ClaDun x2 (PC) Review
Ben Sheene / Sep 18th, 2012 No Comments
A few weeks ago I reviewed Legasista for the Playstation 3. Not only was I impressed by the depth offered in the dungeon-crawler but also by how fun it was to play once I mastered the mechanics. To be honest, I had never played a game like it. That was before I knew about the ClaDun series. Like Legasista, ClaDun (short for “classic dungeon”) and its sequel ClaDun x2 were made by NIS and System Prisma but were released for the PSP in 2010 and 2011 respectively. For those who didn’t own a PSP (myself included), you now have a chance to download ClaDun x2 on Steam and experience a very unique RPG.
Fans of old Super Nintendo RPGs will immediately feel at home with the game’s retro-pixelated charm. From text to graphics to sound, one would assume this game could be found in your library sandwiched between Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country. ClaDun x2 tugs at your nostalgia not only by evoking the look and feel of the past but by also poking fun at RPG and gaming tropes from across the generations. Just move around the hub world interacting with objects or talk to some of the NPCs and you will get a chuckle out of some of the witty dialogue. The problem with keeping things old-school is that at times things can be a bit muted. There aren’t any breathtaking set pieces or many “just pretty to look at” spells to cast. Dungeons you explore do have variety and are full of monsters but a highly stylized environment or two outside of the main hub world wouldn’t have hurt.
Where the engine succeeds the most in is how it amplifies the customization portion of the game. From the onset, ClaDun x2 gives you options. To keep with the old-school charm the game allows you to change the style of text from smooth to blocky and even alter the music from “new” to retro. It proves how great the music is when you can switch from charming chiptunes to a sweeping main theme and both sound equally great. Every song gets this treatment and while you might have a favorite style, both are appropriate for the game. You then are given the chance to customize your character from their gender, appearance, hair color, job class, and personality. There are even items in the game that allow for customization giving you the opportunity to attack enemies with a fish, spoon, or even a stop sign. The graphical simplicity of the game allows for these quirks to be possible; since the world is made of pixels all you need to do is edit a few yourself and only your imagination will stand in the way of making the world your own. If you want, you can even develop relationship trees between characters but even the game tells you it doesn’t change gameplay and is mostly just something to have fun with.
At first, the varying classes you can choose won’t seem that different. Certainly a warrior might have more HP and attack power and a mage will obviously get more skill points. You might ask yourself what the point is in choosing a merchant class when all you get is more gold or why choose a ranger if all it does is move through terrain faster. These differences all become obvious and important when Magic Circles are introduced. Magic Circles are what make the combat unique and ever-changing while dungeon crawling. Imagine the grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X and you will have an idea of Magic Circles are like. Each character class has different Magic Circles that provide various benefits and detriments to the party and as you level up that class, more Magic Circles will open up. Each Magic Circle has a place for your main character and at least one other party member. Next to the circles are slots where you can place certain artifacts that boost things like attack and defense, add experience boosts, or even lower HP. Each artifact requires a certain amount of mana to be activated and if the character doesn’t have enough, they won’t receive the benefits. When fighting in the dungeons, only the primary character will appear on the battlefield but the secondary characters are there in spirit. Not only will they take damage first (based on which direction an attack comes from) but the benefits from their placement on the Magic Circle will be attached to the primary character. The game encourages you to switch primary characters often to open up new skills, Magic Circles, and boost base stats of each class. Within the first hour of the game you will be able to create your own characters, adjusting their appearance and what class they are. As the game progresses, more classes will open up and you will see the possibilities grow.
As fun as the customization and character growth can be, it might come at a price to some. ClaDun x2 allows you to mold how you play but those features can be a bit complex to grasp at first. Though each new feature is slowly introduced, it will take some time experimenting before you really get a true feel for how leveling works. But, in true NIS form, with enough time you can create overpowered characters capable of dealing massive damage to enemies.
When I first started playing ClaDun x2 I caught a few things that proved it was a precursor to Legasista. The dungeon setup, the level one bunny enemy I fought, and the quirky dialogue were all very similar. As I continued playing and saw familiar monsters and heard familiar music (albeit with an older style) I began to notice how Legasista really improved on ClaDun’s formula. Fighting enemies through a dungeon and getting better loot while avoiding traps is virtually the same. The introduction of random dungeons (“rangeons”) is still one of my favorite elements of a game to date but ClaDun doesn’t feature the complex system of gates that Legasista did. The equipment system here is also a little less obvious because items and weapons require more experimenting to see how they truly benefit you. In this game, however, you are able to sell and buy items instead of merely junking them for titles. Another element here that I really enjoyed was the concept of fame. Many dungeons include a goal time and if you make it to the end of the dungeon in that amount of time you will acquire fame. More NPCs in the hub world will talk to you with higher amounts of fame but it also gives you a nice side goal when tackling dungeons. Want to see how far your character has grown? Beat a dungeon that once took you three or four minutes in 30 seconds, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
You might notice that I have said nothing about the story. This is intentional because ClaDun x2, unlike its predecessor and spiritual successor, doesn’t really have much of one. The story takes place in the world of Arcanus Cella. It is a world that—if you are transported to—there is no going back. You find yourself there and interacting with others who more or less have given up on ever finding a way home. With a game like this, you are spending too much time fighting and customizing to worry about a story but some will probably wish for some sort of drive behind all the fighting. The end goal here is more about creating an invincible character rather than advancing the plot.
One last important thing to note: the transition from PSP to Steam. To me, the PSP was always home to several niche titles and maybe a lot of them flew under the radar. Being on Steam allows ClaDun x2 and the developers to reach a new audience by being on a platform that caters to all sorts of genres. The PSP was also a great platform for ClaDun because the game is inherently pick-up and go. At any time you would be able to start up the game, buy some equipment, battle through a few dungeons, level up your characters, and organize your party. ClaDun x2 is a portable game at heart and some of that might get lost if you are playing with a keyboard and mouse. Still, the game is fun and it’s easy enough to enjoy in small bursts like many phone and tablet games today. For those who don’t own a Playstation system and are strictly PC players, ClaDun x2 is a way to introduce yourself to a fun (if basic) RPG with some bold and inventive gameplay.
tags: ClaDun , NIS , pc , review , steam , System Prisma