December 20, 2010

Review – ClaDun: This is an RPG!

ClaDun This is an RPG
“This is an RPG!” declares ClaDun’s subtitle – and the statement is most definitely warranted. Actually, ClaDun is more of an action RPG but I won’t be a stickler. I will serve you with a warning though: ClaDun is old school in both style and substance. It’s a dungeon crawler that will ask you to spend time grinding. You will have to repeat multiple floors and entire dungeons many, many times, and you WILL die. You will die a lot.

At the game’s onset you are introduced to Pudding, a female wanna-be adventurer, and Soma, her lap dog male companion. Pudding, we discover, is terminally ill with “die laughing disease” and is desperately seeking Arcanus Cella, a mythical realm where you find whatever you are looking for. As it turns out, Pudding is looking for treasure, which is the perfect motive for a dungeon crawler.

ClaDun This is an RPG

Arcanus Cella itself acts as a hub world of sorts. It is represented by a classically familiar RPG village in which you can interact with other characters, go to shops, customize your characters and enter the game’s dungeons. In an interesting twist, you are free to end the game at anytime and see the credits and the game’s ending by entering a door that takes you back to the real world.

The story carries a self awareness that is all too absent from modern, more “serious” RPGs. ClaDun knows exactly what it is, and it knows when it’s following RPG conventions and exploiting genre cliches, letting the player know with a wink and a nod. The overall story is delivered with a humorous tone, although more often than not the jokes and gags go into cheesy and groan-inducing territory. However, underneath all of the self aware and cornball dialogue there’s a surprisingly sincere fabric woven into the game, which creates an emotional connection to these characters and their experiences that could have easily been lost in the hands of a less talented localization team. I’ll resist giving away any of the stories’ twists or reveals, as they are best discovered in the game rather than spoiled here.

Getting back to the story though – Pudding and Soma find themselves whisked away to Arcanus Cella and after several obligatory tutorials and story farts (delivered by a sorceress and a black cat, respectively) you are thrust into the meat and potatoes of the game; the dungeons.

ClaDun This is an RPG

The main goal of the game is to clear the fore-mentioned dungeons and collect treasure.

Each dungeon has multiple floors, and more dungeons become available as you hack and slash your way through the game. The dungeons are littered with enemies and obstacles, chief among them are the traps tiles.

These trap tiles do not become visible until you draw near, and can do everything from ravage your character with poison, to heal them and provide stat boosts. Each dungeon floor has a target clear time, and besting that clear time earns you fame points. These fame points can earn you “V.I.P.” access to items in the shop.

The gameplay is similar to The Secret of Mana, in that you hack and slash your way through enemies, gaining gold and experience. You can use your shield to block and eventually acquire a variety magic spells that you can use in addition to your standard sword attack.

The game’s graphics are full on retro, and although much has been made of the “8- bit graphics”, the visuals are really closer to SNES-centric 16-bit. The game really is very colorful and the retro feel is successfully reproduced through the intentionally limited presentation.

ClaDun’s art style and overall look recall such 16-bit royalty as Seiken Densetsu 3 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The soundtrack can even be switched between 16-bit retro and full instrumentation, although personally I found the retro version of the soundtrack became quite grating after extended grinding sessions.

ClaDun This is an RPG

Getting back to the previously mentioned grinding, it is a down-right necessity in this game if you want to have any success at all. ClaDun is one hell of a hard game. The player is given very little wiggle room with the difficulty curve, and if you are not prepared, you will die. Even if you are prepared, which the game makes abundantly clear you need to be, you will still die.

When you do die (and you will), you lose 3/4 of your gold, experience points, and all the treasure you gathered on that floor. As unforgiving as the game is, this reinforces how important leveling up your character is.

