Back when I was little and didn’t understand the concept of a limited disposable income, I would badger my parents relentlessly for every new RPG that caught my eye on television, in magazines, or the exciting new wilderness known as the internet. It was with one of these magazines that I acquired a PS2 demo disc that contained a short introduction to Dark Cloud, the game that began my love affair with Level-5.
The PS2 and PS3 eras were Level-5’s glory days. Dark Cloud and its sequel, Rogue Galaxy, Ni No Kuni, Jeanne d’Arc, and yes, even White Knight Chronicles. These were utterly mesmerising adventures filled with quirky characters, well-told stories, and a willingness to experiment with genres and mechanics before that sort of thing was cool. They told serious stories filled with charm and humour, making them palatable to all. Dark Cloud is an action-RPG roguelite with city-building mechanics about an evil genie who destroyed entire civilisations and treats that fact as seriously as it does the hero’s ability to turn his pet cat into a slingshot-wielding catgirl. It’s a precious gem of innovation and creativity.
More recent years have been less fruitful for those seeking the qualities shown during that golden era. Level-5 has been steadily pumping out Professor Layton games that have never gripped me and Yo-Kai Watch games that barely ever make it outside Japan. For a decade now, we’ve been bereft of quirk and experimentation, of the camp and wondrous worlds that made the early ‘00s so magical. And then came the trailer for DecaPolice during this week’s Nintendo Direct.
It’s clear Level-5 is returning to its roots here. The premise is easy to grasp – the cast is stuck in a virtual recreation of our reality and, through some hacker’s wiles, are turned into fantastical avatars. The main character, for example, is turned into a catboy, because what else would he be. Ostensibly a Phoenix Wright-style detective game with turn-based RPG combat, the melding of disparate genres seems to work – looking at the trailer, it seems that justice is meted out in battles rather than in the courtroom. It’s a wacky concept that matches up well with the zany yet grounded sensibilities of older Level-5 titles.
From the short clips, the combat looks a little rigid and might rely on flashy ability cutscenes more than I’d like, but Level-5 has been working with turn-based combat for years now; they surely know how to make it click. The art style didn’t grab me at first, looking a little generic and Layton-esque, but the sudden transformation from standard anime to magical reality made me realise exactly what we’re in for. Animal people, bosses with glamorous nameplates, gun-wielding bears who rob jewellery shops, this list goes on. For the classic whimsy we are about to receive, I am
truly grateful cautiously optimistic.
I’m not expecting DecaPolice to inspire the same levels of wonder that the classics did. Restoring destroyed villages with building blocks obtained from dungeons is more interesting than simulated crime scene recreations, a digital world is less interesting than a world filled with fairy tales, and I’ve yet to see the traditional talking frog/fish that I’ve come to expect from Level-5. What we have are cops and a combat system that doesn’t look all too innovative so far. That being said, if DecaPolice signals a creative outlook that hearkens back to the glory days, I can’t help but be excited about the final product. It’s sure to be daft, joyful, and sincere. A game worth badgering my parents for. Failing that, just give me Rogue Galaxy 2, cowards.
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