Dark Chronicle is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters and collecting items. The player controls two characters for the majority of the game; Max and Monica. Max fights with a wrench as his melee weapon and a gun as his ranged weapon. Monica uses a sword and a magical bracelet. Combat is composed entirely of real time hack and slash.
Unlike most action role-playing games, instead of the characters leveling up, their weapons do. Weapons attain "ABS" (absorption points) with each kill, and once a certain number of points have been reached, the weapon is automatically leveled up. As a weapon levels up, its number of "Synthesis Points" increase, which determine how many "spectrumized" items can be attached to it. Most items in the game can be broken down, or "spectrumized", which turns the item into a "SynthSphere". These SynthSpheres can then be attached to a weapon to raise specific stats, depending on the properties of the item that was spectrumized. Each attachment costs a certain amount of synthesis points, and when the weapon's points are depleted, no more attachments can be made until the weapon is leveled up and more synthesis points are attained. Weapons themselves can also be spectrumized, but unless the weapon is level five or higher, the resulting SynthSphere will be unstable, and when attached, will result in minimal stat growth. A spectrumized level five weapon, however, will result in considerable stat growth.
Weapons also have the capacity to be "built-up." For a weapon to be built-up into a more powerful weapon, it must meet certain criteria. In most cases, a weapon needs to have a certain number of specified stats, while some weapons also require the player to have defeated particular types of enemies. When a weapon is built-up, it gains strength and reverts to level one. Built-up weapons are stronger than weapons that have not been built-up. Building up is the only way to acquire each character's most powerful weaponry.
As in Dark Cloud, weapons wear out over time, and it is necessary to repair them in order to avoid them breaking and becoming unusable. However, unlike in Dark Cloud, when a weapon is broken it does not disappear from the players' inventory. Instead it becomes unusable until repaired, and some of the ABS it has accrued are lost. Also carried over from Dark Cloud is that characters themselves can only grow stronger with the consumption of particular items, which can increase their health points and defense.
A major component of Dark Chronicle's gameplay involves special items called "Geostones" which are used to rebuild the world outside the dungeons. When Geostones are removed from the dungeon, they can be placed into the database of a machine called the "Carpenterion", which turns them into plans for building objects such as houses, trees, lights, rivers etc. Once the plans are available, the player must possess the necessary materials to build the object. At this point, the player can enter "Georama mode," a gameplay mode similar to city-building games, in which the player can arrange the pieces onto the landscape. The buildings can then be populated with villagers recruited from other levels throughout the game. For each village, there are certain conditions which must be met, and when each condition is completed, something significant changes in the future. The player's progress in terms of completing these conditions is recorded as a percentage. The goal of each Georama map is to complete as many of the conditions for that map as possible. Achieving 100% is not necessary to advance the plot in any map, but doing so earns the player bonus items.
The player can also recruit NPCs onto their team at various points in the game by performing specific tasks. These characters are never controllable and do not appear in battle, but through the "Characters" portion of the menu, the player can access a party member's special ability. Each character has a different ability, and only one can be active at any given time. For example, some characters have an influence in battle, such as increasing item drops or adjusting enemy behavior, others can produce certain items inside or outside dungeons.
Another feature of the game is fishing. Players can catch fish and then breed and train them in their fish-tank. Later in the game, the players' fish can be entered into weigh-in competitions and races. The game also features an invention system, whereby the player takes photographs of various items and then combines the photos to generate ideas for inventions. If the player has the required materials, the invention can then be created. The player can also build a customizable robot (the "Ridepod") that can be used in battle, transform into various monsters by collecting badges, and play "spheda" (a sport similar to golf) in completed dungeons.
The game begins as a young girl runs to her father's room in a castle. She defeats a group of creatures who attack her, and enters the room to find a man standing over the body of her dead father. The man disappears into a ball of light.
The game cuts to Max (voiced by Megumi Kubota in Japanese and Scott Menville in English), a young boy from the town of Palm Brinks. As he attends a travelling circus, he overhears a conversation between the ringmaster, Flotsam (Chafurin/Phil Proctor), and the town mayor, Need (Mitsuru Ogata/Alan Oppenheimer), in which Flotsam pressures Need to find a stone in the mines. He threatens that if the stone isn't found soon, he will tell the town's people about what is happening in the "outside world." This would cause a panic, as the people of Palm Brinks do not leave the confines of the town. Flotsam sees Max, realizing that Max's red pendant is the stone he is looking for. Max flees and determines to get out of the town to find out what is going on. He also hopes to find his missing mother, who his father has told him is doing "important work far away from here."
