Tag Archives: Dark Cloud

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

Ten mimic treasure chests I passionately hate

gd mimic treasure chests post

Treasure chests are difficult to resist. They come in all shapes and sizes, more times than not offering the potential for greatness–gold, armor, weapons, whatever. Most people don’t leave behind rotten vegetables in their fancy treasure boxes, and so you are more or less guaranteed to walk away a richer player. Unless that treasure chest is actually a mimic in disguise, and then you’re thrown for a loop, battling with what once held your dreams of a new item or chunk of change to make a down payment on that fancy, street-side abode back in the hub city.

I passionately hate mimics.

Real quick, some history. Mimics took shape back in the good ol’ days of pen and paper roleplaying, which I enjoy from time to time, but I’m more visual despite having a decent enough imagination, preferring Talisman or Descent. Mimics are a type of fictional monster, initially birthed in Dungeons & Dragons. They are portrayed as being able to change their shape to disguise themselves as an inanimate objects, most commonly as treasure chests. Mimics also have a powerful adhesive that holds fast to whatever touches them, allowing the mimic to beat the creature with its powerful pseudopods. That latter characteristic did not seem to follow over with mimics as they transitioned into videogame enemy fodder.

Over my years of gaming, I’ve crossed paths with a number of mimics, all of which I passionately hate. This is a list of some. Forward, with the disgust!

Mimic-ffix

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Final Fantasy IX that I passionately hate.

319928-dq8_cannibox

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, called a cannibox and originally introduced in Dragon Quest III, that I passionately hate.

rogue galaxy mimic chest capture

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Rogue Galaxy that I passionately hate. Look at that nasty blue tongue.

rogue legacy intro-4

Here are mimic treasure chests from Rogue Legacy that I passionately hate.

cc 140px-Big_boxer

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Chrono Cross that wants to punch me. I passionately hate it.

wild arms 3 mimic 69-34

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Wild Arms 3 that I passionately hate.

dark cloud king mimic

Here is a mimic treasure chest from Dark Cloud that I passionately hate.

mimic legend of grimrock 2

Here is a mimic treasure chest with a lot of teeth from Legend of Grimrock 2 that I passionately hate.

Mimic Borderlands 2

Here is a level 60 killer mimic treasure chest from Borderlands 2 that I passionately hate. Shoot it in the glowing green part.

suikoden 1 mimic chest slot man

Lastly, here is a mimic treasure chest from the original Suikoden, affectionately called a slot man, that I passionately hate.

Have I missed any key mimics from some of your favorite roleplaying games? If so, let me know in the comments below. During my search, I came across a few screenshots of mimics in the Dark Souls series, which I’ve not yet played and am now feeling less inclined to deal with, but maybe they aren’t too tough to battle. Ha, that’s a joke. From what I understand, they are brutal.

Alundra dreams about one obtuse puzzle at a time

alundra early thoughts PS1

According to an online walkthrough, I’m just about halfway through Alundra. And yes, I’m playing with a guide at my side; if I didn’t, I would have given up on the action-adventure Legend of Zelda wannabe sometime back during the saint puzzles in Lars’ Crypt. Or maybe even in the Coal Mine. No doubt about it. But like a bad dream, I’m jumping around and getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it back to the start, just after the awesomely anime cutscene that reinforces the fact that this was most definitely made in the 1990s by Matrix Software, a Japanese video game development company from Tokyo.

The story, while cliché in places, like collecting a bunch of crystals via one dungeon at a time to stop a big baddie, is actually kind of interesting: Alundra, the silent protagonist you control and name of the game, is an elf from the Elna clan of Dreamwalkers. He comes to Inoa after getting shipwrecked, but also because of a recurring dream where a mysterious figure calls him “Releaser” and says he must save the villagers from the evil wizard Melzas. After a while, the people of Inoa begin blaming Alundra for all of the terrible happenings despite his earnest attempts to save them. It’s a pretty straightforward and rather serious story, with some goofy moments and characters now and then, such as Bonaire, the surfer dude and his dream of winning over Sara, a bodacious babe.

I can’t recall if Alundra was ever called “the Zelda killer” though I do know that phrase was used around Dark Cloud, which was not at all a Zelda killer, but did eventually lead to a fantastic sequel that I still need to beat one day, but only after I restart and get all the vital photos along the way. Sorry, got distracted. To get to the point: Alundra is no Zelda killer. Far from it. If anything, it’s a Landstalker/Zelda clone, but much harsher, with subpar controls, and doesn’t give a lick if you can’t figure out its puzzles. Sure, you are traveling across an open world, slashing grass, tossing bombs and pots, charging your sword up for a more powerful attack, and gaining new powers after specific dungeons that can help you advance in the next one, but that doesn’t mean you can toss away your yellowing copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past now that Alundra is in your life. We all know that Charles Caleb Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and I’ll leave it at that.

Just kidding. Alundra is not terrible, but it’s probably one of the more frustrating games I’ve played in a long time, and I really don’t know how people played this back in 1997 without a helpful walkthrough at their side. I’ve had to look up just about every puzzle past the first few dreams Alundra jumps into, and it’s not because I’m a mindless idiot; in fact, I’d like to think I’m fairly smart, intelligent enough to figure out many point-and-click game puzzles. For many of Alundra‘s puzzles, it’s not all about figuring out the solution, but also executing the moves to get the job done. There’s a lot of platforming- and timing-based moves you have to do to open the door to the next room, and unfortunately, Alundra does not move very well. You can only walk in four directions, and the jumping never feels good. Run is assigned to the triangle button, but it is useless because you can’t run and jump–only run. Plus, there’s a lot of depth perception going on in hopping from one column to another, and oftentimes, if you miss a landing, it means starting the jumping all over again, usually from much earlier in the process. That’s my biggest hurdle here: identifying what jumps can and cannot be made.

A couple of negative nitpicks include that while you pick up new armor, like boots and chestplates, these are not visible on Alundra. Fine, I can let that slide. Not every game is about that, but unlike The Legend of Zelda, you can’t even see what gear you have collected in your inventory menu. You just have to remember. It is automatically found and applied, which is disappointing, especially since you get a decent jingle when opening treasure chests and defeating dungeon bosses. I like seeing everything I’ve found along the journey, whether it is useable or not. Fighting enemies is tedious due to Alundra’s inadequate ability to move fast, as well as move and attack at the same time, leading me to avoid combat in most cases.

But despite all that, I’m still really curious. About everything. Just to see what happens next, what special tool Alundra will earn, and so on. It’s probably because I’ve been dreaming myself of playing this game for so long, ever since I read about it in some nascent issue of PSM, but by the time I got around to being able to buy videogames at my leisure, stores no longer carried PS1 games. Flash-forward many, many years, and you can now find Alundra on the PSN for a couple of bucks, and dang it, I really need to know if it was worth all the waiting, all the hoping. Given how much frustration I’ve already encountered eight or nine hours in, I’m thinking no, but one never knows, and I’d rather see it to the end and know for sure then spend some more years living in uncertainty.