Review: ClaDun x2

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Lately, gaming on the go has been viewed as an experience that is best found on iOS devices.  The DS (and its many variants) and the PSP ruled gaming on the go well before the wizards of Cupertino made handheld gaming a huge mass market, almost throwaway past time.  There are plenty of RPG, action, and rogue-like games available within the iOS market space, however there is something missing in that gaming experience.  Buttons.  Without buttons adventuring through many levels of dungeons, hacking through slimes and archers and fierce knights would be a complete chore.  Fortunately NIS America has released ClaDun x2 for the PSP.  A sequel to last year’s PSP title CLADUN: This is an RPG!, x2 takes the good things from the original and adds a few new things to improve the overall experience.

The game takes place in the land of Arcanus Cella and you play as a multitude of characters in a world with no escape; just dungeons, lots and lots of dungeons. You begin by picking your main character from a list of class types which include a Warrior, Wizard, Saint, Guardian, Ranger, Merchant, and Swordmage. Each class provides a variant style of gameplay by offering bonuses for attack or defense depending on the Magic Circle associated with the selected class type.

The Magic Circle is the keystone to combat within the game. Bonuses for attack, defense and mana (SP is the term used in game) can be modified by artifacts that drop while killing monsters inside the dungeons. As your characters level, new spells and Magic Circle layouts open up. Magic Circles also allow you to place other Sub Characters into your party which can help with defeating especially difficult monsters found deeper into the story.

At the beginning of the game, you are told up front that playing just one character is not advised. The game encourages creating multiple characters with different classes so that you can have a well rounded party. The key to leveling up the characters is playing through the dungeons over and over again. Sure the game is a dungeon crawl, but running through the exact same dungeon four or five times in a row just to level a character becomes dull. Fortunately the game includes Rangeons (or Random Dungeons) that allow you to hack through randomly generated dungeons which quickly allow you to level up characters. My only real complaint about the Rangeons is that they can be a little too random at times. Some levels will have exits back to the surface, a Heaven Gate, a Demon Gate or several other types of gates (the Gambling Gate is my least favorite). Because the gates appear at random, the difficulty can spike very quickly.

Between levels you are given the ability to select how much higher a level the monsters will appear once you get into the next level. Unfortunately the random number generator flips through numbers so quickly that you can end up facing enemies much higher in level than any (or all of your characters combined). If you are killed in a dungeon you still earn a portion of the experience points collected while hacking through the levels as well as a portion of the gold you’ve picked up. Any equipment or artifacts are lost if you are killed, however. Being able to keep all of the loot that drops in addition to full XP and gold is a major motivator for staying alive.

Moving through dungeons can be done quickly by holding down the right shoulder button to make your character run. Pressing the square button while running makes your character slide at a quick pace for a short distance. This method of moving around can be enjoyable just to move from one section of a dungeon to the next without much effort, but is almost a mastery requirement in order to escape from monsters that are 10, 20, 30 or 60 levels higher than you. Random indeed.

Dungeons just aren’t dungeons without traps. Traps can fire many different elements that can either hurt or heal your character. Some traps will explode in larger AoE blasts that can harm nearby monsters, or in some cases even heal the monsters. Of course a dungeon with traps sounds like something that most normal people would intentionally avoid. That is of course unless you knew there was loot to be had. Pretty much every monster you kill dies in a shower of gold coins or jewels or drops a weapon (or all of the above).

Loot is a huge motivating factor with playing and replaying dungeons. The further you get into a dungeon, the better the loot that drops. Buffs add better chances to do critical damage, or add fire or water elements to the attack. One thing that is really slick is that any weapon that has a buff on it (or a Title as the game refers to them) can be removed or revoked and collected. Once enough of a particular Title have been collected they can be applied to a weapon. Any weapon, shield or armor can have up to four titles.

As mentioned above, classes play an important role in the style of dungeon crawling as well as an overall dynamic balance to groups within Magic Circles. One other aspect that I really like about this game is that loot isn’t quarantined to one particular class. Sure it doesn’t make sense to have a warrior wearing a sorcerer’s robe, but if after saving up enough Titles to be placed on a particular sword or armor, being able to re-assign that sword to any other character without penalty is very handy. Because the game encourages, nay, pretty much demands that you rotate your character classes fairly often, the option to just allocate a sword to another character is a much welcomed feature.

For as much as I’ve discussed the Magic Circles, various classes, weapons and the actual dungeons, I’ve not really mentioned much about the story. The story could be a little bit richer, but I found myself wanting to finish each of the story dungeons as quickly as possible so that I could see what inevitable horrific problem would be presented next. The humor is right up my wheelhouse and it is amazing how much characterization can be portrayed in small 8-bit characters models.

If playing through the story dungeons, Random Dugeons, and building new characters to level isn’t enough for you, NIS has included two additional features to the game. The first is a character editor. Since the game is an 8-bit throw back, the character editor can be a little intimidating at first, trying to make sure that each pixel is placed perfectly, flipped and rotated and mirrored so that both sides of the character look alike as you walk, run, attack and die. After a few minutes though, the editor is easy enough to figure out and I made short work of the VGBlogger mascot and soon had Mr. Pencil hacking his way through dungeons. (Here he is!)

In addition to the character editor, chip tune fans will have the ability to make sweet melodious music as well. Or at least that’s what I kept telling my family as I forced them to listen to my own magnificent masterpieces. The Music Editor uses Music Macro Language. Each tune has 5 parts that can contain notes as well as tempo and pitch changes. For fans who want to create their own music this is a really cool feature. I wish there was an easy way to export the music in the same way that I can easily take screenshots in game and then show them from the XMB of the PSP. All screenshots with this review were taken using the game’s capture system.

ClaDun x2 isn’t a completely flawless game. While the in-game tutorials are well done, fully understanding the Magic Circle and how to place artifacts for the best impact is something that takes some time to master. While most dungeon levels are small and easy to navigate, some can be a twisting maze of teleporting triggers, traps and monsters. A mini map would be helpful in some instances.

Fans of dungeon crawlers will definitely enjoy this game. For anyone else, this title has a slow build up, teaching all of the components that make the game so good. Quick levels make for a game that easily eats away many hours of fun. ClaDun x2 is worth buying.

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Pros:
+ Lots of replayability
+ Deep combat system
+ Dungeons offer quick gaming snacks
+ Humor throughout the story, monster book and tutorials

Cons:
– Repetitive dungeons
– Not a very engaging story
– Difficulty in random dungeons can ramp up very quickly
– No mini map

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Game Info:
Platform: PSP via PSN
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: System Prisma
Release Date: 8/30/2011
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.