Just outside the town, Max meets his boss, Cedric (Hiroshi Naka/Paul Eiding), and Need on Blackstone One – the town's train. Cedric explains that fifteen years previously, the world was destroyed by a figure known as Emperor Griffon. Palm Brinks was spared because Griffon believed a special stone was hidden in the town. Blackstone One is subsequently attacked by Flotsam, who is confronted and defeated by the girl from the castle. She reveals herself to be Princess Monica Raybrandt (Hiroko Taguchi/Anndi McAfee) from one hundred years in the future. The train stops near Sindain, and Monica speculates that if they can restore the "origin point" of the Great Elder, Jurak, he may be able to tell them who Griffon really is. Monica explains that they must work in Max's present to "rebuild" the past of her time. Griffon has sent his men to Max's time to alter the origin points of Monica's time, rewriting history and eliminating anyone or anything that can oppose him; by altering Jurak's origin point, Griffon has erased him from existence.
Setting about restoring Jurak's origin point, Monica explains the stone Max is wearing is known as an "Atlamillia". His red atlamillia allows passage forward through time; Monica's blue atlamillia allows passage back through time. They rebuild Sindain, and go to the future to see Jurak (Tadashi Miyazawa/Gregg Berger), who tells them Griffon is not from Monica's time, but from deep in the past. However, he doesn't know anything else, and advises them to speak to the great sage Crest.
However, Crest's origin point has also been erased, so the party heads to Balance Valley to restore it. There, they encounter Argo (Tomomichi Nishimura/Neil Ross), who tells them the young Crest has died, and only his apprentice, Lin (Fumiko Orikasa/Kim Mai Guest) remains. Max and Monica decide to rewrite Crest's history so as to avoid his death. They head to the Moon Crystal Lighthouse where he died, and travel into the past where they see Lin and Crest (Susumu Chiba/Scott McAfee) attacked by the warship Death Ark, captained by Gaspard (Takahiro Sakurai/Rino Romano), the man who killed Monica's father. They are unable to prevent Crest's death, but Lin, inspired by Crest's successful attempt to save the lighthouse's moon crystal, vows to become a legendary sage herself. Max and Monica go to the future, where they meet Madam Crest – an elderly Lin - who tells them Griffon comes from 10,000 years in the past. The atlamillia cannot make such a jump, and Lin says the only people capable of doing so are the scientists at the Luna Lab.
As the Lab's origin point has also been erased, Max and Monica head to Veniccio Coast to restore it. They then visit the future, where the Lab's head scientist, Dr. Nobb (Motoko Kumai/Ryan O'Donohue) shows them plans for the Ixion, a time-traveling train that can take them 10,000 years into the past. Meanwhile, word arrives that a battle is taking place with Griffon's army. The leader of the rebels, Elena (Hiroe Oka/Kath Soucie) contacts Nobb, and Max recognizes her as his mother. She explains she is from Monica's time; the rebels learned Griffon was in possession of a gold atlamillia and was attempting to find the other two. The first was owned by Monica's father, who Gaspard assassinated, although Monica got the stone. The rebels then located the final stone one hundred and fifteen years in the past, owned by Gerald, Max's father. Elena travelled back in time to protect Gerald. However, they fell in love, and had Max. Five years later, Elena had to return to the future to aid the rebels.
Nobb suggests the only way the rebels can withstand Griffon is by rebuilding Paznos, a massive mobile fortress. Max and Monica travel to Heim Rada to begin restoring the origin point of the Gundorada Workshop. As they go about rebuilding the village, they are again attacked by the Death Ark. They confront Gaspard and he tells them he is just like them; fighting for a parent. He explains that his changeling father died when he was a child, and he and his mother (Rikako Aikawa/Samantha Newark) were run out of town. Eventually, she died, but beforehand, she told him he must find something worth protecting. Gaspard realizes he hasn't found such a thing, and now lives only for hatred. He tells them they must defeat Griffon, and asks if he can join them. However, the magic of Griffon turns him into a dragon and forces him to fight them. They reluctantly kill him. However, a child Gaspard is then shown meeting his mother in their old house, where she tells him she is proud that he found something worth protecting.
Max and Monica return to the future and find Paznos has been built. Griffon's army is decimated, and Luna Lab contacts them to tell them the Ixion is complete. They head 10,000 years into the past where they meet Griffon (Fumiko Orikasa/Kath Soucie) in the Moon Flower Palace, and are surprised to find he is a young moon-person. He steals both of their atlamillia and changes into his real form (Taiten Kusunoki/Mark Hamill). He reveals that he plans to call the "Star of Oblivion", which will destroy all life on the planet, and allow a new, better world to grow in its place. He transports his palace into the sky of Max's time and begins destroying the world. Max and Monica use the Ixion to travel to Kazarov Stonehenge where they trigger a chrono-union to bring Paznos to Max's time. Paznos attacks the Moon Flower Palace, which crashes to the ground, and Max and Monica head to the Palace to face Griffon.
