Cladun: This is an RPG! Reader Review
While the current generation continues to try and break new territory in terms of graphics and style, certain companies are trying to buck the trend by releasing 8-bit or retro styled games. Recent games like 3D Dot Game Heroes are trying to bring an old-school feel back into games. In the case of 3D Dot Game Heroes, they can manage to garner enough interest to do well, but others do not share the same degree of success.
So it's a shame that a game like Cladun: This is an RPG! wasn't one of those that managed to break through. The game promises an action based dungeon crawler that sticks so close to its 8-bit styled roots. Hidden within the retro graphics though lies a devious game that allows so much customisation, you'll spend more time thinking about preparing yourself rather than getting through the actual dungeons.
The story begins as hot-headed treasure hunter Pudding and over-protective Souma stumble upon the world of Arcanus Cella. As Souma looks for a way out into their world, Pudding's treasure hunting instinct go into overdrive and suddenly Souma and Pudding are off looking for treasure together. As the story develops, new characters continue to appear in Arcanus Cella, including an unlucky merchant that tends to dice with death everywhere he goes, and a wizard with an afro.
All seem to have their own agenda, and as you play through the game, you get small snippets of what people are up to, and more on their backgrounds. All of which is presented in a light-hearted way, making you wonder what will happen next.
The game itself consists of navigating through a series of short, bite-sized dungeons (and I do mean that) as you try and find the exit at each stage, making this perfectly suited for a quick play. Some dungeons require you to open a certain treasure chest to unlock a door, or beat a certain monster.
As well as this, the game also gives you a chance to speed through the dungeons to beat the best times, whether through a shortcut, or by destroying an enemy in one shot. Beating the best time gives you fame points which allows you to buy more powerful types of weaponry and armour at a VIP shop, where you can get hold of some special variants of weapons and armour, some with elemental attributes, others giving you an extra few points in defence, just to name a couple. This gives you enough incentive to try out new things while in the dungeon and play the game in a different way instead of just walking through each dungeon once or twice.
In between dungeons, you can explore the Arcanus Cella hub, collecting information, hints, have a moral dilemma about whether to destroy a talking pumpkin and talk to fellow playable characters, each of which have their own ending. You might think that with so many playable characters, you'll never see the end of their stories. This is where Cladun's customisation system comes into play.
Obtained early in the game, the Magic Circle is where you'll spend time to strengthen your characters and provide them with the skills needed to go through the dungeons. Each character is a member of a certain class, each of which has their own sets of Magic Circles. Each Magic Circle allows you to place a number of sub characters (anyone in Arcanus Cella with very few exceptions) around the main character (the one you use to explore dungeons with), forming a type of human shield taking the damage that your main character may have otherwise received.
That's not all the sub characters can do though. Each sub character potentially has a number of smaller spaces next to it. These spaces can be populated with artifacts, allowing you to increase your main's stats at the cost of that sub's mana. This can range from boosting your basic attack strength to strengthening the spells and abilities you have equipped. Essentially, this allows you to customise your main character to whatever you want him/her to be, depending on how the Magic Circle is organised.
If a sub character loses all of his/her HP, the artifacts attached to it will be deactivated and you will lose points in your stats based on what that sub had (so if the sub had 4 defence attached, your main will lose those 4 points of defence when the sub dies).
You'll also find that certain spaces are fixed and can provide you with good abilities such as additional mana for powerful artifacts or nasty abilities such as killing other sub characters when certain subs die, potentially crippling your main character to the point where he can't survive an attack (just be aware that the main character retains his own stats regardless of the subs and their artifacts).
Another feature of the Magic Circle is that all characters in it will receive experience points based on their level. This makes it easy to bring characters up to speed quickly but based on their class and their position on the Magic Circle (sub or main), their own basic stats will change. So as a sub, that character's defence may grow more but as a main, the character's attack will increase instead. It also depends on the character's class with certain stats growing more than others when levelling up. A wizard for example will gain lots of mana and SP for their spells but their HP will always grow very slowly.
All of this allows you to either speedily level up a series of characters to a certain level, saving you time on training and grinding, something that you'll be relieved to hear if you're after everyone's ending. Of course, this also means you can power up your character as much as you need to without being restricted to improving your equipment, allowing you to get through dungeons easier and quicker.
