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Mash Note To Game Developer Level-5

Mash Note To Game Developer Level-5

Mash Note To Game Developer Level-5

Developer Love? Level-5’s longevity and consistency in making great games marks them as a standout


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In 2004 I spent many hours playing a PS2 game called Dark Cloud 2. It was an enchanting, unusual Japanese role-playing game, and in addition to an avalanche of dungeon-crawling, it also featured photography, inventing, crafting, city-building, fishing, fish racing, fish breeding, fish fighting, and even golf.

I didn’t even finish the game (I hit a boss battle I simply could not clear), but even as I reluctantly put down the controller and withdrew from the game, I knew one thing: I now loved Level-5.

Dark Cloud 2 box Dark Cloud 2


Love for a game studio? You’d better believe it. That’s just a quirk we gamers have.

With books, it’s authors. With movies it’s directors, or even stars or writers. With songs it can be performers, singers or musicians.

But in the world of video games, it really feels like it’s the studio that’s the “author” of the game.

Dark Cloud 2 wasn’t the first time I thought about this peculiar love. I began noticing studios as soon as I began gaming. The four studios I first lost my heart to were Revolution (Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword), Cyan (Myst and its sequels), Presto Studios (The Journeyman Project series and Myst 3) and, believe it or not, South Peak (remember their wobbly but very ambitious titles Temujin and Dark Side of the Moon?).

But Level-5 is a useful one to use for this discussion of Developer Love, mostly because of their longevity. I’ve been loving their games for well over a decade now.

After Dark Cloud 2 it was Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King. Like Presto did with Myst III: Exile, Level-5 was a hired gun on this one, jumping into a long-established franchise and producing a game that did the series proud. DQ8 was released on the PlayStation 2, and it was a gigantic, colorful, and absorbing Japanese-style roleplaying game. It was my introduction to the series that is historically more popular in Japan than Final Fantasy. It felt shiny and deluxe to play, and it turned me into a Dragon Quest fan.

Dragon Quest VIII box art Dragon Quest VIII screen shot


The next year brought Rogue Galaxy, another sprawling PS2 JRPG. Like the previous two games, it used cell-shaded graphics that created an enchanting world in which to explore. It also was the first time I began to think about one of the studio’s small failings: Their games had a tendency to feature shrill, over-the-top characters in supporting roles. This bothered me a little bit in Dark Cloud 2, and more in Rogue Galaxy. I think it’s a cultural thing. Nearly every Final Fantasy game has a character or two that sets my teeth on edge (most spectacular example: Vanille in XIII).

Rogue Galaxy box Rogue Galaxy



I’m a fiend for tactical or strategy RPGs (ones that aren’t named Disgaea, anyway), so I was delighted by Level-5’s next game, Jeanne d ’Arc for the Sony PSP. Taking its inspiration from the historical story of the French girl who heard voices. The game was a gorgeous, chewy and diverting tactical romp.

Jeanne darc box Jeanne darc screen shot


Next, Level-5 launched the first game in what would become their signature series: Professor Layton and the Curious Village. The titular, top-hat-wearing character led the player through a meaty adventure punctuated by hundreds of ingeniously designed puzzles. This game, and its many sequels on the Nintendo DS and 3DS, became instant classics for adventure game lovers, with their fanciful stories and endless puzzly challenges. (Note: the games in this series usually featured one or two annoying Level-5 characters, too.)

The studio followed up Dragon Quest VIII with the spectacularly successful Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for the Nintendo DS, and they continue to riff on the Professor Layton series, and they have produced many other games as well.

layton box art layton screen shot

To be honest, I only felt Level-5 let me down once. I wish I had liked their ambitious collaboration with Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, more than I did. It had a really annoying companion character, and while the game was gorgeous, its cutesiness and repetitiveness eventually wore me down.

You can’t win’em all, right?

ni no kuni box art ni no kuni screen shot


So, why have I remained faithful to Level-5 all these years? It’s because their games share virtues I really respond to: A high degree of polish, ambitious game worlds and play systems, many colorful and engaging characters, meaty quests, and worlds I want to spend time in. What more can I ask from a game studio?

Meanwhile, there are strong rumors circulating that Level-5 is currently developing Dark Cloud 3 for the PS4. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!!

So are there any game studios you are devoted to? Let us know!

PS, Sony recently made Dark Cloud 2 available on PS4 and I’m currently 70 hours into my replay!

Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

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