Review by echoshifting
Reviewed: 12/28/01 | Updated: 12/28/01
The ultimate monster breeder
Well, a lot of people have been wondering about this game. I think a lot more people would be playing it instead of asking questions about it if a certain game's release date hadn't been bumped up by a whole month (who's naming names?), but that's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, Jade Cocoon 2 is probably the best role-playing game you're not playing right now, and you might be surprised at just how well it stacks up against the competition.
(The next paragraph focuses on plot, and contains less spoilers than you'd find in a bag of Washington apples, but skip it if you're a purist)
The game's plot focuses on the tale of Kahu, a hopeful BeastMaster starting fresh out on a path to glory. Early in the game, Kahu accidentally touches something he isn't supposed to touch (I won't tell you what), and has a bizarre encounter with an evil version of himself. When the dust clears, our young hero discovers he's inherited a tail and a curse: if he can't collect special items called Forest Orbs in time, he'll find himself consumed by his doppelganger.
(End tiny little spoilers. You can open your eyes again.)
The story makes a pretty good backdrop for the game, and manages to hold interest while not interfering with the gameplay. And, get this: you can actually skip the cutscenes whenever you'd like! You can choose to ignore the plot whenever you lose interest in it. In an age when games have become more and more cinematic art and less and less actual *games,* Jade Cocoon 2 is an excellent lesson in what's important...the gameplay itself.
And as far as gameplay is concerned, Jade Cocoon 2 delivers in spades. Anybody who's played a monster-breeder game before, be it Pokemon or Monster Rancher, probably has a basic idea of what they are getting into with this game. The whole concept behind the gameplay changes little from other monster breeder role-playing games: you wander around vast areas, collecting bigger and better monsters to do your bidding.
Remarkably, though, Jade Cocoon 2 makes a few tiny changes to make the system even better. First and foremost, the variety of different monsters you can collect is staggering. The game is populated by hundreds of different monsters, and any monster you see in the game can be added to your combat ring and used in battle.
Speaking of the combat ring...this is where JC2's gameplay really takes off in the originality department. In battle, Kahu is surrounded by a circular pattern with 8 spots (as are all Beastmasters you encounter in the game, but when you encounter ''monsters,'' known as Divine Beasts in the game, or any other enemy type, they do not have a combat ring. This makes for good strategic depth in the types of battles you fight). Each of these spots represents a different element...Earth, Water, Fire and Air, and then the additional 8 spots are elemental ''blends'' that sit in for two adjacent sides. When in combat, three of these spots face forward. The monster in the center position can only act on that elemental side (so if you have a creature in the central position of the ''fire'' side, it can only make fire attacks), but it also acts as your protector in combat; once the center monster falls, you are vulnerable, and you never last long; it only takes a couple of hits to bring Kahu down.
Monsters placed in the side position can make attacks from two different elemental positions, depending on which side is facing forward. While each monster is ''hatched'' with only one basic attack, it can be merged with, literally, any other monster in the game, allowing for a massive number of combinations, as well as allowing it to learn attacks it can use on other positions in the combat ring (note that not having an ability on a side of a combat ring doesn't prevent you from placing it there; creatures simply won't do anything while that side is facing forward).
What is merging? I'm so glad you asked :) Merging is one of the many things that makes Jade Cocoon 2's monster collecting system so incredibly addictive. But before I go into depth about this, I'd like to introduce Kalma and Seed Beasts.
One of the major enemies you fight in the game is Kalma. Kalma are corrupt Divine Beasts (remember, Divine Beast is just the game's fancy term for monster) that are wandering around the game's environments, disguised as humans. The only way to tell whether or not somebody is a Kalma is to attempt to talk to them. The Kalma will utter some gutteral roar, and its true form will be revealed.
