NIS and the PSP seem to have gotten to know each other a lot better lately. After barely releasing any titles for the platform over the first few years of the console, 2010 has been the year that NIS has decided to really commit to the handheld. Their latest title: 'ClaDun – This is an RPG!' boldly proclaims that what you see is what you get. In this case it's a pretty damn spiffy hack and slash RPG that harkens back to the classic Zelda, or more recent and under-appreciated Alundra titles. ClaDun sucks you in with a minimalistic yet comedic story and builds upon it with solid gameplay that is perfectly served up in bite-sized chunks. That is, if you can tear yourself away from the character creator and deep character building system.
Seriously, ClaDun has such a weird and clunky story that I didn't have an idea what was going on for most of the game. It's just ridiculously ambiguous, and it's meant to be that way. Pudding and Souma are looking for Arcanus Cella, which is a hidden world that people believe contains untold riches, powerful enemies, and is where all your wildest dreams come true. After stumbling in to Arcanus Cella by pure coincidence Pudding and Souma discover the sole inhabitant of Arcanus Cella, a strange sorceress by the name of Despina, who bestows upon our two heroes the Magic Circle. This power allows friends to come together and form an unstoppable bad-ass. Initially that won't be the case since you know, this is an RPG, and like all other games, you're starting at level one. But when you get to be a bad-ass, the game will certainly let you know. With this new power you're on your way to searching the dungeons of Arcanus Cella, never quite sure what you're looking for. But as you progress the story fleshes itself out between dungeons, so it comes quite fast and furious, but remains vague and lighthearted.
ClaDun has no trouble distinguishing itself from other PSP titles out there. Akin to the XSeeD title Half-Minute Hero, ClaDun goes for the retro 8-bit look and does a fantastic job in doing so. The game animates wonderfully with characters and enemies that look great in their retro trappings, and is quite customizable with a fairly deep character editor that allows for some nifty looking characters. Audio has also received the retro treatment, allowing users to switch between an arranged soundtrack and an 8-bit audio track and you really cannot go wrong with either choice.
ClaDun has quite a bit to do outside of the main story line. First there is the “Ran-geon,” 99 floors of randomly generated dungeons, offering up great items and prizes for going deeper and deeper down in to the dungeon. Or if that's not your thing and you'd rather spend time putting characters together like a little kid with his building blocks there is a fairly robust character creation and editor that allows you to draw the character of your 8-bit dreams. For those feeling less than inspired, NIS has even provided a way to download characters from the game's website. Maybe playing with your friends is more your gig, up to four players can join in for an ad-hoc match, allowing you and your friends to run wild in the dungeons, which at some times would have been quite helpful during the review process.
Of course, you could always replay old dungeons to boost your fame by clearing per-determined time goals that border on insane at times, but the payoff for having access to better gear is more than worth it. Or you could spend time working on your character's Magic Circle. This allows you to place your other party members at your front, rear, or sides and allow them to be human shields for the 'current' main character which you can change at any time. You'll want to rotate characters often since the Magic Circle has different effects depending on who the main character is. This system has infinite growth potential too since you can just have your characters reset back to level one after they reach level 99, but they'll get to keep specific aspects of their old self, like their Magic Circles.
'ClaDun – This is an RPG!' is not afraid to flaunt its title like a badge of honor. It certainly has earned that distinction of being called an RPG, and NIS should be applauded for taking a chance on this title. The story may not be the stuff of legends, but the gameplay more than makes up for any deficiencies that this game shows. But this game is definitely a love-letter to those who grew up in the NES era and enjoyed titles like 3D Dot Game Heroes. It's a great title for on-the-go gaming or when you're pressed for time and has a lot to offer the PSP gamer on a budget. The tragic part is that ClaDun is a PSN exclusive title, so you're not going to find it in stores, and it's probably not going to be front page news. But take this review as a recommendation, 'ClaDun – This is an RPG!' is all that it claims to be and more.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.