Welcome to Save State, where the backlog is a world without gods.
In the last couple of weeks, I finally got a working way to play PS2 games so I could play the copy of Dark Cloud 2 that fellow GiN writer Neal Sayatovich sent to me. I’m not completely finished with the game yet, but it’s a solid title that has a ton of dependent systems in it, so I’m going to get into that game first.
Level 5 is a developer that has created strong RPGs for the last roughly 20 years- their first games being the two Dark Cloud games, but later on becoming known for Rogue Galaxy, Inazuma Eleven’s sports-RPGs, Dragon Quest VIII, the Professor Layton series, as well as the periodically successful Yo-kai Watch titles. Dark Cloud 2, right from the outset, plainly makes visible the large ambitions of the project. You play as Max and Monica throughout the game, and you use your wits, ingenuity, and a wide variety of giant weapons to make your way through the dungeons of Dark Cloud 2.
In Dark Cloud 2, you play as Max and Monica as they try to fix the past to create a better future for their world. The game has a reasonable plot (especially given the game’s age), and is filled with many interesting side stories replete with lovable characters. A lot of progression in Dark Cloud 2 will involve dungeon crawling until you find specific items you need like Geostones, then you’ll engage in the Georama town-building mechanic, which will then allow you to get the next items or story progression you will need from either the present or future version of the town you’ve built. It’s actually a very ambitious system, with a lot of dependencies that tie back into the game’s core gameplay progression, and the story is largely just decoration for the fun you’re about to have crafting.
The actual combat of Dark Cloud 2 is a little bit on the basic side, as you mostly just have an attack button, which you can charge, and a block button. To keep it from being boring, however, most enemies have high damage output and players have multiple avenues from which to tackle combat challenges. Players can use two weapons on each character, like wrenches and swords for melee weapons, or firearms and magic for ranged weapons- it’s important to mix things up sometimes, as enemies can have varying weakness at later stages of the game. You can also use Max’s Ridepod, a ride-in robot that can be customized and upgraded to better make it Hammer Time on monster faces. Meanwhile, Monica can turn into a monster. I found this nowhere near as useful in combat as Max’s Ridepod, but talking to monsters can be very useful for progression or items at different parts of the game.
The gameplay loop of Dark Cloud 2 is the real draw of the game: There’s an overwhelming amount of customization you can do. Nearly every item in the game can be broken down into components that can be then used to upgrade your weapons, improving their stats. In making your weapons meet certain stat thresholds, they can be synthesized into entirely new weapons, some even having branching paths (not as complex as weapon upgrade trees in Monster Hunter, but there will usually be at least a few forks in the upgrade paths). You also have a camera that you’ll use to take photos of objects in the game to give you scoops, or to give you ideas.
You can combine ideas to unlock new equipment to synthesize or upgrade. Some of the invention combinations are esoteric at best, while others will make sense or at least have hints dropped by NPCs about their existence (“Say, did you know you could make cannonball arms by combining X, Y, and Z”). The general flow of the game will have you constantly improving your characters little by little as you progress through the game, which always winds up forming an addiction, for me (I have spent entirely too much time in menus with this game).
Another large chunk of the game will be spent in town building, which will have you crafting items to plant around the town. Everything you craft, you get to place in your town and set it up how you like it, and then after meeting the objectives you can continue progressing the story. Each town will also offer various amenities, like chests to find and shops that will help you meet other objectives or craft new items.
There’s also a golf mini-game you can play once you kill all the monsters on a dungeon’s floor, and sending the golf ball into the portal will yield a treasure chest that usually has some great components in it. It’s a neat little distraction that you don’t have to play, but if you do elect to do so, it feeds back into the game’s core progression loop nicely.
Visually the game still looks great. The game is cel shaded, which makes the graphics look better long-term thanks to the use of brighter colors and strong shadows. The environments, even in dungeons, tend to be pretty varied, though they’re mostly corridors with branching paths, served with different window dressing (the game’s dungeons are randomly generated, so it’s to be expected, but they do get pretty same-y later on). Not a lot of the music is memorable, but there are a select few tracks that can stick with you. Most of the soundtrack consists of cutesy tracks, which can be expected as the composer who worked on this game has also worked on other projects such as Professor Layton, and a lot of the musical beats seem to match that experience.
Overall, Dark Cloud 2 is a fun little romp. I had never experienced the game before, and I was pleasantly surprised to be this entertained by it when fellow writer Neal shoved this into both my face and my backlog. If it’s something you haven’t experienced before, it’s actually available on the PlayStation Store for PS4 for about $15, and it’s actually a pretty great experience so far. I’ll be pushing through to the end of this one, for sure.
The second game I’m going to mention this week I won’t spend much time on, as I have already reviewed it in the past for a different platform and plan on also reviewing its additional content once I’m finally able to get around to it. The game is Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, and is quite possibly one of the worst games to play when trying to clear out a backlog!
Much of my review for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on 3DS still applies to the Definitive Edition, in the best of ways. You can see that review here. The graphics have been substantially improved, and there have been a number of solid quality of life improvements, like being able to track side quest objectives for item gathering on your mini map, making life so much easier. There are also arranged and remastered musical tracks, with almost all of them improving upon the original track in some way (the notable exception is Engage the Enemy, the event song that will play during many of the moments of highest tension in the game. The shrill vocalizations just don’t do it for me).
The characters of Xenoblade Chronicles have received a complete overhaul in Definitive Edition, with some like Melia being a stark improvement upon the original. The single largest issue with Xenoblade Chronicles was its visual fidelity as a result of being a Wii game, and the Definitive Edition corrects all of that. Resolution while in handheld mode is noticeably lower than docked, but performance is substantially better than the variable resolution of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Menus have also been overhauled for more legibility and greater accessibility.
Definitive Edition also improves readability during combat, too. Static icons will show what buffs and debuffs enemies have, instead of requiring your eyes to dart all over the screen to find the enemy combat tag to see if an enemy is dazed or toppled. A handy meter is also visible to show topple and daze time, and attacks that have additional properties, such as attacking from behind or using after another art, will have an exclamation point indicating that their additional property will apply. It makes combat substantially easier to understand at a glance, and there should be fewer players going through the entire game only getting the bonus effects of their arts on accident.
There is also an epilogue added called Future Connected, which I have not yet played. Stay tuned, as I plan to do a short review on the new content once I get a chance to break into it. Future Connected is set one year after the climactic end of the main game and focuses on Shulk, Melia, and two new Nopon characters. You can play the epilogue even if you haven’t completed the main game, but the quality of life improvements and increases in visual fidelity made playing the main game worthwhile, yet again.
So basically: Xenoblade Definitive Edition is the version of Xenoblade Chronicles to play. It’s pretty, sounds incredible, and has never been more accessible for both new and returning players. If you’re interested in a real-time JRPG with tons of content, then this is an excellent way to spend 100~ hours. Everything that made this game great has been kept from its original release on Wii, and many new things that only improve and expedite the play experience have been introduced for an even smoother experience.
So that’s all for this week’s Save State. Join me in a couple weeks when I have you join me in the promised land.