Once you have ''purified'' (read: butchered) the Kalma, you will obtain the Coccoon for the monster the Kalma represented. When you take this Cocoon to a certain person in town, you will have access to this monster class as a Seed Beast...in other words, a monster to merge your own collection of Divine Beasts with. When merged, your monster will obtain certain qualities of the Seed Beast you merged it with, becoming a stronger monster. There are a lot of other reasons to merge, but I don't want to go into too much depth, as it can be a little overwhelming. There is also evolution to take into account; as you go through the game, the monsters in your Combat Ring can and will grow into stronger, tougher beasts, if the conditions are right and you use them frequently enough in battle.
Does all this sound a little overwhelming? Well, it is. While you can't fault Jade Cocoon 2 for a huge number of unique and interesting concepts, it would have been nice if they had been better explained in the manual, or even through more in-depth tutorials in the game. As it stands, the manual only introduces these ideas, without explaining them overmuch. The game does have a good tip system; typically, whenever you need to do something for the first time, characters in the game will give you pointers, but more often than not, these pointers come too little or too late. I for one found the sense of discovery in the game to be part of the overall experience, but some gamers may not be too pleased with it. In an age when games are becoming more simplified to appeal to the average gamer, to the point where you can simply pick up the game and play it right off the handle without touching the manual or familiarizing yourself with the way it plays, Jade Cocoon 2 is a very different egg. There is a steep learning curve in this game; don't expect to be able to do everything you want to right out of the box.
That said, almost everything else in the game pulls together flawlessly. The character design in the game is outstanding. Anybody who's been following this game's development knows that the guy who did the character design for this game did Princess Mononoke as well, and the same breathtaking bizarre/beautiful art shines in this format. The concept of Kalma is also interesting; it was actually a little disturbing, given the innocent-anime style of the game, the first couple of times I approched a person in the forest to see what advice they would give me, only to have them utter a low growl and attack. This novelty wears off quickly though, as you'll encounter more Kalma than you might imagine.
The voicework is also incredibly well, and the pacing of the dialogue is fantastic. In addition, every single line of dialogue (and there's a lot) is spoken. To be honest, the dialogue in this game puts certain other games new to the spoken dialogue arena to shame. I find myself wincing whenever I try to trudge through some of Final Fantasy X's (whoops! guess I'm naming names now, huh) more awkward moments, merely because Jade Cocoon 2 did so much better on such a smaller budget and production scale. I guess bigger is not always better.
The monster design seems to be put together with a something-for-everybody mentality. There are a lot of crazy looking monsters in this game, and they range from cute to cruel in appearance. Generally, monsters start out in the ''cute'' category, but as they evolve into bigger beasts, they tend to look tougher and meaner as well. Pokemon/Monster Rancher this is not...the monsters in this game are, for the most part, really cool looking at the higher levels of evolution, and when you get a creature to this stage of nirvana, you won't want to let it go; it's a lot of work to get it up there, but the rewards are well worth it.
If the game has any significant flaws, it is in the environments. The landscapes in this game you move through are...terrible. They are entertaining at first, and the manner through which you proceed through the various forests in the game is interesting and unique, but a little variety would have been nice. Every environment in this game looks virtually identical to the last one you were in, and the one before that, and the one before that, ad nauseum. Sadly, this lack of variety holds Jade Cocoon 2 back from being a ''true'' next generation game...in a world of games without boundaries, a la Grand Theft Auto 3, or at the vary least massive variety, such as Final Fantasy X, this cut-and-paste forest mentality is inexcusable, and whatever the designers had in mind here is beyond me. Had a little more time been spent designing the games environments, this game would be receiving a perfect score. Too bad :(
That being said, however, it is a true testament to the power and dynamic of the monster breeding/collecting/combat system that the game STILL manages to be incredibly addictive. You'll want to get through ''just one more level'' to collect that next Kalma, so you can properly merge and evolve that creature you've been building before its level maxes out. You'll want to do just a few more battle to try to get one of your creatures to evolve (you could swear its almost there). And with a huge number of sidequests in the game, and, again, fantastic character design, Jade Cocoon 2 never gets old. There is a lot to do here, and you can do it in any order you'd like.
