My Favorate Game:
An analysis by Chris Watts
I?ve felt. That if I was to call myself a designer. It would be a good idea to put my money where my mouth is and do something that most designers have already done.
While coming up with your own designs and solving problems is all well and good. One has to remember that no idea is spawned from thin air. Those ideas are calmatives of other ideas and your imagination.
I would find it fitting that my favorite game would be one that is practically dripping in imagination and design. Full of colour and having its own visual style for the time [which has now been duplicated into many games.] This game provided me with over 80 hours of enjoyable entertainment.
The games name is Dark Chronicle.
Its system is on the PS2 and it was published in 2003.
What Genre is it?
Dark Chronicle has a paradox situation. It is a game in which it contains elements from many genres. While designers try to avoid the ?kitchen sink? design due to the player having trouble trying to suss out what it is they?re playing. Also the issue that if the game is stretched out on multiple genres that the quality value of each genre will be lowered. For DC this isn?t true. This game stands in it's own image. It hasn?t gone out to try and imitate another game. It's only gone out to try and revise and improve over the first game; Dark Cloud.
If we want to be particular, I would call it an RPP. Role-playing puzzle. Because so many task in this games are puzzles in themselves. From using the right items to powering up your weapons to upgrading them, to sussing out what's the best town plan for the level you?re on. What type of buildings to use? What colour of paint and what objects to place?
A game that requires one thing from you, to be creative: Which is something many games never even consider.
The RPG side:
DC has two genres. The strongest one is the RPG category. But in fact it's not a conventional RPG. You play the role of two characters. These characters are predetermined and have their own personalities. The game features an upgradeable weapon system and each character has two weapons that the other one doesn?t. The male character Max, boasts a club-style weapon and a gun-style weapon. The female character Monica, has a sword type weapon and a magic bracelet type weapon.
Both characters have one melee and one projectile weapon. And as long as you keep rotating your characters to keep the weapons balanced they are both equally useful. Although some enemies are better to take out with a curtain type of weapon.
The two characters don?t level up though. Their weapons do through using them on enemies. Increasing the characters stats like attack and defense is done by finding chests in the towns you rebuild that contain items that do so by a few points. This method while unorthodox works well in both it rewards the characters to search and explore the world given to him and that the character cannot advance too much further then the challenges given to him at the time. While he can keep playing to advance his weapons level and upgrade them. Better weapons appear in better dungeons so to this end the player is always given an incentive to advance.
Each town that the player visits in the game has a dungeon. Each dungeon has it's own visual style and features. The dungeons are based in levels. You start at level one and each time you get a key to exit that level, you move onto the next one. The number of levels in a dungeon various. The first dungeon has 9 levels while the last few dungeons have 25-30 levels.
Each dungeon level is randomly generated in terms of layout, monster placement and item/chest placement.. Some items are guarantied to be in a curtain dungeon level like needed items and geo stones. Enemies are usually a challenge and sometimes taking some strategy to defeat.
For each level of the dungeon getting to the next level is the primary requirement. But you can also fulfill secondary requirements. These secondary requirements are challenges to the player. Like to beat the level in a curtain time or to finish that level using only a curtain weapon. When these challenges are passed the player gets a medal for each one. And these medals can be exchanged for special items or new clothing to equip on Max and Monica. The clothing is only cosmetic. But is just another level of customization that was put in place.
The Building/Puzzle side:
Another genre this game intrudes into is building puzzles. It's not really an RTS component, as the things you build have no enemies to attack it. The premise is simple enough; the world past the town you lived in for most of your life has been cleared of all human life. And it's up to you, the player to rebuild the world. Not just the way it was before but better!
This means going into dungeons and finding ?geo stones?. Each geo stone lets you manufacture and place down new objects like houses and fences and post boxes. It's all about pleasing the residents.
Making these objects requires a variety of materials, from wood to clay to bricks. These are ether found in the dungeons or brought at a store. By gathering these materials you can then build the object. It goes into your pool of items, then you can place the object onto the ground, the object can be rotated and painted different colours.
Each town has to be built differently however. One town is built on 4 mountains. And these mountains shift up and down in accordance to the weight put on each mountain. And one of the parameters of making the town ?perfect? is to keep these 4 pieces leveled.
