Let’s Talk Level-5 Part 1

Alright, so I think it’s finally time to delve into a new style work. I’ve been wanting to draw attention to different developers for a while and with the release of Ni No Kuni 2 on March 23, 2018, now is the perfect time to delve into my history with Level-5

I’ve always loved Level-5 games since I played Dark Cloud 2 or Dark Chronicle, depending on where you live. I will say that as much as I love Level-5 games, I can never finish them.

I think this work will likely be in a few different parts to help focus on different console eras. I have zero experience with their handheld games so I won’t go into them at all, even if they though Level-5 has had great success on the 3DS.

Let’s get into it.

Level-5 in the Playstation 2 era:

I didn’t have a PS2 for a couple years after it came out so I missed out on Dark Cloud in the beginning. Dark Cloud 2 is the first game I played in the series and really fell in love, for a time.  

The characters, the world, and the combat are all amazing in Dark Cloud 2. I enjoy getting to spend so much time with just two characters, Max and Monica while experiencing a very caring and curious story. I think the story starts great because it starts so small and grows from there.

It’s lovely seeing Max try to find his Mother while trying to save the world.

I really enjoyed the weapon upgrade system and felt like the weapons I was using mattered, rather than in traditional JRPGs where you just find or buy new stuff. The concept of upgrading weapons over time felt really fresh and interesting to me at that time.

Dark Cloud™ 2_20180313141044.png

Next, I played Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Having never played a Dragon Quest game, this game felt like a perfect version of turn-based JRPGs. I think the simplicity of the combat adds to the strength of the game, rather than detract.

Again, characters and world-building are first class. I’m notorious for giving up on games before finishing games, but this game I finished and while I’ve only played it through once in full, it really stands out as a benchmark for excellence in my mind. It feels like a classic JRPG, whatever that means.

After DQ8, I got the chance to play Dark Cloud, and while returning to the series was awesome, Dark Cloud 2 is a much better game. I didn’t stick with Dark Cloud for long before giving up and going back to play Dark Cloud 2 again.

The game just felt old at the time. The graphics looked much worse than Dark Cloud 2 and it never really struck that same cord with me.

And somehow, I missed Rogue Galaxy entirely. And from what I know about the game, I would have loved it. Thankfully, it’s available with a little bit of up-rezzing on PS4. I feel like if I would have played this game at launch it would have taken over my life. The premise is so intriguing and interesting. Again the world and characters all seem fantastic, just like any other Level-5 game.

I think whoever is creating these characters and the world deserves recognition because these games have so much personality from every aspect.

Pace and Story:

And as much I love Level-5 games, I rarely finish them. I think this is both a problem with my own ability to focus on a game for long periods of time. It’s a bit odd because I love RPGs and JRPGs but I just can’t beat many of them. I really need to work on that.

However, I do feel like a common thread among Level-5 games is the bad pacing and story overall. I lost interest in the games that I played in the PS2 era, that would eventually continue on to the PS3 era.

I think the games falter towards the middle of the game in both pace and story. I get bored with playing and moving the story forward. I find they’re often too long.

For example, my Dark Cloud 2 save on PS4 sits around 19 hours in Chapter 4. I don’t think I made it past that.

Dark Cloud I probably got around 10 hours before attempting to play Dark Cloud 2 again. Something just distracts me from these games, as much as I love them before I beat them.

In Dark Cloud 2 I find myself grinding to improve weapons for long periods of time before I feel confident continuing the story. I get stuck in that grind because I hate moving on if I feel like the characters are weak and the game takes longer to kill enemies.

The story also begins to feel like a loop of doing dungeons, building, crafting, and repeat. I just get lost in that loop and never find my way out.

If I’m trying to articulate my point specifically: Level-5 games lose focus in the second act and it deters me from actually continuing the game, regardless of my appreciation for them.

Rogue Galaxy™_20180313141153.png

Level-5 PS2 Reception:

But, it seems like I’m one of the few who get lost in the game, rather than complete it. This is definitely a good thing, I’m glad people are doing better than me and actually finishing games, especially games that have this much character.

Metacritic critic and user reviews rave about Dark Cloud 2, and the other Level-5 PS2 games.

I’d rather have people keep playing and enjoying Level-5 games than not because I want to keep playing them even if they don’t stick.

I think it’s hard to find this level of charm and character in games. And although I never finish their games, I’m glad to keep buying because I eventually spend enough time playing them to call it a full playthrough.

Next up: Level-5 in the Playstation 3 timeline.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I missed yesterday and will get back on schedule next week.

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