Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 15, 2016
TL; DR(eview) – Combining action-RPG dungeon-crawling with a world-building sim, Dark Cloud effectively presents a nice change of pace from your standard dungeon crawler, if you can look past the PlayStation 2-isms like bad localization and camera controls.
I don’t remember what first drove me to buy Dark Cloud on the PlayStation 2. If I had to venture a guess, I would lean toward a review or somebody using the Super Nintendo classic Actraiser to describe it. Whatever the case, I put hours upon hours into it back on the original system. I even have a weirdly-specific memory of trying to explain to my mother why I loved it so much by citing, “it has mimics, these enemies that look like treasure chests but then attack you when you try to open them! They’re like, my favorite, enemy of games like this.”
For the most part, Dark Cloud holds up pretty well as one of the PS2 classics available on PlayStation 4. It’s very clearly a game of its time with limited voice acting (mainly just grunts), a laughably bad, but still intact localization script (rife with misspellings), sometimes-atrocious camera controls, and some overly drawn out cut scenes showing off the era’s graphical capabilities that give the player little-to-nothing to do for occasionally long stretches of time (like a ten-minute scene you have to sit through before the final boss over and over again if you don’t beat him on the first try).
For those unfamiliar with the game, a Dark Genie has tried to destroy the land. But in the instant before he did, the world was saved and hidden piece by piece in orbs known as Atla. You play as Toan, a boy gifted with the ability to unlock these Atla and restore the world. To do so, you play through randomly-generated dungeon levels fighting off a variety of enemies (like the aforementioned mimics) and collect the building blocks of the world. Then you can go back out into the dungeon’s associated town and rebuild the houses and shops with the bits collected. Typically the residents of a town will have a preference on how you restore it (the way their house faces or requesting to be near a specific townsperson, for example) and you’ll get bonus items or weapons to support the dungeon-crawling. As a result, these two wildly different gameplay mechanics support each other nicely. Tired of mindlessly hacking away at baddies? Pop out and move houses around a bit for some nice feng shui.
Throughout your adventure you’ll find five other companions to help you on your journey, each with a different weapon-style and unique abilities that will help you traverse the dungeons. And on top of that, the game will occasionally throw a restriction on a level where, perhaps, your weapon will lose experience for every enemy you kill or you’ll be locked into using one a specific party member. Despite hating how some of the characters handle in combat, I can appreciate the game forcing you to switch things up a bit with these challenges.
Overall, I had a lot of fun diving back into this game. As I wrote about in my PS2 Favorite Games wrap-up, this game and its sequel are nice comfort games for me and I’m relishing the chance to revisit them during this somewhat quiet (though not as quiet as it used to be) early part of the year before getting sucked back in to the world of big new releases. Now onward to Dark Cloud 2 while I keep my fingers crossed that, in addition to Ni No Kuni 2, Level-5 is working on a Dark Cloud 3 game.
Dark Cloud is available now on the PlayStation 4 via the PSN or if you still have your PlayStation 2 (or backwards compatible PlayStation 3, I guess) plugged in and can track down a copy. For more information, visit the PlayStation store.