Most of us will be fairly familiar with the kind of titles that NIS America take out of Japan. The Disgaea series is perhaps the most well known collection of titles amongst the catalogue, but they have also brought us other stunning games such as Ar tonelico and Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure.
Cladun x2 is their latest endeavour, a title only found if you are searching on the Playstation Network, as it in fact did not receive a physical release. Is this a cause for concern, releasing a game that is relatively unheard of as download only? Not for the games quality at the very least, as Cladun x2 offers some familiar yet equally refreshing gameplay in the 'action role-playing game' genre. Hit the jump for the full review.
Cladun X2 (PlayStation Network)
Cladun x2, which stands for 'Classic Dungeon', is in fact the second offering in the series currently on offer on the Playstation Network. The former title Cladun: This is an RPG! was released in September last year, but as I'm sure is the case for most of you, it went completely under the radar. However, there is no time like the present, and boy is it worth jumping into.
Before starting your adventure, you will need to create a character. You will first need to pick the name and gender of your initial adventurer, for which the game provides a largely entertaining random name generator to help you in this task. It's easy to get carried away with mashing select in order to cycle through the names, but I had to settle when the name Nanoha flashed up. There are seven jobs available at the start of the game that you can choose to specialise in, which determine the strengths, weapon proficiencies, skills and special abilities your character will eventually gain access to. Lastly you will have to choose an avatar and a personality type, then you can make your jolly way into the main game.
You are welcomed by being thrown straight into a dungeon, before being approached by a "dubious young man."
"Aha! Did I surprise you? Chorry 'bout dat" he shouts from the opposite side of the screen. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the peppy dialogue in this game. Everyone has a unique personality and their speech is written in such a way to really bring out their characters even more so. It's certainly a breath of fresh air when looking at most text-based RPG's.
After this short tutorial mission, you arrive in the world of Arcanus Cella. This is a world without an exit, a world in which you are imprisoned. Parchmin, the dubious young man from before, later explains the reason for you being there, as well as offering you a deal which could lead to the eventual return to the world you came from. Without wishing to spoil the story for you all, there are dungeons to be explored and stats to raise, but you probably already knew that!
The levels themselves look just how you would expect, with winding paths and all sorts of terrain becoming the home to large amounts of loot-carrying monsters. Defeating them is of course the preferred course of action, which you can do by either attacking with your held weapon, or using a skill. Skills can be weapon specific, such as being able to lunge while carrying a spear or swipe a sword in an arc. They can even be magic spells, assuming you are using a class that can learn them. Skills cost SP to use, but are mostly stronger than your regular attacks.
Dungeons are also littered with a surprisingly large amount of traps. These will appear gradually as you approach them, giving cautious players an advantage when trying to avoid them. However, players trying to rush through a dungeon, or those being pushed back by monsters they are fighting should be wary that they aren't struck by arrows flying out of a wall or worse! Some of the first traps you see are heart shaped and will in fact restore some health to your party, though don't count on the game telling you this. It was a few dungeons into the game that I accidentally trod on one and found this out, as you don't really expect there to be a 'trap' that would be beneficial.
The most interesting feature of the gameplay simply has to be the magic circle feature. While you can only use one character while dungeon crawling, you can use your other characters in a magic circle. These are grids that utilise your sub-characters as bodyguards, taking enemy damage instead of the main character until they are knocked out. However, on the magic circle grid you can attach a number of beneficial items to help bolster your main characters strengths. For example, if I placed my magician Fate behind Nanoha, she would take damage instead of Nanoha until she herself faints. Any beneficial items attached to Fate on the grid will lose their effect at this point, so it's important to keep as many people as you can from losing their health to have the best chance at thwarting a dungeon. It's a simple yet very exciting feature that compliments this game immensely.
As for the art direction, Cladun x2 simply looks great! The game is rendered in the pixel art-style we've come to know and love from games like Disgaea. Even with the characters not having as much detail in their appearance as a fully 3D game would have (such as facial expressions for example,) the developers have succeeded in making sure that their personalities can shine through regardless. In short, the quirky visuals are complimented by the quirky characters!
Monsters can on occasion suffer from 'alternate colour palette syndrome', but with this being a reasonably fast paced dungeon crawler, it doesn't go so far as to bring the game down. The variety of creature types and their animations more than make up for this.
One important aspect that needs to be highlighted is of course, the music. You are given the option to choose whether you want to listen to 'real' or 'retro' music, which works out just as you would imagine. The 'real' music sounds just like music you hear in other NIS America games, were as the 'retro' versions are in fact 8-bit styled renditions of the same audio. It's simply a pleasure to listen to, and when they are giving you what is essentially a second audio track, it allows you to mix things up a little while you make your way through the rest of the game.
Speaking of customisation, Cladun x2 has an absolutely incredible amount of features that can be altered to your liking. You can edit the sprites for your avatars face, allowing you to literally recreate existing characters and people if you are willing to spend the time placing down pixels. You can even edit the look of weapons and armour, so having your avatar appear like Link from The Legend of Zelda complete with the master sword is far from an impossibility. Equipment, artifacts, magic circles and abilities are just some of the things that can be swapped out and customised in this game. It adds longevity and depth to a title that really deserves it.
If the main-story dungeons don't satisfy your thirst for adventure, why not try a neo-geon or a tri-geon? The former are your basic randomly generated dungeons. They consist of 99 floors that become progressively more difficult, but yield lots of nice goodies if you manage to beat one. The tri-geon is a unique type of dungeon that offers even better loot, but of course there's a catch. You move through each level of the dungeon as you usually would, starting in the 'normal' section. As you progress, you can end up in 'heaven' and 'chaos' areas. 'Chaos' levels feature creatures with ridiculously high levels, so best move out of those levels as quick as you can! The 'heaven' levels offer the best loot around, so they are obviously to be aimed for. Of course, these are completely optional, but they offer a nice spin on regular gameplay to provide the spice you may find the regular missions lacking.
I've certainly harped on about this games good features, but there are also a few issues I have to address. The first is that the in-game tutorials and help functions are a little too shallow, and tend not to go into a lot of detail about particular features of the game. This is the kind of problem that a handy instruction manual can easily remedy, and while the game comes with a digital copy of this very manual, backing out of the game to skim over 98 pages is hardly efficient. I understand that there is little leeway to overcome this problem without a physical release, but a more in-depth help function in-game wouldn't have gone amiss.
The other issue I have concerns the story. I have no qualms with the basic plot whatsoever, in fact I really enjoyed some of the twists that occurred during the game. The problem is that the plot tends to progress randomly, and not at set intervals as you would expect. You can go through several dungeons without the story advancing further, and this is what truly makes the game interesting. Grinding dungeon after dungeon is fine, don't get me wrong, but a better balance between dungeon crawling and story would be greatly appreciated.
If my current game save is anything to go by, you should have the main game finished in around 8 hours, disregarding a few tough bosses and levelling up some new characters of course. However as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of goodies in this game to keep you coming back if you haven't had enough of the classic dungeon experience!
Cladun X2 is definitely a game worth downloading, especially at the attractive price tag of $19.99. It's a solid action-RPG, flaunts some great characters and demonstrates that the genre can still evolve by showcasing some interesting and unique features. A definite no-brainer for fans of this type of game, but the customisation options may be a little too complex for those new to the genre.
8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but worth your time and cash.)
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