Dark Cloud Review
So let's see, it has been, oh, about a year and half since we first saw or heard of Dark Cloud, and began drooling over it. Safe to say that PS2 owners have the longest and most painful anticipation for games, due to their enormous caliber. Take The Bouncer for example, it's been drooled over since the PS2's second showing back in December of '99. Not until recently it was released to mixed reviews, although it seems as if the general audience enjoyed it, despite the short length. Onimusha: Warlords was another one of those titles that gamers had to wait at least a year for its US release. The same case with Red Faction, Zone of the Enders, and Tekken Tag Tournament. Infact even as I write this review (and you're all reading it!), PS2 owners are anxiously waiting for Gran Turismo 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, Twisted Metal: Black, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and dozens more. Anticipation is a way in the videogaming world, you'll have to deal with it, and in the end you'll be glad you did. So now the time has come for Dark Cloud's acceptance into this majestic world of 128-bit gaming. Find out why this baby's got the perk to live up to Nintendo's Zelda among other huge franchises.
Sony has without a doubt lived up to its word that their Playstation 2 will deliver the most realistic visuals on any console. Earlier in the PS2's launch life we were treated to SSX, Madden NFL 2001 and FIFA 2001. As the PS2's life-span expanded, we were treated to some unbelievable visuals such as those in Star Wars: Starfighter, Onimusha: Warlords, The Bouncer, Zone of the Enders, Gran Turismo 3: A- Spec (Japanese), Red Faction, and now Dark Cloud. Dark Cloud has without a doubt some of the prettiest textures I can think of. Throughout the game your main goal will be to excavate dungeons and ruins. You will have to find pieces called Atla, which contain houses and other landmarks in them, and there are a lot of houses and other structures all over this game, all of which feature their own individual interior and exterior design. When you have entered a house, you are able to walk around it in first person mode (optional), and glance at the house's belongings like beds, tables, pottery and many other common household objects. Everything you look at will amaze you, the level of detail is superb, as almost every nook and cranny of an object can be made out. This is some sweet texturing work by the people of Level 5.
As Toan you will be set to explore huge towns and villages, that will need rebuilding, but as vast as they are, there is absolutely no hint of texture pop-up or draw-in of any kind. Unlike a certain launch game which shall remain nameless (*cough* Summoner *cough*). Although those who've ever played Zelda 64 know that the character models appear as you get close to them in Link's forest. Much is similar in Dark Cloud, an arrow over a human's head will be displayed, approach the arrow and the character will appear. I wouldn't discount this from not being a visual fault, but I don't see it as a major one. What's incredibly impressive is that Sony/Level 5 created one of the most sophisticated game engines. The Geo-Mod (Red Faction) and GEORAMA feature (Dark Cloud) are two of the most revolutionary pieces of coding you'll encounter, and the PS2 was the system that started it all.
GEORAMA system is so advanced that whenever you place or move around a building or landmark and go back into adventure mode, there is absolutely no loading between the change from Edit Mode to Adventure Mode. Not one stutter, take my word when I tell you that Dark Cloud has absolutely no loading times in between anything throughout the game. That out of the way, I can tell you that the GEORAMA system does absolutely nothing to hinder the character detail on all of the characters. Toan and Co. as well as his enemies are stunning, my estimates proclaim and upwards of 1,000 polygons per casual enemy, 3,000 for each character, and 5,000 for each boss. What's more is that Toan's clothing moves in real-time and is affected by his actions, if you turn sharply you'll see the clothing flap around to the opposite direction and eventually settle. Little detail like that, makes a game look more organic and flow more smoothly. The character detail in a general sense looks great, some may claim its first-generation material that will be forgotten in the third, but I beg to differ. I believe the characters are created with careful attention to detail, and have been crafted for an excellent cartoony look at the same time. There are a few visual hickups here and there, for example, I would've loved to see some more eye-candy special effects, such as explosions bright colors and whatnot, but I can settle for this. Overall excellent visuals that are complimented with great texture detail and great character work.
