Release Date: Out Now
Dark Cloud was one of those titles that tried to inject a bit of innovation into a genre full of mediocre Final Fantasy clones. The idea of building (or rebuilding) towns Sim City-style (Georama) was beautifully thought out and worked well, but the game was let down by repetitive dungeons and an uninspiring combat system. The sequel, Dark Chronicle (just Dark Cloud 2 in the States), is an attempt to expand and improve on the basic Georama formula, but it's obvious from the start that the game is anything but a lazy update.
You are Maximilian (you can call him Max), a young boy living in a cosy little town in the middle of nowhere. Unsurprisingly, you're thrown into an adventure without warning when a travelling circus comes to town and you overhear the ringmaster threatening your poor innocent mayor. You escape by the skin of your teeth but are forced to flee through the sewers, and this is where the game really begins. A few hours into it you'll meet the game's second character Monica, she just happens to be from the future and as it turns out, you're the fortunate owner of a very important stone which canů yep, you guessed it, save the world. Some evil bloke's been messing around with things called 'origin points', destroying an origin point means that things cannot exist in the future, so Monica came back in time to sort everything out again. Oh yeah, and you've got to help.
The actual format of the game is similar to its predecessor; each dungeon is split into a series of floors which you have to work your way through in order to progress. These floors are randomly generated which means you'll never visit the same place twice, and although the general look of them is more varied than in Dark Cloud, after a while they will start to seem very samey. Still, there are plenty of areas for you to visit - they're all very typical game fare (forests, mountains, beaches etc.) but each looks significantly different to the previous one which means you'll never get that sick of seeing them.
The actual aim of hack-n-slashing your way through these places is to find 'Geostones', these handy little pebbles hold the information for building houses, trees, rivers etc. and also tell you what you need to do to keep your people happy. Meeting certain criteria fixes stuff in the future, and thanks to your mysterious stone you can zip backwards and forwards in time to check your progress. Finding people to live in your newly built houses is down to you this time as well, and you'll occasionally have to make trips back to your home town (Palm Brinks) and recruit people to come and live in your villages. Not everyone will want to leave, so you'll have to carry out tasks or find them something to persuade them to come with you.
Dark Chronicle's battle system is simple but effective; there's a definite Zelda element to it in as much as it's all in real-time and you have the choice of both short and long-range attacks. If that wasn't enough to satisfy you there's a huge range of attacking items that can be equipped and used with the Square button, which add a bit of variation. Another nice touch is the inclusion of the 'Ridepod', a hefty robot that you can jump on at any time with Max and use it to take out bigger enemies. The baddies themselves are a varied bunch, there are different groups that are confined to certain areas, but you'll come across tougher versions of some of them later in the game. They all have strengths and weaknesses that are loosely based on the properties of your weapons, and you'll really have to get to grips with these if you want to survive. You'll run into a boss or two along the way as well, and although some of these battles are quite clever, most of them are just too easy and feel like a waste of time.
DC's graphics have been totally overhauled and it now looks and feels almost like you're playing a storybook - It's cel-shading with a difference and everything from the characters to the smoke coming from chimneys of houses looks absolutely stunning, and I think it's the perfect look for a game of this type. Once you've created your villages from an overhead view, a press of the Select button takes you straight down to walk around them, and seeing what you've built from the ground is very satisfying. Bustling towns actually feel like bustling towns, with people going about their business and occasionally asking you for a favour or offering a valuable bit of info.
The amount of side quests and distractions in Dark Chronicle is incredible, there are literally hundreds of hours of gameplay if you feel that way inclined - and if you're not careful this game could take up every minute of your free time. As well as upgrading your weapons and your Ridepod, you can also invent items from scratch. Using your camera to take photos and listening to hints from people or reading posters gives Max the inspiration he needs to make pretty much anything, from essentials like Bread to entirely new Ridepod parts and so on. Fishing is also a handy way of making money and comes into the plot at a few points, and after clearing dungeons you can also play 'Spheda' (its like Golf, only less complicated).
Dark Chronicle is an excellent title, the main story will keep you playing it for ages but the sheer number of extras will mean that you'll probably never see every element of the game. It's a decent improvement on the original, which was a genuinely brilliant game in its own right. It could possibly have done with more variation in the dungeons but the random nature of the game doesn't really allow that. If you were a fan of Dark Cloud then this is an absolute must buy, and even if you weren't I'd still recommend giving it a look, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
- The graphics are brilliant.
- Rebuilding towns is incredibly addictive.
- There's a seemingly unlimited amount of things to do.
- Still suffers from slightly repetitive dungeons.
- Monica is cooler than Max and it should probably be the other way round.