Review: Clan of Champions (Sony PlayStation 3)
by Aaron Sirois on December 3, 2012

Clan of Champions
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Acquire
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date 11/20/2102

Like what happened with One Piece: Pirate Warriors, Clan of Champions is game that simply wasn’t going to be released in the States unless it was on PSN. It’s a niche title that’s part of the obscure Gladiator series. I can’t imagine it getting a retail release and not bombing beyond belief. However, NIS decided it was worth trying to make some money on it as a PSN game.

Let’s find out if it was worth the effort.

Modes

There is a plot to this game, but it’s pretty far removed from the game itself. During actual gameplay, you won’t see anything that moves the story forward. What you do have is text that describes the mission you’re going to complete. This text is only visible on the level select screen. It’s basically a story about clearing out ruins and uncovering a monstrous power that can be used to tip the scales in a war that’s apparently going on around you. The ending is more text, but in bigger letters, that doesn’t resolve anything. It’s just not interesting.

The modes of the game are pretty straight forward. You can take on any of the story missions by yourself or with up to two online partners. AI fighters will fill up any empty slots. There are four difficulty settings that you can switch between at any time. However, you can only play the next level in a difficulty setting if you’ve beaten all the previous levels in that same difficulty. You may have beaten the game on easy, but you still have to go through all of the early levels on the next setting up.

Also available is a three on three versus mode for online play only. I never really got to try this, as I could never find anyone online to play it. I barely managed a few online co-op games. You can set up clans for your friends and such, so the mode isn’t completely without merit.

Beyond that, you can switch characters, tool around with your skills, and visit the shop. It’s not a fully featured title, but it’s got enough for if you really get into it. Good luck getting into online matches though. It’s a dead zone.

Graphics

To be blunt, this looks like an early PS2 game.

The backgrounds are bland and repetitive, there are only a few different character models, the animations are decent but nothing mind blowing, and blood sprays from opponents but doesn’t stain the sand and/or stone at your feet. The performance takes a hit often, bodies disappear when they die and take all of their equipment with them, there’s an reliance on muddy colors, etc. Even the menus are clunky

Perhaps the worst part of the experience is how repetitive and closed off it feels. Each level is a self contained affair of one to three rooms at most. Several of these rooms are used throughout the twenty-four levels, but they don’t link up in the way you’d expect. It doesn’t feel like you’re going through one large ruin, but more like you’re participating in the holodeck from Star Trek. It’s just a visually unappealing game. It would have maybe passed for acceptable over a decade ago.

Audio

Clan of Champions seems to be emulating the God of War franchise with its choice of music. There are plenty of heavy strings, booming choruses, and big drums. It’s a decent attempt, but it doesn’t reach the level of the games it’s trying to be.

Voices in the game are a sham. There isn’t any actual voice acting. Instead, the game features a noisy barrage of grunts, groans, and screams. On top of that, the sounds of combat are repetitive bits of bangs and clangs that don’t stop until you’ve killed everything in sight. I’m actually surprised that I was ever able to hear the music over all of this mess.

In the end, I only play now with the sound turned off. While the music is decent enough, the rest is just uninspired. It could have been worse. That’s the best I can say.

Gameplay

What we have here is a very simple brawler that’s added some unique and interesting systems to attempt to make up for the dull combat. On top of that, there’s a heavy emphasis on collecting loot to make your character even stronger. This causes a never-ending quest to earn money to buy new gear to play on a harder level to earn money to buy gear and so on and so forth.

Control wise, the game is competent, if unexciting. You have a low, medium, and high attack, as well as a dodge roll all mapped to the face buttons. The shoulder buttons control blocking, the use of skills, and performing a taunt. The taunt doesn’t actually do anything, but if you want to see your orc roar, this is the way to do it. Movement and the camera are controlled by the analog sticks. There’s no lock on system, but you do lock onto the nearest enemy when you block.

The game starts with character creation. You have three races to choose from. These are human, orc, and elf. Humans are the average characters with decent scores in all four stats. Orcs have higher attack and vitality, but have less agility and magic ability. Elves are the opposite of the orcs. From there you can choose one of three weapon styles. You can go sword and shield for a balanced approach, dual wield for an emphasis on damage, or brawler if you just want to punch things to death. However, choosing a primary fighting style is really unimportant apart from starting gear. You can level up any of the styles by using them in combat.

How does one use the sword and shield style instead of dual wield? Well, there are a number of ways. For starters, characters can and will drop weapons and shields when they’re hit. You can pick these up off the ground. If you’ve got the right configuration, you can use that style. If you have any skills for that style, you can now use them. That means it’s wise to bring skills along for more than one style, so that you have options. For example, if you drop your shield and an enemy picks it up, you may end up having to pick up a second weapon. While you can’t use any of your shield skills when this happens, you will have access to any shield skills you have equipped. You can also pick up helmets, as they get dislodged as well. In fact, you can use shield and helmets as weapons if you have to. It’s not wholly effective, but dual wielding shields is highly amusing the first time you try it.

There are a number of skills in the game. Each fighting style has a number of physical skills that allow you to perform various attacks at the cost of magic. There are also magic skills you can buy so that you can throw fireballs or cast buffs on your party. You can take any combination of four skills into battle with you. The physical skills can be upgraded by spending points as you level up. Also, you can equip up to four passive skills that do things like boost melee damage or lessen cool down time for spells.

