Once upon a time, video games were dominated by 8-bit graphics. You would be remiss if you think that time is now. A renaissance of the 8-bit way of life has been occurring over the past year, however, with 8-bit graphics and a return to old-school gameplay showing us that retro is in fashion again. The classic dungeon crawler has now received this treatment from NIS in Cladun: This is an RPG for the PlayStation Portable.
The story of Cladun: This is an RPG is a simple one. There exists a place called Arcanus Cella, a place that holds a treasure: whatever someone desires. A young girl named Pudding, suffering from a terminal case of “die laughing disease”, seeks treasure and adventure and drags her friend Souma into Arcanus Cella. The pair meet many strange characters and travel through the dungeons of Arcanus Cella looking for treasure and defeating enemies along the way. The narrative is amusing, referring to many of the typical RPG clichés in the fashion of a parody. The story itself is a bit weak. The focus in Cladun is the gameplay.
Dungeon crawling is the key in Cladun: This is an RPG, which comes as no surprise given the name Cladun is a portmanteau of “Classic Dungeon”. Gameplay is structured like an old-school action RPG: your character can jump and move vertically or horizontally, while a diagonal movement is an awkward combination of the two. The dungeon floors are generally small (some can be beaten in under a minute), but they are swarmed by enough enemies to provide a challenge. Multiple types of weapons can be equipped including swords, axes, hammers, and magical staffs. Littered throughout each floor are trap tiles with various effects such as pierce, gas, bomb, haste, and heal. The goal is to reach the exit of each floor. You can win fame points for reaching the exit quickly which will allow access to better items. Story dungeons are not random and stay the same through multiple playthroughs, but there is also a Ran-geon that is randomly generated and can keep you on your toes should you get bored with the main story.
What sets Cladun apart from other dungeon crawlers is the Magic Circle. This feature allows you to place members of your party in sub circles where they will act as sub characters. These characters take the damage you suffer in dungeons as long as they still have enough HP to survive. Additionally, on the Magic Circle map, there are bonuses for a variety of stats, both positive and negative. You can find and purchase items that, when placed on these bonus tiles, will grant a bonus to whichever character you choose as the main character. So when you place a Luck Ring on a CRT (critical) tile, you will enter the dungeon with a higher critical hit rate and that logic follows for ATK, HP, SP, SPD, DEF, Mana, and so on. Each character has multiple magic circles which are unlocked as you level them up. The sheer amount of magic circles as well as the multitude of bonus slots on each allow for near-endless customization. This provides many options for tackling any particular dungeon.
Cladun allows you to use whichever party member you want as your main character, but you can even create your own characters. You can choose from five jobs: Warrior, Dragoon, Guardian, Wizard, and Merchant. There are several body types to choose from and you can freely alter your character’s face. Those with a flair for the arts can make almost any face with the colors given. There is also a gameplay advantage to using your own created characters: they can be whichever job you choose while story characters have their jobs predetermined. Additionally, you can - to a certain extent - modify the final boss assigned to each character. So not only does creating new characters give you more characters to level up and play through the dungeons with, they also let you put a new spin on the final encounter.
Cladun is also strong in presentation. The genre-poking, hardcore gamer-pleasing humor that NIS has become known for is all over this game. Not a moment in the story goes by without some reference to the game’s 8-bit roots or the clichés of its genre. The graphics are retro to their very core. Cladun would not feel out of place visually had it been released as an NES title. Cladun also packs a solid soundtrack, both in new-school and an “old-school” MIDI style soundtrack.
How long you spend playing Cladun is entirely up to you. If you really wanted to, you could leave Arcanus Cella within 5 minutes of beginning the game and the credits will roll. The story dungeons themselves will take about 20-30 hours (factoring in necessary grinding between dungeons), but with the near-infinite character creation possibilities and the random playthrough of the Ran-geon, one could invest many more hours than that into this game. Not a bad deal for $20!
While Cladun: This is an RPG does a good job of what it sets out to do, there were a couple of curious development decisions made. Part of the allure of a dungeon crawler is random dungeon generation, so you never know exactly what is coming next. While the game does include the Ran-geon, the story dungeons are fixed, reducing that sense of exploration and discovery. The minimalist story also removes some of the motivation to continue to grind it out through the dungeons. Those who make it through Cladun will do it for the sheer love of the dungeon crawling, as the narrative does little to encourage you to continue.
There is no doubt that Cladun: This is an RPG is an RPG. It is also undeniable that NIS has crammed a deep dungeon crawler into the small confines of a PSN release. A serious dungeon crawler that never takes itself too seriously, Cladun is well worth a look for everyone and a must download for any hardcore RPG fan. This is a Recommendation to play Cladun: This is an RPG.