ClaDun presents a genius way of grinding that makes the task some-what less punishing than in other similar games. Although you are able to go back and replay cleared dungeons, ClaDun thankfully spares you that monotony in the form of the Ran-geon. You will eventually gain access to the Ran-geon, a randomly generated 99 floor dungeon specifically for the purpose of grinding. Some floors contain easier enemies that drop a greater number of rare items, but less experience; others contain powerful enemies that yield the most common of drops, but also provide the highest amount of experience. This dynamic allows the player to choose between risk and reward.

The real star of the game, and the main component that will keep you coming back and grinding is the Magic Circle.

ClaDun This is an RPG

The Magic Circle is ClaDun’s means of character customization, and the one aspect of the game that stands out as both the best feature and the most unique and strongest attribute. As you progress through the game you gather a large band of characters into your party, and although only one character is playable at a time, you use the other sub-characters as a means of powering up your playable character.

ClaDun This is an RPG

This system brought back memories the Guardian Forces Junction system from Final Fantasy VIII smashed together with the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. You populate your Magic Circle with your sub-characters and consume each sub-character’s mana points by assigning artifacts through them that power-up your main character.

These power-ups grant a variety of statistical boosts and special abilities, however, placing sub-characters in the more powerful/desired areas of a Magic Circle comes with a price. Handicaps such as statistical restraints will be placed on these sub-characters, thereby limiting your main character in the same way. Constructing a well balanced Magic Circle, and using the correct type of Magic Circle for any given situation is crucial to clearing dungeons successfully.

The Magic Circle is ClaDun, and it was enough to keep me grinding my characters and enduring the slow and frequent story-revealing dialogue scenes. At some points in the game I was so jazzed to get back to grinding that I would often skip these story scenes altogether. The game definitely has some pacing issues in regards to the frequent breaks in action, but again they can be skipped, so you are free to pick your battles.

ClaDun This is an RPG

Another potential detraction to ClaDun is its ability to lose you or go completely over your head, especially early on in the game. At some points you will be watching a tutorial given by another character and you will think that you have it in the bag, but find yourself completely lost when you attempt to put what you’ve learned into practice.

I think this might have something to do with the fact that when a game mechanic is explained to you, the game automatically goes through the menus for you, which I found hard to follow most of the time. The game would certainly benefit from much more detailed accompanying documentation or an in-game help menu.

ClaDun does have some flaws, and it’s most certainly not a game designed for everyone to enjoy across the board. That being said, if you are a fan of dungeon crawlers with a high difficulty level, and are able to endure the sporadic and confusing tutorials, then there are a lot of fantastic hours to be poured into ClaDun. The addition of local competitive or co-op multiplayer, and character customization, add to an already rich experience.

Oh, but you will die. A lot.

System Prisma

NIS America

PlayStation Portable

Singleplayer, Multiplayer (local)

Release Date
September 21, 2010


*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. NIS loves me and I love them back. Great, quircky, niche games for the whole family!

    Comment by EdEN — December 21, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

  2. Atlus loves me more. Amazing, original games just for mom and dad!

    Comment by Nathan — December 21, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

  3. It would be so so so awesome if NISA would put out a UMD with multiple Digital Only titles on one disc… just saying. ;)

    Edit: I’d prefer one game per disc… but if that’s not marketable… I’m sure a collection disc would be! Like those Pop Cap, Namco & Konami XBLA game compilation discs.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — December 21, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

  4. I like your idea. Do a retail UMD release for $40 with 6-7 games for those without a big Pro Duo or a Go.

    Comment by EdEN — December 21, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

  5. Well I just saw something mentioning “ClaDun 2: This is still an RPG!”, so here’s hoping NISA can release that on UMD along with the first ClaDun just like they did with Badman, er… What Did I Do To Deserve This? or whatever the hell it’s called these days…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — December 22, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

  6. Thanks for reminding me I need to get the UMD version of Badman 2 since it also includes the first one. Might be able to find it used for cheap. If not I can always buy all 3 games from PSN since it would be less than $30 for it all.

    Comment by EdEN — December 22, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

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