Review by Kwing
Reviewed: 10/20/11 | Updated: 04/03/12
Innovative, Deep, and Challenging Gameplay!
I'd had my eye on Cladun for quite some time, and I had a sneaking suspicion that it might just be the best game ever, from what I'd heard. And after getting it, I have to say I might have been right. The game indeed boasts random dungeons, fully customizable characters, and is also the single most in-depth game I have ever played.
I actually really liked the story, but was somewhat put off by the fact that it has nothing to do with the gameplay. If you took Coraline and Narnia and mashed them together, this is basically what you'd get. The shut-in sorceress Despina has created a very small little alternate dimension called Arcanus Cella for her to hide in, yet it is connected to several parallel universes. Unfortunately for her, several people have wound up there and are bothering her. While they have different motives and interests, they all share one thing in common: They can all benefit greatly from the treasures found within Arcanus Cella, which means they're going to be sticking around. The plot focuses on them interacting with the characters interacting with each other, as well as talking to a mysterious talking cat and a floating mask that are both suspicious and have hidden motives.
Again, the biggest downfall of the story is that the dialogue is in no way related to game progression, with the exception of the final boss. Because the monsters you fight in the dungeon are unrelated to the plot, the game feels almost as if you've already beaten the game rather than just starting into it.
Of the different 8-bit styles, graphics generally fall into three categories: The rectangular shaped characters you see in the earlier Final Fantasy games, the pseudo-realistic Castlevanian look, and Pokemon style, which is basically a fusion of the previous two. Cladun's art style is the latter of these, and it looks quite nice. The effects are where the graphics really shine, though. The way water ripples when you step in it is extremely cool, as are the other animations, which are very visually pleasing to look at. You can also pixel-draw your own character from a very extensive color palette.
In terms of sound, Cladun has good sound effects, though they can be a little repetitive. The music, however, is pure excellence. Depending on the song, you can hear some middle eastern, European, Irish, and Japanese influences. You can also cycle between realistic and 8-bit versions of each and every song whenever you want. My only problem here is that there aren't actually that many songs, and some you'll be exposed to a lot more than others.
* Play Time/Replayability
I think it took me about 20-25 hours to beat the game the first time. However, there are ridiculously hard levels to play after the final boss, along with a corresponding storyline, as well as nearly infinite possibilities with the Magic Circle. And if you want to grind the stats of your party members, you can practically do that forever, since you can reset your level to grind more (although this initially decreases your stats a little). I'm currently on the second to last dungeon with 88 hours clocked on my game file. Even then, after beating the last dungeon, you're allowed to redo all of the levels after the final boss with all of the enemies level 999. Not to mention you have randomized dungeons called New-geons in which you'll encounter enemies higher than level 999 and Ad Hoc mode. I've heard generally negative reviews of multiplayer, but other people have apparently had good experiences with it.
* Gameplay - Magic Circle
The first thing I should mention about this game is the Magic Circle. What Magic Circles really are are battle formations. Up to two small circles extend from up to all four cardinal directions of the main character in a plus shape, and you can place characters in these circles as Subs. They will take damage instead of the main character when the main character is hit on the corresponding side. In addition to absorbing damage, they will also provide stat bonuses.
Linear paths connect multiple rectangles to a Sub character's circle. Placing artifacts on these rectangles will exhaust that party member's mana, but will boost the main character's stats. Once a character's mana hits 0, artifacts you equip them with will have no effect. However, by equipping mana-boosting artifacts on a character, you may be able to scrape up enough mana to equip more artifacts. Unfortunately, this also uses up a slot so it should only be done when necessary. Some rectangles can hold artifacts that boost several different stats, but most only work for one stat. It should be noted, however, that the mana they consume is more like your limit to how much power you can attribute to a Sub. When you remove an artifact from its slot, the Sub gets their mana back.
The power distributed to the artifacts travels from the character down the string. The Widen artifact changes the effect of other equipped artifacts farther down the line, making the sequence in which you place the artifacts very important. In addition, some circles have several short lines while others may have longer lines. These sequences of circles and rectangles are determined by the Magic Circle you decide to use.
