October 19, 2001
Dark Cloud - Review
Release Date Publisher Developer Players Rating Price
21/9/2001SonyLevel 51M$99.95
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Some of the superb village detail.
One of the hottest genres in the last couple of years is the Role Playing Game (RPG). Ever since Square unleashed Final Fantasy 7 on the PSOne the anticipation and expectations for bigger and better RPG's has grown yearly. Indeed, the anticipation for Square's Final Fantasy X is at fever pitch with Japanese gamers already snapping up over 2.6 million copies, as well as a further 10,000 copies per week. Unfortunately, American and European gamers will not see Square's phenominal game until February/March next year which leaves RPG fans with very little to do. Or so it seemed until Sony dropped this little gem onto the market and into the hands of unsuspecting gamers. Dark Cloud has all the ingredients of a wonderful game with a strong story, vibrant graphics, and great gameplay.

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Collecting items from the chests.
Developed by Level 5 in Japan, Dark Cloud manages to blend both traditional RPG elements as well as a more standard strategy and action type gameplay. The plot of the game is a little unusual and revolves around a young, innocent boy named Toan on an unforgettable epic journey of rebirth, revival and renewed hope. An evil genie has been released and has left destruction in its wake by destroying villages and killing the people living in them. Fortunately, a Fairy King has preserved Toan's home own of Nolun in a series of magic spheres called 'atla' which have been scattered in dungeons across the land. As you can probably already surmise Toan takes up the task of finding these 'atla' and re-building his town to its former glory. He must harness the spirit of those destroyed and rebuild the lands in preparation for a final epic confrontation with the demon spirit.

Dark Cloud is really split up into three different game areas. The first is the exploration of the 15 level dungeons to find the 'atla' buried deep beneath the land. As you would expect the dungeons are crawling with plenty of monsters looking to destroy you at the first opportunity. Once you have cleared the dungeon and collected enough of the 'atla' your second task is to help rebuild the town and restore the people living there. Unlike so many other games however this re-building is quite complex and very detailed. You will have to place things such as houses, trees, rivers, paths, bridges and more while each building must also be re-populated and given back the items that belong to them such as barbells, fences, lamps extra rooms etc. Fortunately, the villagers will help you discoer what belongs in each part of the village. Best of all it's possible to walk around your town in 3D to see how it's shaping up and talk to people. The third main area of the game occurs after you have restored your village as you must then got and destroy the evil genie, who by this time has set up quite a defensive system to protect himself. Defeating him is no easy task.

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Now that's a sword.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Dark Cloud is how the developers have blended the building, exploration and action components to create one very enthralling game. The battles, while a little simplistic compared to other RPG's, are fast and frantic while the game also allows you to combine items to create more powerful weapons. As you progress through the game you will meet five other people who will assist you in your journey by joining your party. These characters can be switched to during the dungeon exploration sections of the game and really help to break up the monotony of battling monsters with Toan. Naturally, each of these allies has his/her own strengths and weaknesses and at certain points in the game you will need to change characters to complete a task or defeat an enemy.

There are, however, a few niggles with Dark Cloud. The biggest problem is the fact that your weapons can break and be destroyed while in combat. This can be horrific if you've spent much of the game building up a weapon to a point where you can kick some serious ass only to have it destroyed through a short memory lapse. During one dungeon you may have to repair your weapon up to half a dozen times, and it becomes a little tiresome. Another problem with Dark Cloud is that it can take a few hours to really get into the game, which sadly may be too long for some. It's definitely worth persisting until you find your colleagues and have built the village to access more items.

While playing Dark Cloud you will probably notice that the developers have taken a lot of influence from Nintendo's Zelda games. The most obvious of these is the auto lock-on while in battle. This stops the chance of swinging your sword only to realise your character was facing the wrong direction by 45° and misses the opponent by inches.
There are a couple of other things which, while not really problems as such, may be questionable to many people. Rather oddly the game includes duelling mode with certain enemy characters where you basically enter a Parappa styled competition to defeat the enemy. During this you must press a series of buttons at exactly the right moment in order to defeat the foe. It seems strangely out of place in a RPG game and may have been better left out. One other facet of the game which I wasn't keen on was the random design of the dungeons. Every time you enter a dungeon, even in the same game, everything has been totally re-designed and shuffled around by the CPU. It may increase the longevity of the game, but it's a pain in the ass when you want to return to a spot to defeat an enemy or collect an item.

As you can probably see from the surrounding screenshot this game is nice to look at, but never really pushes the system too hard. Unfortunately, due to the extremely long development process with the game, Dark Cloud looks a little dated when sitting beside other newer games, such as Final Fantasy X. The foregrounds and characters are quite detailed but the texturing on the distant buildings and in the dungeons looks decidedly average. Dark Cloud also sufferes from a bit of fogging and draw in, especially outside, but at an acceptable distance from the main character. Fortunately, the game manages to retain a fairly steady frame rate throughout, even during the battles.

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Dungeon texturing is bland at times.
As with the graphics the sound is adequate, but not mind-blowing, in Dark Cloud. It's a shame that the characters aren't voiced throughout the game as the DVD format should have provided plenty of storage capacity for speech. Another minor problem, as with almost every lengthy RPG, is the repetition of the music. It won't be too long before you'll be hearing the same music to signify an event or battle. Having said that, however, the quality of the music and sound effects is very high, and definitely a set up from many other RPG's.

It's pretty safe to say that this isn't the greatest RPG ever, but it is very solid. Dark Cloud will take you quite some time, and effort, to complete and should keep you happy until the big RPG guns of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X appear sometime next year. I guess you could say that Dark Cloud, or the building sections at least, are very similar to Enix's old Super Nintendo classic ActRaiser (but not the poor action based sequel) while the game also includes a big dose of Nintendo's Zelda type gameplay thrown in for good measure. Dark Cloud is an enthralling and gripping title that should be seriously considered at the very least.

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