Review: Cladun: This is an RPG (Sony PSP)
by Alex Lucard on September 20, 2010

Cladun: This is an RPG!
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 09/21/2010

Over the past few years, we’ve seen companies release nostalgia based games with 4-16 bit style graphics in an attempt to be “retro.” Bandai Namco and XSEED tried it with Retro Game Challenge and From Software and Atlus USA did it with 3D Dot Game Heroes. In both cases we found the games to be decidedly…average. Now it’s Nippon Ichi’s turn with Cladun: This is an RPG!. Although the game looks decidedly retro, the more you play the game, the more you realize this is an engine they never could have pulled off in the era of Dragon Quest or Wall Street Kid.

In my preview piecethat I wrote up after a dozen or so hours with the game, I talked about the story and magic circle system that dominates all aspect of the game. Although I was impressed with the title around the twelve hour point, that’s only a drop in the bucket with an RPG. Now that I’ve beaten the game (as much as it can be) and have logged over forty hours onto it, it’s time to see if my first impression held true.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The world of Cladun is actually the world of Arcanus Cella. Arcanus Cella is a pocket dimension connected to all realities created by a powerful shut-in sorceress named Despina. Despite the fact Despina created Arcanus Cella so that she could be a hermit, lunatics, fortune seekers and cursed Scottish transsexual princesses keep finding their way into her world. It appears that Arcanus Cella is the land where you can find your heart’s desires, as long as you’re partially mad and willing to wade through dozens of dungeons to eventually obtain said desire.

You start off the game with only two characters – Souma and Pudding. Yes those are their names. Every few dungeons you beat, you earn a weird little story segment that is pretty light on character development or any real substance, as they are meant to be weird and funny snippets more than anything else. You can see one of the two endings for any playable character at any time, by going through the exit, but the ending is the “bad” one. To get the good one for each character, you’ll have to defeat their final boss. At first only Despina’s final boss can be accessed, but keep playing and you’ll be able to access all the others.

There really isn’t a lot of story here. Characters are pretty two dimensional and played up for laughs. The game is 95% action RPG grinding and 5% giving you a bit of character exposition so you want to keep playing. If you like your RPGs to be plot heavy, then you’ll probably be disappointed here, especially since you’ll have to clear multiple stages before you get any story and even then it’s brief and well…weird. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it bears the usual Nippon Ichi sense of humour and so long time fans of the company will be satisfied if not engrossed enough in the characters to write fan fiction.

Story Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

Okay, personally I love the retro look of the game, but since this category judges a game based on the capability of the system, I can’t deny that Caldun really doesn’t do much graphically. It’s meant to look like a game teetering on the 2600/NES era, but it will still turn off a lot of gamers due to its look. Sadly we live in a day and age where a huge chunk of the gaming populace cares more about how a game looks than how it plays.

So yes, by technical standards, Caldun is dreadful looking, but the fact I was able to use the pixel editor system to make both a Laharl and Optimus Prime and have them be recognizable is pretty neat.

What’re you’re getting in Caldun are sprite figures that would have been considered acceptable in the 80s as far as graphics went. Monsters are pretty unimpressive and almost all of them are just different coloured versions of the same monsters unless it’s a boss, so get ready for a lot of catmen, spiders, and lizardfolk in every shade you can think of.

So yes, there’s no denying that by 2010 standards, Cladun is an ugly game – perhaps the ugliest full sized PSP release yet. But older gamers will no doubt appreciate the call back to their youth when they weren’t saddled with a mortgage or children of their own to deal with.

Graphics Rating: Dreadful

3. Sound

Cladun gives you a choice of listening to retro MIDI style tunes, or an orchestral score. As tempting as it may be to go with the MIDIS, choose the orchestral. The soundtrack is excellent and each track definitely sticks in your head. You’ll notice some tracks with a definite Irish or Scottish flair, which was really nice. Some of the tracks sound like they’d be pub music from a couple of centuries ago and that fits the game nicely. My girlfriend wanted to play Cladun simply based on the music she heard coming from my PSP. The soundtrack is THAT good.

There’s no voice acting in the game, but again, that’s in line with the retro feel of the game. It really doesn’t need any as the music carries the game on its own. Sound effects are …okay. There’s not a lot of variety to them. Things explode, coins jingle and spells make nearly the same noise when you cast them. As the action is so frantic, your focus really should be on if there are enough noises to differentiate the axe from the sword. You have a variety of stage effects to highlight what type of terrain you are on, and that’s really all that is needed.

So if you’re an audiophile, I can definitely recommend Cladun based on its modern soundtrack alone. It’s also awesome to see the MIDI option for those who want the full retro experience.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

For the most part Cladun is an action RPG with an optional roguelike element known as the Ran-geon (Random Dungeon). Your non random dungeons drive the story, and by that I mean, you have to play through two or three to get a slight bit of story which revolves around a wacky mask and Despina’s attempts to dispose of it. We all know how dungeon crawls work though and because the actual gameplay of Cladun follows the typical hack and slash death dispensing that any action RPG character goes through in an attempt to find his way out of his current monster filled heckhole, we don’t really need to go into any of that. After all, if you’ve played one hack and slash game, you’ve played them all, right?