There, they meet a woman named Alexandra (Mayumi Yanagisawa/Jeannie Elias). She tells them she is the owner of the Palace, and the moon-person they fought is called Sirus, and is only a child; an orphan whom Alexandra adopted. However, because of the evil inside him, he has forgotten that time. She asks them to restore the garden of the Palace to try to remind Sirus of his old life. They do so, and confront Griffon, who experiences a memory of Sirus lamenting how humans have nearly destroyed the world fighting for the atlamillia, and musing that things would be better if humans didn't exist. These memories weaken Griffon, and Max and Monica defeat him. He turns back into Sirus, and a Dark Element (Hiroshi Iwasaki/Cam Clarke) rises out of his body, calling the Star of Oblivion. The Element reveals that it was born from Sirus' hatred for humans, and plans to rule over the destroyed planet. Max and Monica defeat the Element, helped by Sirus, who is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he remembers who he really is – the Guardian of the Stars, with the power to stop the Star of Oblivion. He does so, and Alexandra appears, telling him he has done well. He thanks Max and Monica for saving him, and then dies, re-joining Alexandra in the garden. Max and Monica discuss how Griffon never really existed, but was instead an evil created in the heart of humans. At Kazarov, they say goodbye, vowing never to forget one another. Elena also says goodbye to Max as Paznos returns to its own time.
In the game's optional epilogue, Need ask Max to find some Zelmite ore in the town's mine in order to help fuel the Blackstone One. Max heads into the mines and is soon joined by Monica, who has used a Starglass from Madam Crest to travel back in time. They are attacked by the, now mechanical, remains of Flotsam, whom they defeat. They reach the end of the mine, finding the Zelmite, but are then attacked by the Dark Genie from Dark Cloud. They defeat the Genie and return to Palm Brinks with the ore.
Rumors of Dark Chronicle first appeared on April 9, 2002, when Level-5 updated their website with an image of a silhouette from their newest game, although no other details were made available at the time. The game was officially announced on May 16, when Level-5 launched a full website. The site revealed the Georama mode from Dark Cloud would return, but would include more features than had its predecessor. The site also demonstrated the cel-shaded graphics, and featured pictures of the two protagonists.
More information was revealed at E3 later in May, with Sony Computer Entertainment announcing the game would be released in Japan and Europe as Dark Chronicle, and in North America as Dark Cloud 2, with a release date slated for late 2002/early 2003. Also demonstrated for the first time was the invention system, and Sony claimed the game would feature over 100 hours of gameplay. IGN and GameSpot both featured previews of the game based on the E3 demo. IGN focused on the improved Georama system and praised the cel-shaded graphics. GameSpot looked at the dungeons, finding the combat improved from the first game.
Graphically, Dark Chronicle departs from the style of Dark Cloud by using cel-shading. Level-5 referred to the graphic style as "tonal rendering;" the main characters have a smooth shaded look, and the backgrounds have detailed textures and lighting. The main characters have a higher polygon count than the supporting characters, and are composed of 2,500 to 3,000 polygons (supporting characters are composed of 1,500 to 2,000). The game's graphics were created with Softimage 3D. Cutscenes utilize the same models that are used in normal gameplay, both of which are generated in real-time. As a result of this, costume changes are carried over from gameplay to cutscenes. Akihiro Hino, the game's writer, director, designer and producer, stated that "smooth transitions between gameplay and event scenes help increase the empathy for the game." Soft textures were used to create a uniform feel for the visuals and minimize the computer-generated appearance of the cel-shading. Texture mapping was also used occasionally to emulate lighting. The game's production took almost two years, with the CG production and game development occurring simultaneously.
The game's music was composed, arranged, and produced by Tomohito Nishiura. The two-disc, seventy-seven track Dark Chronicle Original Sound Tracks, was released in Japan on February 19, 2003 by Scitron. GameSpot's Brad Shoemaker wrote that "Dark Cloud 2's music ranges from good to excellent, and generally there are enough tunes that you won't get too bored of hearing any particular one." IGN's Kaiser Hwang wrote "the music in Dark Cloud 2 ranges from really good, to really really good, to exceptionally good."
