Review: ClaDun X2

The original ClaDun put a new spin on dungeon crawlers by combining elements of classic dungeon crawlers (hence the title, short for Classic Dungeon) and new elements like the unique party system and a liberal dose of wacky humor. The result was a fresh and fun dungeon crawler that also felt less than accessible for those outside of the hardcore dungeon crawler crowd. Now a sequel has come out promising twice the content of the original. Is the second time the charm?

ClaDun x2
System: Playstation Portable
Developer: System Prisma
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: August 30, 2011
MSRP: $19.99

The story begins with your character appearing in Arcanus Cella with no memory of how s/he got there. The other inhabitants have no desire to leave and claim there’s no exit anyway, so there’s no point in looking for one. Of course, the goal turns to finding a way out by going through dungeons. The wacky NIS humor is there, and the characters are as quirky as you’d expect, but I didn’t really get attached to any of them. The story feels especially disjointed given that if you cycle through main characters often, the NPCs will interact with you in the exact same way as if you were always the same character. I can understand why it was done this way, but it didn’t help with keeping me invested in the plot other than as some mildly entertaining scenes to break up the dungeon crawling.

Like its predecessor, the graphics consist of faux 8-bit sprites with similarly styled backgrounds, though the latter has more detail to them (e.g. you can see ripples and movement in the water). The graphical style works well for its intended purpose and leaves more room for customizing sprites than you would think (more on that in a bit).
The music can be toggled to either “real” (MIDI-orchestrated) or “retro” (chiptune) form. Given the overall retro theme, it’s a nice option to have, but I prefer the former as the retro tunes sound flat in comparison. The soundtrack makes for good listening while spelunking in dungeons, but no one piece stands out.

ClaDun x2 avails you with a plethora of customization tools with which to create to your heart’s desire. You can create characters and edit their appearance at any time. You can do a lot with sprite creation if you’re good and patient enough, as exhibited by the creations found here. Editing sprites entails either the same amount of detail as in the first game (basic mode) or more depth (advanced mode). With the latter, you can draw how the character looks when facing in each of the four directions, their down expression, and how their hair looks while walking and running. If you try to edit something in basic mode, the game warns you that you can lose some data from what you edited in advanced mode. You can also insert your own music with Music Macro Language (MML). You can pretty much put in anything that you can adapt to midi, and each song consists of up to five parts. However, you have to input every note, set them high or low, line changes, and pauses one at a time. If you’re used to MML, none of this should seem too daunting. You can copy and paste sections, which makes putting in repeating parts of a song easier. You can also edit the character’s dialogue, and there’s even relationship diagrams to plug your characters into if you so choose, but this doesn’t affect the story or gameplay.

While you can create as many characters as you wish, you only control one at a time, and that character is your main character. The others can be set in magic circles as sub characters and serve as meatshields for the main character. Magic circles provide various stat boosts and formations, with each class getting different ones. Placing artifacts affects the stat boosts your character gets, and setting each artifact costs mana for the sub it’s attached to. In addition, you can only set certain types of artifacts as indicated by the slots. Leveling up characters as mains tends to give them stat boosts that benefit them as subs and vice versa, so cycling characters is more efficient than just sticking with one main. You can save formations, and characters retain the last magic circle setup they have when switching between being a main and sub, which makes experimenting with different setups and retaining ones you’d like to keep using easier.

Equipment randomly comes attached with titles. Titles confer various effects that range from allowing a piece of armor to be edited to stat boosts. You need at least four of the same title on a piece of equipment for the effect to kick in. You can accumulate titles by taking them off other equipment, but that piece is destroyed in the process. Since you can find a lot of items while dungeon crawling, this is less of a problem than it could be otherwise, but naturally, the better titles will be harder to come across.

The gameplay and battles inside dungeons are action-oriented. The d-pad moves, X jumps, square blocks, circle attacks, triangle uses the skill you’ve selected, and the right trigger runs. While running you can evade attacks more easily, but your defense is halved. Blocking reduces damage significantly but doesn’t negate it altogether. It comes down to strategically balancing attacks, blocks, and evading. Dungeons are littered with traps, and while it would seem natural to want to avoid them, in some cases it can actually be beneficial to step on them. For instance, the only way you have to heal is through healing traps. You can also trigger one and hope it hits an enemy, though this can backfire on you if you don’t get out of the way fast enough or if the trap is an element the enemy absorbs. Each story dungeon has a target time, and if you beat a dungeon faster than that time, you earn fame equivalent to the amount of time you beat the target time, which unlocks things like a secret shop and MML song data.

Besides the story dungeons, ran-geons (short for random dungeons) provide the bulk of dungeons to tackle. Two types of ran-geons are available: neo-geons and tri-geons. Neogeons always start at level 1 regardless of your stats, while trigeons scale with your stats. Depending on the type of gate you enter, you can increase or decrease monster level and the rate at which titles and items drop. Angel gates provide less of a boost to monster level and more to title and drop rates, whereas devil and hell gates do the opposite, with the latter kind being on the extreme end of the spectrum. Gamble gates are the wild cards and can either act as an angel gate or a devil/hell gate. Warp gates are unique to neo-geons and allow you to skip floors, but doesn’t increase the item and title drop rates by much.

ClaDun x2 can get rather challenging, and you will likely bite the dust at some point in the midst of a dungeon. However, it’s also more lenient than other games of its ilk: When you die, you lose all your items and half of your gold and experience, but you can also retry the floor you were on without having to go through the rest of the dungeon again. There’s no permanent death, so you never have to worry about losing any characters.
The game mechanics can seem obtuse and thus present a somewhat steep learning curve for those who didn’t play the first game, and the tutorial blurbs don’t always explain them well enough. As you play, though, it does get easier to adapt to how everything works, even if you don’t understand the intricacies right away. At times, though, the game does get somewhat grind heavy, which can be offputting to some.

Unlocking more floors, diving deeper into a ran-geon, and finding better loot all get rather addicting. The fact that each dungeon floor can take only minutes to go through makes it easy to either have a quick play session or a longer one. For the latter, the “just one more” mentality tended to take over, and I’d find myself playing for longer than I’d anticipated. Whenever I encountered a floor that trounced me, I felt compelled to keep trying, or grind as needed, until I was able to get past it. I also enjoyed tinkering with the customization options and creating characters for every class, as well as trying to beat the target times and accruing more fame.

Overall, ClaDun x2 is a solid dungeon crawler that provides plenty of content and customization. There are more classes, weapon types, and customization options at your disposal, and there’s plenty to do, so it’ll last you a good while. However, you lose any semblance of a main character and are left with a weaker plot to follow. If you need a strong story to keep you going through a game, you might have a hard time staying engaged with this title. I’m puzzled as to why multiplayer was removed altogether, as the option was in the first game and dungeon crawling with another person provides a nice change of pace. The heavily retro nature and quirkiness of this game will likely only appeal to a relatively small niche. For those who fall into that niche, this game fills it nicely.

* Loads of customization options
* Plenty of content and replayability
* Quirky humor that NIS games are known for

* Game mechanics can present too steep a learning curve for some
* Weak story and characters
* No multiplayer


Disclosure: A review code was provided by NIS America. At the time of this review, 30 hours had been played with all story dungeons completed.


About Aileen Coe