Replay Value: 10
Boasting the campaign "every action has a consequence", Dark Cloud 2's premise is just that. The original Dark Cloud, while not without its apparent flaws, is arguably one of the most innovative action-RPGs games across any system; the Georama system alone speaks for itself. Dark Cloud was an ambitious, and very enjoyable title, but to some it lost its list about half way through. People found the game a bit too repetitive for the most part. Some managed to look past the repetition, while others scoffed in disgust. I, personally, enjoyed Dark Cloud all the way through. Collecting Georama pieces was what kept me high on the game. Though, looking back on the game now, Dark Cloud pales in comparison to its "sequel". I use the term lightly, because much like the Final Fantasy series, Dark Cloud 2 isn't really a sequel in the literal sense, it's a new iteration of the namesake. Technicalities aside, I can say with ease that Dark Cloud 2 is one of the finest moments the PS2 has to offer.
Visually, Dark Cloud 2's new cel-shaded look is a much welcome change from the fully three-dimensional design of the original. For starters, the animation is absolutely superb. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames, and never gets any lower than that. The character detail is superbly done. Max, Monica and all of their associates are intricately detailed. Their look is brilliantly designed, so much so that I'm almost speechless on the matter. The game's environmental detail is some of the most pleasant to look at. The buildings are remarkably drawn, and they're wonderfully detailed, down to the very last brick or block of wood. The color palette used only adds to the vivacious atmospheric detail. On top of that, the game utilizes some very notable lighting techniques. As the sun sets, the lampposts, in-door lights and outdoor-lights illuminate. They give off this very natural and warm looking glow; it's a very nice visual touch. In terms of eye-candy, Dark Cloud 2 features some pretty cool special effects. It's nothing too flashy, but some of the items and special abilities create very pretty effects when used. Dark Cloud 2's only visual downfall is some very distant draw-in. The draw-in isn't environmental, though, it only affects the enemies. It's nothing that should worry anybody, not the very bit. It's barely noticeable, though it is there. Dark Cloud 2 is one of the most visually pleasing titles the PS2 has to offer, despite its cartoony look. This game looks sharp!
At first, the idea of expanding on the Georama system seemed a little perplexing. I had questioned whether or not Level-5 would make it significantly different or just marginally different. Thankfully, the improvements are more substantial than they are marginal. Though, what's great about the improved Georama feature is that it doesn't take any time to adjust to. The improvements made mostly expand on the flexibility of Georama. Wherein the first game's Georama system was stricter and influenced you to place the structures in their rightful areas, the second does away with that. Also, unlike the first Dark Cloud, you are no longer told what to attach to each structure. Much like the first, you collect Geostones, which you will find in the game's dungeons. The Geostones will be what you use to rebuild the whole world of DC2 with. Specifically, what's really different about the Georama system in DC2 is that instead of just rebuilding somebody's house and just placing their set family into the plate, DC2 puts a little twist to that. Once you build a town, you can use that town and invite people from your home town (Palm Brinks) to reside in the new town. Once you do that, you'll be able to see how your drafting decisions affected the future of the world. So you'll be allowed to seamlessly travel between the present and future time. Overall, there's just that much more flexibility and freedom in Dark Cloud 2's Georama system -- there are things I left out, as well.
(Slight spoiler warning. Description of the first 2 hours) Dark Cloud 2's story goes a little something like this: the game stars Maximillian, a very smart kid who's incredibly good with building and inventing gadgets. Max is a bit on the lonely side, as his mother is no where to be found. His father is the wealthiest man in town, but Max doesn't quite take a liking to him. Max had hoped to find his mother one day, and on one faithful day he got his chance. After a circus performance, Max had discovered that outside of his town was a whole world waiting to be explored. You see, Palm Brinks residents have been ostracized from the outside world, and have never seen anything outside of their town -- let alone know about it. So when Max overheard a conversation, he decided to inform his mentor (Cedric) about the discovery -- Cedric was well aware of the outside world. Max had also found out that the red jewel he wears around his neck is a sacred artifact that a villainous clown (Flotsam) is looking for. Through the help of his best friend, Max manages to make his way out of Palm Brinks through the sewer canals, which will also serve as the first wave of dungeons the game has to offer. As Max is making his way through the sewers, Cedric speaks to the Mayor of Palm Brinks and convinces him to open the railroad so that people of Palm Brinks can explore the outside world. Soon after Max completes the sewers, he will encounter Monica, a character from the future. This is where Dark Cloud 2 picks up...
