2003 was brilliant wasn't it? Johnny Wilkinson did for the Aussies in the rugby, Saddam Hussein's statue got mauled by an angry mob (and their shoes) and the largest hailstone ever recorded landed in Nebraska (cheers, Wikipedia).
Dark Chronicle being released on PS2 was even brillianter though, and I know that's not really a word, but then Dark Chronicle wasn't really a fantasy action RPG. Here was a game where you could sod the story - if evil, time-bending emperors weren't your bag - in favour of doing whatever the chuffing hell you wanted.
What I wanted to do most of all was breed a champion fish. One of Dark Chronicle's many mini-games, fish breeding allowed you to raise your finned-friends, feed them up, and then stick them in a 'love tank' together where they'd proceed to get all hot under the gills. The resulting offspring would always be super fast, and I have fond memories of shouting myself hoarse as wee 'ickle 'Bubbles' torpedoed through the competition in the fish races. Then I'd remember I had towns to build, weapons to invent and a beautifully cel-shaded world to save.
Yes, Dark Chronicle was rammed to the hilt with time-hugging distractions, but that didn't mean it skimped in the area that really matters for sprawling RPG adventures - the story. And what a corker it was, pitting resourceful young inventor Max (that's you) against the very-evil-indeed Emperor Griffin and his plans for world domination. Being a bit of a greedy bugger, it wasn't just the world of the 'now' that Griffin wanted to make all red and fiery, but the past and future as well, forming the template for Dark Chronicle's wonderful time-travelling mechanic.
To fully knobble Griffin's evil forces, Max - and spunky lady pal Monica - would have to travel back and forth in time and do loads of really nice things to cancel out Griffin's list of nasty. For instance - planting a tree in the past led to the existence of a leafy deity in the future - a leafy deity who'd previously been churned up and made into Griffin's bedroom dresser (probably). Creating stuff was essentially a game unto itself, and made even better by the fact that building was done by a huge machine piloted by a bunch of dwarf-thingies with Irish accents.
There was stacks more to the game, from inventing your own weapons to playing 'Spheda' (like golf but with time-portals instead of holes). Dark Chronicle was one of those rare games that excelled in every single department. It was a near perfect blend of exploration, real-time monster thwacking and colourful storytelling that oozed variety, quality and soul. Still not convinced? What if I told you there was an elephant called Linda in it? Exactly.