Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone







Up to this point, the PS2 has had some decent RPG’s such as Evergrace and Eternal Ring, but there really hasn’t been anything of much scope or magnitude that really pushed the envelope. This has all changed with the release of Sony’s magnificent Dark Cloud, an expansive RPG that features a deep weapons system, plenty of cool items and real-time battles. It also helps that the game features some of the most impressive visuals seen on the console to date. The RPG elements are solid but the biggest innovation in Dark Cloud lies in the unique Georama system that adds a new level of immersion to the experience, making for a unique hybrid between role-playing and the popular city-building genre. Join the journey as we look at this sophisticated RPG and find out if the excitement the title has created is justified.

Dark Cloud starts with an elaborate and impressive cinematic sequence that introduces the storyline. An evil military man named Flag has decided to unleash the great evil over the world. He does this by having his minions perform an evil ritual dance. Nearby, in the innocent village of Norune, the inhabitants are also dancing, but their aim is more innocent, they are celebrating harvest festival. Unfortunately, while the villagers are dancing, Flag’s ritual succeeds in unleashing the Dark Genie who destroys the nearby village. Just before this can occur, the benevolent Spirit King encases all the people and places in obs called Atla which are then scattered great distances. A young man named Toan witnesses the destruction of his village and as the only survivor is called on by the Spirit King to correct this great injustice.

This is how the journey begins - in Dark Cloud, you take the role of young Toan and your mission is to find all the inhabitants and houses in your village and restore them to their proper place. Young Toan awakens to find the place where his village once stood is a wasteland. He must battle the demons and monster below in the Dungeons and claim Atla and other special items.  The Atla can be found as special items in the dungeons. One you find an Atla, you can return to the surface and slowly restore your village piece by piece and person by person. There are two areas of Dark Cloud, the above ground world, where your village lies and the subterranean dungeons where you do battle with various monsters, find weapons, magic items and the all-important Atla. Each level of the dungeon has its own secrets and once you get to the final level, you face a difficult boss. You have to unlock and find all the Atla in each dungeon and must locate the village pieces that have been scattered. While there isn’t much to do in the ground world initially, it gets a lot more interesting later on, but first you have to enter the dungeons. To do this in the dungeon levels, you can transport yourself via mind meld either when you’ve defeated all the enemies or use an escape powder when things get rough.  

During the dungeon sequences, there are several other things that you’ll need to be aware of, but luckily despite the apparent complexity, most of the game is easy to understand especially for RPG veterans who should find the conventions familiar and well-done. Toan’s weapons are the first thing you’ll need to get to grips with because the system used here isn’t quite as simple as that in other RPGs. There are multiple levels of all the weapons and they gradually deteriorate and eventually vanish as you use them. Luckily, you can upgrade the weapons or buy attachments to make them stronger. There are several types of boss enemies in the game, all represented elementally (Air, Wind, Fire & Water) and Toan must use the proper weapons in defeating them. Knowing which one is the most effective is the key to success in Dark Cloud. There are many types of these weapons in the game and you have to see how effective they are against enemies. Toan also needs to keep an eye on both his health and thirst. This can be replenished either with special items found in the dungeons or by going to special waterfall areas in the dungeons.

Once you’ve beaten all the enemies in a dungeon, or have decided to return to the surface after your initial battles, you can then begin the task of restoring your village. This is done via the innovative Georama system that allows you to place buildings and villagers on the surface, as many god-games allow you to do. You can also place other objects such as rivers and trees on the landscape as well, giving you plenty of versatility. Each of the landscaping elements also need to be found in the dungeons. What’s really impressive about the Georama’s implementation is that you can the go inside the houses and talk to the saved villagers almost instantaneously once you’ve placed them. This gives the tasks a great immediacy that really makes the experience more immersive and enjoyable. There are several things you’ll also need to do in conjunction with this. The Villagers each have their own requests that you need to fulfill in order to both make them happier and restore the village to its normal state. For example, a villager may want his sword, so if it’s in your inventory, you can give it to him. Once you’ve fulfilled the villagers’ requests, this may make them happy enough to give you additional information for your quest.

One the biggest problems with traditional RPG’s are their turn-based battle systems, which really get repetitive and annoying after awhile. The complex menus also tend to make the battles too convoluted to be fun, especially since you have to wait between turns, which is both annoying and completely detaches the player from the action. Some people enjoy the strategic approach and the main reason this was implemented was due to the limitations inherent in older technology, but the turn-based formula seems to be an anachronism these days. Fortunately, Dark Cloud does away with this type of system and instead opts for a Zelda-esque real time battle system, where your actions are immediate. Fortunately, as in most traditional RPG’s, you can still utilize special items by the hitting the menus to unleash a magic attack, but the combat itself is real-time. The hybrid approach makes Dark Cloud more of an action-oriented title that should be broader in appeal without losing the involving gameplay aspects. Most importantly, this allows the player to become more fully engaged in the storyline instead of trying to wade through an overly complex menu system.