You?re playing in the present. To each town there is a portal that takes you 100 years into the future. And these towns need to be at 100 percent in order for you to trigger an event in the future that will assist in helping you out to defeat the evil emperor. More so you are always given a considerable reward for doing so.
Making these towns perfect is a puzzle in itself, but with time and imagination they are overcome easily enough.
But building a new world isn?t the only thing you get to fiddle with. Each character, apart form the two weapons they use in dungeons Max and Monica also can use a 3ed skill. To change into a more powerful form. For Monica, she can turn herself into monsters. For max though, he has a machine called the ride-pod.
The ride pod is a large robot that Max rides on. Good for taking out heavy enemies and protecting max when he is low on health and he has nothing to heal himself with.
The Ride-pod is also customizable.
The ride-pod is customized into four groups.
Legs ? Ride-pods moment
Arms - Weapons
Torso ? Armor value
Battery pack ? Health value.
These parts are upgraded through ether buying new parts from stores or inventing them yourself. Parts are not brought with money however. They are brought with experience points the ride-pod has earned through its use in the dungeons.
And weapon types are abundant. Starting with nothing more then wood mallets for arms. By the end of the game the ride-pod can have powerful beam cannons. And due to the game having a portal 100 years into the future, it's quite feasible as well.
Photos and Inventing
One of the last creative features to mention for this game is that Max can invent new parts and items.
This is really an interesting game mechanic. This is how it works.
Max is given a camera early into the game. With this camera he can take photos of anything in the game world. Monsters, inanimate objects and special events like boss battles. [You can only capture them when they occur however. So be vigilant]
Max can have a maximum of 30 photos in his album at a time. However he can transfer the objects name into his note pad so the object from which his invention spawns form is always with him. To give you an idea of how many objects you can take photos of. My save game is listed to have 650 recorded objects stored into his note bock. And it's only 4/5 full.
Once you have photos, you start to invent things. It's simple enough. Pick three objects from the notebook depositories to try and combine these objects to make a new invention. While some is purely hit and miss. The game is forgiving to you. If you even have just two out of three compatible objects when you try to make the object the result will give you a general idea of what else needs to be added to the idea. Not only that but around the game world in towns and houses there are many ideas written down that give you details on what you need to make an idea. You just need those pictures ready.
Once you?ve made a new invention. Which can be any useable object in the game world, all you require are the right materials to make the item. But as a general rule of thumb making the item is cheaper to do then to go out and buy it, if it can be brought that is. [the ability to invent and manufacture bread ?health potions- is very handy indeed.]
This is a gameplay feature that has been added for the users enjoyment and creativity in mind. The player can finish the game well enough without it. But for those who like to fiddle it's a fun and refreshing game play feature.
Revisions from Dark Cloud to Dark Chronicle:
As with most sequels made in the games industry. The creators try and revise the issues that people complained about in the first game and address them in the second.
For Dark Cloud there where one or two issues that did indeed annoy the player.
Water was one of these issues.
Every character you played in Dark Cloud had a thirst bar while in the dungeon. The Bar would get lower over time and if the bar reached zero then the character would start to lose health. You could replenish the health bar by using water, but it was an annoying and somewhat useless feature of the game. In Dark Chronicle thirst is no longer something you have to manage. It sometimes comes up as a status issue just like 'slow? and ?poison?
How many Characters should be in the game has also been addressed, In Dark Cloud there was 6 playable characters. Each having their own attack style. But the issue was that in reality players only tended to favorite 2 characters [one melee and one ranged] and try to complete the game just using them alone. Characters lacked depth and felt very fake. In Dark Chronicle this was addressed and heavily revised. In Dark Chronicle you have two main characters that are both playable and both have melee and ranged weapons. Max has a giant robot to ride in and Monica can turn into different Monsters. There is a 5th character but he/she isn?t playable. You?re allowed to take one of the townsfolk you have helped out in the game that have joined you and sit on the train that takes you around the world. These characters have only status inducing features. Like the rabbit Lau lets you see the whole dungeon map before you explore it.
