Dark Chronicle (aka Dark Cloud 2) has a tough pair of shoes to fill because its predecessor (Dark Cloud) is still considered one of the best RPG titles around and –according to my local gamesstore- is still regularly rented. This time round, you’ll be playing as Maximilian (Max), son to a father (duh!) and son to a long lost mother (*snif-snif*). Max can easily be called a ‘techie’ with strong invention skills. (In modern day life, I guess he would probably be a senior IT developer.) Max’ father who regularly appears in cut-scenes as a Lion King/Beauty & the Beast Transformer-Lookalike, gave him a mysterious bright red amulet/jewel and as you can expect, it’s because of this jewel that Max gets sucked into a fantastic time-travelling I-got-to-save-the-world adventure.
As Max finds out after an unthinkable long intro sequence, the medallion is a time-travelling device much sought after by an evil clown. After defending himself from several attacks by the clowns evil minions, Max meets Monica, a little beautiful princess from the future who –like all youths- carries a world-threatening mission on her shoulders. She has to convince Max to help her save the future from an evil tyrant who is eradicating the entire world. As you could expect, goody-goody Max succumbs to little Monica’s bright blue eyes and together they set out to fight evil and rebuild the world. Their adventure begins… but only after hours and hours of beating-around-the-bush gameplay. As you will notice right away, Dark Chronicle will cost you hours and hours and hours and hours and … Say goodbye to your girl/boyfriend and social life if you are considering buying this title.
Which brings us to gameplay. Let me get this straight right from the start: the possibilities and opportunities in Dark Chronicle are endless. There is a staggering amount of things to do. When Max isn’t fighting his way through underground dungeons and tunnels, slashing away at weird monsters, he can surface to snap away pictures, invent crazy yet useful stuff, fiddle and upgrade weapons (don’t forget to do this regularly), go fishing & golfing, rebuild the world etc etc. The inventing-part of the game is pretty essential and a word to the wise: use the notebook and pencil in the game! Inventing can be tiresome on the human brain. One of the more exciting things you’ll be able to do is experiment with Monica, as you will find out, she’s able to assume the shapes and abilities of monsters. Or, as we can savely say: a girl with character.
One of the major points of Dark Chronicle is of course the Georama feature (introduced in Dark Cloud I) with which you will have to build the future. One of Max’ missions is to lure inhabitants away from their hometown and convince them to relocate to new area’s so that the future might prosper. The funfactor here lies in the fact that you can use the jewel to timetravel and look what effects your efforts have in the future. But unfortunately, the strongest assest of this Georama feature is also its weakest: the endless choises you can and have to make. Altough the overhead interface is easy to use allowing you to rotate every little building and moving it around the terrain before dropping it, chosing the paint, fencing, chimneys etc etc needlessly prolong the game resulting in less time playing and more time planning the structure of the cities. Frankly, it bored the hell out of me after a while.
Another minor fact is that, in order to build, you have to collect mystical rocks/stones or ‘geostones’ scattered around in the games expansive dungeons. And seeing that the dungeon layouts are randomized (great feature!) it can take a long time to collect enough stones.
If you’re not building and/or looking for hints and clues to get ahead in the game, you’ll be spending your time slashing away at monsters of all sorts. You can play either as Max with a magnificent powered-up wrench or with Monica, carrying a mighty powerful sword. The combat might remind you a bit of Zelda games, including the lock-on & engage system that lets your rotate around enemies and just away from them when necessary. All in all, the gameplay can be seen as the best elements from Diablo, a couple of Zelda games, traditional RPG’s and a bit of SimCity.
Now how about the graphics? I wish I could be unambigious about the graphics in Dark Chronical. On the one hand, the cell-shading is masterfully done. Superb work by the guys in that departement. The colouring is very vibrant and flamboyant which is quite pretty for the first few hours of play, but gets boring after a while. It’s like walking around in a cookie-dough world for hours and hours and hours on end and frankly, I don’t feel like cookies all day/night long. When I had to run around looking for hints to proceed to a next level, trying all doors and corridors, turning every stone, the sugary-styl got on my nerves. This might be just me though.
Another important factor is the sound. Superb high-quality sound, nice effects, good use of all the possiblities in the game and a pretty good soundtrack. Even though you’ll play the game for hours, I don’t think the soundtrack will get on your nerves like some RPG’s can. Unfortunately there is one thing that makes me give this title a low score on ‘sounds’: Max’ voice. I found it un-believabely uncool, stupid, weird, gruelling, tiresome and nerve-racking that they gave Max a ‘southern drawl’ accent. One word describes Max’ voice and accent: disgusting. Unfortunately you can hardly turn it off because you need the information for the game.
In conclusion: Dark Chronicle integrates lots of features in an RPG: combat, adventure, empire building and weapons management. The visuals are astounding but personal opinions may of course differ on this. The music score is of a high quality but the chose of voice actors was a complete turn-off for me. The story is flimsy and slighty superficial but not to an extent that it bothers the gameplay. If you like RPG’s, by all means, you’ll like this game. But if you only have a limited time to play or if you have friends, family and a social life, you might want to leave this game to the freaks.