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Platform: PlayStation Portable
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Download
Release: US 09/21/10

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Cladun: This is a Prinny.
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Cladun: This is surprisingly complicated.
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Cladun: This is a long-haired bishounen.
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Cladun: This is begging for a fart joke caption.
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Neal Chandran
Hands-On Preview
Neal Chandran

Cladun: This is an RPG is part of the growing number of self-aware retro satire games such as Half-Minute Hero, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Breath of Death VII. It looks retro, sounds retro (if you want it to), and generally plays retro, but it has some modern touches and crazy ideas that would not be out of place in a present day RPG. I've spent a couple of hours with it so far and here are my impressions.

The game takes place in Arcanus Cella, a fantasy world accessible through hidden portals in other worlds. These portals can be anywhere; for all we know, there could be one in the far end stall of a public toilet. The first heroes we meet are an impetuous teenage girl named Pudding and her straight laced friend Souma, who accidentally fall into a ravine and land in Arcanus Cella. Despina, a misanthropic white haired witch living there is sick and tired of all these people dropping into her world and has provided a convenient return portal in a big tree next to her house. Of course, a talking black cat named Crosstine persuades people to stay and tells Pudding about a magical door, behind which are dungeons filled with monsters and treasure. Thus, Pudding and Souma are faced with the ultimate choice: go big or go home?

For fun, I decided to make Souma go home right away. The brief ending I received prior to the credits reel was better than expected. The game prompts players to save before going home through this "Lavos bucket," but unfortunately, I could not fast forward the credits reel. As the game progresses, more and more silly characters drop into Arcanus Cella and cause the little town hub to evolve. Players can then choose who they want as a main character and can walk each one through the home portal to see their distinct endings.

Only one character can be the main character that shows up on the screen and does everything, but each main has a Magic Circle where other characters can be equipped as stat-boosting meat shields. In the periphery, additional accessory slots can be filled in, and effects can be chained. Basically, it's like a weird, skill-grid, Materia thing. While I sound like a blithering idiot trying to explain it, play the game and you'll understand. I think the nonsensical and goofily complicated take on what should normally be a familiar play mechanic is Cladun's way of satirically pointing and laughing. Okay, the wacky dialogue had me laughing as well, such as when Despina called Pudding a skanky psycho.

Dungeons so far are generally short and have some sort of light gimmick players need to figure out before accessing the exit. Though there is no time limit to beat each dungeon floor, redoing the dungeons and beating the posted time limits yields rewards. Control feels sluggish in that character movement does not feel fluid, weapon swinging mechanics have odd timing, and jumping is a bit imprecise. So far, the game has not been too difficult and I hope I'm not fighting with the controls as the dungeons get more difficult.

Once a barkeep falls into Arcanus Cella, players can then create characters of their own to populate the town and accompany a main character into dungeons. Character creation is surprisingly extensive with plenty of face customization features as well as the ability to write the person's dialogue when interacting with him/her in the town hub. Of course, since user-created characters don't come with any backstory, sending them through the home portal only yields the credits reel. Other characters who drop in can customize the main characters, such as Bob the hairdresser who can change main characters' hair colors.

The graphics look like high-end 8-bit graphics and certainly have style. Despina's house is easily the most attractive locale I've seen in the game. The town hub itself is nicer to look at than the dungeons. The appearance of the sprite chosen as the main character changes depending on what he or she has equipped, which is nice. And any custom characters can be edited on the fly while in town.

The music is solid, especially the opening vocal theme. Of course, there is an option to set the music to "retro" and make it sound like chiptunes. Although the novelty of chiptune music was fun for a few minutes, I've been keeping the music on "real" because it sounds better to me.

So far, Cladun has enough novelty to stand out from the crowd of self-aware retro satire games, but will that novelty sustain the game or make it wear out its welcome prematurely? Stay tuned for our review of the game to find out. Cladun releases on September 21st on PSN and is only available in downloadable format.


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