Different characters have different Magic Circles. They vary in how many characters you can place in your party, how many stat boosts you can apply to each character, and what happens to the Subs when they are placed on certain circles. With some Magic Circles, some Subs placed on specific circles on the formation will gain an experience bonus, while some may gain a mana bonus, or a health penalty. Another effect they may have on them is Martyr, which makes all party members with the same ability die when it does. Generally, the more characters allowed to be in a single Magic Circle, the more weakened each character is.
When a character dies, all stat boosts granted by that character are nullified, and damage is distributed to the remaining Subs. When all of the Subs have fallen, the main character begins taking damage.
Characters that level up as the main character gain stats that help them as a sub, and sub characters level up stats that help them as a main. This requires you to switch the characters you're using frequently, and also makes a certain amount of sense; if characters got better at the roles they were assigned, switching back and forth between them would be tough and you would essentially be locked into your current setup.
* Gameplay - Equipment
The three types of equipment you can use are weapons, armors, and shields. Any of these can affect attack, defense, walking speed, running speed, evasion, critical hit rate, stun rate, and resistance to piercing, slashing, and blunt attacks as well as fire, ice, and spirit elements. Of course, weapons have a tendency to be offensive catalysts while armors tend to give better resistances to physical attacks. Shields also tend to be defensive catalysts, but work better for elemental resistances.
The power of a piece of equipment is determined by its type and title. A type would be a rod compared to a scepter or stave, whereas a title might be Crap, Norm, Fire, etc. Different titles can be a quick indicator of what they do to a weapon's stats, but some imbue your attacks with elements, increase your experience gain, or increase your gold gain.
Weapons, unlike armors and shields, affect the way you attack. Swords deal the highest damage and can also give you a triple-hit combo when you button mash, while axes and hammers can be charged up by holding the attack button, as well as having very high stun rates. Staves make the cooldown of your spells much lower, reduce your SP (the stat that spells consume) consumption by a lot, and also fire projectiles when you perform a normal attack with them (although this projectile has cooldown).
As you power up, more items will be added to the store for you to buy. You'll be able to buy any type you've unlocked with any title you've unlocked. After beating the game, you'll also be able to buy D99 items which copy the titles of any equipment of the same type that you own, so long as you own 99 of that item.
My biggest criticism with all of the out-of-battle mechanics is that there aren't really any unique equipment, making everything seem kind of liquidy and uncertain. In games such as Final Fantasy where every piece of equipment is unique, it's much more rewarding to go treasure hunting, since you are almost certain that you're going to get better items. Though items are the main point of dungeon crawling, when you go into a Ran-geon you're never sure if you're going to get anything worthwhile. It still helps for powering up D99 equipment, though. Even so, the rare items you'll really be looking for are Widens and high-power artifacts you can't buy in the shop, but these can end up being hopelessly infrequent.
* Gameplay - Magic
Characters can equip up to three spells at a time. A spell's effectiveness is determined by its range, SP usage, cooldown, and power or effect duration. If you have a Magic Circle with ability slots on it, you can place artifacts on these slots to increase a spell's power/duration (and SP consumption), reduce SP consumption, or reduce cooldown.
Spells range from affecting your or your enemy's attack and defense, giving your attacks elemental affinities, clearing yourself of status ailments, healing, special physical attacks, and magic projectiles.
* Gameplay - Classes
Each story character starts off with one of five classes, each of which have exclusive Magic Circles, stat growth, and abilities. The class can be changed when you've reached level 10, but the higher level you are when you reset your level, the lower your stat penalty when you reset. To create an optimal character, it's necessary to change classes so that you can have the offensive abilities from one class mixed with the defensive abilities of another... Or any other helpful fusion. Annoyingly enough, when you first start off, you're pretty helpless unless your starting class is Merchant, and by far the best fusion of classes is Warrior to Guardian or vice versa, but once everyone has gone through several classes, this lack of an option is a thing of the past.
* Gameplay - Battle
When in battle, you can strafe with a shield to reduce speed but increase defense, attack, run to increase speed but reduce defense, jump, slide, and cast spells. All controls can be customized, and the flow of gameplay feels extremely natural.
