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Dark Souls II
Platform: PC
Publisher: Warfare Studios
Developer: Warfare Studios
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Download
Released: US 10/06/09
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 84%
Sound: 77%
Gameplay: 82%
Control: 90%
Story: 86%
Overall: 83%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Galahar SMASH!
 
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Where does this bridge go? Only the developers know.
 
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Smells like church in here.
 
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Very subtle reference.
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Dennis Rubinshteyn
Dark Souls 2
11/07/09
Dennis Rubinshteyn

A few months ago, Warfare Studios came onto the indie RPG scene with Dark Souls, which utilized the RPG Maker XP engine. It had some flaws, but it also proved that the developers could deliver a solid narrative along with strong sprite work. The first game set the foundation for the developer to go forward on, and they produced an even better title with the newest Dark Souls installment. What was most impressive was that in only six months of development, Warfare Studios managed to make Dark Souls 2 vastly superior to the first.

Dark Souls 2 starts things up by introducing the hero, Galahar. Galahar is an ex-soldier who traveled around the world to find his kidnapped daughter, but never found any leads. Ten years later, Galahar decides to return to his hometown, but is still heartbroken over his inability to locate his daughter. Upon his arrival, trouble quickly follows as an anomaly (demon) attacks the town and then a child goes missing. During these events, Galahar reunites with his wife Kara and his old acquaintance, Zuke. Together, they save the day.

The following day, Galahar gets a visit from Lady Leona of the Mershiak Church. She comes to Galahar in need of a new swordmaster due to the rise of an evil cult. A swordmaster is the church's champion, and after hearing about Galahar's reputation over the years, the church decides that he is most qualified candidate. Initially, Galahar is reluctant to do it, but after a bit of "persuation," he changes his mind and sets out on a new journey, accompanied by his friends. He feels that this could be a means of both continuing the search for his daughter and fulfilling a good deed. However, little does he know that both objectives are loosely connected to one another.

The overall plot is a typical one of a fight between two factions with different ideals, but what makes it stand out are the characters. Instead of the typical hotheaded teens we've seen all too often, we get a well-rounded cast of adults who take their mission seriously, but also crack jokes along the way. The characters themselves are not deep in their archetypes, but what makes them notable is the chemistry they create. The interactions between party members makes the plot enjoyable. They not only generate jokes, but also make sly remarks that are both funny and usually believable in context. There are a few moments where the humor seems a little out of place, but there are plenty of great moments such as: explaining a lack of indoor dungeons due to financial constraints, thinking that the only character with an Irish accent was supposedly "brain damaged," proposing that bickering female party members settle their disputes by mud wrestling, and much more. The skilled execution of humor greatly enhances the experience more than makes up for the clichéd premise.

Unfortunately, Dark Souls 2's script does have some flaws. Particularly, the dialogue suffers from grammatical errors and occasional typos. While it does not deteriorate the enjoyment, it's quite noticeable, and some errors seem downright silly. It's one thing to mess up punctuation or have slight misspellings, but missing words and the end of letters appearing in other words "lik ethis" are sloppy mistakes. Sometimes, the text gets cut off in the dialogue box due to space constraints, but that is an issue with the engine's restrictive text space. It's still easy to understand the dialogue, but hopefully Warfare Studios will do more careful proofreading for their future games.

Dark Souls 2, like the first game, plays out like any other traditional Japanese RPG. It follows the town-dungeon-town style of progression, with objectives usually being pretty linear such as getting from point A to point B. Players enter battle via random encounters, and these encounters are the turn-based style where everyone beats the living daylights out of each other in an orderly fashion. There are six party members in total, but only three are present in battle. Each character has their own unique set of skills and add more to their repertoire as they level up. Best of all, even the inactive party members receive an equal amount of experience to keep things even. It's as traditional as you can get, but that's not bad by any means. Instead of tacked-on gimmicks or overly complicated mechanics, Dark Souls 2 utilizes a tried and true formula at its finest, and sometimes, that's all you need.

The dungeons are large enough to explore and they're well crafted. Getting to your destination is easy enough, but all of the areas contain many hidden treasures that can only be found if you take the time to explore every inch of the area. Doing so yields all sorts of goodies that can't be bought in stores. The game gets challenging, but always remains fair. There is a consistent difficulty curve until the final dungeon and very little grinding is required. Sometimes the game throws multiple dungeons at you consecutively with no resting in-between. To make it even tougher, enemies are quite stingy with gold. This can be frustrating because items are rather expensive; you'll be broke half the time trying to keep your team well supplied. Most times, nasty boss fights will come out of nowhere, and those are tough when you're not at 100 percent. Regardless, any foe can be taken with a good strategy and a bit of luck.

Throughout the game, there is quite a bit of optional content for those who like to tread off the beaten path. Initially, players only have the option of facing additional bosses for extra experience and loot. Towards the end, however, there are challenging bonus dungeons to face. Conquering them contains the best accessories in the game, making them worth the effort. Additionally, you can search through previous areas to find each character's ultimate weapon at the end of the game.

The only drawback to the gameplay is how excessive backtracking can become. While there is a key item that enables you to revisit any village, it tends to conveniently deactivate when needed the most, forcing you to backtrack through many areas. It also can't help reach some dungeons located in areas passed early in the game. It's not as bad as you may think, but it's quite evil that the developer sometimes won't allow you to use an item that is meant for convenience.

Graphically, Dark Souls 2 shows significant improvement from its predecessor. Dark Souls 2 features all original sprites and they look quite good, although the avatar designs are still a mixed bag. The game utilizes a westernized art style instead of the typical anime look and it contains some cool designs in characters like Galahar. On the other hand, there are designs like Leona that are questionable at best. Ultimately, it takes a bit of acquired taste to appreciate the designs, but they're still a step up from the first game. Character sprites are designed with more realistic body proportions, rather than super-deformed bodies, and they look even better in battles. The monsters also look better and they don't clash with the rest of the graphics this time. I especially like the designs for the anomaly bosses. The designs are all pretty zany, and strongly highlight the artist's creativity. There is also a lot of custom work in the environments as well, making this game stand out from other RPG Maker XP games.

The music is also contains original works, but the aural quality is not on par with the visuals. Most of the songs throughout the game contain soft, quiet melodies that fit well with the game's overall tone. However, individual tracks don't stand out well and it does not help that there is a severe lack of musical variety present in the entire soundtrack. The best pieces are the battle themes, which feature fast and catchy beats perfect for adrenaline-charged sessions of kicking some monster rear. The only use of stock audio is in the victory theme and all the sound effects, but that's quite minor. Dark Souls 2 may not have a powerful score, but at least the developer made an honest effort and did not go the lazy route of relying 100 percent on stock music.

Dark Souls 2 may not be revolutionary, even amongst RPG Maker titles, but it still delivers a fun, hearty experience. It has a decent plot, great characters, and solid gameplay with a fair degree of challenge. Technical aspects, such as the script, could have been more polished, but they're still vastly improved. If you feel the need to play a good old-fashioned JRPG, give Dark Souls 2 a shot. Warfare Studios might not yet have the overall finesse that Aldorlea and Amaranth have, but they have their strengths, and those have given them a place in the indie RPG market.



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