Equipment is handled like in many similar games. You have slots to fill for head, body, legs, and arms, and new gear is constantly available. At the end of each level, you’re given some money and a list of items dropped by enemies. You can purchase anything you can afford. Outside of the levels, you can visit the shop. The shop only carries items that you have sold to them, so it’s pretty useless except in one circumstance. That circumstance is when you want a strong base item to equip a gem to. Gems are earned by breaking weapons that already have them slotted in. That gem can then be enhanced, used to level up a weapon, or simply assigned to a weapon. Gems offer stat boosts that come in handy. I usually went into battle with blades that gave me increased strength, increasing their damage output by a decent margin. You don’t have to worry about dropping gear during battle either. You always get your stuff back.

There’s a halfway decent framework here, but it falls apart for several reasons. For starters, each level is just a hall full of baddies that you clear out. The baddies in questions only come in a few types, and are distinguishable only by the gear they carry. They’re all humanoid, meaning there are no impressive boss battles against giant foes. The combo system is flawed in that you can’t properly chain high and low attacks and that you can land only two to three hit combos. The skills are interesting, but they’re so much more useful than basic attacks that you have to spam them constantly. In short, the game ends up being boring and repetitive. There just wasn’t enough follow through here. They created an interesting design, but forgot all of the details that would help make that design into a fun game.

Replayability

The game consists of twenty-four levels and four different difficulty settings. While the levels will follow the same layout, the enemies will be better equipped and act more aggressively the harder you go. That adds some replay value, but more is added when considering that you need to complete harder challenges to unlock all of your skills. Plus, there’s playing with others online, although only if you can find them.

However, you’ll only get into this replay value if you find the equipment system interesting. If you don’t, it all seems like one big chore. If you don’t have the desire to boost your character after the final credits have rolled, there is literally nothing left to come back for. The game is counting on you wanting to grind for gear.

Balance

If you don’t participate in the grind, expect this game to have an incredibly steep difficulty curve. The end section, even on the lowest difficulty setting, is absolutely brutal. That’s thanks to the end boss not being able to drop his weapon. I had to find online opponents to help, because the AI assists were useless when it came to implementing a strategy. On the harder settings, the AI is relentless and is well equipped to crush you. Without human opponents, there’s a good chance they’ll gang up in order to take you out first. I’ve lost count of the number of times where I was forced to take two or three opponents on at the same time while my AI “helpers” were off on the other side of the map doing God knows what.

Equipment is what makes the character. You don’t get stat bonuses from leveling, only skill points. Since those skills often depend on your equipment to add to their effectiveness, this doesn’t do much to change the reliance on grinding for gear. Online, the group with the best equipment wins, and skillful play can only balance the scales to a small degree. It’s just a mess that rewards only the players who’ve put in the time required to get high powered gear.

Originality

The class leveling system is the only unique thing about the game. It was nice that you weren’t beholden to specific class. Picking up a shield meant that I could still go on the offensive while leveling a different class. I wasn’t screwed if I couldn’t wield two weapons for whatever reason.

Beyond that, the game plays it safe by using standard fantasy tropes and a simple equipment system that could easily fit in any RPG.

Addictiveness

I would often play this game for hours at a time. However, this was more because I had to review the game than anything else. If you haven’t picked up the fact that this game is a grind from the earlier text, than apparently I need to say “grind” a few dozen more times.

The game is just uninteresting to play. While there some fun moments (dual wielding shields the first time, stealing a better weapon from a foe, and so on), most of the game is spamming simple combos and abusing the same one or two skills until you’ve taken down the foe. There is a complete lack of variety here. Some more enemy types, smarter level design, or even a real boss fight could have done the game wonders.

Appeal Factor

This kind of game was already going to be niche at best. While action-RPGs certainly have an audience, this particular brand of game doesn’t have the story to back things up, or even an interesting world to explore. It’s just a slog through bland looking levels against the same enemy types over and over again.

Even worse than the game’s niche appeal is the absurd price. This is a thirty dollar game. That may be ten dollars less than the PC version, but it’s still fifteen to twenty dollars more than the game is worth, even if you absolutely love what it does. The game feels like a relic from more than ten years ago, and should be priced as such.

Miscellaneous

From what I can tell, there are a number of changes this game has seen from the PC to PS3 conversion. If there’s a parrying system here, I never found it. The money you earn is much less, making it even more of a grind to get items. Skills can only be leveled by putting a set amount of points into them. The first rank is usually two points, the next is four and so on. The PC version has you ranking skills with a single point. For this version, you’ll be required to earn several levels to rank up a single skill. Those levels come really slow later on, which kills any sense of progression. All this and more leads me to believe the PC version is just superior.

I wanted to like this game. I just couldn’t. It’s beyond repetitive, fails to create an interesting world, has terrible production values, and so on. The concept can work, but it needed more follow through to be a game worth playing.

The Scores
Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Very Poor
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Bad
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

Clan of Champions could have been really good. The idea of being able to switch battle styles on the fly by picking up dropped weapons is novel and fairly well done. Unfortunately, the rest of the game fails to back this mechanic. It’s lazy on the story, visuals, audio, combat, and has a complete lack of variety. This game is a chore to play, and an interesting leveling system is not enough to make up for that. With some major tweaks, I would be willing to give a sequel a chance. However, I just can’t recommend this game.



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Aaron Sirois

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