As far as combat and other gameplay mechanics go, Dark Cloud 2 improves on what was present before, and completely does away with other aspects. For starters, the thirst meter, present in the original, has been completely removed. Instead, now what you have to concentrate mostly on is your HP and your WHP (weapon HP). If your weapons happen to break or run out of ammo or are getting fragile, you can repair them. If you're riding on the RidePod and his fuel runs out, you can use the same technique to repair him as well. What's wonderful about the weapons in Dark Cloud 2 is the sheer amount of customizing options you are given for them. Throughout the dungeons you explore, you will pick up stones that possess elemental and status increasing powers. The stones can either be synthesized to your weapons and increase their attack, flame, lightning, smash, beast, durability, chill, exorcism, cyclone and scale powers or they can be used as a single attack against an enemy or two. Synthesizing takes up synthesis points, which you will continually acquire as your weapons level up. Leveling up the weapons is fairly easy to do. After you defeat enemies, they will drop ABS points (blue drops), that when collected, help you get your weapons leveled up. What's great about synthesizing is that it doesn't require you to solely use stones. In fact, you can synthesize a regular item like a hunk of copper or a bomb - among other things. In addition to synthesizing to weapons, you can upgrade and power up the RidePod, as well. Doing so will come in handy.
Character development is a facet everybody looks for in RPG games. Action-RPGs often don't focus, let alone have, very intriguing character development. For example, a game like Threads of Fate or Brave Fencer Musashi didn't really delve into their respective characters -- they just gave us a general idea. Dark Cloud 2 does away with that, it breaks the mold, and rises above the rest. The more you progress through the game, the more sympathy you will feel for Max as he strives to find his mother, the one person whom he was able to mutually connect with, unlike his father. Simultaneously, Monica's troubles will whelm you, well. There's a lot of emotion in Dark Cloud 2, which is quite surprising considering, once again, that Action-RPGs tend to lack any complexity in their character development. Dark Cloud 2 breaks the glass and steps past the set boundaries -- make way.
The huge factors out of the way, Dark Cloud 2 also features a couple of pastimes for you to...uhh...pass time with. For starters, it seems like Level-5 utilized the Hot Shots Golf engine for a golf-mini-game featured in DC2. Not only that, but the fishing mini-game has returned, as well. In addition to that, the game's invention system, through the use of Max's camera, adds an extra layer of depth to an already ridiculously deep Action-RPG. The invention system is explained quite well in the game and it's easy to get a grasp of. Also, DC2's dungeons are randomly generated, so no two dungeons will be exactly alike. Lastly, there are nearly 25 playable characters in Dark Cloud 2 that you'll be able to recruit as you progress. If you're familiar with Chrono Cross, it's a lot like that. There are things I'm surely forgetting to mention, but when it's all said and done, Dark Cloud 2's mammoth adventure is nothing short of epic -- and I use epic as literally as possible.
Dark Cloud 2's aural presentation is easily one of the most remarkably done on the PS2. Dark Cloud 2's voice acting is a treat to listen to. It's right up there with the likes of The Getaway, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Soul Reaver 2. Superbly executed dialogue, coupled with flawless data streaming, makes DC2 stand with the elite. The actors who portray their respective character voices, not only do a fantastic job at the acting, but are also so well suited for their virtual roles, it's hard to imagine any other voices for the game's characters. On that note, Dark Cloud 2's soundtrack isn't as inspired as Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy pieces, but the effort is commendable, nevertheless.
Controlling Dark Cloud 2 is fairly simple. The game has a pretty good targeting system, which is activated by pressing the Circle button -- it's fairly similar to Zelda: Ocarina of Time's Z-targeting. The fighting in Dark Cloud 2 is rather versatile; you can leap-attack from a distance, attack in close range, use a long-range item, dodge by somersaulting out of harms way, and a few other useful tricks. Dark Cloud 2 doesn't take a very long time to get adjusted to. The basic controls are pretty straightforward; give the game 5 minutes, at most.
In the end, Dark Cloud 2 is hands down the best Action-RPG I've ever played. I've played tons of Action-RPGs (Threads of Fate being my favorite, up until now), and I can wholeheartedly say Dark Cloud 2 is the best I've played. Before the mass mail of death threats commence -- you Nintendo fanboys really need to ease up on those, by the way -- I do not regard the Zelda series as part of the Action-RPG [sub]genre. Some may, but it's more commonly regarded as an Action/Adventure title. Now that I've managed to save myself from an endless list of "you're an idiot" fan mail (that's right, 'fan'mail, the people love me), I will continue to wrap up this review. Dark Cloud 2's gameplay will have you going for dozens of hours. The quest itself is roughly 60 hours long. For the perfectionist, Dark Cloud 2 will last over 100 hours, and there is no exaggeration there. What else can I say? Dark Cloud 2 is one of the best purchases on the PS2.