I’m vastly familiar with the type of games NIS America brings to our sweaty Western hands, and I’m a huge fan of the studio for taking risks in various departments. Nothing is riskier these days than releasing a digital-only title on an aging handheld system with little to no advertising outside of a few media blasts to the press in the hopes that it would get the word around. But, that is exactly what ClaDun x2 received, and that’s unfortunate, because there is quite a bit of good that comes from these retro-inspired dungeon crawlers.
ClaDun x2 (short for “CLAssic DUNgeon”) is the sequel to last year’s ClaDun: This is an RPG, which got fairly high marks from us. While this game does have all the tropes of a typical JRPG, it feels wildly erratic when it comes to their implementation within the game. But, first things first – ClaDun x2 sees you playing a random character of your own design who suddenly and unexplainably gets pulled into the world of Arcanus Cella. The problem here is that once you enter, you can never leave. Everyone who visits ends up staying for life, setting up a new life, making new friends and forgetting about what is in the past.
However, you are offered a chance to escape, which many don’t get. How, you ask, do you escape from an inescapable world? There are little things called dungeons, which you use to level up and progress your character, and these need to be explored. A mysterious dood contacts you as you pass into Arcanus Cella and offers you freedom in exchange for your time exploring the dungeons of the world. It’s as simple as that…right?
The story is rather simplistic, but sometimes that’s alright. In this case, the wide variety of character personalities and the dialog itself makes up for the lack of anything really deep and meaningful in the story. The characters are all quirky and more full of life in their pixilated form than most “realistic” looking characters in big-budget HD games these days. So, if you’re a fan of the idiosyncratic nature that is Nippon Ichi titles, then you’ll feel right at home here.
The downside is that the pacing of the story is horrible. What may be a lot of story up front will fool you. At time, the story seems to drag on forever through what seems like endless dungeons. There are times when you won’t get any story progression for a while, then are suddenly hit with tons of info, a plot twist and all sorts of random details that add to your adventure. It seems to me the pacing of the story itself could have been smoothed out throughout the entire game instead of taking place in random spurts with tons of dungeons between plot points.
But, to start things off before you ever get involved in swinging a weapon around, you get to create your own character. That’s right, your character is a random person that you create out of that zany head of yours. But, to help things along if you’re the indecisive type, there is a random character generator. You get to choose from many different hair and skin colors, as well as clothing options and even your characters’ personality type. The customization options eventually go beyond the character itself, to the point of being able to customize the game’s music and weapons options, as well.
In fact, once you get into the meat of the game, you can customize weapons, armor, accessories, your magic circles, the game music and many other things about you entire experience. This allows for a deep, rewarding experience that can and will be time consuming.
One thing I will say, is this game has some pretty great audio. You can choose between two background tracks for you travels – a standard version and a retro version. The retro version takes you back to the days of the SNES and those MIDI tracks that so many of us have engrained into our consciousness. The first time I flipped over to the retro soundtrack, it actually brought a whole new light to the game overall, and that was a great feeling.
The art design of games like these typically is more of a “love it or hate it” affair. I realize this generation is full of kids that probably won’t appreciate the pixilated, retro-inspired stylings of ClaDun x2. While I have my own feelings on that little issue of the current crop of gamers, in general, not appreciating where it all came from, in the end I can’t really blame someone if they just don’t like this style. I tend to find it nostalgic, when done right. It seems to be overdone a lot recently, with titles like 3D Dot Game Heroes and some popular indie games that have made big waves. Not that it’s bad, per se, I just see too much of it around these days.
But, like I mentioned, what really makes things stand out – retro style and simplistic story aside – is the characters and dialog. I have never had any problem with the dialog of games that even have piss poor stories and other issues, that tends to lift them back up into the passable realm of “must play just for the experience”. While the story and battle mechanics here aren’t nearly that bad, they do seem rather lackluster when they rub shoulders with such well-written dialog and character antics.
But enough about that, let’s talk about what you’ll be doing a good portion of this game – fighting bad guys! ClaDun x2 features a fairly standard action battle system, so there is a measure of button mashing involved if you’re not careful. However, the one thing that really makes it stand out is the magic circle feature. Basically, the other characters that join you act like your bodyguards through these dungeons, and they can be placed in various positions around you to attack, defend and bolster your defenses in many different ways.
In addition to that, different attributes can be attached to these support characters, which enhance them even more, and thus you character. So, the character is there for the purpose of either going on the offense or the defense for you…until they get knocked out. Your job many times is to prevent this from happening through various means.
Generally speaking, aside from your typical RPG attributes and the above-mentioned magic circles, the battling in ClaDun x2 is unremarkable and can, at times, be a frustrating experience. Your mind is built to think that your weapon should strike the target to land a hit, but many times you either have to swing what appears to be early, or wait until the enemy is right on top of you, thus almost requiring you to take damage of some form. I’m not a huge fan of the uneven action battle mechanics, so it can get tiring from time to time.
If you’re a fan of the dungeon crawling aspect of this game, you’ll be glad to know that, aside from the main story dungeons, there are two sorts of optional dungeons. One is just a random dungeon generator, which generates a 99 floor dungeon that gets progressively more difficult as you get higher. The other is a dungeon with several different sets of levels, including those with insanely high-level and high-health monsters. Naturally, the more difficult the dungeon is, the bigger the rewards, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you have seriously an almost endless amount of game to go through.
While ClaDun x2 is certainly a deep game as far as the customization and gameplay goes, all the individual mechanics and how things work aren’t always clear. The in-game tutorials could be better, for sure. There’s also the issue that, aside from all the optional stuff to do, the main game itself barely comes in at 10 hours, and that is with some leveling up and getting a bit stuck on a couple bosses (blast the uneven hit boxes and such, as I mentioned earlier).
There certainly is a lot to love here, and there are many, many more hours of gameplay involved in all the optional undertakings. For a game that is $19.99 on the PlayStation Store, it’s certainly worth the price of admission, if for nothing other than the constant sense of character progression and the deep customization you can get into if you so desire. The fun and sometimes hilarious dialog is a huge bonus, as well, just don’t expect the story to win any awards. But, for PSP RPG gamers like myself who enjoy this kind of thing, it’s a game worth having and a nice way to pass the time wherever you may be.
- Title: ClaDun x2
- Platform Reviewed: PSP
- Developer: Nippon Ichi
- Publisher: NIS America
- Release Date: August 30, 2011
- MSRP: $19.99 (PSN download only)
- Review Copy Info: A download code for this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.