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Cladun: This is an RPG
Graphics: 7.7
Gameplay: 8.2
Sound: 8.1
Control: 7.5
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 8
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Number Of Players: 1

The 8-bit days are well behind us but this generation, we’ve already seen a lot of “retro-chic” productions, including Atlus’ recent 3D Dot Game Heroes. While the latter is more of a homage to old-school Zelda adventures, NIS America’s Cladun: This is an RPG is similar in nature: it’s a game that pokes fun at itself (and the role-playing genre) and really embraces the quirky charm that veteran gamers well remember. Cladun is a classic dungeon crawler with a modern twist, in that there are randomly generated dungeons, a complete character customization option, and a whole lot of self-deprecating humor. It never takes itself seriously for a second and if you’re nostalgic for the long lost days of yore, this one is right up your alley. One might complain that there isn’t much of a story and the mechanics are semi-clunky, but it’s the old-fashioned goodness that matters most.

As you might expect, the graphics are reminiscent of yesteryear’s visual displays, although Nippon Ichi did go to the extra effort and input some nice color and detailing. Initially, I found myself hoping for more intricately designed dungeons but then I caught myself: what are the developers trying to do here? What’s their goal? Once I answered that, I realized the entire look and feel of Cladun is just about right. There are many different types of enemies, the sheer number of available characters to customize is pretty impressive, and the backdrops are both charming and appealing. I suppose some of the dungeons felt a little bland and could’ve had more in the way of colorful, meaningful additions, but that’s only a minor complaint. All in all, if you’re familiar with the way old-school RPGs used to look many years ago, you won’t be surprised by what you see. It’s just a bit…prettier.

You can actually choose between an old-fashioned electronic soundtrack and an updated – yet still fitting – set of music. Although the former is a nice addition to the style and atmosphere of the game, it’s probably a better idea to choose the latter; there’s just more variety. There’s no voice acting – of course not! – but the effects are a step above what one would recall from the old days: they’re clear, sharp, diverse, and professionally orchestrated. Even if you select the more modern soundtrack, the sound of Cladun combines with the visual presentation to provide gamers with a quaint, agreeable world. There isn’t much else to talk about concerning the technical aspects. Unsurprisingly, the focus of the game is squarely on the gameplay, which is loaded with more inherent depth than ever seen in the 8-bit days, but still remains mechanically accessible.

We all have to take potshots at ourselves now and again. We all have to admit that it was always a little weird to just magically pop out onto a world map after toiling through woods or dungeons in a different viewpoint, and it was even weirder to start our quests with things like sticks and pot lids as shields. Nippon Ichi takes all those little quirks and eccentricities, rounds them up, and puts them into a happy little package. There’s a ton of banter going on in the dialogue; characters will poke fun at each other, often citing those aforementioned old-fashioned RPG quirks. It’s hilarious and if you get the jokes and references, you feel as if you’re part of a secret club; the club that was blown away when playing the original Final Fantasy. You might remember this type of humor in 3D Dot Game Heroes but the developers layer it on extra thick in This is an RPG And what better name for such a game? Older gamers will undoubtedly say upon playing, “hey, this is what I remember from RPGs!”

However, there is one caveat: it’s not turn-based, like so many RPGs used to be. It’s entirely real-time; a standard hack ‘n slash dungeon crawler with a not-so-standard exterior. The depth is just nutty and it’s all due to the Magic Circle- it’s where you will place allies; rather than friends actually fighting beside you, they do their best work behind the scenes. And actually, when hit during combat, HP will drain from your veiled friends before you start to suffer scratches, so attached allies in the Magic Circle are crucial. And depending on where you place the ally, that character will have certain attributes, and each can also have their own assortment of artifacts. Those artifacts will affect the character’s base stats, including attack, defense, speed, spell points, HP, etc. Hence, you will be micromanaging the character that actually does the fighting along with all the allies in your Magic Circle; such a process is quite intricate and great for hardcore RPGers, but it can be a touch overwhelming at times.

The latter leads me to the following point- clearly, this game is designed for a very specific group of gamers, and they know who they are. This is all about heavy micromanagement outside of combat, a large amount – even a massive amount – of grinding, and endless dungeon crawling. There really isn’t any story to speak of, but the comical aspects should keep you interested. The only mechanical problem lies in the control, as it never really feels seamless and intuitive; it’s actually a little clunky. Sometimes, there’s a cheapness associated with the dungeons and that cheapness is primarily due to your lack of quick movement. You can really only attack straight ahead and blocking doesn’t seem to be all that effective at times. However, if you’re willing to cope with these little flaws, you will find yourself fully immersed in an amusing, engaging, and ultimately fulfilling traditional RPG.

The different character classes allow you to be endlessly creative in how you set up your Magic Circles, and don’t forget that you can always build your own character from scratch. In fact, you can build multiple characters, train them all, and turn them into valuable Circle allies. Each dungeon presents a new set of challenges and if you feel overmatched, you can always return to other dungeons and gather in more experience and money (classic role-playing, no?). You can gain Fame points by clearing a dungeon within a certain time limit, but that’s almost impossible until you become more powerful; it’s usually about sprinting through as fast as humanly possible. At first, you’ll want to explore, defeat anything you see, snag some treasure, and take your time with the boss. After that, you can come back and try to beat the time if you wish. Really, it’s all about building and grinding, with some customization and good-humored charisma tossed in for giggles.

Cladun: This is an RPG is made for the old-school RPG lover who appreciates nostalgic throwbacks with a dash of modern glazing and almost endless smile-inducing comedy. The learning curve is a little high, the gameplay during combat can feel a touch clunky, the dungeons can seem a bit barren, and yeah, there’s not much of a plot. But this production has it where it counts. It’s funny, it’s insanely deep, the player has a fantastic amount of managerial control (starting with the character customization), the overall presentation is perfect for the intended demographic and we’re talking serious bang for your buck. The game is slated to arrive on the PlayStation Network on September 21 and if this is your bag, it’s a definite winner.  Give it a try.

9/13/2010   Ben Dutka