Character switching as also an annoying issue with Dark Cloud. The dungeons had a number of obstacles that required you to keep switching characters. This got very annoying very quickly and thus has been revised in the sequel. In Dark Chronicle there are no obstacles in the dungeons that require you to change your character. People are free to play as Monica and Max to their leisure.
The Hud designs have also been revised and improved upon
I always laugh at this. This game came out at the time when Zelda has proven that a fishing game in an RPG was a good idea. And fishing appeared in the first game, Dark Cloud. Fishing is simple enough. Choose your real, choose your tackle and then throw it in any water. [And that includes water in the dungeons.] wait for a while and if the area has fish. You can pull it in. Fish types and sizes vary a lot.
This concept is rather a new thing for the games industry. Late into the game you get a fish tank. And fairly enough with this fish tank you can place in your captured fish. Not only that but you can also feed the fish, battle the fish against each other and breed the fish to make entirely new species of fish with stronger stats. [How a fish can have 6 different statistics is beyond me. But this game has made a poke?mon out of fish.]
I think someone in the development team for DC really has a thing for fishes. Because not only can you catch and raise fish. You can also put them into races?fish races!!!
It's as silly as it sounds. You pit your fish against Non-player-controlled fish. They do two laps around a donut like pool and who ever comes first wins. But there's strategy involved! Not only do you have to breed the fishes. At the start of the race you can choose tactics that decides the fishes racing style. Eg: The fish can bolt at the start of the race then slow down quickly and go steady for the rest.
If you think the development team got silly at this point. I would have to agree. But, it can?t be laughed at too much, as the rewards for winning the different fish race championships are quite substantial.
Yet another little feature that is quite entertaining, although quite utterly useless to the overall game. Spheda is a lot like golf. The storyline dictates that time distortions have appeared all around the world. And that shards of space time [called spheda] have fallen out of them. You cannot touch the Spheda, but you can use Spheda rods to try to hit it back into the space distortion hole.
Though tacky. The game itself is quite fun to play. And the reward for getting the ball in the hole is usually worth your time. Yet another feature added for the sake of fun.
The storyline is linear. You cannot alter or divert from it. But this is fine as long as it's a good story to begin with. The storyline of Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Trigger couldn?t be changed. But that didn?t mean it wasn?t good.
The storyline is simple and while it confronts some strong emotions. It does so in a more real way. The pitch to this game on the back of the cover sums up the basic layer of the story.
?In the future, an evil emperor begins a journey back through time to eliminate a growing threat to his dominance.?
This blurb does do a good job of getting the attention of those who want action in their games. But the story is three layered.
The first layer is the overall goal layer. Which is to save the past and future from a foe like the evil emperor. [Who ends up being much less then anyone would of thought.]
The second layer is the storyline around the characters. For the male hero Max; it's about reuniting himself with his mother who disappeared many years ago. For Monica, It's the desire for answers and revenge to those who killed her feather. For the evil emperors second in command. It's a story of sadness and regret. And for the emperor himself; it's a story of forgiving a world that was so cruel to him. [it's to be noted that there is a strong emphasis with families in this game, yet another moral pointer!]
The third layer of the storyline is the moral and lesson learned from the adventure. Which is one reason I enjoyed this game so much. It went out and taught me something. It taught me to never forget the past, because arrogance spawns from such things. It told me that one way to help everyone is to build the world better. It was obvious that this game was made from a designer's perspective. So many things that you do in this game is very similar to what designers must do for a living. Be presented with problems from clients and try to overcome these problems through smart ideas.
The story on a whole, While not award winning or as dynamic as say the complexity of Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2. Works well for the content of the game.
Games are learning tools. And we teach in as many ways as we can. Whether be through story or challenges.
Building a better world:
This game is very important to me. In that DC gone out to try it's best to stress the point of helping others.
While Max and Monica have their own agendas and goals, they?re constantly helping out and assisting others with their problems. Every townsfolk you meet has their own issues that Max and Monica need to solve. Some issues are simple. Some are not. [which is a good thing because no modern day hero does something good out of the pure kindness of his heart. Movies and comics have evolved out of that 2D character phase. Eg: Batman helps Gotham city out of revenge to those who ruined his life and killed his family.]
