Norune, a town notable for its happy villagers and quaint way of life (I also hear it makes indescribable blueberry muffins), suddenly becomes the victim of an obese purple genie’s rage. Led by Flag, who looks eerily familiar to what M. Bison of Street Fighter fame would look like if drawn by one of those caricature artists at county fairs, the duo goes on a worldwide rampage of destruction. Unbeknownst to both of them, the Spirit King is able to seal the pieces to the town in indestructible orbs called Alta. The rampage sends the Alta scattered throughout the land having them unfortunately settle down in the middle of many dungeons filled with winding paths and scary creatures. The Spirit King recruits Toan, an elfin boy with a crazy knack for fashion, to find the Alta and destroy the genie.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: "throw in a simcity-esque town building simulator and a truly decent weapons customizing feature and I’ll admit to being intrigued." Well, lucky you. Both are included and come together in a very intriguing way...for a while.
Obviously taking lessons from forerunner, The Legend of Zelda series for Nintendo 64, Dark Cloud attempts to branch out on its own, but unfortunately is only mildly successful. Winning aspects such as lock-on targeting, live action battles, the elfin fantasy land, and proven successful dungeons filled with an array of monsters and traps all show face here. Even Toan’s attire seems ripped straight from Hyrule (although he sports a snazzy pair of gym socks attached to a sexy green turban. Better keep double watch on Zelda, Link). Where Dark Cloud makes way for innovation is in its Georama mode, which allows the player to play God and rebuild the destroyed towns any way they please. Also, but more subtly, relief from all other RPGs comes by way of the game’s unique weapons customizing feature that at first try is frustrating and confusing, but becomes second nature, and very welcomed, after a few hours of play.
Sadly, the major downfall of Dark Cloud is in its repetitiveness. In fact, it is with the earlier mentioned weapons customizing and attribute system that the game holds its only freedom from the mundane ’dungeon-build town-talk to people-back to dungeon’ routine. It’s actually a very linear game trying to be disguised as a deep RPG. The only thing more mundane than its gameplay patterns would be its sound. Each town does have its own unique melody, but unique does not necessarily mean enjoyable and not utter crap.
Dark Cloud exhibits some of the smoothest anti-aliased graphics I have ever seen. The aesthetics are complimented very well by an immaculate frame rate. I don’t recall ever experiencing a jump in animation. Often times I caught myself running one of the six playable characters (six total, the game starts with just one) in circles, gasping at how fluid and seamless everything is.
The colors of the game struck a particular chord with me. Everything is so bright and attractive. From the flamboyant attire of Toan and the female genie Ruby, to the amazing lighting effects during the cut scenes when Toan acquires new Alta, I was mesmerized. It seems a game as attractive as Dark Cloud couldn’t go wrong. Wrong.
Despite the dragging on of the game, it’s actually a pleasant experience some of the time. Contributing a great deal to this conclusion would be its difficulty level. Some may claim that a game as easy as Dark Cloud is a waste, but after battling through such near impossibilities as State of Emergency and any of the Contra games (I know they are old school, but I’m still trying with little hope) it was refreshing to kick back and relax to a game like Dark Cloud. If you have the time (50+ hours of gameplay), then Dark Cloud will grant the ego. When the game gets close to the so-easy-its-boring realm, just switch to another character with lower attributes and play to build him/her up.
Due almost entirely to the sheer repetitiveness of the game I am forced to give it the score I did. Mild to hardcore RPG fans will definitely be intrigued and experience something new, but unfortunately the experience is to short lived to constitute anything more than an ego booster after gym class. To those just venturing into the world of RPGs, pick up a Final Fantasy game or something. Don’t allow your time with this fascinating genre be tainted by a mediocre title. I will definitely commend the folks at Level-5 on the Georama town building feature, but Dark Cloud will unfortunately stand as proof that a truly innovative game cannot expect to rely on one sole innovation. Hopefully Dark Cloud 2 will bring what Dark Cloud’s mom forgot to pack in its lunch.