Dark Cloud 2
Game type: Roguelike/JRPG
Time demand: A long RPG overall, fairly short dungeon levels between save opportunities.
Platform: Playstation 2
Released: February 2003
What it is:
I may or may not have reviewed this game before, but if I have it deserves it again, because it's one of my favorites.
At its heart this is a JRPG, revolving around the characters Max and Monica from two different time periods. Each holds a stone called an Atlamillia, which can move the users through time - Monica's can move her (and those with her) to the past, while Max's can move him (and those with him) to the future. They are in fact originally from two different time periods, but come together in the course of this journey.
Here's the deal - the future (Monica's time) has been mostly laid waste by a being known only as Emperor Griffon and his henchmen. He has done this by wiping out various "origin points" in the present day (Max's time), and along with them most of the habitations and people in the present day world, so that there's nothing left to grow into the future as it was supposed to be. The only thing left untouched in the present day is the enclosed town of Palm Brinks, where Max lives.
Due to various story points, Max ends up traveling outside the town, and meets Monica, and learns about the problem. It is then your job to guide the two through their quest to restore the present day world, and in the process to restore the origin points of the future, so that the future exists (mostly) as it did before as well.
Now, here's the heart of the matter. To do this, there are various gameplay bits that are lots of fun. First is the dungeon exploring - there are a number of dungeons throughout the present-day world, attached to a field, which in turn is also attached to a train station. You can move through the various stations (although they unlock one at a time, as you complete each dungeon), and build on the different fields (more in a bit). From the fields, you can also access that field's dungeon, which is comprised of a number of (semi-random, semi-roguelike) floors. To complete a level you must find a key object held by one of the monsters on the level, and use it at the exit, and once you complete the level you can access it at any point from the overall dungeon map. There are monsters, treasure chests of various types (trapped, locked, normal, mimics, etc), and some extras like springs that restore all health and return your status to normal, or "?" spots that can have either a positive or negative effect.
There are also other elements added to each dungeon level, although most unlock over the course of the game. First there are medals - you can earn one of these by defeating all foes on the level in a short time, one by meeting a set goal for the level (sometimes it's defeating all monsters with a specific character/weapon combo, sometimes winning through without healing, stuff like that), one for winning Spheda on that floor, and sometimes one for fishing up a certain size fish on the level. Medals can then later be turned in for special items.
Now, I mentioned some other things there - like fishing. Fishing can be done once you get a fishing pole, but only in certain dungeons/levels that have the proper water. You need to collect bait (which can be used up), then you can fish to earn medals, to cook the fish to restore your health, or to keep the fish and breed them to compete later on in the fish races/competitions in Palm Brinks. It's like minigames within minigames. And Spheda, which I also mentioned up there, is a golf-like mini-game that eventually opens up and allows you to collect a few extra, hard-to-get items if you successfully beat it at the end of a level - you have to clear out all the monsters first.
Now, there is one other item that starts to appear in dungeon levels after a certain point in the story, and that is a Geostone. Once you hit that point, there will be a Geostone in each new dungeon level (the first time you clear it), and picking this up unlocks new items and so on for the Carpenterion. What is the Carpenterion? Well, I'm glad you asked. This is the device that lets you rebuild the present-day world so that you can restore the future, as well. It uses up certain elements and builds things, such as houses, trees, very
You also have to move people into these houses, stands, and so on in the fields, which requires you to recruit people from Palm Brinks. Each one of the recruitable people has a specific task for you to perform, and they vary pretty well - one character needs you to develop a weapon in a certain way, another makes you play hide-and-seek with her, while yet another wants a specific picture before they'll join you. In turn, some of them might want something special before they'll move into a new house in a field, such as a certain color roof or whatever. It's hard to juggle all the various demands, but also rewarding.
Along with this dungeon-delving and town-rebuilding, there are yet other sub-systems that add depth to the game and make it fun. First up are the fact that while Max and Monica are the main characters, Max can also use a robot called a Ridepod to fight for him, and this robot can in turn be upgraded and constructed in a ton of ways, as you collect experience on it. Monica in turn can transform into various monster types, which also develop into different forms as they gain experience. (This IMHO is one of the weaker parts of the game, while it should be one of the coolest - because the monster forms are too damn weak to start with, and really slow and hard to gain any experience with - it turns into a grindfest if you try to deal with them much).
Even when you just use the characters themselves, there are the weapons to develop and play with. See, each character has two weapon types - Max uses wrenches for melee and guns for rangeed, and Monica uses swords for melee and bracelets (which cast magic) for ranged. Different monsters are weak and strong against different weapons, so you have to mix them up often. And each weapon gains experience as you defeat a monster with it, and in turn can be developed in various ways, morphing into different and stronger weapons as you develop them. To do this, when a weapon "levels," it gains 3 or 4 or so synthesis points, which means you can combine synthesis spheres with them. To get a synthesis sphere you can break down almost any object in your inventory, although specific crystals (and rarer jewels) are best for the purpose. When you gain enough of certain types of elemental power in the weapon, you can build it up into the next weapon type, sometimes having to choose between two different "paths" in the process.
Finally there's also the invention/photography process to add even more interest to the game. Very early in the game Max is given a camera, and he can use this to take pictures around the various towns, fields, and houses. There are a *ton* of specific objects that you can take pictures of, then store as "seeds" for inventions. There are also a decent number of "scoops" you can take in the dungeons themselves, monsters doing specific odd things that are often hard to get a picture of. Getting scoops allows you to turn them into an NPC for rare items, but they can also be used as seeds for inventions. Then in turn you can put together three "seeds" to come up with an invention. (Not just any seeds, each invention has 3 specific ones, but there are also a lot of hints around the towns/fields if you check carefully, plus you can just play around, and if you get two right it'll give you a hint for the third). Once you invent an item, you can construct as many of that item as you wish, using specific items that you collect or buy (such as scrap metal, elements, hunks of copper, etc.)
So long story short (too late), and a bit more rambly than usual since it's already late at night... Dark Cloud 2 has a hell of a lot to offer, probably even more than I'm really laying out here, and a lot of fun systems to explore and exploit. If you can stand JRPGs at all, or like remotely roguelike games, you should really give it a go.