Back before the later half of the Playstation 2’s lifespan, developers working on the console were working out new, fresh and exciting ways to develop larger, bigger, more immersive games – This timeframe gave us what many in this generation would call the ‘Golden Age of Gaming’, with such titles as Jak and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, Katamari Damacy, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and so much more.
However, under this mountain of award-winners and beloved games shone a gem that was simply outshone by all others back in 2003. Dark Chronicle – The sequel to Level-5’s ‘Dark Cloud’, a PS2-release title that launched with the PS2 back in 2001 in Europe; the franchise was built and marketed with the intention of it becoming Sony’s ‘Zelda-Killer’; the game released to moderate commercial success, but largely went unnoticed by the mass public. To hear a sequel would be coming no less than 2 years after, however, was something unheard of at the time, especially for a JRPG.
Dark Chronicle, whilst unrelated to the story of Dark Cloud, expands upon the JRPG gameplay elements present in the first game, such as its’ combat, dungeon exploration, random levels, weapon evolution and town building. Yes, you read that right – Town Building. The game follows the story of a rich-kid engineer, Max, living in the tranquil town of Palm Brinks; a secluded settlement kept safe from the ‘Outside World’ by towering walls – Sick of his secluded and sheltered life, growing up with a silver spoon in his mouth, Max seeks to explore the world to find his missing Mother and to make his own path in life.
On his journeys, he meets a colourful cast of characters, including secondary protagonist Monica, a righteous, noble girl from 100 years from the future who came to Max’s time to put a stop to the forces of the nefarious Emperor Griffon; a tyrannous, oppressive overlord who has slowly been destroying Max’s world part by part in search for the Atlamillia, sacred stones held by Max and Monica that enable the pair to travel through time either 100 years in the future, or 100 years in the past, with Emperor Griffon being alive 10,000 years in the past. Max and Monica depart on an epic journey to restore the lives of various people in the future by building their ‘origin points’ in order to find a way to travel 10,000 years into the past to face the devilish Emperor.
Where Dark Chronicle really shines, however, is in its’ gameplay – Unlike traditional JRPGs, you characters don’t have levels, or stats, or armour; they do, however, have weapons that you as a player are constantly upgrading, levelling up, and evolving into newer, more powerful weapons with different abilities and attacks; if you have it in your inventory, you can break it down and fuse it to your weapon to increase its’ stats – Got a piece of bone from a skeleton? Fuse it to boost your Exorcism stat. Got a jug of tasty water? Fuse it to boost your Chill stat. Got some spare fishing bait, like some worms? Fuse them to boost your Beast stat – Everything can be used to boost and increase your weapons.
Another aspect of the combat is the Ridepod and Monster Transformation, two elements that Max and Monica obtain throughout the game – The Ridepod being Max’s own personal, customisable tank, and Monster Transformation Badges that Monica can use to turn into over 10 different types of monsters, each with around 5-8 evolved forms.
One thing to also note, is that the game tries its’ best to keep itself fresh throughout any number of playthroughs by completely randomising the layout and items each dungeon floor contains, bundled with various challenges for things such as Time Trials, Fishing challenges, and a small Golf-esque minigame which are all playable in the majority of dungeon floors. There’s never a point where you’ll ever have nothing to do!
Finally, the cherry on the cake comes in the form of the Georama system, the game’s Town Building element that allows you to create, customise and design your own unique towns, with specific challenges to hit, and rewards to earn, each aspect of Dark Chronicle aims to reward you than to rather be tedious or monotonous.
With over 100 different Inventions to make, 20 different fish to catch, 700+ photographs to take, 300+ different enemies, 200+ dungeon floors, 100+ different weapons and parts, and 8 sprawling chapters, it’s really no surprise that I’ve completed 17 whole playthroughs of the game, spanning over 2000 total hours game time! Even now, I’ve purchased the game on PS4, and am in the process of Platinuming the game once and for all.