If there was ever to be a Zelda game created for Sony, Dark Cloud would be the result. Game companies borrow elements from other video games and place them into their own projects all the time, and Dark Cloud is a clear example of such “borrowed elements.” Dark Cloud’s artistic quality and battle styles are cloned versions to that of Sony’s competition. However, despite this, Dark Cloud brought a fun and challenging RPG to the beginnings of PlayStation 2.
First, some background information. Players begin the story as a young, elfish looking character by the name of Toan with pointy ears and a green cap (a striking resemblance to that of Link minus the Hyrulian shield and annoying fairy companion). One evening in Norune Village (Toan’s village), the evil Dark Genie, recently released from his magical prison by the “eastern” Colonel Flag, sets the village ablaze while the villagers were enjoying a festival. Toan and the mayor of Norune Village are the only surviving members left. Toan is asked by the guardian of natural spirits to rebuild the village and other communities that have been ravaged by the evil Dark Genie.
The goal of the story, other than defeating the Dark Genie, is to collect georama pieces. Dungeon by dungeon, Toan gathers georama pieces (which reminds me of a Nestle Wonder Ball. Who knows what’s in it?) to restore lost communities. The main plot of the story is often put off to the side with the exception of the constant reminder that you have to restore yet another village. You rarely see the Dark Genie and Colonel Flag once Toan is off fighting monsters in dungeons.
Dungeons are randomly organized with randomly generated monsters. Each dungeon contains roughly about 18-20 levels with the exception of the Demon Shaft which has 100 levels, but players don’t have access to this long and tough dungeon until after they defeat the Dark Genie. Dungeons from town to town are mechanically laid out the same. They just aesthetically look different. So there is a repetition that can often get boring. However, as you progress through the dungeons, monsters become harder and presents a tougher challenge for players. Occasionally players will come upon restricted zones within dungeons that put players at a slight disadvantage such as the need to replenish your thirst faster, or reducing experience of weapons.
The georama pieces that players are constantly collecting are then placed in the barren space that was once a village. Buildings are plotted and fitted with the proper needs of the owners. As players place the buildings correctly, rewards are found in small treasure chests that often contain health and water upgrades, weapon attributes that can be attached to your weapons to increase their strength, endurance, magic, and speed, as well as adding elemental properties and monster type bonuses. When houses are fully restored, the players is usually presented with a gift from the owner ranging anywhere from weapons to minuscule items.
Battle mechanics are familiar to those who have played Nintendo’s Zelda. It’s a lock & attack strategy. When the attack button is held down, a special move is performed from a spinning slash attack or a more powerful charged projectile attack. While locking on, players can strafe back and forth, block, move in to attack or back out and retreat. On top of the screen are three boxes where items can be assigned to and easily accessible with the directional pad. Toan is also accompanied by five other companions, and they can easily be switched in and out of battle. Each character has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and weapons. Toan, the main character is the well-balanced character equipped with a sword. Xiao is a cat-transformed character who wields a slingshot; perfect for long range and flying-type monsters. Goro is the powerful, bulky characters, but lacks in speed. He carries an axe or hammer, or sometimes a large fish. Ruby was once sealed in a magic lamp, but now has joined the team to fight the evil Dark Genie. She wears a magical ring that is great for long range attacks with an extra elemental charge. Ungaga was once known as a powerful warrior in his village and he carries a staff. Osmond is great engineer among the Moon People and is last to join the squad. Osmond holsters laser weapons and travels by jet pack. Outside of battle, characters are often required to switch in and out of to perform mundane tasks such as jumping over a gap or opening a door.
Each character has a numerous set of weapons to find and upgrade. As mentioned before, items can be attached to increase attributes such as attack, endurance, magic, and speed. Each weapon has a health bar, and weapon repair powders are often required to restore the weapon’s health. Otherwise, when weapons break, they disappear. Some monsters reduce weapon health faster than others, especially if the monster blocks. So players always need a healthy stock of weapon repair powder. So safe often, and watch the bar constantly. There is warning when a weapon is about to break with an alarming sound, but often in mid-battle, it’s hard to notice. When enough and sufficient upgrades are placed on weapons, they can evolve into stronger weapons. At a certain point, weapons can also become synthesized where they become an attribute to be placed on other weapons.
By today’s standards, Dark Cloud’s graphics are ancient, but back in 2001, they were quite stunning considering the PlayStation 2 just came out. Objects and people are craftily detailed and a lot of effort is shown in the game. Where I feel Dark Cloud failed in graphics and sound came with the lack of variation in music. I can only hear the same tune over and over again before it becomes annoying. Dialogue is a feature that would be of great benefit to the game. Dialogue in the game is found in text bubbles, an element that was seen in the previous generation of consoles, but not really expected in the newer engine and capabilities of the PlayStation 2. Often the camera gets stuck behind objects while players are locked on an enemy, and enemies themselves sometimes lack imagination.
Overall, Dark Cloud is a fun and challenging RPG with playtime nearing 30 hours. It’s a great Zelda alternative for non-Nintendo players. Despite the repetitiveness of dungeons and building of communities, the dungeons often are fun and it presents players with an extensive weapon system that drive players to keep playing.
Dark Cloud receives 8.5/10
Obviously, by today’s standards, Dark Cloud is barely a memory and by no means comparable to today’s games, but it is representative of early PlayStation 2 titles that we saw in the early 2000s. For those who only own the current generation of consoles probably have never heard of Dark Cloud which is a shame, because I’ve spent hours playing and enjoyed what it had to offer. It was the first RPG I played on the PlayStation 2 and holds dear to my heart. Dark Cloud 2 was a fantastic addition to the series which fixed the flaws of its original predecessor. It was rumored that Dark Cloud 3 was going to be created as a PlayStation 3 title back in 2009, but never came to light. Could it still happen? Who knows. I personally would love to see a third installment, but also on Xbox 360 or any future Xbox consoles. We will probably never see it on a Nintendo console because they own Zelda, but I suppose we may never know.
By Billy Peitz