Early in the life of the PlayStation 2, when RPGs were still scarce, an RPG appeared and it was gobbled up by consumers like a monkey in a shark pool. While not exactly the greatest game ever made, it did get credit for originality. Town building is an idea that has appeared in games like Breath of Fire II, but Dark Cloud's Georama system of collecting aspects of the town ("Alta") in a little jewel and then depositing them somewhere on the town map was quite addictive. Now the game formerly known as Dark Chronicle has switched its name to the more buyer-enticing Dark Cloud 2, and the PlayStation 2 will be enshrining its second self-contained series.
Dark Cloud 2's story steps into the realm where others have had great success: time travel. Yuris, boy genius and inventor, lives 100 years after the events portrayed in the original DC. His life is turned upside down, sideways, and back-to-front when he meets up with a time-travelling warrior named Monica. It seems that some villain from the future has destroyed much of the world from Yuris's time in order to prevent a revolution in his own era. Only through using the Alta can these two again restore the world.
And my, how pretty they're going to look doing it! DC2 does away completely with the bland graphics of its predecessor to make use of cell-shading technology. Although this graphical style is already becoming somewhat overused, Level 5 have shown themselves to be quite masterful in its application. Light, pastel colors make up Dark Cloud 2's visuals, giving the game vibrancy not seen in other cell-shading titles. The game's design should also serve to distance itself from Dark Cloud. There is a variety of settings for the "dungeons" in this game, as opposed to dark cave after dark cave. Players will travel through colorful forests and other places, all filled with an admirable amount of detail. The sights in the background should help break the cramped monotony of the first DC. The detail also extends to the characters, and their faces show a great range of emotion - far greater than DC hero Toan's face that was in a constant state of awe. The story will be augmented by (hopefully well-done) cut scenes and character voiceovers. For those who might be curious to know if there are any technical aspects of the sequel that resembles those of the original, then yes, there is - unfortunately. The ding-ding-dinky-doot type music is back, so the graphics and the gameplay will have to work extra hard to keep the player enraptured.
As far as combat is concerned, Dark Cloud 2’s is slower-paced than other contemporary action-RPGs, but there is also a tad more strategy involved. Players are encouraged to use the lock-on feature to almost duel the enemy, as the player experiments with different evasive moves and various attack types. There are only two party members in the game now, so presumably they both have access to a full range of attacks: ranged, melee and magic. The player can switch control from Yuris to Monica at any time while in a dungeon. Many fans will be happy to hear that the dungeons are no longer randomized; however, judging from the in-game maps, the dungeon designs haven’t improved much from the square boxes connected by long corridors. Of course, this previewer never notices sloppy dungeon design unless there is an in-game map, so it is up to the player to see if he or she takes issue with the problem.
The second incarnation of the Georama system gives players far more freedom in building their towns. The buildings and fences and what have you can now be placed on angles, and even the terrain levels can be altered. Rather than filling up the houses with pre-determined items, the player has control over who gets what, and even over what kind of paint job it will receive. The Georama system is linked to the time travelling – what the towns look like in the past will effect what the future turns out to be. This might be where the player loses a bit of his or her freedom: it might be necessary for story purposes to have the future turn out in a certain way. Still, if the rewards are good enough, as they were in Dark Cloud, then it will be fun nonetheless.
This preview has constantly compared the two titles in the series, yet rarely is the follow up to a successful RPG so unlike the original. Although the market is hardly suffering for RPGs these days – especially action RPGs – it is still a fair bet that Dark Cloud 2 will be well on its way to becoming a Greatest Hit of its own on the eighteenth of February.