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PSP Review: Cladun X2

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The X2 part of this PSP downloadable title is supposed to refer to the amount of content this retro RPG sequel boasts: twice as much as the original Cladun game. (Cladun itself stands for “classic dungeon”.) This sprite-based dungeon crawler is deceptively deep and 100% customizable right down to your main character. Just like a classic pen and paper RPG, you have to pick a face, a name, a character class (warrior, wizard, ranger, etc.), the whole spiel before you even get started.

You can create the rest of your team in the same way, however many teammates you want. There’s not much point in having multiple characters of a single class, since this isn’t your classic turn-based RPG, but a Zelda-style overhead view action-RPG that allows you to control only one character at a time.

The aspect I find most interesting about this game is the ability to use anyone you want as your main character, switching from sword-wielder to magic-user to archer before tackling any given level (actually, any character can use any weapon, but they only learn special skills for the preferred weapon of their class). There’s a tremendous difference to your playing style if you are firing arrows, swinging a club, bearing a sword and shield, or wielding a magical staff.

Your teammates are not there just to switch up your playing style now and then. Using a magic circle, you can place all your secondary characters around your main character of the moment, allowing them to magically add strength and attributes to your actual controllable character through the equipping of artifacts. All of the characters in your magic circle will also die first, before the player-controlled character begins to lose health. They also gain experience for enemies defeated while they are part of the circle.

There is a story here, but it is minimal. It comes complete with Nippon Ichi’s trademark skewed humour, à la the prinnies, and never takes itself too seriously. You can play dungeons over and over, gaining bonuses by completing them speedily, or focus on level progression. The use of your magic circle has a huge effect on how both your main character and sub characters level up, and character stats change differently depending on whether they are gaining experience as a sub-character in a magic circle or as the main character the player controls in the dungeon. Experience as both a sub-character and the main character are necessary for complete character growth.

There is a lot of depth to this game, enough to keep even power-levelers busy for months. I haven’t even mentioned the gigantic 100-floor (or more) dungeon challenges — another way of unlocking bonus content. But the learning curve is steep. You pretty much dive right in, with little in the way of tutorials. Since very little in this game is self-explanatory (except the dungeons — kill everything and head for the exit), this means the impatient will blunder through, leveling inefficiently, completely missing out on sometimes crucial special equipment effects, and perhaps (due to the horribly-designed equip menu) not even managing to equip their strongest weapon in stock.

The challenge level of the dungeons remains fairly high throughout the game. I hit a few walls where I just couldn’t seem to get past a particular set of enemies or boss, and the only way I’ve managed to keep going is through trial and error, swapping weapons, magic circles, and main characters until I manage to find a combination that would survive the fight. Many players will find this type of challenge rewarding, but not getting the underlying mechanics of many of the strategically important aspects of the game made my successes and failures seem somewhat arbitrary to me at times.

Still, if you can crack the code, this is a great game for the bus, or when you have a few minutes to spare before an appointment. Dungeons generally take as little as 10 seconds or as much as a few minutes, and there’s no penalty for trying and failing (in fact, you still get to keep half your experience if you die before finishing the level). The dialogue is entertaining, even if the plot is hardly gripping. All in all, a quirky, it’s an interesting title that will appeal to some. But I’d call it a pass for casual gamers.

 

CladunX2 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Suggestive Themes and Fantasy Violence.


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About J.J.S. Boyce