By – Sam Smith
Dark Cloud is one of those games that seemed to come and go with little to no fanfare, but nevertheless is a damn fine adventurer that any self-respecting gamer should check out. While it doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel, it certainly has a few new blueprints to show off for it.
The story is fairly standard for the RPG genre. Evil wants to destroy the world and all that stands in his way is a plucky group of unlikely heroes. Hardly game-changing, but it does it with a tongue in cheek air that sets it apart from more poe-faced fare (looking at you, Final Fantasy). Until it gets to the finale, where a load of gumf about time travel and the introduction of a character who until this point has been in the game for all of a few minutes threatens to derail the good-natured story entirely. But we can just ignore the dodgy denouement, because the way it gets there is the important part.
“Typically in RPGs, you find yourself favouring a couple of characters and neglecting the others”
While some of the playable characters are given decent backstories, others aren’t so lucky and as a result, it seems fairly uneven. Interestingly, out of the 6, the 4 male characters are somewhat fleshed out, whereas the 2 female characters are kind of summoned from nowhere. However, when it comes to the gameplay, they each come into their own, with distinct abilities that vary from character to character.
Typically in RPGs, you find yourself favouring a couple of characters and neglecting the others, but here you’ll genuinely fine yourself switching between them all more or less equally, which is something of an accomplishment in itself. Because they’re all so different, you’ll grow to know each of their strengths and weaknesses and when to use them accordingly. And importantly, getting there is half the fun.
“What’s perhaps not so forgivable was the decision to make your weapons breakable”
Another common RPG pitfall, the dreaded random encounter, is handled nicely. The decision to make the battles real time as opposed to turn-based is a wise one, as the dungeons can be pretty time-consuming in terms of trawling back and forward for the requisite items. You will eventually recognise the recurring enemy designs from dungeon to dungeon and the required way of defeating them remains the same, but you can forgive this. What’s perhaps not so forgivable was the decision to make your weapons breakable. This means if they break in combat, they disappear, which not only doesn’t make sense, it’s lazy game design. You have to continually repair them with an item you buy throughout the game, doesn’t matter whether it’s a rat dagger or a demon machete. You. Have. To. Repair. It.
“This is where the game becomes the bastard offspring of Final Fantasy and Sim City”
However, where the game really comes into its own is the world-building elements. In the story, the aforementioned big nasty attempts to destroy the world, but at the last minute the magical Fairy King (basically a Middle Earth Morgan Freeman) manages to protect all the towns and their inhabitants by sealing them inside magical balls and hiding them in dungeons. It’s down to you to restore them to how they were before this whole clusterfuck.
This is where the game becomes the bastard offspring of Final Fantasy and Sim City. When you’re rebuilding the towns, you get to place all the buildings, roads, trees, rivers, etc wherever you please, and if you pay heed to the villager’s requests, you’ll get the juiciest rewards (though an unbreakable sword is out of the question, I’m afraid). So if Old Man Baggins wants to live near a waterfall because it’s the only thing that brings him joy, you can choose whether or not you want to fulfil his request, and know that if you don’t, it’s not going to impact the story. Naturally, the requests get more diva-like as you progress from town to town, though the premise stays more or less the same.
“Between the dungeon diving and world constructing, it’s a varied experience and what’s more, the 2 aspects aren’t at all jarring.”
The graphics hold up fairly well for a game that’s nearly 20 years old. So while the characters and interiors of buildings are really quite detailed, the dungeons are quite samey, blocky and pretty ugly to look at, in all honesty. The lighting is good, with the sun creating the odd bit of lens flare, and stuff that’s blurry in the distance comes into focus as you approach, which is simple but effective. There are some slight problems I found with buggy graphics and minor collision detection issues in some of the dungeons, but nothing that’s likely to spoil your overall enjoyment.
Gameplay – 4/5 – Between the dungeon diving and world constructing, it’s a varied experience and what’s more, the 2 aspects aren’t at all jarring.
Audio/visual – 3/5 – Decent enough, the sound effects can get pretty repetitive but the music is nicely varied as you travel from area to area.
Future classic – 1/5 – Unlikely as it was released in 2001. Though if you’re hankering for more after this, there’s a sequel in Dark Chronicle.
Controller smashability – 3/5 – There’s a distinct possibility that you’ll want to break your controller when your +10 Hammer of Hurting breaks.
Memories – 3/5 – My fondest memories of Dark Cloud are definitely the Sim City aspects, constructing the towns and restoring everything is a very satisfying and fun process.