Cladun: This Is A Great Game
On Christmas day 2010 I opened a present from my girlfriend (well, I opened a bunch of presents, but just go with it), I already knew what it was but I was still excited to finally get to hold it in my hand, my brand new PSPGo.
Then I opened the present her parents got me, which was lo' and behold, a PSN voucher for £20 to buy my first games with. And what did I invest that money in? Completely on a whim, without doing any research I picked up three games. Pac-man Championship Edition, Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters and finally ClaDun: This Is An RPG. Out of all of them, ClaDun has by far gotten the most playtime, and with good reason.
ClaDun starts off with the character of Souma, technically the main protagonist, but the story is told in a strange way and you only actually need to play as him during the tutorial. Anyway, Souma is out with his friend, Pudding, exploring or something that isn't really explained. It's not that important. What is important is they fall into a mystical world known as Arcanus Cella, where they meet a strange witch that explains very little to them and basically tells them to get lost. What happens next is the strangest part of the game. You see, after that introduction and tutorial you are left in Arcanus Cella to wander around, and you can in fact leave. Leaving runs the tutorials and ends the game, allowing you to finish the game in under 5 minutes. But of course, that's not what you're meant to do, you are meant to dive into the dungeons and progress the insane story onwards. The story introduces dozens of characters within the first couple of dungeons, populating Arcanus Cella AND you can make your own (I personally put Megaman's face on a guy.) You can play as any character, and it doesn't change the story at all. Honestly, the story isn't that great or interesting, but coming from NIS, it is sprinkled with humour and charm, constantly mocking RPG standards (hence the name This Is an RPG) and it has some really silly and funny moments.
The gameplay itself is a very strange and fun blend of oldschool Zelda and Diablo. It controls like Zelda, the game is top down, you swing your sword at guys, they die. But they drop lots of coins and occasionally loot (hence, like diablo) which you can then equip or sell or whatever. On its own it controls well enough that this would have been a simple pick and play game, but no, it is also crazy deep layered with various different systems that make this game really complicated if you want it to be.
To start with, there's the main thing, the big deal. The Magic Circle system. Basically, you equip the characters you aren't playing as to use as meat shields. They also give you buffs to your SP and HP and what not, and depending on where in your circle you put them they gain extra buffs or debuffs, like they could gain more EXP but lose half their DEF rating. Everyone in the circle gains EXP as you fight bad guys, but the way they level up differs depending on if they are the main character or support character. Whoever you are actually playing as levels up in a way that generally makes them better support characters, where as support characters level up in a way that makes them better main characters, thus encouraging you to switch out who you play as relatively often. And on top of all that, you get various items you can also add to your circle, which buff the health, Attack, defence, and whatever other stats of the characters they are connected to. It can all get a bit overwhelming at times, but once the whole thing clicks with you it's actually a lot of fun to try and figure out the best combinations of characters.
ClaDun rewards speed over thoroughness, each dungeon you enter will have a high score speed, and if you beat it you gain fame, which unlocks various things such as better weapons and armour at the shop or Randomly Generated dungeons to grind for more levels and loot. It's a fun, and a good incentive to go back to older dungeons just to see if you can get under some of the absurdly low times.
Graphically, Cladun looks fantastic. Not technically of course, since it is all faux 8-bit, but from an artistic standpoint the characters look good and original all the enemies look really cool and everything animates smoothly. It all sounds great too, the sound effects are simple but good and the music is really superb, with NIS's quirky touch of allowing you to switch at any time between an Orchestrated soundtrack and Chiptunes one, both of which are good listens.
So, do I recommend ClaDun?
The PSP isn't exactly lacking in RPGs, it's one of the few genres that it has lots of entries into, but yes, I'd definately recommend ClaDun to fans of RPGs, and in general fans of NIS. Because lets face it, while NIS's games are always quirky and funny they often lack in the gameplay department. ClaDun does not, it delivers on every front and honestly my only minor gripe with it is that maybe there isn't enough of it. There's a decent number of dungeons and there are randomly generated dungeons and what not, but it still all feels a little short. But rest assured, the time you spend in Arcanus Cella will definitely be a lot of fun.