Title :Dark Cloud 2
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :SCEA
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :8.0
Review by :Ken Gagne

A hero from the future has travelled to the past to change all that will be. No, it's not this summer's Terminator 3 — it's Dark Cloud 2, a PlayStation 2 game from Sony. 

Though occasionally compared to Zelda, Dark Cloud has only superficial resemblances to that game. Dark Cloud is a 3D adventure game where the heroes gain experience and gold, go shopping, and play out a story, as in a role-playing game (RPG), but the battles are real-time, with buttons for swinging swords and dodging bullets. 

To describe Dark Cloud 2 in a word: busy. 

Let's start with the Max's armaments. His weapons are durable, but not indestructible, and must be restored using a limited supply of Repair Power before they break. They can also be upgraded to new forms, or enhanced in their current forms. This latter process involves "spectrumizing" other items, or distilling their essences, and "synthesizing", or combining essences with weapons to increase their attributes. Players can switch between multiple characters, each with unique weapons and vehicles, which can also be modified. 

Next are inventions. Max can get ideas by taking photographs of nearby items, then combining three of these hundreds of ideas into a wondrous item or powerful weapon. A trash can, pipe, and belt can be converted into an energy source for a robot, but a mailbox, pumpkin, and clock may not prove so useful. 

Then there's the dungeons, which may also take the form of forests, mountains, and other settings, each a dozen "levels" or more deep. Each floor is randomly generated, ensuring a new experience for every gamer with each play. But without any human genius supporting these machinations, the casual layout and stray monsters and treasures ultimately defeat this potential for newness. 

The settings don't stop there. Max must rebuild the world from scratch using the Georama system, which allows him to plot the location of buildings, people, and other environmental accessories. Players have more control over this process than they did in the original Dark Cloud, granting them the freedom to design their own setting. 

Those are the essential elements of gameplay, which give players many options and duties with which to tackle the mundane. The challenge is not what to invent, but how; not who the enemy is, but how to defeat him. 

I do not find such trials engaging. No matter my weapon, character, or vehicle, I know that the next level will be as indeterminate as the last, and will involve mashing buttons to defeat enemies until one reveals the key to the next level, where I can start again. 

There is more engagement to be found in the game's presentation. Using cel shading, the graphics are colorful and cartoonish, with characters moving animatedly through a vivid world. Everyone speaks with surprisingly effective and comical voice acting, and adventures to music that is upbeat and catchy. 

If random dungeons are to your liking, then Dark Cloud 2 offers hours of rewarding experimentation and replay value. I found myself lost in the dark mists of customization and a gameplay the crux of which is too repetitive.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 25-Mar-03