Dark Cloud, coined by Sony to be their answer to Nintendo’s monolithic ‘Legend of Zelda’ franchise was released in 2000 for the Playstation 2, originally intended to be a launch title for the console, the game received a marginal amount of success; looking back now, however, how does Level-5 Inc.’s first ever game hold up to today’s standards?
To answer that question, it holds up in some regards, and in others, falls flat. First of all, it would be good to look at the plot of Dark Cloud at face value – One warm summer’s evening in the peaceful Norune Village, a mute teenager by the name of Toan is preparing to attend the Norune Festival…The usual is expected; happy people, dancing, and good food all-round – Little did Toan know that there were a band of evildoers seeking the revival of a dark, demonic entity known as the Dark Genie, a being said to hold unlimited destructive potential; the antagonists achieve their goal, revive the Dark Genie, and set out on a nation-wide destructive rampage…With their end result being the destruction of Norune Village.
Every single piece of the village is sealed in orbs known as Atla, that respond to magical stones known as the Atlamillia – It’s for this reason alone that Toan survives the onslaught against Norune. Given his miraculous survival, Toan sets out to right the wrongs of the world, fix what the Dark Genie had destroyed, and defeat the malicious entities that threaten the world.
…And that’s it. Simple, clean and to the point.
One aspect that people usually praise about Dark Cloud, however, is it’s gameplay – The game functions as a randomised dungeon crawler, that tasks players with evolving their weapons instead of their characters to help them recover the Atla pieces scattered across the various floors of each dungeon to rebuild their respective towns. Given this, there is a town-building aspect to Dark Cloud that became a staple in Level-5’s franchises years later, known as the Georama system; here, players can use pieces of recovered people, buildings and towns to create their own town designs, recovering the present that the Dark Genie had devastated.
Looking back now, Dark Cloud is usually referred to two types of genre – JRPG, and Rougelike; whilst in dungeons, players must worry about their health, thirst, and weapon health. Seems simple, right? Wrong. The one core issue that lies within Dark Cloud when viewing the game in a modern light is that whenever your hard-evolved weapons reach 0HP, they break. Permanently. Poof, gone forever. This single point, coupled with it being hard to earn money in the game to buy repair powder, and a maximum of 6 playable characters, each with their own weapon makes juggling each of these characters a living nightmare – It’s hard to tell how many saves I’ve reset because of this!
Given this, however, one point that encapsulates the life of Dark Cloud is the art style – The game opted for a very Cel-Shaded visual style similar to the Power Stone games; this makes upscaling and visually improving the game in emulators such as PCSX2 a cakewalk, especially given the recent upscaled version on PS4, which makes playing the game look like it only came out in the late 2000’s! Sure, this game is no Ni No Kuni, but it serves as an important, and enjoyable piece of gaming history, as the first game that Level-5 ever developed.
One more good point to make is that, for a launch title for the PS2, this game is long. Very long. The main story alone possibly taking the average gamer up to around 50 hours to complete on an average sitting, given the game’s gigantic dungeons, huge array of weaponry to evolve, complex georama systems and massive 99-floor dungeon post game, this game will occupy you for a long time – The only challenge is, can you survive that long just dungeon crawling? I know for sure that this was the one part of the game that hit me hardest, is slogging through dungeon floors, one after another, then possibly dying or breaking my weapon, forcing me to reset – However, if you can muster yourself through this trial, I’m more than certain that you’ll have an absolute blast with Dark Cloud.