Bargain Gaming – Dark Cloud Review

Posted on Apr 21 2011

I was messing around on my PS2 the other day, rapidly cycling through games that I hadn’t played in years in a small nostalgia fit, a pile of old games scattered around my feet. I had just finished playing a quick Blitzball match in Final Fantasy X when I came across my old copy of Dark Cloud and popped the sucker in, planning on messing around for a few minutes before moving on to the next title. But as I replayed the first dungeon I was struck once again by the strange combination of game mechanics within the title, combining RPG and dungeon crawling elements with the game’s georama system. And as I was caught up in these feelings of nostalgia for the next few hours I remembered Jubilee asking that I review Dark Cloud, and seeing as how I didn’t have my next review lined up yet I figured what the hey! Let’s take a look at this often overlooked classic for the PS2 and see whether or not it holds up!

Starting with the story, I found it to be simple yet effective. Sure, it’s nothing ground breaking or incredibly deep, however it has a simple charm to it that I enjoyed. The Dark Genie has been resurrected by the evil Colonel Flag and it is up to the game’s hero, Toan, to restore the land to its former glory and overcome the Genie somehow. It’s reminiscent of a fairy tale story, especially later on when you discover the origin story of the Dark Genie and have most of the back story figured out. Now I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say that you end up gathering information and companions as you work to restore the world before you end up traveling through time in an effort to thwart the enigmatic Genie. Unfortunately I can’t really get into any of the interesting bits of the stories without major spoilers, but there were several twists throughout the game that served to keep me intrigued until the very end.

As for the game’s graphics, while I won’t go so far as to say they’re good by modern standards, they have held up remarkably well over the years. The character models in particular were still rather striking, with all six of the main characters and several of the supporting cast having rather memorable designs. The town/construction maps are also rather nice, as the ability to lay out the towns in different ways and see how they look at different times of the day were rather nice touches. The only real graphical complaint I have is that the dungeons are rather bland, to the point of growing tedious after a few floors. The game’s audio was also only decent, as while the in game music was actually rather good it does have a bad habit of looping endlessly. This is not to say the music was bad, in fact at several points in the game it was actually rather catchy(such as when you first enter a new area). I just wish there was a little bit more variety to the soundtrack is all.

But the heart of this game is the game play itself, and here the game gets a gold star. You can effectively break it up into three distinct segments: dungeon crawling, weapon crafting, and georama construction. Let’s break it down, shall we?

The dungeon crawling aspect is the meat of the game, as it is where you gather up the atla (spheres that contain people, items, buildings, etc.) you use in the georama section and how you actually progress through the game. The battle system is reminiscent of the 3D Legend of Zelda titles, what with the lock on battle system and the three item slots. It’s a solid combat system and, when combined with some interesting enemy designs, is a ton of fun while still offering a decent amount of challenge. My biggest issue with it is the key system, in that you always need to find a key on a floor in order to progress to the next floor. While not an issue in and of itself, it is annoying in the second dungeon when the owl will only take one of the three keys scattered across the floor. Stop being so picky you freaking owl! Why do I need the owl anyway, it’s a log in front of the door! I could probably hop over it! Stupid freaking owl…


Anyway, the weapon customization system is probably one of my favorite parts of this game, as rather than your characters themselves it is your weapons that level up as you progress. By equipping your weapon with items to boost its attributes you can not only make your weapons stronger against specific enemy types but also achieve the base stats necessary to evolve your weapon into an even better weapon! It is quite possibly one of the most satisfying parts of the game when you invest a bunch of time and items into a weapon and manage to turn it into something awesome! On the other hand, it is one of the most painful things when you forget to keep tabs on your weapon’s condition and it breaks, ruining all of your hard work. Despite, or perhaps because of this, it is very easy to get attached to your weapons’ progress, to the point where I cared more about my characters’ weapons than I did about the characters themselves.

The final key aspect of game play, and the one that really sets it apart from any other action RPG, is the georama system. This is where you can use the atla you gathered in dungeons in order to rebuild the area’s town, filling the buildings with the items and people they require. This is cool in that by completing the buildings and arranging them as the villagers want you can get extra items which will help buff your characters and weapons. My only issue is that you can’t really be as creative with the town as I’d like, as in order to get the most stuff you need to arrange the village in specific ways. Sure, you could do it perfectly, gather everything up, and then redo it how you want, but what’s the point in that? And don’t get me started on the giant robot build map. It’s my giant robot, and I should be able to make it have feet for hands if I want to!

