ClaDun Returns: This is Sengoku!
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Platform: PSVita(reviewed), Steam, PS4
ClaDun Returns: This is Sengoku! is an RPG. There you go Nippon Ichi Software — I get it! How RPG is this RPG? Well, every sub-system is RPGified, every weapon, dungeon, even building seems to have some sort of number attached to it which can grow or shrink depending on your actions. Almost gratuitously so, to the point where I’m left to wonder whether the entire thing is some elaborate form of satire. I think I understand what ClaDun is trying to do; it’s that whacky RPG that facilitates endless grinding and tweaking. It practically tells you that at every turn! But it’s all so odd. And, really, I think “odd” is the best descriptor I can use for this game.
The game begins with you waking up in a sort of limbo– you’ve died, but due to some unfinished business, cannot truly pass into death. During your quest, you’ll help a variety of lost souls fulfil their own goals, but it’s a fairly bare-bones story. It’s hard to care when Lost Soul Number 6 wants you to kill yet another boss, or go fetch some mushrooms, when you’ve already been doing that over and over again. Ultimately, the story doesn’t add much to the experience other than to give the game some atmosphere. The main hub and stylings are all quite nice, but the actual plot is very loose and not at all what you’d play the game for.
The meat of ClaDun is in its dungeon crawling action-RPG gameplay. It takes a decidedly retro approach, with a top-down hack ‘n’ slash style. Each dungeon is bite-sized, and perfect for portable gaming. The majority of your time will be spent in these 2-4 minute long levels, slashing away at foes and collecting loot. Most enemies don’t require much thinking, but the occasional boss or larger monster might need a bit of artful dodging and attention to timing. Traps are aplenty, so you have to be quick on your feet or step carefully. Hit detection was occasionally a bit weird, but for the most part ClaDun provides a satisfying little burst of fun each time you delve into one of its levels. The main story mode will take you through 50 pre-made stages, with a rogue-like type of randomly generated endgame (which will likely provide the bulk of series fans’ playtimes).
Eventually, you’ll hit a wall and need to focus on levelling up your characters, weapons, building (that’s right — a singular, solo building), and support crew. This is where ClaDun gets a bit odd. You see, while it appears as though you’re playing a single character, there is a strange party system at work behind it all. You bring into each dungeon a party of support characters which are tied to your “magic circle”. This is a class-based grid in which you place other characters, and from there they’ll provide boosts, extra EXP, and even take hits for you. The entire system is a little bit convoluted, and while there are attempts to explain it in-game, I was forced into various wikis and forums to truly understand what was going on. Even still, some buffs (and debuffs) left me guessing. I appreciate that it’s a robust system, and that some people will lap it up. But I’d be lying if I said that I found it intuitive. This is further confused with characters gaining different stats when active, versus in the circle. Levelling them up as a support will increase their viability as a main, and actually using the character in the dungeon will…make them better as a support. Again, there are a lot of classes and combinations to toy with, but it will take a bit of dedication to really get behind.
Additionally, global buffs can be granted by slotting bricks into a building in the main hub. Sometimes you’ll get a debuff which will cost a lot of money to rectify, other times you’ll get a nice little boost. I personally didn’t have much fun with this, as getting a nasty debuff led to hours of grinding just to afford the repair fee. Fortunately, levelling up a weapon is a little bit easier. Points are awarded for each enemy slain, then ‘titles’ such as ATK+1 can be slotted into your weapon of choice. Nice, simple, and effective. I had a lot of fun tweaking these to give me extra running speed, earn me extra EXP, or just being damn good at walloping bad guys.
Customisation takes a step further in allowing you to completely re-design your entire character and armoury. While completely frivolous, this was my favourite aspect of the game. There is a simple but very effective pixel-based editor. I had loads of fun changing my sword into a frothing beer stein, and drawing the Watchmen logo onto my shield. I made my character have a small head! Hilarity! I gave my mage two eye-patches and a fish staff! Why? Because I could! As far as I’m aware, this has no effect other than to be a fun distraction, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Overall, I feel the convoluted nature of the RPG side of this game clashes with the simplistic dungeon crawling. Ultimately, you go into each dungeon and hit things over the head until they die. Hours spent in stat screens trying to irk out a few more points in one particular stat just didn’t mesh well with the quick pick-up-and-play action RPG style. I’m sure this game will be loved by a very niche group of RPG fans, but it’s a hard sell to anyone who doesn’t enjoy die-hard number crunching and repetition. It’s weird, it’s quirky, but it’s not always fun. My final few hours ended with a resigned sigh — I had stopped caring about the grind. It wasn’t going anywhere new, and there was only so much one-button combat I could derive fun from.
Disclosure: Review copy of Cladun Returns was provided by the developer