Inside dungeons are things on the floor such as grass, water, and goo, which will reduce your movement speed, although water also puts you out if you're on fire. There are also slippery areas, which decrease traction but allow you to slide very fast, and traps, which usually damage you or induce status ailments, though Haste and Heal traps make you faster and heal you. Traps are invisible until you're a certain distance from them, making it risky to run down an unfamiliar area without extreme caution.
Different enemies have different attack patterns, but still get very redundant after a while. Still, combinations of enemies and different environments will oftentimes catch you by surprise and overcome you. In addition, elemental attacks can freeze you or set you on fire, imbuing your attacks with that element and making you heal the monster that just hit you! This adds an albeit frustrating level of depth to combat, and when you encounter very high level enemies, they'll start using super abilities that will make your knees tremble.
While exp is given to you automatically when an enemy is defeated, gold will be scattered all over and must be collected before it vanishes. Gold appears in small gold 1s, gold 10s, red 100s, blue 1,000s, and purple 10,000s.
Dying in a dungeon will reward you with only half of the gold and experience you collected, and none of the items, making it important to get out alive, but not a complete waste of time if you don't.
There are three types of dungeons: Dungeon, Ran-geon, and New-geon. Dungeons are pre-made and feature teleporters, gates that are opened by defeating monsters or opening chests, and intelligently-placed enemies, traps, and floor types. They also have par times which give you fame when you beat them.
Ran-geons are randomly generated and go on for 99 floors. Different kinds of gates will affect the enemy level, item drop rate, and rare title rate, depending on which one you go through. Frustratingly enough, keeping these stats up can be downright impossible, since there can be as few as two kinds of gates on a single floor. For instance, if you get a Hell Gate and a ladder at the end of one floor, you either have to stomach a huge enemy level increase and huge decreases in item quality and frequency, or go all the way back up to Arcanus Cella and start over.
New-geons are like Ran-geons, except enemies start at about your level instead of level 1. This mode is unlocked after beating the final boss, and helps give you battles that are the right difficulty level. Unlike Ran-geons, New-geons are endless and allow you to skip floors instead of going to each floor consecutively. Additionally, certain special abilities may be triggered more and more as you progress through them. When you get a couple hundred of floors into New-geon, you'll also unlock normal Dungeons later on.
* Gameplay - Ad Hoc
A lot of people say the ad hoc is lousy and laggy as hell, and I have to admit that they're right. There's a good full second delay when playing cooperatively or versus with another player, and even when you join an ad hoc map to play it solo, there's still a 1/3 second delay (which is really weird). The odd thing is that while your controls are delayed, you see each others' movement without any lag at all. This means that your screen accurately shows where your partner is, even though both of you will be struggling with the lag a bit. However, intense as the lag is, with enough practice (15 minutes worth) you should be able to get used to it, and once you do, the game is quite fun! You can compete or work together in a variety of single player or multiplayer-exclusive maps, and if you find the game to be too easy or exploitable, you can always create a new character to spice up the gameplay a bit. This is particularly useful when both players have ground their parties up to ridiculous proportions.
* Gameplay - Misc
On top of all of this, you're allowed to take screenshots of the game with the Select button as well as replay the entire story with your characters at the same level. There is also a Bestiary to try and fill out completely. All in all this adds a nice aftertaste to the game.
* Final Recommendation
This game is great! The Magic Circle is very in-depth, and the gameplay requires lots of skill. Unfortunately, it can still get redundant rather fast, but since I didn't use that many classes or switch equipment or Magic Circles much, that was my fault (though I sure had to change my plans when I entered the super hard maps!). There are tons of playing styles to try out, and you can virtually grind up your characters forever! Even if it does get old, Cladun makes a great 'side-dish', so it's always a great game to come back to later. I also love that this game is entirely no-pressure... There are no missable items, and since you can reset your level there are no stats you can permanently screw up. In short, you have no reason to 'have to' start another file!
Product Release: Cladun: This is an RPG (US, 09/20/10)
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