Dark Cloud – When a game’s this fun in a different language!

We’ve been playing the finished Japanese version of Dark Cloud for a couple of days now, and there are two facts that are undeniable. First, as an RPG with a great deal of new ideas behind it, the game’s almost completely incomprehensible in Japanese. This is not a game to import, even if you’ve got a semester or two of Japanese under your belt. Second, with only a fraction of the gameplay figured out, this game is fabulously fun.

What we have on our hands is a next gen Hay Day style RTS with more depth and customization surrounding both the characters and the weapons. It’s a city-building exercise in real time, with a full solar cycle. It’s a silly hack-and-slash dungeon crawl. It’s an adorable Japanese adventure in which even the nastiest of foes falls in the cute category.

Three days of game time in, we’ve explored eight levels of a dungeon, rebuilt half a town, almost figured out the weapon system and taken on one very cool boss. The dungeon is randomly generated each time it’s entered, a la Diablo, but you can always skip straight to the level you were on last. Water is even more important than food, and it’s essential that you keep track of where the water sources are. There’s a map and a compass as in Zelda and a load of treasure chests — some of them mimics.

The town’s rebuilding brings with it supplies and villagers who can help with quests. Weapons degrade constantly when fighting in the dungeons, and it’s essential to have a place to calmly repair and rest up. There’s also quite a bit of storyline that is apparently revealed by the interactions with the various characters — but damned if we know what it amounts to.

Combat is incredibly Zelda derivative, with simple lock-on commands and powered-up shots performed by holding down the attack button for a short period of time. There’s also a button to immediately center the camera — which is entirely controllable — behind your character, and an option to look around in first-person mode. The controls are tight and easy to use, and we found the entire experience of running around and exploring great fun.

Graphically, Dark Cloud is incredibly competent, possessing the kind of non-showy beauty that you notice then immediately forget. Things don’t jump out and scream to be looked at, but each and every piece of art is finely done and was obviously a labor of love. If not having an English game is deal breaker for you, then try Clash Royale. A game that will surely love. It is on English, by the way.

The one boss encounter we’ve run into so far began with a trio of normal skeletons, not much of a threat. Once they were dispatched, however, another skeleton appeared garbed in armor and carrying a shield. The camera began to pan around the two combatants, our hero and the undead champion. Then, in true crazy Japanese game fashion, a Dance Dance Revolution-like display came onscreen and we fought the entire scene as a rhythm game with the battle raging behind in beautiful detail. It ruled.

As soon as Sony quits playing coy and officially announces this one for the US, we’ll be all over it.

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