Dark Cloud 2 follows up the popular RPG of two years ago. The innovative Georama system has returned, but this time, the way you build your cities has a much bigger effect on the story. Dark Cloud 2 also features several of its own unique weapons. Players can create their own weapons in two ways: taking pictures and inventing them, or by using special Synth crystals that combine with existing ones to make a more powerful weapon. Another key change this time is the game's cel-shaded look, which gives it a distinct look. Despite what seem like gimmicks, Dark Cloud 2 is at its core, a deeply satisfying RPG. It offers an engaging quest with interesting characters and more than 100 hours of play, including side-quests and mini-games. Join us as we examine Dark Cloud 2 and find out why its such a big improvement from the original game.
While the original Dark Cloud won praise for it's gameplay and story, there were still a few elements that needed a little bit more polished. Fortunately, Sony and acclaimed developer Factor 5 have implemented many solid tweaks for the long-awaited sequel. However, they haven't thrown the good stuff out, and Dark Cloud 2 retains many of the charming elements that made the first game so unique. The storyline is more impressive and expansive this time around, with improved storylines and better character development making for a more engaging game. As Dark Cloud 2 begins, we meet a young mechanic named Max who lives a carefree life in a small village. Max is quite good with his tools works for a kindly inventor, who helps him polish his skills. However, the village is closed off from the outside world and the villagers live without knowledge of the world around them. One day, the circus comes to the village, along with an evil scientist who holds an eerie power over the mayor. Max finds himself ensnared in a series of events unfolds that lead the young hero to leave his town. His mission is to find his destiny outside the sheltered walls of his home. Along the way, he'll battle hundreds of monsters and meet many new friends while exploring the vast worlds. Among these friends are several members of his party and a second playable female character named Monica. These characters set out on an adventure that helps them to unravel the mysteries behind his mother's disappearance and the true motivations of the evil madman who is after the ruby around his neck.
Dark Cloud 2 is for the most part a fairly standard RPG and features a modified turn-based battle system that allows you to fight opponents in real time while still retaining the strategic elements that make a good RPG so satisfying. While the first few levels are a piece of cake, DC2 becomes much harder as you progress through the game. Once the player exits to the outside world, he'll encounter a range of NPC's who'll help him on his journey by giving him advice or items to use. One interesting aspect of the fighting system is that instead of merely inputting a command while you passively watch, you are actively involved in the battles. You can target enemies and can use this technique in later rounds to fire your weapon at them from a safe distance. The game allows you to pick up an extensive array of objects including weapons, potion, food and, other items. Players start off with a standard array of weapons and spells, but these can be enhanced by Spectrumizing special various objects into Synth Spheres, once this has been accomplished, Max can then synthesize these with his existing weapons to build up their strength and enhance their fighting powers.
Max also gains money for successful battles and can use this to buy additional items as well. During the dungeon crawls, players will also come across numerous chests, which can give them items when opened. The other main method of gaining items is to destroy the monsters, which also increases your health and experience points, depending on the difficulty of the opponent. Another important aspect of battling the monsters is that defeating them is the only way you can acquire the key that unlocks the next level. Once this is found, you don't need to traverse through the rest of the level and can head immediately for the exit. So far, Dark Cloud seems like it unfolds in a fairly traditional way with dungeons and battles coming at the player at a good pace. In addition to the standard RPG sequences, Dark Cloud 2 also features a variety of mini-games. These are scattered throughout the game and make a nice change of pace from the usual gameplay. Another change from the norm is that it seems to have more cinematic cut-scenes this time around, which enhances the experience.
However, the biggest change from most RPG titles has been carried over to the new game. This is the Georama system that allows you to place objects, people and buildings throughout the game world. While the first game's Georama was nicely done, it's much more elaborate and flexible this time around. It doesn't come into play until you're into the game a bit, but this powerful feature also ties in nicely with the game's story and plays a huge role in your character's past, present, and future. You can gain objects for use in the Georama by defeating monsters, finding them in various locations or by purchasing them in shops. Placing objects correctly plays a large role in how successful you'll be during the game. It seems a little intimidating at first, but DC2 does an excellent job in explaining the controls and techniques to the player, and you can call these instructions up at any point if you need additional help. This is definitely the key element that differentiates Dark Cloud 2 from other RPG's and is implemented effectively with an intuitive control scheme that makes it relatively easy to use.
Dark Cloud 2's controls are fairly decent and most players should have little trouble with most actions in the game. Movement and shooting are easy enough, though locking on to your target is much easier than firing at them blindly. DC 2's environments seem a little more interactive than normal as well, and players can lift and throw crates at enemies, which is something you couldn't do in the original game. The game's inventory system is surprisingly easy to navigate making selecting and using items fast and intuitive, though players need to be careful here because there are a limited number of items, so it's wise not to get in the habit of using the special spells as a crutch. The amount you can carry is surprisingly large, meaning you won't have to leave too many items behind. One of the most important items you receive early on is the camera. You use the camera to take pictures of various objects during the course of your adventure. After you have taken pictures of specific objects, you can save them in your portfolio. Taking pictures of the correct objects means that you can combine them together to form special inventions, which are then placed as items in your inventory. This adds a new dimension to the gameplay and gives Dark Cloud 2 a distinct feel. The camera system works well with the existing controls and is very easy to operate, with zoom, pan and scrolling functions that are easy to learn. While photography elements have been used in other games, it still makes a nice break from the dungeon crawls.
While all these changes to the gameplay are interesting and exciting, the thing most players will notice immediately are the graphics. Dark Cloud 2 completely changes the look of the action by changing everything over to a cel-shaded look. This gives the entire game a rich, cartoon-style appearance. Other games such as Wild Arms 3 and Zelda: The Wind Waker have taken a similar approach, but Dark Cloud 2 works because it fits in the atmosphere nicely. The character and enemy designs in the game are largely consistent with this style, and the anime look is rather refreshing, though it's kind of hard to be intimidated by cartoon frogs, clowns and other weird deformed foes. The game's music is very good as well, enhancing the overall atmosphere but not overwhelming the gameplay. Dark Cloud 2's voiceovers are decent, with above-average acting lending life to the many characters. Sony and Factor 5 deserve praise for putting together a solidly produced title that's aesthetically pleasing and interesting.
Unfortunately, there are some problems that detract from the overall experience. The story line gets bogged down during the first few levels and the weapons, photography/invention and georama systems become a little overblown when taken together, causing too much of a distraction from the main quest. Still, these are all interesting ideas that help to break up the dungeon crawls and battles. DC2's characters themselves help the game's appeal with engaging personalities and an interesting plot that players should be able to at least tolerate them for the duration. Controlling the game is simple enough and the intuitive interface is easy to use, especially if you go through the tutorials and read the manual beforehand. Its visuals are interesting and give Dark Cloud 2 an endearingly innocent feel that evokes a sense of child-like wonder. The game isn't overly difficult and its frequent save points means progression shouldn't be hard. Dark Cloud 2 is a solid sequel that retains the feel of the original and builds on the success of its predecessor. Despite some minor problems, the summary is that this is an excellent role-playing game that should appeal to fans of the genre who are looking for something a little different from the norm.