This is where I fell in love, Dark Cloud's gameplay seems to be repetitive at the start, and while some may argue it is, it really isn't. If you're like me, you'll be too busy hoping that in the next Atla, there is "that piece" or "this house" or "that person". Atla are spheres, about half the size of Toan, that contain a corresponding village's buildings, objects, humans and etc. For every cave or dungeon you enter in a town, you will be scouring for parts that will have to be placed in that particular town. Once you complete a certain house or important landmark, there will be an event in which you must visit and be rewarded with something. If you place a human to its corresponding house, he/she will tell you what is missing, and therefore you will have to find those items (if you haven't already) and place them into the object slots when in Edit Mode. This how 50% of the GEORAMA engine works, I don't want to get to specific into details, because I want you the readers to get the jest of things on your own.
Dark Cloud's story starts off with a beautiful looking cut-scene that features a couple of dozen beings doing a spitirual dance that eventually (SLIGHT SPOILER) unleashes a powerful genie called the Dark Genie. This genie is controlled by a Stalin-esque figure, who leads the genie to Toan's village, Norune. The Dark Genie destroys the whole village, spitting fireballs on it. Toan is stunned and wakes up in an empty field where a short little wizard tells him about the Dark Genie and its unstoppable powers. Toan is then told that his village has not been destroyed but scattered all around the Divine Beat Cave and is contained within the Atla. Toan is the only character that is able to open Atla, because he's got a special gauntlet called Atlamillia. Joining Toan are five other characters, Xiao, Ruby, Goro, Ungaga and Osmond. Each with their own unique characteristics.
Of course Dark Cloud offers the gamer a variety of weapons such as swords, staffs, slingshots, magical rings and even a club. If excessively used the weapons will break, but if you use repair powders on them they won't, and thankfully powders are cheap. You can upgrade your weapons by using them continuously as you gain experience points. Additionally you are able to add stones to your weapon that will improve it in various areas, for instance if you add End. + 1 you will get an additional point for Endurance, which makes it harder to break your weapon (an important factor). Depending on how well you've upgraded your weapon, you will be able to put more attachments such as elemental orbs of fire, ice, or thunder into open slots. Exploring caves and areas in order to rebuild a town is a bit monotonous, but you won't be too distraught about it, and I'm very confident that any RPG/adventure gamer will love Dark Cloud. I found this to be one of the best PS2 titles out there, along with Red Faction, Zone of the Enders, Onimusha and The Bouncer.
To tell you that truth, at first I was expecting some voice acting between the characters, and I was slightly disappointed that I didn't find any. But I must admit that DC's soundtrack is eerily reminiscent of SquareSoft's Chrono Cross, the tunes are very similar, and that's actually a very good thing. Chrono Cross featured one great soundtrack, and I'm glad that Sony and Level 5 borrowed a little from it. As for other audio features such as sound effects, for the most part I can't complain about anything. They are generic but sound very good and fit the game well.
Dark Cloud is a game that controls like a dream. The Dual Shock 2 is fit perfectly to utilize Dark Cloud's varied control schemes. The analog controls are impressive and offer an incredible amount of sensitivity. The control layout takes absolutely no time to get used to, and throughout the game, the short little wizard, Fairy King, will explain the basics of the controls. Similar to Zelda 64, DC also has a lock-on feature that allows Toan to lock on to his enemy and attack it, with either a combo attack or a charged super hit. The Dual Shock is also a great feature that works incredible well in Dark Cloud.
Chances are that you won't come across a game as innovative as Dark Cloud, from time to time it may feel repetitive but DC is pure fun. It features 30+ hours of gameplay, 60 minutes of real-time cinematics, amazing visual work, and best of all, some inspired gameplay that is strangely addictive. With an ever-changing environment (morning, afternoon, evening, dusk and night) Dark Cloud certainly features one realistic world, and it feels as if you are the ruler of it. If you are in the mood for a great adventure game then you owe it to yourself to get Dark Cloud. If you are looking for an excellent RPG game, then the same abides to that as well. Chances are with Dark Cloud, you can't go wrong.
6/8/2001 Arnold Katayev