With the daily disappointment that is the availability of PlayStation 5 consoles I’ve been replaying some of my favourite games in a bid to bury my head in the sand, pretending the new generation of gaming can’t start until it has my permission. It has been a while since I played a proper JRPG and so to scratch that itch I’ve recently completed a playthrough of Dark Chronicle.
Originally releasing on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, Dark Chronicle is a game I can play for hundreds of hours and not get bored of, as evidenced by the fact that even with my wealth of existing knowledge of the game it still took me 150 hours to unlock its Platinum trophy. As you’d expect with this being an old fashioned JRPG, the majority of this time was spent grinding, but it is important to note that as the game employs such excellent and satisfying gameplay I didn’t once resent the time I was spending.
The first feature of Dark Chronicle I want to draw attention to is the soundtrack. Simply put, there is no better original soundtrack in gaming that does not rely on licensed tracks. The orchestral music accompanied by the occasional rock or operatic infused pieces merge sublimely with the stunning cell shaded art style, bleeding further immersion into a richly rewarding game. Despite the 18 year old graphics, which have been touched up a little for the port but not redesigned in any way, Dark Chronicle looks as gorgeous now in 2021 as it did in the noughties.
Our heroes, Max and Monica, are among the best JRPG protagonists of all time as they both remain likeable and relatable throughout, and you’ll root for them during every second of their spectacular adventure. Max starts out on his own after being attacked by the ringmaster of a circus troupe to search for his mother who has been missing for years, and to discover why his home town of Palm Brinks is walled off from the rest of the world with nobody permitted to leave the town. I promise the comparisons to Attack on Titan end there..
Upon completing the tutorial chapter Max is joined by Monica, a princess who has time travelled back 100 years from the future which is facing imminent defeat against the armies of darkness. Journeying through a diverse world which they must rebuild as they go, Max and Monica battle against incredible odds in the struggle to defeat Emperor Griffon, who is sending his dark magic through time to erase key rebellion leaders ‘Origin Points’, thereby removing them from existence. As if you needed any further reason to play this game, Emperor Griffon is voiced by none other than Mark Hamill!
Each equipped with an Atlamillia, legendary ancient stones which allow their chosen bearer to travel through time, Max and Monica, aided by the friends they make along the way must do everything in their power to overthrow the evil tyrant who wants nothing less than absolute global destruction. Griffon’s top henchman, Gaspard, makes several appearances throughout the story and, without drifting into spoiler territory, will make you love and hate him in equal measure.
Combat is fluid and exciting throughout the roughly 40 hour story runtime (if you aren’t trophy hunting), with several weapon types available to each of our protagonists. Monica also has the ability to transform into monsters which is a neat idea but takes far too long to get any practical use out of, though if you do decide to put the work in it becomes very fun to use. Meanwhile, Max has a mech he can pilot called the Ridepod (referred to as ‘Steve’ in-game), switching into it at the press of a button, which has a large assortment of weapons available ranging from samurai swords, to missile pods, to laser cannons.
The story of Dark Chronicle is packed full of surprises and interesting characters to interact with. Anybody who has played this game will never be able to forget about Dr Jaming, who refuses to stop playing his electric guitar during the battle with him. His theme music is also guaranteed to get stuck in your head until your dying day, but it’s so good that you won’t mind!
Dark Chronicle not only has a great story and fun gameplay, it also has excellent optional minigames within it to boost the quality of the players experience. Of course there is your typical JRPG fishing, but there is also a rather unique take on golf called Spheda, where you have a limited number of shots to knock a spherical fragment of time back into a floating distortion. A round of Spheda becomes available after beating all monsters on most levels in the game and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t always have a crack at it.
Dark Chronicle is a rite of passage for JRPG enthusiasts that, even after all the playthroughs I complete of it, still gives me the spectacular buzz of excitement at 30 I had while playing it for the first time when I was 13. I give Dark Chronicle a perfect score and also name it the best game of the PlayStation 2 generation.