game falters (from what can be told so far) is that several promising, albeit somewhat trivial gameplay features were nixed and will not be found in the final product. For example, the famous magic carpet ride has been left out of the completed version of Dark Cloud. "Many things have just been dropped," explained Motomura. "Don't forget that the first demo was kind of a technical demo for the PS2." Apparently for the PlayStation 2 unveiling, Motomura was merely attempting to display as much of the game's potential as possible within the limits of the technology.
However, once one looks past all of these fresh additions that Dark Cloud will boast, one will find that, as mentioned, it features almost undeniable parallels with the Zelda series. For example, the lock-on combat feature found in Zelda 64 will get nothing more than a face lift in Dark Cloud, as the feature is identical in the two titles. Furthermore, the concept of the game is very familiar, as it has the player bouncing from town to town, dungeon to dungeon and solving challenging puzzles. However, even if the overall premise of the game is a bit overused, the gameplay should prove solid, as the development team has toiled to keep at least some of the gameplay fresh.
Dark Cloud continues to keep a very high profile as its Winter release creeps closer and closer. When the game finally hits Japanese shelves in December (and American retailers in early 2001), gamers everywhere will get a taste of the magnum opus from talented project director Kentaro Motomura. When this happens, Dark Cloud will find itself treading a very thin wire, as it must stay true to the basic gameplay formula followed by all quality action-RPGs, but at the same time must feature enough originality to distance itself from the overused mold that forged the Zelda series so many years ago.
11/28/2000 Bryan Keers