If all that customisation wasn't enough, you can also create your own character. Progressing through the game will unlock this feature to allow you to create a character, with their own traits and status and even their final bosses. Going further into the game, you can change their faces to something unique. After settling with a character class and setting them up, they can be used as a main or sub character right away, giving you the ability to power them up, ready to help your other characters as necessary, or help you get through that tough dungeon you're stuck on.
If you feel you're not getting the most from a character, you can also change their class. Fans of the developers, Nippon Ichi, will know this as transmigration in Disgaea. After reaching level 10 and unlocking the class change feature, any character, whether they're part of the plot or your own creation, can change their current class. This allows you to pass along every ability, Magic Circle and some of your basic stats to a new class with your character starting at level 1 again.
Using this will allow you to get stronger at a faster rate and also allows characters to use spells and abilities that they would not be able to use otherwise and allowing you to create that ultimate main character with huge attack and defence, or the ultimate sub with huge amounts of HP.
All of the customisation options will offer you some simple ways to power yourself up without resorting to the usual grind. You can sometimes spend too long in the Magic Circle or the Class Change feature as you wonder what the best character would be to tackle one of Cladun's biggest and rewarding challenges - the Rangeon.
The Rangeon is a random 99 floor dungeon. Each set of floors has their own traits and monsters inside with a random floor pattern. The sets are the same each time, which means going through the floors is a case of building up a strong enough character to be able to endure the dungeon.
On each floor is a series of gates that you can walk through to get to the next floor. Some will provide better effects than others. For example, one gate will replenish all of your HP or SP, and increase your chances of getting rarer artifacts and specific weapons or armour. Another gate will lower your chances of getting a rare item and may exponentially increase the levels of the monsters on the next floor (your character's maximum level is 99, the monsters go up to 999), though if you're after experience points, higher levels is what you need. The only way to escape the dungeon is to reach an exit point which can be found on some floors (this is also random aside from a few key checkpoint floors containing boss monsters).
There's a big risk reward factor at play here. The higher you go up, the bigger the rewards, but the more you have to lose. It can be frustrating when you find yourself wanting to exit the dungeon, only to find that you don't get any exits for 3 or 4 floors. Experience points and money may not be as vital, but losing every single item collected will hurt more than the sight of your money being halved and the lack of exits will infuriate you if you die before you get there. It is almost always matched though by getting through the exit with items intact and watching your sub characters grow several levels.
Only those who master the Magic Circle and combine that with the class change system can hope to reach the top floors. It certainly adds to the game, and is one of the best things in Cladun. Those who are able to complete the game unlock a score attack style dungeon called New-geon which not only gives you access to more items and money, but also unlocks extra dungeons at the story gate. Your only aim is go as far into the dungeon as possible by jumping floors through the gates while keeping the monster level as low as possible, while grabbing as many items as you can.
A special mention should be made of the music. You have a collection of orchestral music, from small poppy tunes, to Irish style tunes. The developers also give you a choice to change to retro music instead at any time, for the full authentic experience. These 8-bit tunes are versions of the orchestral music you play in the game and while exploring the dungeons, the music never grates, randomly cycling between different tunes. The game also features the ability to take a screenshot of any part of the game you want, whether that's a Magic Circle configuration, or a funny line in the story.
Cladun doesn't have it all its own way though. The various puzzles within the story dungeons make the game easier to digest, but in the end, dungeon crawling is all you'll be playing the game for. If you absolutely hate dungeon crawling games or roguelikes then this game won't be for you.
It's also worth noting that as you walk through the dungeons, jumping is a bit of a random beast. It depends on your speed but sometimes you'll still end up hitting the things you're trying to avoid, especially when running from stronger monsters. Ad-hoc multiplayer is included in the game but it is quite choppy and only allows you access to a small set of dungeons that one hasn't explored. It could have been fleshed out more and as such, adds little to the game's value, despite there being some multiplayer exclusive dungeons to play in.
A quick save function within the dungeons would have been invaluable to help break up the nature of the longer dungeons. It's also odd that you can't actually pause the game. Yes, you can bring up a menu to show your latest status, but the monsters actually continue to move around and if you are spotted, will attack you until you get out of the menu. I can't think of any way that pausing all of the action (without entering sleep mode, which does stop everything) would give you or the monsters any advantage.
Having said everything, those who want to experience the challenge of the random dungeons, or who enjoy a large array of customisation options, or even those looking for a deep game to sink into will take this to their hearts. The options provided, and the experience that this game provides along with a light-hearted story makes this an easy game to recommend for PSP owners looking to turn back the clock.