Like most systems, the PS2 was just going through the motions, restricted by financial pressures, strained by timely expectations.Through the thick and thin of sweet features and a lack luster launch line up, Sony’s little black box picked up unstoppable momentum, and never lost it. As is the case with most systems, it took less than a year for some truly massive experiences to come out that convinced you of a confident future involving an X, a Triangle, a O, and a Square.
One of the games crammed into a chest of gorgeous gems was an RPG from a small developer named Level 5. Their first endeavor was the very same RPG by the name of Dark Cloud, and delivered a big dose of something, from what for all intents and purposes, was a little bit of nothing.
Dark Cloud represented a well of satiation from which PS2 players would be able to draw from in an extended drought of gaming. DC helped to create the beginning of a journey for Level 5 that would eventually put them in the spotlight as a big name in game development, and within favoritism from RPG fan’s the gaming world over. A lot of Level 5’s later titles would still use (appropriately so) most of what made up Dark Cloud’s charm. This involved a strange fusion of fantasy elements, without using cliché as a serious crutch, and more so as an extension of silly slapstick to lighten the tone. What helped further, is most of what was familiar on tap helped to remind me of what I was enjoying at the time, and many of theses same attributes derived directly from gaming.
Dark Cloud is more hybrid than RPG, with elements of dungeon crawlers, god games, and even rhythm based combat to speak of. The influences borrowed previously mentioned involves some heavy hitters like Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy 9, and Diablo 2. The game shares elements with other games gone by like Populace, in regards to helping shape your world how you see fit, and even titles like Super Mario RPG, who would reward you properly in fights if you were rhythmically inclined. Dark Cloud of course put it’s own spin on many of these aspects, and while not first in doing so, helped to fabricate this odd sense of originality in the execution.
I’ve been an unabashed Zelda fan since almost the very beginning of my humble gaming roots, and this has always benefited me, Dark Cloud not with standing. I speak of my personal acquisition of the game, and the odd cause and effect which made this possible. Being thirteen years of age doesn’t offer a whole lot in the ways of finance, so your choices are usually very limited to special events like birthdays. Due to some misguided Sony executive, or perhaps as an internal appeal by Level 5, of putting a character who was reminiscent of Link on the cover of Dark Cloud, they inadvertently saved my summer in 2002.
I mentioned recently in an older post that anyone who needs the box art to make the decision to buy the game, needs a certain box art. This held true then as it does now, as most people outside of gaming, live safely outside of the walls of gaming delusions, and deeply in their own. With this in mind, I’m sure my parents went on with what I will now speculate as the task of present giving by the means of grand rampancy.
Deciding they had their finger on the pulse of gaming, and being expertly topical in the ways of Ms Pac Man, the choice was obvious. They knew the inner workings of my young child mind, and what strange fetishes had helped build my current mental comforts. Going the bold distance, all the way to the Wal*Mart within the borders of our town, they marched effortlessly into history. They utilized their confidently researched decision, and did so with eloquence. Arriving at their pre-ordained destination, they had reached the climax of their efforts, and were physically holding a copy of Dark Cloud. What they knew they were looking at without question, was clearly a Zelda game for the PS2, the one I had so coveted. The one that would land them into the annals of parental insanity, and represent what was well past the moment that this all stopped making sense sentences ago.
Whatever insanity drove them and me to the warm embrace of DC, I’m thankful for it. Starting up the game, and feeling as comfy with Norune village as I did in Kokiri Forest was something of a calming thrill. Struggling and clawing my way through the endless hallways of the Divine Beast Cavern, I had this sneaking familiarity, one that mirrored the innumerable hours of enjoyment that Diablo 2 had beset upon me. After barely escaping the clutches of death, curse words in tow, I laughed with weighted psychosis as I began to shape my recently destroyed town, in my own image, in all ways I saw fit.
It was all very innocent.
I say all of this in a loving sense of memory, but armed with a renewed feeling of infatuation. I had recently started playing Dark Cloud after a decade hiatus of not touching the title. A decade mind you. Leaving behind the massive sense of age with the realization, my second thought involves my time away from this ever enlightening PS2 game. One of the first I felt no real pressures to replay, no sense of having to revisit often. The game was intensely satisfying the first time around, and an ability not well matched by many piers in this arena. After all this time, and all of this quality, the stature remains. My memories wisely placed within the confines of it’s fantastical walls, my admiration a reward for the game’s generous entertainment.
I come full circle, enjoying the good weather that has brought back a Dark Cloud.