Dark Cloud PS2 Retro JRPG Game Review

Reviewing one of my all time favorite games today, Dark Cloud. I will also be reviewing the very similar, but slightly better, Dark Cloud 2 later today as well.

This game is extremely similar to Legend of Zelda. Our main hero even has a green floppy hat just like Link lol. But it brings with it some unique new features such as rouge-like random proceduraly generated level design, multiple playable characters, and most notably, a world-creation and city building system.

Also, if you missed out on this awesome game back in 2001, you can play it again now if you have a PS4 via the playstation store.

You can grab Dark Cloud 1 for $14.99 at  https://store.playstation.com… and also pick up Dark Cloud 2 for $14.99 at https://store.playstation.com…

This was Level 5’s first game – and definitely a classic must-own for any JRPG collector. Interestingly enough, when the game came to North America, it was enhanced with new content and features that don’t exist in the Japanese version such as better AI control, an entire new dungeon, and dozens of new weapons.

Title: Dark Cloud

Platform: PS2

Release Date: 2001

Publisher: Level 5

Genre: Action RPG

Where to Buy: In addition to the digital versions on the Playstation Store, you can still find hard copies of the game on sites like Amazon. At time of this writing there’s about 10 copies on Amazon with prices ranging from $12 to $99 depending on the condition and quality of the disc, book, case, etc. Check out this page for more info: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Cloud…

Geeky: 4/5 geekygeekygeekygeeky

Sweetie: 4/5 sweetiesweetiesweetiesweetie

Overall: 59/80 74% C “Good Game for Girls”

Concept: 10/10 As mentioned, this action RPG feels very Zelda-ish in design but brings with it a few surprises, namely the city and world building aspects along with procedurely generated dungeons. The dungeon crawling and city building style of gameplay reminds me a lot of Azure Dream which I reviewed here.

Gameplay: 10/10 This game combines real time combat such as that found in Zelda or Secret of Mana with Occasional Quick Time Events and of course, lots of world building and city building gameplay. The dungeons are proceduraly generated and it also features multiple playable characters each with their own abilities and fighting style. However, Atla (the items needed for city building) can only be found when playing as the main character.

In city building mode, you place the Atla retrieved from the dungeons onto your town. The atla may be something like a shop, house, or even something as simple as a tree or pond, or even a new NPC. As you continue to add Atla, and continue to talk to the NPC’s you will learn more about what they want you to build in their cities. Once you reach a certain level within that city, you can move on to create additional cities as well.

The game is also unique in how characters level up. In fact, your characters never level up at all. Only their equipment levels up as you battle your way through the dungeons. However, the weapons also break if not repaired between uses. Once a weapon breaks it is lost forever. Weapons can also be upgraded by attaching different effects to the weapon which can give it bonuses such as agility, strength, or elemental properties. Although it can be aggravating at times (to lose a really powerful weapon), I really enjoyed this weapon system and felt that it really added something to the gameplay to differentiate it from all the other Action RPGs of the 90s/early 2k.

The dungeon crawling aspects can get dull at times – but I feel it’s spiced up enough with plenty of other gameplay elements to keep it from getting overly repetitive. There’s just so many other fun things to do in this game.

Story: 5/10 Unfortunately, story is what misses the mark for me in this game. I just felt it was a little too slowly paced and that both the story and the characters felt bland and not very engaging. The story tells of a time when 2 continents existed peacefully governed by two moons. One day a Dark Cloud appeared over one of the lands (hence the title of the game). Anything touched by this cloud was destroyed (Sounds very Never Ending Story-ish with the Nothing destroying entire cities, erasing people, creatures, forests, etc – Unfortunately, Never Ending Story was actually exciting and interesting, while the same can’t really be said of Dark Cloud). To protect the people and places of the land, a benevolent fairy king sealed each of them away in a magic orb known as Atla. The Main character appears when his village is destroyed by the Dark Cloud. He encounters the fairy king who tells him how he can rebuild the world but that he must first find the orbs which have been scattered throughout the continent. While the bare bones for an interesting story are in place, it just doesn’t really captivate or connect with the audience.

