Dark Cloud 2 (PlayStation 2) review
"Even worse, many of these foes have holes in their AI large enough to drive the robotic Steve through. For example, those tiny dragons can be targeted from a distance and shot from long range AND unless their random flight pattern takes them a bit closer to Max or Monica, they won’t even notice they’re getting butchered."
Familiarity breeds contempt...
An old proverb, but one which seemed perfectly appropriate in describing the multitude of hours I’ve spent delving into Dark Cloud 2. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a particularly bad game -- in fact, at points I’ve been amazed at how well certain things have been pulled off, especially in comparison to its poorly-designed predecessor.
Gone is the annoying thirst meter devised to constantly force players to keep their heroes full of water (oftentimes easier said than done). Also “dearly” departed was the insanity of allowing weapons to break from overuse, negating the time and effort that went into evolving them into something of quality. Not that it was easy to build them up, as the items necessary to improve them tended to be very hard to keep in stock -- something else that fortunately was corrected in Dark Cloud 2.
I knew all of this going in -- believe me, there is no way I’d have ever dropped money on this game without the assurance those (and other) faults were corrected. At first I was rewarded for that decision, as Level 5 wasted no time in setting the stage for what promised to be an epic adventure. Monica, a young princess, fights off a quartet of rogues only to find out she’s too late to save her father. Standing over the now-deceased body of King Raybrandt is a robed, silver-haired villain.
The scene suddenly shifts to the busting town of Palm Brinks. Max, a youth in the employ of Cedric the Inventer, is excited about going to the circus. After a few minor miscues, the youth finally gets inside the big top....only to find he can’t see over the rest of the crowd. Showing a glimmer of intelligence, Max climbs up to the rafters, only to hear a strange sound. He investigates only to find Flotsam, the ringmaster, antagonizing the town’s weak-willed mayor over his failure to find a magical stone of some sort. Flotsam quickly notices Max and realizes that the gigantic rock around his neck is the stone he’s searching for. What a coincidence! Fortunately, Max has moves and proves capable of evading both Flotsam’s clown army and a gigantic machine piloted by the ill-tempered fellow and ducks into the sewers. Now, the game truly begins.
Much like the first Dark Cloud, much of the action takes place in dungeon settings, with these sewers being a great introduction to things. Max (and Monica, in later dungeons) can attack up close with items such as wrenches and swords, and from afar with guns or magical bracelets. Each level of every dungeon is loaded with all sorts of creepy critters, from Flotsam’s clowns to small airborne dragons to magic-firing ghosts. Proper use of both kinds of weapons is necessary to survive for an extended period of time, as some monsters are easy to pick off from a distance, while others fall quickly after getting thumped in the head a few times. Monsters made of stone will take very little damage from most weapons, but get shattered to bits by a sturdy hammer. Other might be most vulnerable to the sharp edge of a sword.
It doesn’t take long to get used to combat in Dark Cloud 2 and that’s a good thing, as there is plenty of it. Over the course of the seven storyline chapters and the bonus one unlocked afterwards, there must be well over 100 dungeon levels, meaning Max and Monica will be in more than their fair share of scuffles. To help out, Max gains the use of a powerful robot named Steve; capable of equipping cannons, machine guns, swords and more weapons to dispose of tough baddies. Less helpfully, Monica can gain the ability to turn into various weak monsters that take an eternity to level up enough to be even remotely useful.
When not fighting, the intrepid heroes will likely be rebuilding the world. You see, as Monica tells Max when she encounters him, a diabolical being known as Emperor Griffon decided to consolidate his power by wiping out anything he viewed as a threat. As a result of this, the civilized world consists of Palm Brinks....and very little else. In order to figure out how to find and defeat the Emperor, the heroes must rebuild a number of places in Max’s time and then warp to Monica’s time to reap the rewards of their labor. Items known as Georama stones are found in most levels of every dungeon except the introductory sewers and clue Max and Monica in as to what needs done in each area.
Fortunately, this task is far easier than in the original Dark Cloud, where it seemed every single item or person could only wind up in one place or the job wouldn’t be a success. There is a lot more latitude here -- as long as a handful of conditions are met, trees, houses and other materials can go pretty much anywhere.
Sounds like a great game, right? Unfortunately, familiarity breeds contempt....
Eventually, I became bored with just about everything in Dark Cloud 2. By about the fifth or sixth chapter, most enemies in the dungeons just sort of blended together thanks to a neverending series of palette-swapping. It doesn’t matter if they’re called Gemrons, Gundrons, Drakes or Wyrms -- they still are small airborne dragons and they all attack the same and can be beaten with the same techniques. It’s like this with virtually every enemy. Whether it be a rat, bat or gigantic tree, it’s a safe bet players will see them in three or four different dungeons -- only with a different name and slightly-altered appearance.
Even worse, many of these foes have holes in their AI large enough to drive the robotic Steve through. For example, those tiny dragons can be targeted from a distance and shot from long range AND unless their random flight pattern takes them a bit closer to Max or Monica, they won’t even notice they’re getting butchered. Other foes can easily be hung up on corners and taken apart from afar. And virtually every human-size (or smaller) monster can be knocked down by the final hit of a melee combo. What does this mean? That whichever character is being used can simply run behind them, wait for them to stand and continue pounding them while they struggle vainly to turn around. Sure, there are a few families of monster that are tough to top no matter what tactic is used, but I found beating most enemies to be an exercise in soulless domination as long as I properly powered up my weapons.
Perhaps Level 5 knew this and wanted to give players something to do besides fight. That would explain the abundance of mini-games. Many places (including dungeon levels) offer the opportunity to fish, while a golf-like game known as Spheda can be played after clearing most levels after it’s been unlocked. Winning either of Dark Cloud 2’s fishing contests or a round of Spheda gives the player a prize of some sort, so there at least is a reason to partake in these games, just like there is to use Max’s camera. Yes, our apprentice inventor hero loves to take pictures of virtually each and every thing he sees and then can use those pictures to come up with inventions -- including weapons and powerful healing items.
Other mini-games might have their uses, but are just plain annoying. Every dungeon level has a number of conditions which, if cleared, will give the player a medal. With some of these conditions, such as killing all monsters using nothing but items or by using Monica’s monsters, being difficult to meet, one would think these medals are quite lucrative, right? Nope, all they allow the player to do is purchase new clothes for Max and Monica. Fantastic. Also, seemingly everyone in town can (and likely must) be recruited to populate the various regions. No problem, right? Wrong. This adds a good 15 or 20 fetch quests to the game, as each of these people wants you to do something for them before they help you. In the end, it seems the primary purpose of these mini-games is to add length to the overall quest -- which already is bloated due to the excessive number of levels in most dungeons.
Still, Dark Cloud 2 is a pretty enjoyable game with a few memorable moments. The cel-shaded graphics are bright, colorful and utterly gorgeous. Some of the music, such as that which plays at Kazarov Stonehenge and the tune during the last dungeon level of each chapter, ranks among the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. The final series of climactic battles combine fast-paced action with a definite sense of tension and necessity. Dark Cloud 2 had the makings of a perfect game.
Unfortunately, perfection was elusive in this case. I found my self doing the same things over and over again for over 80 hours. I became intimately familiar with each basic dungeon design, each family of monster and, essentially, every aspect of this game. And, like I said, familiarity breeds contempt.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 28, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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