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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Genki PUBLISHER: Ubisoft
RELEASE DATE (NA): December 17, 2001 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Gotta catch 'em all! Gotta ca-- oh, wait, wrong game.

Jade Cocoon 2 may not resonate with many gamers out there. It doesn't have a truckload of publicity in its favour. The brand name wasn't well-known, even though it was a sequel. The fact that it appeared, on the surface, to be a mere Pokémon clone didn't help its case. And it's more than likely that the game's fate was already written, considering the game came out on the same day as a certain more high-profile RPG that sold far, far, far... FAR better. *cough*Final Fantasy X*cough* But it IS unfortunate that games such as this are swept under the rug and banished to the land of wind, ghosts, and bargain bins (where I found it for a smooth 5 bucks), because we're missing out on some pretty interesting stuff. It happened with Eternal Ring, and it happened again with Jade Cocoon 2.

Huh? Did I mention Pokémon in a review that's not actually about Pokémon? Well, indeed I did. Those who only peruse the cover or watch a brief YouTube clip of battle gameplay will attest to the Pokémonliness of Jade Cocoon 2. And they would be...er...partially right. Yes, your goal is to get yourself a swarthy herd of evolved Pokémon Divine Beasts, raise them up through intensive battling to improve their stats, and ultimately become the finest BeastMaster who ever set foot in the Pokémon Stadium Temple of Kemuel. But that's pretty much where the similarities end, because there is more to this game than meets the eye...

You, playing the role of Kahu, who has indeed come to the Tower of Kamuel to prove your manhood. He vows to become the ultimate Pokémon Master BeastHunter and show his father he truly is a man. (Unfortunately, he becomes cursed by a fairy and grows a spiky tail -- so his quest truly begins once he discovers how to break the curse.) Divine Beasts, as they are known, are found within four element-based forests (Water Forest, Wind Forest, Earth Forest, and Fire Forest). Yes, there's a Fire Forest, which seems like a contradiction, but hey, I didn't invent the place. However, unlike a certain other Nintendo-based game which shall remain nameless, they are captured by snagging eggs either acquired after defeating tough Kalma (the enemies also found within the Forests). You can hatch them back at the Tower and attach them to your Beast Amulet for specific use in battle. You can only start out with a couple of Beasts, but complete the game's achievement tests (to be discussed a bit later).

What? Talk more about battling and the Beast Amulet? Sure thing! I wasn't quite sure how to express the layout of the Beast Amulet, so here's a diagram that may assist in my explanation.

This is how the amulet works. There are four sides with three spaces each -- and yes, the corner spaces overlap. Each side is a different colour, representing one of the aforementioned four elements (Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire), which then corresponds to a different type of attack. Your Divine Beasts can then be placed based on their abilities. In the beginning, you're pretty much free to try out any type of Divine Beast to find out what best suits you. I, myself, prefer physical attacks over everything else in pretty much any RPG, so I started out with a Fire Divine Beast and named it after myself. Next, I popped a handsome healer on my Water side. By the end of your journey, you should be able to fill up all eight spots, meaning that you'll eventually want to embrace the advantages of all types of skills.

As you battle, you will build up experience for your Divine Beasts, increasing their stats in the process. However, they can only be raised up to Level 20 experience, at which point they peak and that's as far as they go... or is it? That's where the concept of merging comes into play. You'll be able to capture cocoons from certain battles (with angry-looking ersatz BeastHunters who transform into monsters after they growl something unpleasant) and use the beasts within to your advantage. By merging with other Divine Beasts, you can gain new and more powerful skills and qualities. You will then hatch a new Divine Beast after the merge to replace the old one, but he/she will keep the statistics of the prior Beast! Sweet! Keep on merging and eventually you'll have an unstoppable army of fighting creatures!

But there's a bit more to do than just raise Divine Beasts, although that seems to be the primary objective. In fact, there's plenty of hustle and/or bustle to keep you mildly entertained within the Tower of Kamuel. Be sure to visit the Room of Life to hatch Beast eggs or to do some sweet merging. Check out the Arena to battle it out with fellow BeastHunters for cash and reputation points... Ah yes, reputation points, used primarily to become eligible for more achievement tests (and thus, the opportunity to recruit more Divine Beasts for your travels). You can also get these points by completing jobs from the Bulletin Board in the Lounge (just about always involving bringing a relatively rare item to someone who wants it) or by bringing back cocoons to the Room of Life. Last but not least, check out Kikinak & Co. to buy, sell, and store goods. It's a crazy metropolis, I tells ya!

Developed during the earlier days of the PlayStation 2's lifespan, Jade Cocoon presents itself remarkably well, even today. The graphics are cartoonish yet crisp, and although it'll never win any awards for suckling the most power out of the PlayStation 2, it's definitely nice to look at. The Divine Beast designs are charming and continue to maintain their charm even as the Divine Beasts evolve into more questionable characters. As well, for all bosses in the game, they get their own CG introduction, which is cute. Even the fairy, Nico, gets a few specially-prepared cel-shading style cutscenes of her own, which would be nice if the dialogue wasn't so damn awful in them... which leads me to saying something about the script and the voice acting. I kid you not: this game contains some of the most generically pathetic voice acting I've heard yet. Not all of it's bad, mind you, but much of it just makes me shake my head at how poor it is. The script doesn't lend itself well to good acting, anyway; too many characters are far too focused on their Divine Beasts and lack any endearing social skills. And the main character, Kahu, seems like a bit of a dough-head at times -- he sounds far more interested in what other people have to say about Divine Beasts than developing his own opinions. Sometimes, I just want to say, "Shut up, Kahu, and learn for yourself!" And, oddly enough, there were even a couple of instances where the voice clips weren't properly handled, and I could hear the vocal director (or whatever he/she is called) specifically say something like, "Four, Take 2!" Didn't anyone beta test the vocal samples? Bah.

Well, I'm at least thankful for the very short loading time in this game, which is a plus.

Jade Cocoon 2, regardless of spotty voice acting and a few annoying characters, remains a sparkling remnant of ambrosia from the earlier PlayStation 2 days before it went all "Grand Theft Auto" on us. It may seem like a game ripped right from the Book of Pokémon at times, but there's no shame in taking an established formula and giving it your own persona. And if you don't own a Nintendo console but still want to experience some catch-'em-all gaming, Jade Cocoon 2 is a great way to do it. Plus it's only 5 bucks if you shop right, so it won't burn a hole in your wallet.


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