Characters: 7/10  The physical design and appearance of the characters is quite cute and unique (aside from the main character who looks way too much like Link lol). But their personalities and interactions often feel like an empty shell. The characters include a cat who is stuck inside one of the dungeons that the Main Character encounters. She is rescued by the main character and taken by to the city where she is transformed into a human-like girl with cat ears and tail. Another interesting character is a robotics engineer who wears almost like a hazmat suit that’s very form fitting. He’s unique because he has large rabbit like ears and appears to have a custom suit built to take into account his large pointy ears. – So the concepts and creativity for the character design definitely gets high marks, but the dialog and interaction between them, not so much.

Graphics: 6/10 I take issue with how grainy the textures are in this game. However, I like the overall character design and game world. Dark Cloud 2 features a much cleaner (and cuter) art style.

Music: 7/10 I feel that the music just isn’t anything special overall. It’s not very memorable. Dark Cloud 2 has great music, Dark Cloud 1, on the other hand, is average to good, but falls just short of greatness. It’s also only half the size of the soundtrack in terms of number of tracks as compared to Dark Cloud 2.

Replay Value: 6/10 Although it’s a linear story, the world and city building aspects make it interesting enough to come back to.

Overall: 59/80 74% C “Good Game for Girls”

Dark Cloud PS2 Retro JRPG Game Review was originally published on Geeky Sweetie

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Legend of Mana Review – Part 4 of 4 of Secret of Mana Review Series

Check out Parts 1 – 3 of Our Secret of Mana Review Series here:

Secret of Mana / Secret of Mana 2

Secret of Evermore

Secret of Mana 3

Welcome to our 4th and final review of the Secret of Mana series. This time we’re covering the PS1 classic, Legend of Mana. Like Seiken Densetsu 3, Legend of Mana also features several intertwining stories. It brings with it several new gameplay concepts as well such as a world-building aspect, gardening, crafting, and more, making it easily one of the most fun titles in the series. However, like most of the mana games, it suffers from a somewhat weak story, made even weaker by the non-linear nature of this particular game. Of course, out of all of the mana titles, it is by far the prettiest to look at and has a new painting or picture-book like quality to the artwork.

Title: Legend of Mana

Platform: Playstation One

Genre: Action-RPG

Release Date: 1999

Where to Buy: Amazon has the game in used condition for about $28, “collectors” condition for around $60, or brand new in shrink wrap for $140 http://www.amazon.com/Legend… But if collecting is not your thing, it’s much more affordable to go digital and pick it up in the PSN store for just $5.99 https://store.playstation.com/…

Geeky: 5/5 

Sweetie: 2/5 

Overall: 58/80 73% C. “Good Game for Girls”

Concept: 10/10 As mentioned above, Legend of Mana brings several new features to the series which greatly expands upon the gameplay. It also loosely ties into the other games’ stories by revisiting the concept of the Mana tree (which was a very prominent concept in Seiken Densetsu 3). However no previous experience with the series is necessary to enjoy this title. I’ve never understood why this title is slammed by so many critics when gameplay wise, it’s definitely more solid than any other title in the franchise. As for story, in my opinion, the entire Mana series is more light on story than say Squaresoft’s other titles such as Chronotrigger and Final Fantasy. Legend of Mana is just plain fun with so many different things to do from gardening to world building to crafting and of course questing and leveling and experiencing the story. It’s also very nonlinear which is rare for a JRPG, especially one from the 90s.

Gameplay: 10/10 You start the game by selecting either a male or female hero. Your other party members rotate in and out depending on which story or quest you are on at the time. Like most of the other mana games, a 2nd player can play co-op mode by taking control of one of the other NPCs. Also like the other mana games, your party consists of 3 members at a time. Unlike the other mana games, this game features a series of mini stories and lots of quests strung together in a nonlinear fashion through a world building system where you get artifacts to place on the map. Depending on where you place them, you will earn different bonuses to certain abilities while in combat. The biggest draw in gameplay is the extensive crafting and gardening system. There’s also a virtual pet raising aspect, and the pets you raise can even join you in battle. The choices you make also impact the storyline and fates of the various characters. Combat once again is in real time, and this time it takes place right on the main screen without loading a new scene for rendering the battle.

