Hearing the name Cladun might be new for some gamers, but the series first launched on PSP in 2010 titled Cladun: This is an RPG. Since its release, the sequel Cladun X2 found its way onto PSP as well as on PC via Steam. The game caters to those who enjoy dungeon-crawlers and retro graphics – a staple of the series that hasn’t seemed to change since its debut.
With the release of Cladun Return: This is Sengoku!, developer NIS aims to keep the core gameplay mechanics mostly the same, while adding new systems to revive the previous entries. The result ends up being hours of difficult, yet addictive, fun.
Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is based in Japan during the Sengoku period. The player assumes the roll of a created character who wakes up with amnesia in a strange place called Arcanus Cella. Once awake, you’re given the task by a man named Yukimura to satisfy the requests given to you by lost souls. These souls each have something they regret about their previous life and need you to go into the dungeon and meet their demands.
It’s a simple premise that becomes more ambitious as the story continues. After each dungeon, a new soul is released, but apparently they are stuck in Arcanus Cella and aren’t allowed to ascend to the afterlife. Yukimura asks that you continue to release souls and hopefully he’ll figure out why the souls aren’t ascending.
The game closely resembles what fans are used if you’ve played any of the previous entries. However, the graphics are even more charming than ever before. The game continues to have that 8-bit charm, while giving it a polished and refined look on the newer hardware: every character and enemy have been created with a pixel design that is the best I’ve seen from the series.
Throughout the game, players must clear dungeons and progress the story. Each dungeon holds a wide variety of monsters, but the only objective is to find the exit. Most of the monster designs will be recognizable to players returning to the series, so it can feel like you’re only playing an updated version of Cladun X2 at times. However, there are a wide variety of enemies and none of them seem to overstay their welcome for too long.
Exploring dungeons can prove to be difficult when the layout of the level contains multiple traps that trigger once stepped over: the problem is that you can’t see these traps unless you’re close to them. However, they can also be used to your advantage. For example: I would set off an arrow trap when fighting a power enemy to take some HP off the enemy. Additionally, there are also traps that put curses on you or slow you down that can get pretty annoying sometimes when you are just trying to exit the dungeon.
Dungeons in the story mode and in the EX dungeon are not randomly generated and they can be returned to as many times as the player wants in order to level up or collect items. The game does have a bit of grind to it at times, especially if you want to grow the levels of your ever-increasing party. The developers probably knew that returning to old dungeons would get boring, so a couple of hours into the game “Ran-geon” and “Tri-geon” are unlocked: two randomly-generated dungeons that allow the player to take on more powerful enemies and try to get stronger loot.
To get through the more difficult levels, it’s important to master the “Magic Circles” system. This mechanic allows the player to bring a full party into the dungeon while being represented by only one character. The circles range from different layouts including high defense, high offense, support, and many more. These layouts are unlocked as the character gains level, while some are better than others: I ended up playing around with a few of them to find which works best for me.
As I added more and more characters to my team, it became evident that some of the Lords that you meet in the EX dungeon are necessary additions to the party once the dungeons begin to get more difficult. Cladun Returns offers tons of opportunities to level grind, whether it be in past dungeons or the special randomly-generated ones: there’s so many options for the player. On top of all this are quests that can be accepted and turned in for items or gold.
This is where Cladun Returns truly becomes a game that has the potential to last many hours. There’s just so much content in the game that you wouldn’t expect: there’s even a character creator where players can create their own pixel sprites to use in battle. In addition to that, you can level-up weapons, create music, and grind for rare loot. Any time I became exhausted of completing quests for the story, there was always something I could do that would take my mind off the repetitive dungeon-crawling.
There are also character classes that can be assigned to characters that have many special skills and attributes to chose from. At first, probably like most, I thought going in with a sword would be the best tactic, but I’ll admit that the bow packs quite a punch against some of these enemies that need to be kept at a distance.
The problems with Cladun Returns are minor. The core story, although interesting, is not the highlight of my experience with the game. Instead, I was having more fun with playing around with the magic circles and testing myself in the Tri-geon to even really care about where the story was going. With that said, if you can push through the often repetitive dungeon layouts, the story does redeem itself somewhat in the later chapters.
Additionally, once a dungeon is completed, there isn’t an option to continue to the next level in the chapter. Instead, you are sent back to the town where you have to warp to the dungeon screen again: this can get old rather quickly as some dungeons only take under a minute to complete.
I’d like to add that the music in Cladun Returns is beyond great. Every track created for this game fits the mood of the level completely and is a joy to listen to. There’s even an option to switch the music between retro and modern, which I did a few times, but I ended up keeping it in the retro mode because I’m old.
Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is for gamers who want a quick and satisfying dungeon-crawling experience. The game is fast enough to pick up for ten minutes and complete a few missions, but also has some deep systems that can take hours of your time and push the game to its highest potential. While the repetitive dungeons might be a problem for some, I felt that the range of different activities that the game offers completely makes up for the redundant trips to the story dungeons. In addition, fans returning to the series will find enough updates and new systems here to warrant jumping back into the game and rediscover what they enjoyed most about the previous entries.