Cladun: This is an RPG – Staff Review

Cladun: This is an RPG is a game with very clear goals. An action RPG dungeon crawler with an old-school aesthetic, Cladun is designed to be played in short bursts, and very little else. The game’s largest issues arise from the inconsistent application of these old-school elements and a certain lack of a consistent overarching theme to the game. Though Cladun’s combat system is a fairly basic, some might say rigid affair, its sub-systems are surprisingly complex, a fact which does cause some problems in a game meant to be played in small servings. Overall, Cladun is a solid game, but it never quite reaches the point at which it transcends the conventions and cliches that the story makes fun of.

The story of Cladun follows a hyperactive treasure hunter named Pudding and her put-upon knight errant, Soma. The two stumble into the Arcanus Cella, a world of tiny dungeons created by a hermit sorceress so tsundere that she rarely leaves her home for fear of giving sunlight the wrong idea. Despina, the mage in question, sets the two intruders up with the various sub-systems they’ll need to survive in Arcanus Cella, largely in order to get them out of her hair, but her world quickly begins to fill up with refugees and visitors from all over. What follows is a story in love with prodding the fourth wall and gently tweaking the conventions of traditional RPGs. Ultimately, although Cladun does manage some good laughs, the story underneath the jokes is somewhat lacking in character and motivation, and it just doesn’t come off as very satisfying in the end.

The Magic Circle system presents an opportunity for some complex character building.
The Magic Circle system presents an opportunity for some complex character building.

Cladun’s combat system could roughly be described as an expansion on the highly traditional action RPG system usually seen in Zelda games. Combat is seen in an overhead 3/4ths view, with the player running around hacking and slashing at monsters. The system is made slightly more complex with a selection of skills and magic which can be set before entering the dungeon, as well as a broader selection of basic abilities; long jumps, instant guarding, and a useful slide move which shoots the character under traps. Most monsters, however, have a predictable pattern which the game expects you to counter, meaning that most of the fancier techniques don’t really account for much.

The real complexity of the game shows up in the Magic Circle sub-system. Essentially, the main character is set at the center, with his or her allies arranged on all sides. As the player character takes damage in a dungeon, their allies serve as additional HP bars, which must be depleted before enemies can damage the player character. There are a wide variety of Magic Circles, each with unique patterns and effects, such as boosting XP or stats, and each bears a series of accessory slots which can be used to boost the character’s stats and durability. Although the system’s learning curve can be a bit rough, the huge number of possible combinations and strategies makes the Magic Circle system a lot of fun to play around with, and will be a large part of the game’s appeal to fans of character construction.

The dungeons themselves are an interesting combination of the Disgaea-style “every level is actually a puzzle” and the short play design philosophies. The end result is a game full of short yet maddeningly complex dungeons, a combination which works rather well. The only real issue is that the balance of the game is a bit off; it’s quite common to find that each new dungeon will require you to beat the previous one several times before the monsters in the newly opened dungeon become manageable, which adds in an unwelcome aspect of artificial difficulty.

The biggest issues with the combat system don’t really become apparent until the game has been played for more than about half an hour at a single sitting. Playing the game in short bursts, it’s less obvious that each monster has a very rigid and specific pattern they follow, which requires the player to follow a similarly rigid and specific pattern to beat. Similarly, it’s less obvious that each dungeon has to be replayed several times to reach the level of the next when the player is completing one short dungeon at a time and then moving on to something else. Although it is true that Cladun was clearly designed to be a game which is played a little bit at a time, the fact that it becomes more and more stale the longer it is played is a serious issue.

With enemies being able to really dish out the damage, more emphasis is put on avoiding damage than on enduring it.
With enemies being able to really dish out the damage, more emphasis is put on avoiding damage than on enduring it.

One thing which struck me about Cladun is the disconnect between the sound and the visual aspects of the game. With its point-and-pixel art style, Cladun is a game designed to evoke memories of games from a bygone era. The music, however, avoids any similarity to the chiptune music of the 8 and 16-bit era, using instead a soundtrack with a very up to date, modern feel. This disconnect is one which carries over into other aspects of the game as well; for example, between the extremely complex Magic Circles and the much more simplistic action-based combat system. Although none of these aspects of Cladun are by any means poorly done, the lack of a strong thread running through them makes it hard for the game to get any real emotional traction as its aim simply wobbles all over the map, from modern to nostalgic, complex to simple and back again.

The amount of time it would take to complete Cladun is a bit difficult to pin down. At the start of the game, it’s made clear that Soma can return home at any time, with or without Pudding, and that doing so will end the game. Cladun offers a wide variety of endings depending on when the player decides to send Soma back home, but only a few are satisfactory, and it’ll still take a fair amount of time to make any sense of the things happening in the world you’ve been dropped into. On top of this are a whole slew of other options, such as a character creation scheme and a random dungeon generator, all of which leads to the inescapable conclusion that Cladun can go on for however long the player decides to play.

In the end, Cladun: This is an RPG is a game which is far more complex than it initially appears, but this complexity doesn’t always add up to a better game. There is a strong disconnect between the complexity of the sub-systems and the simplicity of the actual combat system, between the nostalgic visual style and the modern soundtrack — heck, between the music and the sound effects. This lack of cohesion is a serious problem for the game, because it makes it difficult if not impossible to pinpoint Cladun’s actual aim. Is it a new game with elements that point it towards nostalgia? Or an old game with new-ish elements tagged on? Is it a nostalgic dungeon crawler, or is it a self-aware puzzle game with dungeon-shaped puzzles? On the whole, Cladun will probably appeal most to gamers looking for something quick and fun, but its lack of a clear focus and balance towards extremely short play sessions will probably prevent it from finding a wider foothold.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a publisher-provided review copy.

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