Every Dark Cloud has a silver lining, and in this case it's a Dark Chronicle.
By Kikizo Staff
Dark Chronicle is a remarkable title. Remarkable, not because of immaculate design or peerless technological prowess, but remarkable in the sense that it manages to do what few titles have. Namely, incorporate a disparate conglomeration of themes, ideas and gameplay mechanics into a single game and yet maintain a coherent, focused whole. Although Dark Chronicle can be neatly pigeonholed as an 'Action RPG,' doing so is to undermine the significance of each facet of the title; no one particular element is overly compelling, but together, they result in an experience that is as enjoyable as it is diverse. While combat and exploration comprise the bulk of the play experience, players will find themselves imbued with the power to create entire towns and villages; having to invent items or synthesize more powerful weapons; recruit friends and acquaintances whose unique abilities will aid your quest; traverse time and ultimately, save the world.
The diverse roster of activities can initially be rather overwhelming, but a gentle learning curve and ample in-game help will allay any initial apprehension. In fact, a brief (and given the lack of context, confusing) altercation aside, things begin somewhat innocuously as players are introduced to the protagonist, Maximilian, and his hometown of Palm Brinks. Soon however, a series of events are set in motion that see the young hero leaving the town of his birth and traversing not only the continent, but time itself in a quest to set the world right once more. On his travels, Maximilian will be forced to trudge through a number of dungeons, each of which is comprised of a series of floors. These are randomly generated and each hosts a handful of objectives, which, if completed, reward the player with medals. None of these objectives are compulsory, but players are required to locate the key to the exit on each floor, an item located on one of the enemies within the dungeon.
Combat is a simple venture: Players are able to block, attack or use items in real-time. Each of the title's two main protagonists (early on in the title, Max teams up with a girl named Monica) is equipped with a projectile and melee weapon that accrue experience when used in battle. Unlike most RPGs, experience is not intrinsic to the characters, instead, weapons possess attributes and through careful manipulation of these, their functionality and effectiveness can be tailored to suit the player's needs. Synthesis Points, a by-product of leveling-up, allow players to increase specific weapon attributes through a process referred to as synthesizing. Utilizing this technique, items acquired on your journey can be synthesized (this destroys the item) and then combined with a weapon. Synthesizing Holy Water for instance, will increase your weapon's 'Exorcism' attribute and as a result, its effectiveness against undead foes. Additionally, players can make use of the Ridepod, a customizable robot steed that Maximilian can ride within dungeon areas. Monica is unable to man the Ridepod, but instead has the ability to transform into various monsters, provided she has the necessary Monster Badges to do so.
Outside of these dungeons, players will come across so-called Georama areas. By utilizing Geostones and raw materials acquired within the dungeons, players are able to construct rudimentary elements such as trees, rivers and rocks and even houses, bridges and other such modern accoutrements. These 'building blocks' can be used to construct entire towns and villages, many of which serve as Origin Points for vital landmarks in the future. By satisfying specific requirements in the past, the future will gradually take shape and eventually be fully restored. Throughout the adventure, Max will come across people who, in return for a small favour or after presenting Max with a particular task can be coaxed into joining his party. These people all bring with them unique gifts and abilities and can be used as support members of your party (essentially non-playable characters that provide various boons, in combat or otherwise) or moved into houses within the Georama areas that dot the world map.
As a budding inventor, Max has the ability to create items by combining several ideas together. Ideas are acquired by taking pictures of seemingly rudimentary day-to-day items such as barrels, signposts and lights. These ideas can then be combined in order to invent new items. Three pictures are required for any one particular invention and although these paparazzi-inspired jaunts are entirely periphery to the main storyline, the 'Easter Egg Hunt' mentality of finding and snapping rare pictures can see this simple pastime become a rather addictive, not to mention fruitful, aside. Another optional activity is fishing. The fishing rod behaves similarly to other weapons in the game in that it too can acquire experience through continued use. Catching fish will reward Max with Fishing Points that can in turn be used to upgrade various attributes of the fishing rod. If need be, fish can also be cooked and used as health replenishing items.
Although much of the title exudes an astounding level of polish, a handful of problems will over time wear on the player's patience and mar what is an otherwise entertaining experience. Max will acquire a sizeable inventory of items in short order, and it only grows larger and more cumbersome as the title goes on. Allowing the player to group items into various categories would have alleviated much of the tedium of having to search for particular items amongst the plethora available. Exasperating this situation is such needless actions as having to manually select the 'key' to the exit of each dungeon. This could, and should have been automated. Menu navigation too, is needlessly cumbersome, though, it should be noted, not overly so. Owing to their random nature, the dungeons lack personality, consisting merely of a series of interconnected passageways and rooms, filled with treasure chests and monsters. Despite its simplicity, combat is rather enjoyable, but given the sheer amount of battles the player will experience, this too can grow tiresome in the latter stages of the title. Fundamental flaws they are not, but such little problems over the course of a 50-hour plus adventure tend to become more annoying, often even irritating.
While the gameplay revels in its diversity, the visual direction remains staunch in its single-mindedness. A unique application of the cel-shading technique pervades every facet of the title, the result of which is simply astounding. Characters are rendered using a subtle spectrum of color tones and lighting variants, and truly do come across as 3D incarnations of some long-lost cartoon show. Character design, most notably that of the boss creatures, is fresh, if perhaps a tad nonsensical. Who are we to argue with killer butterflies? With the exception of dungeon areas, the environments themselves are a joy to behold, invisible walls and minor pop-up notwithstanding. The title also makes use of a day/night cycle, with each second of real-time equivalent to about a minute of game time; thus each day equals roughly 24 minutes of real-time. If nothing else, it certainly helps maintain the sense of belief that you're on a long, arduous journey.
The auditory experience lags behind that offered by the visuals and gameplay. There's nothing glaringly wrong with either the soundtrack or voice-acting, but neither attempts to distinguish itself in any way. The title comprises a reasonable selection of diverse tracks, though many of these ditties are largely ineffectual in creating any sense of drama or mood. The voice work is solid, if somewhat unremarkable; a consequence of a mediocre script, moreso than the talent of the voice actors. At the very least however, it's light-years ahead of many other titles currently on the market.
Dark Chronicle is a superbly crafted title, one that possesses a great deal of polish, and very few flaws. Its melange of gameplay styles makes it markedly different from many other RPG titles, and that alone makes it worth playing.