I beat Cladun: This is an RPG in 5 minutes, but I played it for 5 hours. I obviously didn’t complete the game, because I didn’t enjoy it at all. The game was maddeningly repetitive, monotonous, awkwardly designed, and such a chore to play that I tired of it very quickly. In addition, because I could access a bunch of character endings any time I wanted, any additional motivation to keep playing was nixed. Cladun is cute for an hour or so, but the novelty wears off very quickly. Novelty is a key ingredient in games of this nature, but it should not be the primary ingredient. Even the best frosting wears off rapidly and if what’s left is a poorly baked cake under it, that’s not good at all. I wanted to at least enjoy the game enough to play it to completion, but I just could not bring myself to play it any longer than I did. This is a bold statement coming from me, since I’ve played my fair share of bad games to completion.
So what is Cladun? It’s one of those self-aware retro satire RPGs in the vein of Half-Minute Hero, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Breath of Death VII. Half-Minute Hero was one of my surprise favorites last year because not only is it cute and novel, but it’s a super tight game. Cladun undoubtedly takes inspiration from Half-Minute Hero, but its execution is mostly misguided.
Notice I said “mostly” misguided. Rather than save the best for last, I’ll give you dessert first and talk about the one area I felt is undoubtedly above average in this game: the soundtrack. The music is solid, especially the opening vocal theme and some of the catchier dungeon themes. There is an option to listen to the music in “real” form or in chiptuned “retro” form. The retro chiptuned music lost its novelty after 12 seconds and completely choked the quality of the compositions, so I kept it on real. I have certainly heard better soundtracks in games like this, but the disparity between the good quality of the music and the lesser quality of everything else in Cladun makes it stand out all the more.
Speaking of retro qualities, I know what you’re thinking: “Neal, this is a retro type game. It’s supposed to look ancient, like 8-bit classics. You can’t compare it to games like Final Fantasy XIII. So why bag on the graphics?” I don’t expect graphics in these kinds of games to be high tech. But I do expect some style. There were plenty of 8-bit games that had a fantastic sense of style and were very immersive. Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System anyone? In Cladun the sprites look blah, the main town looks okay, and the monotonous dungeons are boring to look at. Even though the dungeons are generally short, their drab and claustrophobic look just did not inspire me to keep crawling in them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m cool with retro style. A slender 18-22 year-old girl in 2010 will still look hot and stylish in bellbottom jeans decorated with flower patches. But Cladun is retro without style, like mom wearing her old 1980s clothes in a sad attempt to recapture her youth but looking like a blatant anachronism instead.
Again, I reiterate that retro is great when executed properly. When retro is not great is when it feels like an excuse for slipshod design. The retro games we love so much and regard as classics are beloved, not only because they were so engaging and fun to play but because they still are. Cladun is neither engaging nor much fun. What is cute for an hour quickly becomes horribly repetitive and tedious to play, making the remaining hours feel like watching paint dry. The combination of monotonous dungeons and the need to level grind (completing old dungeons multiple times is not fun) made me feel like I was backpedaling and not progressing forward at all. This is why I wish the NPC who talked about a random dungeon element allowed early access to it, because the small fixed dungeons are a chore to repeat.
Not helping matters at all are ungainly controls. Movement is sluggish, jumping imprecise, weapon swing timing is always off, and using magic is more trouble than it’s worth. There is absolutely no excuse for poor control like this, even in retro titles. The original 8-bit Legend of Zelda had tight and responsive controls, so why couldn’t Cladun?
To add insult to injury, the interface is a clunky mess. Who thought it would be a good idea to allow players to sell equipment that is already equipped, thus leaving characters naked upon exiting the store? I accidentally sold the clothes off characters’ backs a couple times. Some people might say I’m spoilt by modern RPGs having idiot-proof mechanics like this, but plenty of retro titles were idiot-proof like this as well.
Cladun tries to incorporate some more modern ideas, but again the execution is awkward. Only one main character shows up on the screen, but players can place other characters as virtual meat shields into the main slots of a messy Materia/License Board hybrid called a Magic Circle. Peripheral slots of the Magic Circle are reserved for various stat boosting accessories. As characters gain levels, different shaped and structured Magic Circles open up. The process of constantly switching between main characters just to change each character’s equipment is cumbersome.
A cool feature Cladun has is that players can create their own custom characters. Not only can players play around with appearance, class, and other such aspects, but can also write their dialogue and even dictate their personality type. These latter aspects do not affect character growth or anything, but are definitely fun. Unfortunately, the interface proved unintuitive and there were plenty of times I thought I saved my build only to discover I had not. Navigating between all those menus isn’t smooth at all. I feel like Cladun wants to incorporate ideas beyond its reach, but ultimately falls short like a first time cook attempting a complicated recipe.
What is not complicated at all is the story. In fact, Cladun is not particularly driven by story at all. This is one of those RPGs that is better played in 5 to 10 minute doses every once in a while and not played in marathon sessions. Perhaps if I had approached it that way, it might have seemed less repetitive. Regardless, the story is all about the fantasy world of Arcanus Cella that’s accessible from hidden portals in other worlds. The far end stall door of a public toilet could be an opening to Arcanus Cella for all we know. Because of this, a wide variety of people drop into Arcanus Cella much to the delight of Crosstine the mischievous cat, but to the chagrin of the misanthropic sorceress Despina. Thus, Despina conveniently has a “Lavos Bucket” type portal outside her house to whisk you back home.
Having a character go into this portal yields an ending and the credit reel. Once the first two characters, a boy named Souma and a girl named Pudding, drop into Arcanus Cella, players can send them back home right away, get an ending, and enjoy the credits reel. Any time another playable character drops in, players can send him or her through the home portal and enjoy an ending. Of course, since user created characters have no backstory, sending them through the portal just yields the credits reel. These brief character endings are definitely cute and enjoyable, but because I could access them so easily, I was less motivated to keep playing. Sure, some rudimentary story elements and new characters pop up every once in a while, but there isn’t enough plot for my taste and what is there never made me want to endure more repetitive tedium. Plenty of retro RPGs had decent storylines (again, Phantasy Star anyone?) so I don’t see why Cladun couldn’t have an engaging storyline too.
Cladun: This is an RPG certainly has novelty, but the novelty is not enough to overcome the game’s shortcomings. The game was cute for about an hour, but by the fifth hour I was sick of it. I felt like I had seen everything the game had to offer and was quickly bored of it. The neo-trendy retro banner should not be an excuse for lackadaisical game design and a half-hearted effort in so many key areas. Among games of this ilk, Half-Minute Hero, Breath of Death VII, and 3D Dot Game Heroes are far superior. In other words, I recommend that players skip Cladun: This is an RPG in favor of another self-aware retro satire instead.