Story: 5/10 Story is not a strong point in any of the mana games if you ask me, at least not compared to most other JRPG. The story does suffer due to the nonlinear nature of the game, which is true for many nonlinear titles. It’s not without its merits though as well. There are some very touching and tender scenes, interesting mysteries, and the lore and history of all the other mana games.

Characters: 3/10 This game also suffers from lack of strong centralized characters. The main character never speaks, has no back story, no motivation, no real connection to any of the events in the game. The supporting cast depends on which quest and part of the story you’re exploring, giving them so little screen time that we never really develop much attachment for any of them.

Music: 10/10 In my opinion, this is the best soundtrack of any of the mana games. I especially love the opening theme song and had it on my ipod for years after playing this game.

Graphics: 8/10 Beautiful hand-painted or painterly styled artwork gives the game a cute storybook feeling. It’s also very brightly colored and lush feeling. I only wish there were some anime cutscenes to help flesh out key moments within the game.

Replay Value: 5/10 There are some choices which alter the events or impact the lives (or deaths) of key characters in the game; but ultimately, those changes are very insignificant that I don’t see them being a huge motivator for replaying the game again. However, the crafting, pet raising, gardening, and nonlinear nature of the game do lend themselves to multiple playthroughs. In fact, even after completing the game, you will be sent back to the hero’s home and can still engage in many of these activities.

Overall: 58/80 73% C. “Good Game for Girls”

Legend of Mana Review – Part 4 of 4 of Secret of Mana Review Series was originally published on GeekySweetie.com – Geeky & Kawaii Anime, Tech, Toys, & Game Reviews & News

Seiken Densetsu 3 | Secret of Mana 3 | Secret of Mana 2 | Retro Videogame Review for Super Nintendo SNES Part 3 of 4

Check Out Parts One and Two of our 4 Part Secret of Mana Series

Part One: Secret of Mana Review
Part Two: Secret of Evermore Review

Welcome to Part Three of our Secret of Mana Reviews. Today’s topic is Secret of Mana 3, a game which we never got to experience in North America, but which was thankfully translated by some dedicated fans. You’re probably wondering how you can play this awesome game so here’s a link to the Seiken Densetsu 3 fan translation.

I really recommend that you purchase a physical copy of the game. You sometimes can find it on sites like Amazon. At time of this writing, it is about $160 but it is so worth it. Buy Secret of Mana 3 on Amazon.com

I don’t condone piracy so I’m not putting a link to the rom here. You can find it easily enough for yourself.

I’m really excited to be writing today’s review because this is my favorite game in the Secret of Mana series (although Legend of Mana is a very  close 2nd.)

Title: Seiken Densetsu 3

Platform: Super Nintendo

Release Date: September 1995 (Japan Only)

Genre: Action RPG

Geeky: 5/5 

Sweetie: 4/5 

Overall: 74 / 80 93% “A-. Excellent Game for Girls

Concept: 10/10 Seiken Densetsu 3 is an action RPG with real-time combat that is part of the Secret of Mana franchise. The game features 6 playable characters. When the game begins it asks you to select 3 of these characters to focus on, similar in a way to games such as Live-a-Live and Saga Frontier. Like Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu allows for you to play simultaneously with a friend. When playing solo, you can freely switch control between the characters, and have the other 2 characters back you up via artificial intelligence. Also like Secret of Mana, there is a ring like system which allows you to equip weapons or cast magic spells.

Gameplay: 10/10 The big differences and improvements over Secret of Mana focus on the leveling and class system. Upon level up the player chooses which stats to enhance for each character and at different levels the player can unlock different classes which each have a unique set of skills for each character, for a total of 5 (counting the starting class) classes for each character, times 6 characters, you have 30 unique classes and unique skill sets to explore. Although the classes are labeled as light or dark variations, they do not impact the storyline in any way.

There’s also a night/day cycle and a calendar system which similar to games such as Final Fantasy XI, gives a magic boost on different days to increase the effectiveness of corresponding magical spells. The calendar system also changes which in-game events occur and even what enemies you encounter.