In DC it shows you this point visually as well. When you construct the towns back together in your time and fulfill the objectives given to you as well, the future that you travel to becomes better and better. One example of the forest town. In the present when you place things down correctly the future will correspond by showing you how much more the giant tree that resides in the future grows and prospers. This sentient tree once filly regrown will help you on your quest.
Frankly. As ?original? and ?fresh? as most of you say when playing a game where you play as a serial killer ripping woman's intestines out is. I prefer to play what is known as a ?constructive game.? And to put it simply; A game where you are trying to help good people. De-constructive games tend to annoy me. [That's putting it in polite terms.]
In helping others. Those people eventually assist Max and Monica with their problems and this gives out an image not seen in many games. In many games the player is only ever following his own objectives.
Single Handedly you revive the worlds greatist weapon. A huge floating castle with a powerful secret!
I am the Collector!!!
It can?t be denied that some of the most successful entertainment franchises and games have had their success pinned on the design convention of ?collecting.?
The Diablo and World of Warcraft series is a great example of this used in video games. For the player to improve in these games he must constantly quest for better weapons and armor. Constantly training for better skills and in reality, collecting as much crap as he can carry back to sell off.
For TV shows the Japanese have summed it up pretty well. They know that as long as you make a show interesting enough for a 10 year old that they?ll go out and collect as much toys as they can. Poke?mon, Digimon, Bay Blades. All these turned huge profit because they work on the theory that people love to obsess and collect things.
They?re right. We love to because it's an overall status symbol to show off to those with similar interests. I myself collect Transformer Toys and DVDs for my own enjoyment and to show off how much of a total transformer nerd I am.
Dark Chronicle is no different. While it's not the theme of the game like Poke?mon. It's still a strong feature. Everything you collect helps you in a way. From element orbs to increase your weapons stats, to raw materials to make houses with. Sometimes players will repeat a few levels of a dungeon just because that part was rich in the items they need.
Collecting is addictive. And like many other games. Dark Chronicle recognized and appealed to that.
Why is Dark Chronicle my Favorite game?
To sum it all up. DC is my favorite game because it has so much to offer in itself. Unlike games like World Of Warcraft that require the interaction of other real players to keep my attention going. Dark Chronicle earned 90 hours of my life through its game play, storyline and pure creativity given to the player. This isn?t just a game. It's a toy to be played with, It find it saddening that games like this only do really well in the eastern markets. Dark Chronicle didn?t sell very long in Australia and I was very glad to pick it up when it came out. I would recommend this game to all people in our industry. Providing you can find it!
What would I improve?
Dark Chronicle was by no means a perfect game. But it was fun and entertaining nonetheless. There are a few things that could be revised and improved upon.
Rebuilding the worlds in Dark Chronicle was fun. It required problem solving skills and a little bit of imagination. And while vastly improved over the original, more options could be added to this system to make it even more flexible to the players? creativity. One way to do this would be to make the houses modular. Instead of just placing down the entire house. Why not place down separate rooms to make different house designs?
And to that end, Why not add the option to also edit the interior of the houses built? Be able to place furniture and pictures on the wall and windows? This option would allow for the player to breathe even more creativity and imagination into the game. The technology is certainly there. It just needs to be utilized.
Games that try to stand out are rare in today's formulated game market. We tend to focus on brand names and game play that is Part A ? from this game and Part B ? from that game.
Dark Chronicle wanted to be nothing more then itself. And in that end it never took off in the western markets. Ether because it didn?t look like final fantasy enough. Or the characters where too kiddy or the total lack of advertisement. One could feel that the publisher sony knew this wouldn?t hit off. But where still polite enough to release a few copies in Australia and New Zealand. [something predicted to be 2000-4000] On the first page of the instruction manual it has written at the bottom right hand corner ?Australian? just to give it authenticity that it wasn?t an import from the UK.
They didn?t have to do this you know. But they did, And for that I?m grateful to Sony. This game is a gem that like many other great games. Just went unnoticed and uncared for. It has its problems. But it's design and presentation is expert and professional.
Those who want to try out something different; this is the game for you.