After the success of SCEE's 2001 release, Dark Cloud, it was only a matter of time before the critic-defyingly popular, not to mention massively playable original got itself a spruced-up sequel. And Dark Chronicle succeeds in outdoing its predecessor on pretty much every level. Back with an oh-so-fashionable cel-shaded graphical overhaul, all-new invention features, and much-improved upon Georama world-building system, Dark Chronicle melds traditional RPG elements with action-adventure and sim gameplay to create a hugely ambitious and totally unique experience.
Set 100 years after the first instalment, Dark Chronicle follows the adventures of techno whiz-kid Maximillian and sword-swinging princess Monica on a quest to stop a time-travelling madman intent on global domination (aren't they always?) and restore peace and order. With the plot not a million miles away from the original, Dark Chronicle sets the scene for a truly epic adventure that'll see you traversing treacherous dungeons, taking on evil minions, and generally saving the world.
Retaining the patented Georama system that made the original outing so unique, developer Level 5 has gone to great lengths to update and improve the world-building gadgetry, with greater flexibility included when creating towns, and the ability to customise houses adding to the Metropolis Mania-style mix. As you journey through the dungeons on your quest, you'll acquire the raw materials essential for constructing your very own villages, and garner advice and tips on exactly how to go about creating the world, chez moi. The landscapes in which you assemble the Georama pieces are beautifully realised, with forests, rocks and rivers all adding to the depth and feel of the environments. And one of the most interesting things about the updated Georama mode is the time-shifting element of the system. Max must build towns according to certain criteria, and travel through a Time Gate to view the outcome of his exertions. But the main meat of the game can be found in the dungeon quests, which are astonishingly time-consuming - all in the best possible way of course.
The dungeons are absolutely huge, and there's easily enough challenges to keep you busy for days, weeks and quite possibly months. Max and Monica use different styles of attack to fend off the various enemies roaming the world's nether-regions, and both come equipped with long and short range weapons. For Max, there's a comedy oversized wrench to batter baddies senseless, and he can also get his mitts on a handgun for those hard-to-reach adversaries. Monica, being a princess from the future and all, has a more modern approach to exterminating evil, taking the bad guys out with a Wonder Woman-style armband. She can cast spells, such as fire and ice attacks, or make use of her rather large sword in close-combat situations.
Max and Monica also have special abilities which can be called upon in conflict. Max's includes his 'Ride-Pod' "Steve", a huge, lumbering robot that can be upgraded to use machineguns and other such nifty bolt-ons. Monica has the ability to morph into monsters at certain points during the game - and can converse with other monsters of the same type to gain helpful hints and tips, if she should happen up on any.
As well as having an array of weapons on hand, Max can also create gadgets with Dark Chronicle's funky new invention feature. Equipped with his trusty camera (complete with zoom lens apparently), Max is capable of snapping a variety of objects, then mixing them up to create something useful. So, for example, if you combine a window, a wooden box, and a river, Max will come up with an aquarium. Which leads us nicely on to the minigames, which include a fishing game and a golf-style game called Spheda. The word minigame is somewhat misleading, however, because both of these side-quests are huge. They're practically games in their own right, such is the level of detail and depth.
Graphically, Dark Chronicle has been given a gorgeous cel-shaded look, creating a fairy-tale feel which complements the story perfectly. Max and Monica inhabit a beautifully rendered world, complete with atmospheric lighting and weather effects, stunning landscapes and charming character animation. And if you like lavish cut-scenes with high production values, then Dark Chronicle will have you in raptures from the outset. Max and Monica's adventures are interspersed with lovingly animated sequences that seamlessly blend into the gameplay.
For all those RPG aficionados out there, Dark Cloud's sequel will no doubt be met with a warm reception, and quite rightly so. Dark Chronicle masterfully blends conventional role-playing elements with real-time fighting to create a wonderfully absorbing action adventure, chock-full of extras. If you're new to the genre, then Dark Chronicle could just see you becoming a convert.
- Huge dungeon levels containing a wonderfully diverse range of baddies to battle
- Stunning toon-style animation, superb special effects, and realistic weather and lighting effects combine to create a dazzling world
- An impressive array of short and long range weaponry, including magic, monster transformations and standard charge attacks
- Updated and much improved Georama system for world-building high-jinks
- Fiendishly addictive and absorbing minigames, including Spheda and fishing