The PSP is slowly becoming the home of retro-chic games. First was the genre-bending Half Minute Hero from XSEED, and now there’s NIS America’s PSN-exclusive dungeon crawler ClaDun: This is an RPG.
Cladun takes place in a world called Arcanus Cella. Initially, it’s occupied by only Despina, a white haired sorceress hikikomori who seems quite content to live in her little home, on her own, with her egg familiar. This doesn’t last though, as a young girl named Pudding and her childhood friend Souma barge into Arcanus Cella. Pudding read about it in one of her father’s books, and since she has six months all to herself, to do as she wishes, she set off to find it.
They aren’t the only three characters you encounter though. A talking black cat named Crosstine, who happens to have quite a noble lineage, keeps guiding others there. For example, the terribly unlucky merchant Coco, the swordswoman Sunday and her friend/competitor Battleblo. After Dotache arrives in Arcanus Cella, you can create up to 64 original characters to explore.
Creating original characters is a surprisingly detailed affair. Visually, you’re only customizing their faces. There’s more to it than that though. You choose their class, create their boss and can even create custom phrases for them to say when they’re in Dotache’s pub. You can also share these characters by swapping edit files, which is quite handy.
Gameplay can seem surprisingly linear. You start in Arcanus Cella, where you can explore the area or prepare for dungeon exploring. You can enter the pub and shop (or access them from the menu), explore areas and talk to characters. After each dungeon and storyline vignette, NPC dialogue tends to change so I recommend that. You set up your magic circles, equipment and characters here.
From there, you head to a dungeon. As you proceed through each level and area, you unlock more. Each one has an optimal beat time, which shows how much time you "could" beat it in. Once you head in, it’s an action-RPG with rogue-like elements. You have to avoid traps (unless you need them to defeat certain monsters), clean out creatures within, and find the exit. After defeating certain dungeon levels, you’ll see a brief two to five minute story segment that reveals more about the characters and Arcanus Cella.
Characters only get experience from dungeons if they were part of the main character’s magic circle. See, you choose one main character, each with his or her own magic circle possibilities determined by class. His or her attack and defense stats basically influence his or her performance in the dungeon, while the supporting magic circle members HP and SP determine his or her stamina. The supporting characters can be enhanced by placing artifacts on appropriate parts of the magic circle. If your character takes damage, the supporting characters are the ones who get injured and die. The main character will only die after all of them fall. Fortunately, as long as they’re in the circle, they get experience if you escape the dungeon.
This means players need do balanced dungeon crawling. If you fight too much with a character as a main character, he or she won’t be a good main character anymore. You need to switch off so stats are evenly distributed and you build a reliable party. Main characters level up in a way that will make them better sub characters, as they’ll earn more HP and SP, and sub characters tend to level up and earn more stats that help them survive dungeons.
Once you get in a dungeon, you just focus on getting through it. You can slide under traps or over areas to move faster, jump over traps, attack enemies and use one of three set special attacks or abilities. You may not want to avoid all traps though. Some will heal or cast haste on the characters, which you need since you can’t use items in the dungeon. Also, certain characters (like ghosts) can only be damaged by trap attacks.
The rogue-like option really only comes into play if you die in a dungeon. If that happens, you only get part of the experience and money from that particular exploration and lose all the treasure you found. You then get kicked back to Arcanus Cella. So you could think of Cladun as an incredibly forgiving rogue-like.
If you want to do random dungeon crawling, then there’s the Ran-geon option. It’s like the dungeon, except randomly generated each time you go in and doesn’t advance the story when you use it. It’s a good option for when you start needing to level grind to prepare characters to be good main characters or good sub characters.
Arcanus Cella is surprisingly fun to explore. There are nooks and crannies to find and you’re able to talk to and interact with more characters and items than you’d think you would. Make sure to check every barrel, as some contain Arcanus Cella fairy tales or silly little quips.
As anyone can see by looking at screenshots, ClaDun looks pretty darn cool. Very retro-chic, much like Half Minute Hero. It looks exactly like an old SNES or Genesis game, and can sound like one too. You can choose between retro and modern music in the options. If you choose the retro sounds, the characters even use beeps and boops when talking during story segments.
The script is quite clever. Even descriptions are witty, with poor equipment carrying a Crap title. I wouldn’t say it’s as funny as a game like DeathSpank, but it definitely has the same sort of attitude and humor as NIS America’s Disgaea. It has personality, which helps provide more incentive to play.
Cladun: This is an RPG! is filled with pure, dungeon-crawling goodness in brief spurts or long extended sessions. The goal is to keep entering the dungeon to make your characters as strong as possible. Each play session could last five minutes, or even five hours. If you pick it up, know that there’s a lot of replay potential. Especially if you love spending months building up characters, only to reset their levels and change their class so you can rebuild them with enhanced starting stats to make them even better.
Food for Thought
- Beating dungeons’ best times earns you fame, which allows you to buy special items from the shop.
- You can tweak story character’s appearance once Bob gets to town, and shift their color palettes.
- There are both versus and co-op multiplayer modes, but they’re only over local wireless.
- You can change classes for all characters after a certain point, which lets characters revert to level 1 and change to another class while still keeping some earned stats.
- Early on, some of your best main characters will be Pudding, Souma and Sunday. Battleblo and Coco can become quite useful as well, after some leveling. Make sure to level Bob up a bit though, before making him a main. (Or collect SP boosting artifacts so he can keep using spells!)
- You can see a character’s bad ending at any time by visiting the Arcanus Cella exit
- There’s a screenshot feature, so you can snap pictures of screens to show off custom characters.