While there’s plenty of action for thumb-fetishists, Dark Cloud’s intuitive, nearly transparent menu system allows for plenty of depth as well as seen in the complexity of its weapon and magic systems. Most of the menus in the game are easy to understand and designed intelligently to allow the players to perform tasks with ease. Dark Cloud’s interface is streamlined, with most actions requiring mainly a drag-and-drop. For example, to use food, you simply drag the icon over the character and the game automatically adds to their health. Upgrading, removing and enhancing weakened weapons is similarly easy to perform which allows players to concentrate on their task. Other tasks require a minimum of effort which is also appreciated because too many RPG’s suffer from overly complex systems. Using the Georama feature is similarly intuitive, you select an icon from the config screen then place it on the world edit screen and it’s automatically added to the environment and as stated before, instantaneously able to be used in the regular walk around mode. You can also move objects around in the edit screen, add items and people to houses as you find them and can also edit the basic layout of the city with ease. The menu’s are clearly designed and simple to navigate and their consistent design is also intelligent and favorable to the player. Dark Cloud’s in HUD is very good as well, allowing for a quick visual reference to your status without intruding on the action. The game also has an excellently designed on-screen map which helps immensely and makes progression a much simpler task.

From a visual standpoint, Dark Cloud is one of the best-looking PS2 titles to date. The game has a rich and immersive environment with beautiful light sourcing, reflections, and a very smooth frame rate allowing for some truly action packed sequences. Making the graphics all the more impressive are the smooth transitions from the world edit to the walking around modes, which are a bit startling and really showcase the game’s powerful graphics engine, giving Dark Cloud a pleasing visual consistency. Those much-dreaded jaggies that plagued early PS2 titles aren’t really here either, making the appearance overall one of a highly-polished, beautifully rendered world. Dark Cloud shows undeniably that the console’s games are maturing rapidly from a technical standpoint. One of the most heavily promoted features of the game the transitions from day to night – this is an impressive effect. This makes the environments appear that much more realistic and immersive. Dark Cloud’s animation is also quite impressive, with beautifully designed characters moving throughout the game’s rich environments. The overall design of the game’s character, enemies, and environments is also quite pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint, with Dark Cloud effectively placing the player in another world. Dark Cloud’s music is excellentcreating a good counterpoint to the action at most points. A lack of voiceovers is the only thing that’s a tad disappointing since all the dialogue occurs in word-bubbles. Still, this is an RPG after all, and using text-based communication makes extracting important information easier since spoken conversations are harder to remember and decipher.

The most important thing about any RPG are its characters and storyline. While it’s not the most original story ever told in a video game, Dark Cloud’s characters are very appealing and players should be able to identify with the protagonist’s motivation immediately. As you move further into the game and meet other characters who join your party and begin to explore the world, Dark Cloud gets more involving, especially when we meet the girl Toan loves – suddenly the game becomes richer. The way the plot gradually unfolds, becoming increasingly grand, almost epic in scale is also one of the aspects of Dark Cloud goes a long way towards keeping players motivated. While initially, the only task you seem to want to do is to restore the village, eventually it becomes an epic quest where you have to restore both formerly warring hemispheres to their glory and basically save the world with your fellow adventures. Dark Cloud’s story is both involving and interesting with a good narrative that unfolds in a pleasing arc with a few big surprises along the way. What’s most impressive is how the gameplay itself ties so nicely with the story, they seem to compliment each other and give the player a real motivation to continue. What really makes Dark Cloud so clever is that it’s basically impossible to finish the game without completely restoring the world to its natural state which gives players quite a bit of motivation to continue on. This is very important because the quest in Dark Cloud is quite a long one, this game will absolutely require a serious time-investment on the part of players so it’s crucial that the experience is an enjoyable one.

While there have been several RPG released on the PS2 to date, nothing has come close to the grandness of Dark Cloud. Even though some purists may find the interface a bit simplified, the innovative menu system is intuitive and allows players to concentrate on the action. What’s even better is that Dark Cloud’s innovative Georama system introduces a city building element to the game which makes the experience that much more immersive and enjoyable allowing players more control over the environments. This could have worked poorly but because the Georama system is so fully integrated into the storyline, the hybrid game works extremely well, making both elements of the game feel important and necessary. Dark Cloud’s evocative environments help to make the world more believable, and the seamless integration of its two different gameplay modes give the adventure a satisfying richness. The depth of its weapons and magic system is greatly appreciated and makes for a satisfyingly complex adventure. While Dark Cloud is a long, involving title that is quite time-consuming, it rewards players with a highly engrossing and satisfying play experience. Since the game is more action-oriented, Dark Cloud doesn’t wear out it’s welcome as a more traditional RPG of similar length might. It also doesn’t hurt that the graphics are impressive, rich and smooth or that the characters and storylines are appealing and interesting. Dark Cloud is easily the best RPG to appear on the PS2 so far, with superb visuals, engrossing gameplay and many innovations. For players who prefer the Zelda-style of RPG to the Final Fantasy type, Dark Cloud delivers a solidly entertaining experience that shouldn’t be missed.