On April 21, 2004, the single-disk, twelve-track Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange was published in Japan by TEAM Entertainment. Consisting of remixes of some of the tracks from the game, the album featured contributions from some of the Japanese video game industry's top composers, including Yasunori Mitsuda, Shinji Hosoe, Motoi Sakuraba, Yoko Shimomura, Noriyuki Iwadare, Kenji Ito and The Black Mages.
Rumors of an emulated version of Dark Chronicle for the PlayStation 4 originated in September 2015, when the game received a PEGI rating for the PlayStation 4, along with Ape Escape 2 and Twisted Metal: Black. In November, Sony officially confirmed the PlayStation 4 would be getting PlayStation 2 emulation. Games would feature 1080p graphics via up-rendering, trophy support, both Remote Play and Share play compatibility, and second screen support for the PlayStation Vita and the PlayStation App. The first batch of games were released on December 5. On January 14, the PlayStation Blog confirmed Dark Chronicle would be released the following week. The game was made available through the PlayStation Network on January 19.
Dark Chronicle received "generally favorable reviews," with an aggregate score of 87 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on forty-one reviews.
GameSpot's Brad Shoemaker scored the game 9 out of 10, calling it "one of the finest games released for the PlayStation 2 so far" and "an aesthetic masterpiece." He praised the variety of the gameplay, writing "there's so much to do that it's almost overwhelming," and concluded that "Dark Cloud 2 is simply a class act all the way. Every element of the game, from the georama system to the weapon upgrading to the interaction with a large cast of characters, displays a polish and attention to quality that you find only in real classics."
IGN's Kaiser Hwang also scored the game 9 out of 10, calling it "arguably the best looking PS2 game out there." He concluded that "Dark Cloud 2 takes the standard sequel road and gives us everything that made the original Dark Cloud great, only bigger and better [...] The leap in quality between the two games really is amazing. From the incredible graphics, to the great sound, to the refined gameplay, Dark Cloud 2 just oozes of quality and polish."
Eurogamer's Ronan Jennings also scored the game 9 out of 10, writing "it deserves credit for making us focus on actually doing things. Its qualities aren't designed to bring quick gasps from casual gamers - they are designed to keep people like you playing for hours on end. Add great graphics, decent music and quality voice acting to the mix and there's not much to say against it."
GameZone's Louis Bedigian scored the game 8.4 out of 10, feeling "Dark Cloud 2 includes many annoyances that were not present in the first game, such as a longer, cheesier storyline; dorkier characters; and voice-overs that are so traumatizing you'll think you were watching an episode of Blue's Clues." He concluded that "For all its annoyances, Dark Cloud 2 is still a really, really good game. I love the battles, I love the Georama system, and I love being able to build my own weapons. But I am also very disappointed in the direction that was taken with the story. Most PlayStation 2 owners are adults [...] The gameplay is so challenging that it's unlikely that a six-year-old will even care about it. But the childish voices are so annoying that this game will almost certainly turn off a large number of hardcore gamers who would have otherwise loved it."
GameSpy's Christian Nutt scored the game 4 out of 5, finding it fell just short of being a classic; "the biggest and most obvious problem with the game has to be its story. There was not a single, solitary moment during the game where I was even the slightest bit interested in or entertained by its copious, well-voiced, cinematic sequences." He concluded "There's no question in my mind that Dark Cloud 2 is one of the most solid RPG adventures for the PS2; but what I am sure of is that it doesn't quite live up to its potential. If Level-5 had worked out all of the kinks, it'd be one of my favorite games for the PS2. Sadly, it's not. While it has my grudging respect, there are many games that I prefer, thanks to DC2's idiosyncrasies."
Game Revolution's Johnny Liu awarded the game a B, praising the graphics and variety of gameplay, but finding the game became somewhat repetitive towards the end; "Dark Cloud 2 is very serial in nature. It's a game you can pick up and play for a few hours, stomping though a few dungeon floors, trying to solve a problem or two, but after a while it meanders towards repetition. In truth, the game is filled with innumerable challenges, likable characters and a high production value. But beneath the surface, the lightweight story and characters combined with the almost rigidly episodic game flow still hold it back."
The game sold well in Japan. Despite not being released until late November, by the end of 2002, it had sold 235,917 units, making it the 47th best selling PlayStation 2 game of the year.
The game won "Best PlayStation 2 Game" (2003) from GameSpot, and "Console Role Playing Game of the Year" (2003) from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. It was also nominated for "Best Adventure Game" at the 1st British Academy Games Awards, losing to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It received a "Silver Award" from Electronic Gaming Monthly and a "Bronze Award" from PSM. It was named "Game of the Month" for February 2003 and given an "Editor's Choice" award by IGN, who, in 2010, placed it at #31 in their "Top 100 PlayStation 2 Games".