Despite not exactly being an indie title, there’s a large chance that Cladun is a game that passed you by. In a world filled to the brim with retro-inspired role-playing games, it can be hard for a series to really shine without tons of advertisements. Now, Nippon Ichi Software, developers of the Disgaea series, bring you another welcome addition to the Cladun series. The Cladun games are a series of dungeon crawler ARPGs with a very pixel-oriented aesthetic. They pride themselves on their simple yet complex game mechanics, replayability, and customization.
Focusing on story however, is not a smart thing to do in a Cladun game. The games themselves are not heavily based on it, and therefore if you are looking for a deep, involving story, then just give it a pass for now. Waking up, you’ll find out that you’re dead. But don’t worry! Death isn’t the handicap it used to be in the olden days, and your character is tasked with helping solve people’s unfinished business in order for them to pass on. Most of these souls are famous leaders from Japanese history, so I hope you’ve been brushing up! Most cutscenes are pretty much at the start and end of each chapter, so don’t worry, it won’t keep you long.
Now to get onto the meat of the game – the gameplay itself. The game may at first seem very simple, running through dungeons in order to get to the exit. There are many intricacies on the way though. In Cladun Returns you will find a variety of different ways to beat enemies, thanks to the switching of characters before dungeons in order to play each level through the eyes of a different character. With the creation of the new Magic Circle system, players will be able to switch between Lords and Vassals, Lords being the playable character, and Vassals being the Lord’s protectors. These Vassals simply act as damage sponges at first glance, but they can do so much more i.e. buff up your lord and make dungeon clearing a lot easier.
As said before, the Cladun series prides itself upon customization. As expected, Cladun Returns makes no exceptions, allowing players to customize their characters even further than before. That’s right, now you can edit your own characters, weapons and armour right down to the very pixel, also being able to allow for motion in each frame. I have to admit, I found myself making one face for what seemed at least half an hour or longer, only to remember I still had the rest of the game to play. It doesn’t only stop at the characters either, players can also customize the music they listen to while dungeon dwelling.
Now, if the customization aspect seems daunting to you, not to worry! NIS already has you covered with several templates to help you get started. The art style itself on first inspection may not make it stand out to you, as the market has become somewhat saturated with a lot of pixel-themed titles, but I assure you, Cladun Returns attempts to turn this weakness into a strength. The stylistic simplicity allows them to make really smooth animations that have a certain polish not found in many other pixel-y titles.
Getting back to the gameplay, there’s not only the main story for you to complete, with EX dungeons, tri-geons, mu-geons and death-geons alike, there is PLENTY of content to keep players coming back for more. With the implement of the Magic Circle aspect, it allows players to switch out their characters without getting bored and surprisingly, the grinding in the game doesn’t really feel like grinding. With the Suggestion Box introduced in the game, players are given quests that they can accept in order to gain fame, gold, and special items as they fight harder enemies in previous dungeons. Even if you get your character’s job (Jobs being particularly reminiscent of Final Fantasy jobs, essentially classes) all the way to lvl. 99, there’s no guarantee that death-geons will be easy for you to traverse, with the recommendation of you being at LEAST lvl. 99 plus co-opping with a few mates.
One downside I found while playing was that hitboxes were rather abusable, sometimes allowing me to stand outside a monster’s reach and just wail on him until he died. As well as this, some weapons seem a little overpowered from the get go, like the staff compared to the sword. Due to this, you were able to do large amounts of damage at a distance, which could trivialize your choice of weapon. However, given the game’s nature of replayability, it gives you plenty of time to get good with the other weapons.
While all this is well and good, it may then dishearten newer players, as the grinding and time required for learning the other movesets and mastering your characters may seem daunting. Another point, if you’re obsessed with top of the line graphics, while polished and shiny, Cladun Returns‘ graphics aren’t exactly something you’ve never seen before, luckily for you that isn’t the main focus of the game then, eh?
Overall, I’d say this game is a definite pick up for fans of ARPGs. The game’s slick and easy to learn, hard to master mechanics make it a shining gem among the real stars of the genre. For the price, if you were a fan of previous Cladun games, it should be perfectly acceptable. Although new gamers to the series may find it a bit pricey at the moment given its somewhat “indie” look upon first looks. Despite the somewhat large price tag, you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth and more from what you’ve paid. A game that keeps you coming back for more is always a good shout. If you’re into anything relatively role-playing, definitely make sure Cladun Returns to your gaming sessions!