Review of Dark Cloud
Toan (the main character), is just relaxing at home in his village when his whole world gets rocked. An evil man, Colonel Flag, has decided for his own demented reasons that he wants to wipe-out everything on the planet… starting with your hometown. Not alone are his dastardly deeds done, for aiding him in his carnage is the Dark Genie. No one has a sliver of a chance against this menace and before long virtually everywhere is devoid of people; even the very houses that they dwelt in are gone. Here your quest, and sacred obligation begin.
Your task is to restore everything to the way it once was. It is a daunting task full of peril and hard journeys, but with the guidance of the Fairy King and the help of some faithful allies along the way, the world will be restored and the Dark Genie and his twisted master will once again be silenced.
Dark Cloud is a game like no other. It combines elements of an action adventure, role-playing and even a scaled down sim-type town building system. While exploring the dungeon areas, battles are in real-time; you control a single character against monsters that roam your way.
The other major part of the game is its so-called Georama (world building) system. By finding pieces of your world scattered throughout the various dungeons, the rebuilding of the villages is entirely in your hands. More detail will follow, but rest assured, this is a unique and intriguing game.
By rebuilding the villages you will progress through the game, which is divided into chapters, each village is a chapter. The ultimate goal is to find and stop the Dark Genie, who is the beast responsible for this whole mess in the first place. Layer by layer, and dungeon-by-dungeon you will eventually rebuild all of the once peaceful land, and then its lights out Dark Genie.
Although this may sound complex, thankfully its very much a game that most anyone can just dive right into. The manual itself is well done, and theres step-by-step help during the first sections of the game to explain in detail some of the more unique aspects of play.
As you travel through the dungeons you are constantly finding items, weapons and Atla. Atla is what the pieces of your world are stored in, in the form of giant spheres. The dungeons are randomly generated, meaning that each time you return to the same level the treasures, monsters and layout of the place is different. This was fine by me, and seemed to make the game that much more interesting. Also, when you eventually get access to other playable characters, you will be able to switch to another at will. That makes for a richer experience seeing as different characters are better suited for certain circumstances. Fighting is done in real-time and basically consists of attacking and using any available items, later though some combo moves are available.
As with all Role Playing adventures the main characters in Dark Cloud can have their abilities (life, defense, water) enhanced as you progress through the game. Where this differs from the norm, is that by far the most important items to increase in strength are not the people, but the weapons; as their strength (or level) determines how quickly enemies are defeated. Several types even have magical abilities that can inflict huge amounts of damage on your foes. Attaching items to a weapon increases its power and the more fights you have with it, the greater the experience (skill) level grows. Once the weapon reaches level five or higher a status break can occur. If a weapon is status broken sixty percent of all the attributes are sealed inside of whats called a synth-sphere. This sphere can then be attached to another weapon, and so on. It can get quite detailed at times and there are often several different options when it comes to weapon management, so be careful.
The weapons management and stat build up is an important feature of the game, and you will not progress far without using it wisely. That said though, it is easily managed and even a beginner to this type of feature will be using it like a pro within no time.
When in the dungeon areas, be prepared to fight. The commands are fairly basic; you can attack with your weapon (changes depending on which character is in use) or use items that are in your pocket. Keep in mind that movement of the characters is strictly done with the left analog stick. Attacks are done with a simple press of the X button, but in certain situations you can charge up an attack for a more lethal blow. By repeated pressing of the attack button, quick combo attacks can be had. Added is the ability to lock-on, with this enabled at the users command, the camera will always center the monster in battle. You may also switch to other targets. If escape is more prudent at the time, just press the lock-on button again to disengage, and run.
The pocket items (3) can be used at any time by another easy press of a button (square). This comes in extremely handy. Say you are about to croak, just position the cursor, using the D-pad, over some cheese in one of your three pockets, and hit the square button. Instant health on the fly, cool.
The dungeon battles seem to be just a way to get experience points so your weapon can be built up in levels, but they are also fun and with the changing enemies and areas they dont get redundant. Its always fun using items and other characters to take the enemies out.
Building the towns using the Georama is actually very easy. Place pieces on the map and then explore what you just placed. While placing items, a top down view is presented. This makes for easy viewing and plotting. Once the piece is where youd like it, just hit the X button and its on to the next house, or road, or even tree. The way youre inventory is arranged and the help that the townsfolk provide make for an easy interface. The goal is to satisfy all of the people, and there are several ways to lay out the town so one can be as creative as one wishes. The pieces of the town are all collected in the dungeon areas, and its only when you return to where the town used to be that youre able to place pieces together, and put them anywhere on the map.
You are given a fair amount of freedom while arranging the towns. You feel like plopping a tree here, or a windmill there? No problem. Just be sure to listen to the townsfolk, or you wont get the best results, and your quest may fall short. The town pieces are in the inventory screen, so management and placement is easily facilitated. Pieces can also be rotated to face North, South, or away from that annoying guy next door. Seriously, the villagers have some strange requests.
Another excellent feature is what I call the zoom anywhere feature. When in a town area, with just a press of the Select button you are transported instantly to wherever you place the cursor. This saves time, as in the later parts of building you will traverse between dungeons and town areas frequently. This is also very cool when placing new houses or such. After you place a house on the overhead map, just press Select and bingo! Youre right outside the door. The whole reason for all of this fussing with the villages is to advance ever closer to that mean old genie and kick his petutie back to never-never land.
The gameplay is just right for me. I always love finding treasures and key items in my Rpgs and in Dark Cloud almost all you find is just that. There is also a fishing mini-game that can net you items and other goodies if one takes the time to play. The list of different fish is many and the different lures are varied also. Theres a whole new world lurking below the water, and Im determined to catch all those suckers.
Dark Cloud is a visual beauty. Everything looks wonderful. From the towns, to the dungeons, all is done in quality style. The texturing is nicely done also. The fabric on the furniture in the houses and even the fabric on Toan and the other characters are all well designed and flow nicely. There are also some classy visual effects too. The movement of the characters cloths and body parts are done in realistic fashion. In dungeons and villages torchlight puts off trails of heat and a warm glow.
The transformation of night into day is captured stunningly. Just stand in the middle of a town and watch all the glorious things happen; Candle will light, the windows in houses will illuminate, and the outdoors will take on a subtle and tranquil effect. Very nice. One other thing that looks ravishing is the water. With the look of translucent mercury, the water cannot be matched on any Playstation game I have ever played.
My one and only gripe with the graphics is some fog and pop-up. This is very minimal. The fogging is in the town area, and is used across vast areas. The ONLY pop-up I recall seeing are the townspeople themselves. Im not sure if it was a technical issue, or done for other reasons. People are represented by floating blue triangles, as you get closer they just POP right there into view. I didnt care for this, but considering the superb quality of the entire rest of the game, it has been easily forgiven.
The audio is a mixed bag here. The opening track, and some of the tracks spattered through the game are very catchy and a pleasure to hear, unfortunately throughout most of the game this isnt the case. The music while playing is nice and all, but not too inspiring and sometimes can get monotonous. On the other hand the sound effects of the surrounding areas and ambient noises scattered throughout are a good offset to the sometimes-redundant music.
The game also makes some use of the surround sound system. For instance, while running near a waterfall you may hear the water noise rise and fall depending on the situation and placement of your character. The ambient sounds are also well done; crickets chirping and monsters making all kinds of weird noises can be heard off in the distance. This may have been the whole point on the designers; make the mood stand out more than the music.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Dark Cloud' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Robert Gibson © Absolute PlayStation
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