Gamestyle Archive intro: this was a hugely hyped PS2 RPG title given the backing and the developer involved – did it deliver? Well Gareth certainly find a charm to the whole experience. I was never that taken with it from memory; too much A-to-B and then back again nonsense. Ah, the whole cel-shading fad, I remember it very well. This review dates from September 2003.
Set in a mythical world, Dark Chronicle has an original, if slightly strange, storyline. The tale goes that on the edge of a dying world sits the town of Palm Brinks. Unknown to the inhabitants, this is the last surviving settlement on the planet. With the gates of the town permanently shut and the train station unused for years, the residents go about their carefree lives not knowing (or even caring to know) what goes on outside of their own idyllic existence. The only people who enter or leave the district are a group of circus performers who, unbeknownst to all, are really the servants of an evil overlord who has travelled back in time to destroy those places which constitute a threat to him in the future. Indeed he has spared the town of Palm Brinks because it holds an item which he and his servants simply cannot find. Enter Max, who discovers that the amulet which hangs around his neck is this very item that the evil one is looking for – thus begins the ever twisting and turning tale that is Dark Chronicle. Presented to us as a realtime adventure game, the bulk of your time is spent searching randomly-generated dungeons whilst collecting all manner of items and materials in the process. However, to say that Dark Chronicle is simply a realtime adventure is selling the title short of the large amounts of features and depth that it contains. As well as numerous mini-games, players can design new weaponry, make inventions, take photographs, fish, and engage in a sort of fantasy-based Sim City affair whereby new towns are created to repopulate the arid world. There is no denying that, in the right hands, cel-shading can be an effective visual tool. Luckily, the developers (Level 5) have managed to apply this cel styling with glorious, often breathtaking results.
Whether in cutscenes or in-game, the look of characters and their environment is always of exceptional quality – so much so that it is near-impossible to imagine this game looking any other way. Far from the overtly bright colour palette of Zelda on the GameCube, Dark Chronicle expresses itself in a much more subtle manner – with a somewhat earthy and industrial look (perhaps mimicking a cel-shaded Ico, if you will). The graphical style fits in well with the gimmick of the game – that being to build things. Weapons, inventions and towns can be made out of the many things you come across while exploring dungeons. In order to build up and transform weapons, objects must be broken down to their residual parts, then added to your existing tool of choice. By using this procedure, several differing types of weapons with a wide range of effects can be created with relative ease. Creating buildings and objects to place in new towns is even easier: you simply hunt around for a ‘Geo sphere’, which then adds information on what materials are needed to create the object. From there it is just a case of finding whatever is needed and placing your new creation on the screen. Inventing new things however, requires the player to think a lot more laterally than you might expect.
First of all, Max must take pictures of objects such as crates, pipes, belts or anything else that may give him an inventive notion. These photographs are kept in your idea book, and from there you must pick a selection of pictures that you believe could be combined in order to make something new. Max will then try to create it – though more often than not he will not be able to think of anything useful to make. In order to create things, you will need to search the many dungeons on offer while opening treasure chests and fighting off a wide range of monsters and machines. In contrast with the somewhat complicated inventing process, the controls for the adventuring sections of the game are of the ‘simple yet effective’ variety. One button is used for attacking and one button for locking on to the enemy; though characters do use two weapons for fighting, this is easily catered for by simply holding down L1 when pressing the attack button to hit with your off-hand – all very effective, meaning players can easily engage in battles without fear of being defeated by the controls.
However, Dark Chronicle contains a number of undeniable faults. Most of these concern the random generation of the dungeons. While in theory this should mean that players are never faced with the same thing twice (giving a constantly new experience), in practice it works in completely the opposite way. What happens is that players are thrown into a dungeon created out of the same core parts and characteristics of each chapter. This isn’t really a problem in areas where there aren’t a huge amount of dungeons to get through, but certain sections of the game present you with huge amounts of levels in order to progress. After you have seen the same graphical features of a chapter adorned with the same enemies for the seventh or eight time, you really do not care that the level is laid out differently from the last one – it all begins to get a touch repetitive. Furthermore, the random placement of monsters within random dungeons means that there is no noticeable difficulty curve. Instead you could be faced with almost unbeatable odds only a few dungeons into a stage, then plain sailing over the final stages. This leads to more frustration as your characters can be unprepared for what they are going to face, leading to death after death – with very little the player can realistically do about it.
Problems aside though, Dark Chronicle is a truly captivating game. A great story coupled with decent controls, features and more extra bits than anyone could ever think of. While occasionally there is an awful lot to take in, you are never without something new to do. Putting it all in perspective: while the dungeons could have been implemented better, it is only a minor point and does not take away too much from what is an essential purchase for anyone who thinks they know what a good adventure game is. In time, Dark Chronicle may well be regarded as a classic example of the genre.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10