Story: 8/10 Story has never been this series strong suit if we’re being honest. Despite that, I enjoyed the story in Seiken Densetsu 3 more than any of the previous titles in the series. This particular game has a unique approach to story that differentiates it from the other installments. As mentioned, when the game starts, you select 3 characters to focus on during the story out of 6 total. You also distinguish who your main character will be and this is the focus of the story. All 6 of their stories are intertwined, and to really experience the whole story you need to play the game multiple times using all 6 of the different characters.

Seiken Densetsu’s story is also unique in that it is the first game in the series to begin to establish some continuity between game worlds. In fact, there is a direct sequel for the NDS called Heroes of Mana (which I sadly have not played yet). I also find it interesting how the mana goddess in Seiken Densetsu 3 is a sleeping tree, and the tree is also a main symbol/character in Legend of Mana as well.

Characters: 7/10 Like any game with multiple stories, some are more interesting than others. Character interaction depends heavily on who you have in your party and that does detract a bit from the freedom given to pick and choose your party members. It was interesting in concept, but poorly executed, as more dialogue should have been written in for the other characters as well. – Still, overall, the plot and characters in this game remain much more detailed and interesting than the bare bones plot and characters in Secret of Mana.

Music: 10/10 The music for the game features many symphonic sounding tracks and melodic piano pieces which highlight the different scenes throughout each story. It is a huge soundtrack with over 50 different tracks recorded, making it quite possibly one of the largest soundtracks for an SNES game.

Graphics: 10/10 This game is just beautiful to look at, it really pushes the limits of what was thought to be possible with 16 bit hardware. When this game was released, systems such as Sega Saturn and PS1 had already arrived in Japan and I’d argue that this game almost looks as good as many of the early games for those consoles as well. I especially love the use of color, and the details given to the textures and environments.

Replay Value: 10/10 – unlike other games in this series, Seiken Densetsu 3 is a game which must be played 6 times to see the whole story. There are also significant differences depending on who else is in your party, making it actually possible to enjoy playing it even more than 6 times.

Overall: 74 / 80 93% “A-. Excellent Game for Girls

Seiken Densetsu 3 | Secret of Mana 3 | Secret of Mana 2 | Retro Videogame Review for Super Nintendo SNES Part 3 of 4 was originally published on Geeky Sweetie

Secret of Evermore Retro Videogame Review for Super Nintendo SNES Part 2 of 4

Check out Part 1 Secret of Mana Retro Videogame Review for Super Nintendo SNES Here

Hi, and welcome to part 2 of a 4 part series covering Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Secret of Mana III, and Legend of Mana. In today’s review we will take a look at Secret of Evermore which is what North America got as a sequel to Secret of Mana, instead of Secret of Mana III.

NOTE: While maybe not technically correct to refer to it as a sequel, because they had completely different development teams, and stand-alone stories and worlds, the gameplay, as well as the name, are so similar that most squaresoft fans (myself included) hold the opinion that this is (more or less) part of the mana series. Squaresoft however has pointed out numerous times that this is not part of the “mana” franchise.

If you’re wondering what happened to Secret of Mana II, well that is what North Americans know as Secret of Mana – that’s right there was actually another game in the series before Secret of Mana, but like many JRPGs it remained only in Japan. I have not played it, but I have played the entire rest of the series, including Secret of Mana III which also never left Japan, but which has been translated by the fans.

For whatever reason, Squaresoft didn’t think Secret of Mana III would sell well in North America, so they brought over Secret of Evermore instead. More accurately, they didn’t “bring it over” but instead actually “developed” the game in America and geared it towards a “western” audience (supposedly). In fact, this game never got released in Japanese. It is perhaps the only North American “exclusive” (though I believe its also in Europe too) JRPG developed by Squaresoft.

If you look at the credits, you will see many English sounding names. See the details from wikipedia below.

Designer(s) Alan Weiss
George Sinfield
Artist(s) Daniel Dociu
Beau Folsom
Writer(s) George Sinfield
Paul Mazurek
Composer(s) Jeremy Soule

Actually a Japanese version was planned to release after the American release but was cancelled because they didn’t think it’d appeal to the audiences over there.