If that's not enough in the replay/value department, the game also comes packaged with a well-done multiplayer system. Whenever you'd like, you can ''save'' your Beast Amulet (the combat ring) into a separate save file, and load it up from your memory card whenever and wherever you'd like to try your skills out against computer opponents or human opponents. This works great, and if I had any complaints, it would be a cry for a better handicapping system; players who spend more time with the game are going to win, 9 out of 10 times, and while it's still fun, it's a little irritating to only really be able to play against your opponent by intentionally not using the monsters you've been working hard to build up, or trying only to fight opponents who match you in power.
If I had one other nitpicky problem with this game, it would be that it's more than a little bit of a memory card. The save file for the game itself is a whopping 700+ kb, and each BeastAmulet file you create for combat with friends is another decent chunk of 300+ kb. If you and another friend play on the same memory card, this game could cost you a good 1/4 of the card's space...so be prepared to commit a little room. Fortunately, you don't need to keep the BeastAmulet file around when you're not using it, you can always create another one whenever you'd like.
Whew. How's that for an in-depth look? Overall, Jade Cocoon 2 is a fantastic game, and one that should not be missed by Anime lovers, who will appreciate its sense of style, RPG-Gamers, who will love the freedom in character development, monster breeders, who will be in seventh heaven with the game's exceptional monster-breeding system, or any gamer out there looking for a good time and some serious bang for their buck. I highly recommend this game as a purchase; one you should make soon, too. For the nitpicky, what follows is a summary of scores:
GAMEPLAY: Fantastic. What else can I say? An incredibly well-done combat system with huge strategic depth. Oh yeah, and there's that little monster collection thing, which is more addictive than crack. 10/10
STORY: Again, the story is present, and well-thought out without getting in the way. Game developers who produce over-the-top games that are turning out more like movies should be taking notes. Hardcore RPG fans may be a little disappointed by the lack of story depth. 9/10
SOUND: Wow...really, really great. The voicework in this game is unmatched. The music always fits what you're doing, and is wonderfully atmospheric most of the time, and climactic in battle. Occassionally, one of the characters will offer up some bizarre piece of dialogue that makes little sense, but this is typical of the Anime genre, and American Anime fans are used to the occassional translation fluke; others will adjust fairly quickly. 9/10
GRAPHICS: This game is hogging all the style. The monsters and characters are well thought-out, and well animated as well...as well as being very unique. There are a lot of 'ooooh, aaaah' moments when your monsters reach the next stage of evolution, and you are treated with a much cooler looking beasty. If there is any one thing that drags this score down a few notches, it is the dull, repetitive and lackluster environments. Gamers might be a little confused by this statement when they first enter the forest, but once they've seen that same forest for the 150th time, they'll see what I'm talking about. If the designers had spent a little more time here, the Graphics score would be a 10. 7/10
REPLAYABILITY: Theoretically infinite. You are getting your money's worth with this one. I've already clocked a ton of hours into this game, and the end is still nowhere in sight. Trying out different combinations of monsters in the combat ring could go on forever and ever...and let's not forget about the 2-player mode (which also comes packaged with the ability to take on computer opponents if you're a bit of a loner or you want to hone your skills; a rarity in today's games). Did I mention this game is addictive? 10/10
BUY OR RENT? Or you kidding? Buy it now. PLEASE buy it now. You'll be surprised at all the fun your having, and how quickly certain...other...recent RPGs find their way out of the console and onto the shelf. If you've never been a big Anime fan, or a big RPG fan, you may want to rent first, but that's the only justification not to already own it. Pikachu it ain't, so a dislike for Pokemon is not an excuse not to buy this game.
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10
NOTE: I am a frequent visitor to the Gamefaqs JC2 message board; if this review has inspired any questions, please feel free to post, and I'll do my best to address them. :)
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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