Well, no. Not even close when it comes to Cladun, as this game boasts what just might be the most comprehensive character building and customization system I’ve ever seen in an RPG. Forgive me as I go into depth here.

Any character, except for Crosstine the kitty, can be your main character. There are five classes: Warrior, Dragoon, Merchant, Wizard and Guardian. All premade characters are given a class to start but homemade characters can choose their class. For example I made Laharl a Dragoon (high on attack, low on defense) and Optimus Prime a Guardian (Cleric class with high defense). Anytime after level ten you can switch your class, but it also resets your level down to 1. Now in doing so, you get stat bonuses for your character so they are dramatically more powerful than a regular level 1 character. The longer you wait to change class (Max is level 99), the more of a stat bonus the character gets. I found the best overall combo is a Guardian/Dragoon as you will have access to the former’s high SP (Magic Points), defensive spells and defense stat and the latter’s insanely high offense and hit points. Your character also retains skills, spells and magic circles learned from their old class as well. All I can say though is that a Dragoon who has a Guardian’s resistance spells is a walking abattoir.

Now you might be wondering what all the other characters are doing while you’re using someone else as your adventurer du jour. Well in truth, some or all will be adventuring with your character via the Magic Circle. Now a magic circle is a bit hard to explain. Basically as a character levels up, he earns mystical patterns that you can plug your other characters into. Once in this pattern, the secondary characters act as a sort of a psychic meat shield for your adventurer. When your main character gets hit, it’s a character in the magic circle that loses hit points instead. Only once all the characters in your magic circle lose their hit points does your main character start to take damage. Characters in the magic circle can also use their “Mana” stat. Mana allows you to add artifacts to that secondary character. Artifacts come in a huge range of abilities. You have ones that raise attack, ones that raise defense, some that add to your critical hit percentage, some that increase your walking speed, some that increase your secondary character’s hit points so they can act as a meat shield for longer and more. The catch is that what artifacts can be attached to a secondary character are determined by which magic circle you use, how much mana the character has and which artifacts are listed as equipable in a specific magic circle slot. So a character might end up in a spot where it can only equip artifacts that raise hit points or SP, while another character might be in a spot that only raises critical hits or speed. With over 100 magic circles to earn, there is an amazing amount of customization to be had as you tinker to find the right magic circle. Personally, my favorite is the Guardian’s “Final.” You can equip a ton of artifacts, you can have eight different characters in your magic circle beyond your main character and it offers three different MANAx2 bonuses allowing you to really power game. Optimus Prime was running around with a 200 defense at level 40 because of it while non guardians would have about a third of that. Add in his healing and magic resistance spells and Prime was mowing down enemies like they were Ramjet.

One last word about the magic circle vs. main characters. Everyone gains experience points at the end of a dungeon (or half of your earned XP if you died in the dungeon). However if you level up as the adventurer, you will gain stats that improve your stature as a magic circle character, such as Mana. If a character levels up while in the magic circle, it gains stats that are best suited for adventuring. As such, you’ll be flipping through characters to balance out their stats. It’s all very well done and it really contributes to the theme of teamwork and friendship that the game’s story revolves around. It’s an amazingly deep system and I know at least a third of my playtime was just trying different combinations in various magic circles (along with a notepad and pencil) to ensure I maximized someone’s stats and/or found the best possible magic circle for them.

Because of the depth of the engine and the magic circle process, tabletop gamers, SRPG fans, stats geeks and people who love customizing characters will be enthralled with Cladun‘s engine. The magic circle is a lot of fun and it’s a great idea across the board.

So yes, when you are in the dungeon it’s using the X button to slaughter innocent dungeon dwelling monsters that are only trying to repel invaders of their home, but outside it’s a pretty intricate affair indeed.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

Not only are their eight premade characters that you can see two different endings for, but you can make countless new characters of your own, and even pick their end boss and get an ending for them as well. You can also enter a ran-geon, which is 99 levels deep, AND you have the option for multiplayer mode where you can journey with up to three other friends in either versus or co-operative play.

If that’s not enough, you can replay old story dungeons in an attempt to get Fame Points. Fame Points are earned by beating a time limit set on the dungeon. The better you beat the time by, the more Fame Points you learn. Earn enough and you get bonus items like a Prinny Staff at 50 points. It’s just another way that you can keep playing Cladun until you have finally grown sick of the very concept of action RPGs. Until then, the game will have something to constantly offer you.

