Jade Cocoon 2 Preview

We have an exclusive look at the first playable build of the US version.

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The Jade Cocoon has always had a nice level of flair.
The Jade Cocoon has always had a nice level of flair.

The original Jade Cocoon was a slick-looking RPG for the PSOne that was developer Genki's first foray into the genre. The game sported a distinctive visual style that featured the work of famed art director Katsuya Kondoh, detailed graphics, and an engaging monster-breeding system. The various elements worked well together to tell the story of Levant, a young Cocoon Master whose ability to capture forest creatures and tame them made him the only hope for the survival of his village. For the game's sequel, Jade Cocoon 2, Genki has set the story many years after the events in the original JC, retooled the gameplay, and refined the monster system. After spending some time with the first English build of the game we can say that the work is paying off, and Jade Cocoon 2 is shaping up quite nicely.

Kahu, the game's protagonist, finds his form drastically changed.
Kahu, the game's protagonist, finds his form drastically changed.

Picking up 100 years later from where the original JC left off, JC2 presents you with a new face: a young boy named Kahu whose infatuation with the Cocoon Masters have led him on a quest to become one. Unfortunately, times have changed and the adventures of Cocoon Masters such as Levant have drifted into legend. The game's modern-day Cocoon Masters are called Beast Hunters. The Beast Hunters are warriors who capture dangerous creatures and tame them. In spite of his dated goals, Kahu begins training as a Beast Hunter with the aid of Levant from the original game, who, in a refreshing bit of continuity for an RPG sequel these days, now appears to be immortal thanks to his days as a Cocoon Master.

The game's story initially appears to follow a rather basic route until a turn of bad luck finds Kahu cursed by an encounter with a fairy named Nico during his training. With his body now inhabited by a demonic version of himself, reflected by a newly sprouted spiky tail, Kahu's casual quest to become a Beast Hunter takes on a higher degree of urgency: If he cannot rid himself of the curse, he will die. Guided by Levant and assisted by Nico, Kahu intensifies his effort to become a Beast Hunter.

Those who played the original Jade Cocoon will notice some similarities to that game's structure, as JC2 blends it with quite a few new twists. The flow of the game is basically the same as JC: You will move between different locations in the main town, which serves as a hub area, by selecting your destination via a menu. In our exploration of the first few hours of the game we found six places to check out. The Lounge contains a bulletin board where you can sign up for jobs to earn more money and build up your reputation. Kikinak and Co. is a shop area where you can buy, sell, or store items.

You'll be able to battle in the game's arena...
You'll be able to battle in the game's arena...

The Jade Throne Room is where you'll interact with Levant and teleport to the wormhole forest to explore it. The Room of Life lets you manage your monsters. You'll be able to rename them, look up information on them, hatch them, merge them, and adjust those in your party. Monster merging is a bit different in JC2 because monster growth has changed quite a bit from JC. The basic concept of breeding is the same: Blend two creatures to come up with a new one that may share traits of its parents. However, unlike the original game, which basically had five stages of growth for a monster, JC2 offers more options for development. Each monster starts out at level one, and once it has reached a high enough level, it can be merged with another monster and produce a blend of the two. The new variable in the game is the way the monsters evolve after they've merged. On your monster's status screen you'll see an evolution bar, which tracks how your monster is evolving. As you merge and grow your monster you can change its nature. We have yet to fill an evolution bar for one of our monsters, but there seems to be quite a bit to explore there.

...though some challenges will only be available if your rep is high enough.
...though some challenges will only be available if your rep is high enough.

The Arena lets you participate in battles with other Beast Hunters and, most importantly, take advancement tests. The tests become an integral part of the game because successfully taking them will let you upgrade your beast amulet. The amulet is what allows Kahu to use monsters in battle. At the start of the game, Levant presents Kahu with an amulet that lets him use two monsters in battle. As you pass the various tests, your amulet will be upgraded, and you'll be able to increase the number of beasts you take into battle with you--you'll eventually be able to take an entire posse of 12 with you. The catch to the tests is that you'll be able to take them only if your reputation is high enough. To raise your reputation you'll have to take jobs in the lounge and explore the forests and collect monster eggs.

Exploring the wormhole forests is a bit different this time out, thanks to a new system that adds a bit more structure to your exploration. Rather than being able to explore the entire forest by wandering through it, you'll have to explore the interior of plants called "ogrevines," which contain items and mutated monsters that appear to be Beast Hunters. You'll only know if the Beast Hunters you encounter in an ogrevine are friend or foe by talking to them: The humanoid monsters can't speak and will attack you if approached. The reason you'll be exploring the ogrevines is to find plants that give you keyspores. The spores will open princessvines, which serve as portals to the next portion of the forest, and when Kahu eats them, he can progress. Unlike in the original game, it doesn't appear that you'll be able to capture monsters directly during combat. This time you'll gain new monsters by collecting eggs and hatching them in the Room of Life.

Most of your interaction with friendly characters will take place in the Throne Room, and its vicinity.
Most of your interaction with friendly characters will take place in the Throne Room, and its vicinity.

Combat in the game has changed rather significantly in JC2, and we're rather pleased with the new direction. Like in JC, combat is still initiated by running into a monster while exploring and is still turn-based. However JC2 now puts much more emphasis on the elemental nature of your monsters. Your beast amulet will form a circle around you with 12 slots--three slots per element. As you take monsters into your party, you'll place them on the wheel according to their elemental affinity. During combat you'll be surrounded by your critters and use them to attack your foe. The key to the game is to make sure there is always a monster in the slot directly in front of you: It will serve as a shield during combat. You'll be able to take only a few hits during combat before you're defeated, so it's essential to have a monster rich in hit points to block for you. During a fight you'll be able to rotate the wheel, calling up an elemental group of critters to use to attack your opponent's monsters. The key to victory is to wipe out the monsters shielding your opponent from harm and then go for the kill. A nice amount of strategy is involved because each of the elemental groups has a specific attack type and vulnerabilities that you have to discover and exploit.

Outside of the gameplay upgrades and tweaks, Jade Cocoon 2 also sports a sweet graphical upgrade featuring detailed characters and environments. Katsuya Kondoh returns to provide a unique look to the game, which takes the style of the original a bit further. Unfortunately you'll still explore the various forest areas--which have been upgraded from the prerendered backgrounds in the original to polygons--on preset paths. The other downside is that the various environments are rather small. Fortunately the game's pacing keeps things moving at a solid enough clip to keep you engaged.

Our early build of the game also included a bit of the localized voice for the characters, which was a blend of good and questionable choices. While some of the voices, like Levant's, worked well, others, such as the bird people in Kikinak and Co., who were a bit too reminiscent of Gonzo the Great from the Muppets, left us a bit cold. Fortunately the localized text is looking good.

So far Jade Cocoon 2 is coming along nicely and looks to be another solid RPG choice for publisher Ubi Soft. It features a welcome assortment of old and new, and RPG fans should watch for it when it ships later this year.

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