Still, this game does play very much like a JRPG. Actually I might have liked it a little bit more than Secret of Mana though not as much as Secret of Mana III. Critics may not agree, as the game is widely considered inferior to other Squaresoft RPGs.

Title: Secret of Evermore

Publisher: Squaresoft

Release Date: 1995

Platform: Super Nintendo SNES

Genre: Action RPG

Where to Buy: Amazon has Secret of Evermore for SNES ranging from $30 to $45 which is a good buy for a rare retro Squaresoft JRPG

Geeky: 5/5 

Sweetie: 3/5 

Overall: 54 / 80 68% D+ “Average Game For Girls”

Concept: 10/10 This is a game about a boy and his dog. It plays very similar to Secret of Mana with Real-Time battles and the same Weapon Ring and Magic Ring from the original game. Unlike Secret of Mana, this game only features two characters, a boy and his dog. They travel throughout many different places and times from history lending the game a sorta educational feeling, though blending it with elements of fantasy as well. It also features an alchemy system.

Gameplay: 10/10  Gameplay consists of taking control of both the boy and his shape-shifting dog as they travel through time from the stone age, ancient egypt, and even into the future. As mentioned one of the key mechanics is an extensive alchemy system that allows you to craft your own consumable items as well as key items needed to progress the story. Magic was also reliant on alchemy ingredients which were often scarce in supply. This is an often criticized feature of the game’s alchemy system. I didn’t mind as much though, since when I play a game, I explore every nook and cranny of every room, dungeon, city, etc. I enjoyed the alchemy system even if it was flawed to a degree. In fact, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the game as much without said alchemy feature. Then again I enjoy similar games such as Kamidori Alchemist Master, Students of Mana Khemia, and the Atelier series, where you ‘grind’ and search for ingredients for various alchemy recipes. In fact in the end, from a gameplay perspective: this game resembles a mashup of Secret of Mana, Chronotrigger, and Atelier Iris.

Story; 6/10 Like most western RPGs, story is not as strong as what is commonly found in most JRPG games – I feel this is where most of the criticism for Secret of Evermore comes into play. There are a few plot holes, and the story just seems to jump around without much of an overarching plot other than trying to return to your own timeline and the adventurous ‘scamp’ like nature of a boy and his dog, painted against a wild fantasy pseudo historical setting. Though the bare bones for some continuity between worlds exists it is tied only together loosely by a malfunctioning time machine and evil robot invaders.

Characters: 5/10 Likewise the character development is another weak point for most western developed RPG games. There’s really only two characters in this game, a boy, and his dog. Though there are numerous NPCs, they don’t connect with or endear themselves to the audience. The concept of a shape shifting dog was very fun, but the boy feels very flat and unappealing as a main hero leaving the player little reason to care about what happens throughout the story.

Graphics: 8/10 While most critics applaud the graphics in this game for being very detailed and more realistic than most other RPGs, I can’t help but miss the more “anime” feeling graphics of Secret of Mana. And while Secret of Evermore is a very lush and visually stunning game in it’s own right, I miss the more “cutesy” feeling and bright color palettes of other Square RPGs.

Music: 5/10 – The music in Secret of Evermore is composed by Jeremy Soule. This was his first ever videogame soundtrack. He has gone on to work on numerous other RPG soundtracks including Skyrim, Icewind Dale, and Guild Wars just to name a few. Unfortunately, being inexperienced, the soundtrack in Secret of Evermore is often very weak. He dared to be different though, so I’ll give him credit for that. Most of the soundtrack consists of a lot of dead noise and ambient sounds instead of the bright and colorful music found in most JRPGs. Ultimately though, using such a minimalistic tactic makes the background music do just that, fade into the background. It is no where near as memorable as other Squaresoft soundtracks.

Replay Value: 2/10 This, like most other 90s games, is a linear story. It’s also much shorter than other squaresoft RPG – to be fair, I have read that a lot of the game was cut due to cartridge size limitations. Still it is a fun, unique, little RPG that appeals to anyone who loves themes of time travel, or just simply anyone who loves their dogs :).

Overall: 54 / 80 68% D+ “Average Game For Girls”

Secret of Evermore Retro Videogame Review for Super Nintendo SNES Part 2 of 4 was originally published on Geeky Sweetie