There are some titles which just blow us away. It might be incredible graphics, a breathtaking soundtrack, or an ingenious mechanic offering endless possibilities. One such game is Dark Chronicle. Produced by Level 5 as the sequel to Dark Cloud (actually released as Dark Cloud 2 in America), it is a shining example of an RPG done right. Our premise is similar to that of the first game, important areas being destroyed in the future that must be pre-emptively repaired in the past, with huge swathes of dungeon-crawling and villain-seeking to boot.
Unfortunately (I feel) for the bulk of gamers, this title was only released on the Playstation 2 and was horrifically under-marketed, resulting in it becoming somewhat of an obscurity – it’s quite difficult to find, and a sealed copy could very easily run you up to £100. Good condition examples come in a fair bit cheaper, at around £25-30, which might seem expensive for an older title, but believe me, it’s worth every penny.
‘But why, you incoherent paragon of doltery?’ I hear you cry. I’ll tell you for why.
This game is perfect.
Now, I realise that’s a rather strong statement, but hear me out. Graphically, the game looks stunning. This is partly due to the cel-shaded art style, which upscales incredibly well on modern TV systems, to the point of flawlessness. This game hasn’t aged a day since it was made. Animations are beautifully fluid, framerates are consistently high, and exquisite amounts of polish and detail are lavished all over the place. Given the large number of environments and the overall steampunk-esque setting, I can easily see now why this game captured my attention as a young child.
"And the soundtrack. My god, the soundtrack..."
Equally enthralling is the gameplay. We have here a realtime combat JRPG, a 3rd person hack-and-slash type system which works beautifully well. A great variety of weapons and equippable items are on offer, with a highly extensive upgrading system keeping you ahead of your foes. Well, kind of. Enemies have their own strengths and weakness, with some weapons being totally ineffective against one type of creature while completely decimating another.
The environments are nicely expansive, particularly as you move through the game and unlock access to more features. There are two or three main activities you’ll find yourself doing most of the time, namely dungeon-crawling for items, rebuilding towns and villages at different points in the game’s chronology (as I said, this is a time-hopping game) and recruiting people to your cause, namely assisting other members of the various locales you come across. Alongside these, there is a ridiculous amount of other pastimes, including a wonderfully deep invention system, a golf-type minigame known as ‘Spheda’, and a fish breeding system – your pet critters can even be used to race in a fish derby and win rare items! It’s safe to say you’ll never get bored with this title. I hold fond memories of playing this game for 24 hours straight with a friend one summer as some kind of eye-destroying personal challenge. Four litres of vanilla cream soda and countless bags of cheap supermarket crisps later, we’d done maybe a quarter of the game. And that’s being generous.
And the soundtrack. My god, the soundtrack. Composed by Tomohito Nishiura and consisting of no less than seventy-seven tracks, never have I heard music this engaging in a game before or since. From the heavily orchestrated title themes to the subtle theme for the coastal region of Veniccio, the music (or lack of at points) is just sublime throughout. Truly awe-inspiring, and I maintain, the best game soundtrack to date.
So that’s Dark Chronicle. I realise that this review is heavily tainted by nostalgia, and far from impartial. In turn, I hope you also realise that this is a personal site and you are getting my personal opinions as a result, bias or no bias.
I am currently putting off playing through this title for the YouTube channel, as I want to do it on a system where I can guarantee a flawless recording, which unfortunately I cannot do just yet. But trust me, when it happens, I want you guys to experience it along with me, and I can show you why this title has firmly remained my favourite game.
Author: Ollie Burton
Ollie is a student at Newcastle University in the UK studying Cellular & Molecular Biology. In his spare time he operates this website, is an avid gaming & film fan and plays in a blues-rock band, as well as editing for the University's student newspaper, The Courier.