False rage aside though, these game play elements really do blend together to create a sum greater than its parts. The city building and weapon crafting systems keep the game from getting stale and provide the player with an incentive for more thorough dungeon exploration to collect all of the atla and items. I’ll admit that the game does have its fair share of flaws, such as forcing you to use characters you’ve been avoiding on special floors and forcing you to constantly drink water in order to keep your characters from being thirsty (you have a thirst meter for God’s sake). But all in all Dark Cloud is a highly enjoyable game with a ton of stuff to do and a story that, while simple in nature, is relatively satisfying. And when you consider the fact that I’ve seen it going for less than $2 online and for $6 at my local game store, there’s really no reason not to pick this title up. If you own a PS2 and are looking for a classic gaming experience then I highly recommend this title. I promise that you won’t be disappointed

And now, once again, it’s time for some bargain tips for all of you guys and gals to enjoy! At least, I hope you enjoy them. Please enjoy them, it would make me feel so good.

First, don’t worry about arranging the villages to suit the people’s needs until you have at least half of the stuff necessary to complete the village. It can be a major hassle to have to uproot everything at the end of the dungeon in order to arrange your town correctly, so save organizing everything for the villagers until the end.

Second, the moment you either get your hands on or can afford auto-repair powders you should always, and I mean ALWAYs, have one in one of your three item slots. Yes, this means one less slot for things like healing items and such, but it is such a relief to know your sword won’t disappear on you in a tough fight or because you forgot to keep tabs on it.

Third, spend the first dungeon pimping out your main character and then worry about everyone else in the later dungeons. Having a mule character to deal with the rough stuff while you mess around with everyone else is incredibly helpful; just don’t forget to keep tabs on everyone else too.

Fourth, convert your money into gold bullion whenever possible. The game does not punish you for having gold bullion when you die, as it is an item, but it does take half of your money. Plus you can exceed the maximum amount of money allowed by storing your extra money in bullion, which is always nice.

Finally, don’t forget to fish! I know it sounds silly, but the fishing mini-game can net you some awesome buff items early on, allowing you to get some incredibly powerful weapons early game. Having the Dark Cloud sword (or other ultimate weapon of your choice) by the fourth dungeon makes life so much easier.

Anyway, those are my tips for you guys! Hope they make your gaming experience twenty percent cooler, and I’ll catch you all next time!

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  • Kibs April 21, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    I can tell you’re lying; nobody plays blitzball voluntarily.

    • Bargain Gamer April 21, 2011 at 7:52 PM

      Foiled again! XP

      But I really enjoyed blitzball back in the day, even if winning involved taking advantage of the poor A.I. sometimes.

    • Tyto April 22, 2011 at 9:23 AM

      Strangely Kibs, you and I seem to be a few of the only gamers who feel that way

  • Jubilee April 21, 2011 at 10:53 PM

    You named my two favorite PS2 titles in the first paragraph…

    I love you for this.

    (Also, I have Wakka’s legendary weapon, and Brother is level 86 in Blitzball…so I play it voluntarily as well…and win 23-0).

    • Jubilee April 21, 2011 at 11:01 PM

      Also, this was the best free game I ever got (As there was a buy 2, get 1 for equal or lesser value free deal that month).

      Xiao is my favorite character though, and I feel bad for never really using anyone else. XD

      Toan only comes out for Geo…Goro only comes out when he absolutely has to…Ungaga was my favorite melee, still never used him…Osmond was used seldomly, as was Ruby.

      I have a +39 Angel Gear though (Which is Xiao’s ultimate) if that says how much I overplay her…o_o

      Still only on like the 70something floor of the Demon Shaft though…I’ll get to the top one day 😛

    • Bargain Gamer April 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      Heh, I probably put almost as much time into Blitzball as I put into the rest of the game. XD

  • TheDrunkenShadow April 22, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    I present you with +4 internets.

    • Bargain Gamer April 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      Sweet. Now I have… 4 internets. o.o;

      @EE: It’s coming. My PS2 is on the fritz atm, so I need to replace it before I can finish the review is all.

  • EagleEyes April 22, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    Nice review but where are the Monsters 😮

  • Kanashimi April 22, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    I don’t know why, but I’m still far more partial to Dark Cloud 2.

  • Kate April 23, 2011 at 3:21 AM

    You reviewed one of my favorite RPGs. You’re my hero, now. T^T

  • ArcadiaZer0 April 23, 2011 at 4:00 AM

    I prefer Dark Cloud 2, but this is still a nice classic RPG.

  • WantedRitz April 25, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    I absolutely loved Dark Cloud when I first played it. I’ve never played Dark Cloud 2 (to my major disapointment!) and I lost the game when I moved houses…

    Toan and Xiao are brilliant and one day I will find a copy of the game again!

  • Tempest Wind April 26, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    OMG, I love Dark Cloud. I’m still playing it and stuck at one of the last towns. @___@ *plays J-RPGs incredibly slowly*

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