Dark Cloud is the pinnacle of RPGs on the PlayStation 2. You might have heard of it way back in 2001, or maybe you’ve only just tapped into it with PlayStation 4’s PSNow. Dark Cloud was a great game, and very underrated. I won’t lie, I’m a huge fan of Dark Cloud and it was one of my favourite games as a kid. I can’t quite put my finger down on one particular thing that stood out to me, because it’s made up of so many innovative features that make the experience all the more immersive, even eighteen years onward. Dark Cloud shifted 800,000 units on PlayStation 2; still, it remains a hidden gem to many.
A Mysterious Story:
Right off the bat, the game reveals its main antagonist, the Dark Genie. After being reborn, the villain proceeds to destroy the world and everyone in it. Luckily, Toan – the protagonist – ends up getting saved by the magic of the good-hearted Fairy King. It is revealed that he safely sealed the village that Toan lived in within mystical artifacts known as Atla. Trudging through randomly generated dungeons, you set off to reclaim each of them.
The gameplay of Dark Cloud is made up of a lot of clever concepts and ideas. Dungeon-crawling in Dark Cloud is the native backbone of gameplay. You’ll make your way through a series of treasure-filled floors in each dungeon until you reach the boss. Additional playable characters can be recruited to help you fight through these as you progress through the story.
You can use three melee styles and three ranged styles. Swords, slingshots, hammers, magic rings, staffs and guns all make an appearance. As you slay enemies and earn XP for them, they will level up and become stronger. Plus, attachments can give them additional effects, like damage bonuses towards specific enemy types. Reaching certain conditions (Example: 20 Fire and 60 Attack) will allow you to turn the weapon into a new one. However, it comes with a twist. Let’s say you’re in the final dungeon – if your amazing sword breaks, you’ll lose all the power that was stored within, ultimately resetting itself to level one again. This aspect of weapon building can be cruel if you’re not wary. Still, it adds to the challenge.
Outside of combat, you’ll be able to use the Atla you’ve gathered to rebuild villages and locations. This final core-mechanic is vital in delivering Dark Cloud’s message. As you place more buildings and characters, you’ll be rewarded with special items. How the village is placed has a massive impact on the residents – it’s going to take time and dedication to make everyone happy. Creating your own villages is some of the most fun you can have in Dark Cloud.
Graphics & Sound:
Semi-cellular-shaded styles were still relatively new on the gaming scene when the PlayStation 2 came out. Graphically, Dark Cloud was one of the first games of its kind, and it still looks really nice. Bosses, weapons, characters, enemies, items and locations – each look just as memorable as the last. You’re not just getting an amazing story and addictive gameplay, but also an aesthetically-pleasing experience. Not to mention you get a talking cat with you! It’s worth mentioning that the game has some minor translation issues and clumsy spelling mistakes. But again, these issues are forgivable.
This game has one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear on a PS2 game. It’s fair to say that after a while, every track does get a little repetitive. Still, each individual composition is a brilliant listen and will be engrained in your memory after a while.
A fairytale to remember…
To summarise, Dark Cloud is the pinnacle of the PlayStation 2 rarities. It combined dungeon-exploration, customization and storytelling in a way that’s fresh, unique, revitalizing and fun. Characters, locations and story-themes are all detailed and interesting. Still, the occasional translation error can be off-putting. Still, it took interesting mechanics and twisted them in such a way that even modern-day game-designers would be envious. Level-5 did phenomenal with this RPG.
Dark Cloud is available on PSNow, alongside its sequel. So what’re you waiting for? Go stop the Dark Genie and reconstruct the world!