With unlimited characters to make (well unlimited in theory; your memory card is going to run out of space eventually…), and a ton of different options, you can keep playing Cladun longer than you would a lot of other RPGs, regardless of subgenre. I remember when I first received the game, NIS’ Nao Zook was like, “Well I know it’s not as long as other RPGs.” Looking back on that I have to laugh because I can’t remember an action RPG that offered this much depth or was this much of a time sink. The closest I can think of is Dark Alliance 2.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

One of the neat things about Cladun is that although each dungeon is rather short (30 seconds to five minutes per level), many levels are just as much puzzles as they are dungeon crawls. Some dungeons require a specific power to get through, while others are dramatically easier with another. For example, there is an all ice level with a lot of lasers shooting ice magic constantly. Use a guardian’s ice resistance spell and you can just run through the level with impunity…or at least until the spell wears off. With any other class, the level is insanely difficult. Turn around then to a boss battle where you might need a fire or ice attack. Well the guardian doesn’t ever learn those, so you can get all the way to the end of the dungeon and find yourself royally screwed. It’s fascinating to see how Cladun can always offer you a challenge.

I also love how you have to decide where you want a character to be when they level up as well as HOW they level up. It really adds a whole new level of strategy to the game. You also have to decide then if you want to put lower level characters into the magic circle so they can get xp and adventurer stats or if you want to use someone with far more mana so your character can be more powerful. Decisions, decisions.

Cladun ends up being a weird game in the respect that it is an action RPG for SRPG minded gamers. It’s got such a level of strategy involved that people who like Disgaea, Shining Force or Fire Emblem will love this thing.

Balance Rating: Great

7. Originality

Now action RPGs are generally a dime a dozen, but there aren’t too many for the PSP. As well, there definitely aren’t any with a customization system this deep. The plot is pretty out there too and the characters may be shallow and underdeveloped, but they definitely stand out due to their personality quirks and the flat out weirdness of the storyline.

Cladun is certainly a game that stands out. It doesn’t reinvent the action RPG genre, but it definitely turns the genre on its head and brings in a great deal of innovation. I went in thinking this would be a shallow little hack and slash fest and now I’m sitting here wanting to play more, but I have two other Nippon Ichi games to review in Atelier Rorona and Z.H.P., so alas, it’s finally time to put down Cladun for a while. Pity, as it’s one of the most refreshing titles I’ve played this year.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

You know I’ve raved about Cladun for much of this review, but I honestly say I couldn’t play it for long spurts. I tried, but the game really feels like something that is meant to be picked up and played for a few minutes to an hour at a time. You spend so much time customizing or trying to figure out what’s the best character to use for a dungeon that it feels like you’re playing the gamer for far longer than you really are. Because of that, this became my go to game between things. If I wanted to take a break from swimming laps, I’d play a dungeon or two. If I had to wait for something in the oven or water to boil, I’d play a dungeon or two. When I tried for lengthy periods, the lack of story got to me since there was nothing to break the hack and slash repetition. It’s definitely a fun game, but it’s not something I could do marathon sessions with. I think the same will prove true for anyone who ends up enamored with the magic circle possibilities as well. You’ll spend more time strategizing than actually playing. Because the main part of the game is grinding and your only other option is to do random grinding as well, the tiny bits of story just aren’t enough reward to compel you for long stretches of time.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

I really enjoyed Cladun, but there are a lot of things about the game that might turn the average gamer off. Graphics aficionados will no doubt show disdain for the retro-graphics. Hack and slashers might hate the fact they have to be pretty good at strategizing to get through the game, while SRPG fans might hate having to use that hand-to-eye coordination and reflexes they’ve neglected by focusing on grid based RPGs. So might just find it too deep and too complicated. Finally, it doesn’t help that the game is only going to be available through the Playstation store as a download. It means people without a wireless connection will never be able to get it and it will never be in stores where 95% of gamers get their titles. It’s a shame too. However those looking for a nice cheap download that won’t take up a lot of space on their memory card will love Cladun. After all, it’s only $19.99 and 185MB which makes it smaller than the PSOne download of R-Type. It’s definitely a deal and even if you find the game a bit too hard or monotonous to make it into your collection of all-time favorite games, you’ll definitely feel you got your money’s worth.

Appeal Factor: Decent

Miscellaneous

Although Cladun is graphically unimpressive, when all is said and done, it’s hard to believe this is a budget title when things like Retro Game Challenge had a full price tag on it. You’ll get more play time out of this game that most other action RPGs and the customization options are arguably the deepest this genre has ever seen. As well if you go to the official website for the game, you can solve a few puzzles to earn six Disgaea characters for your game. Unfortunately, you can’t use Laharl if you previously made a character before downloading him as the file will be named the same as your first characters. As well Etna and Flonne are made for the Japanese version of the game and although the memory card will read them just fine, the actual game itself will not. This is why I had to make my own Laharl. Insert sad face here.

Overall, I can heartily recommend Cladun. It’s inexpensive, it’s deep, it’s longer than most full priced RPGs and it’s a lot of fun.

Miscellaneous Section: Very Good

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Dreadful
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Cladun: This is an RPG is definitely just that. There’s no bait and switch here. What you’ll be getting for your $19.99 is a game that is light on storytelling and characterization, but what little there is manages to be whimsical and charming. The game is definitely not a pretty one by today’s graphical standards, but don’t judge a game by appearances as the engine is arguably the deepest I’ve ever seen in an action RPG. You can spend just as much time tinkering with a character’s magic circle as you can combing the depths of a dungeon by yourself or with friends. This isn’t just an RPG: it’s a damn enjoyable one.




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