Growing up, I spent many hours (and quarters) in arcades playing dungeon crawlers from Gauntlet (and its sequel) to Black Tiger, Dungeons and Dragons and others. In my time with early consoles, Adventure, Zelda and Deadly Towers were easily some of my favorites. Even when I got into PC gaming, it was Pool of Radiance, Nethack, Moria and others. Simply put, if it had dungeons, random generation or both, I was in.
When NIS America announced that they were bringing over ClaDun: This is a RPG! (Classic Dungeon in Japan), I was extremely excited, especially by the news that the game would feature the ability to create your own character and have a 99-level randomized dungeon.
Created by System Prism (a subsidiary of Nippon Ichi), Cladun is an old-school dungeon crawler in the vein of Zelda or Gauntlet before it. The story focuses around Arcanus Cella, a world that can appear anywhere and contain anything that the person specifically desires. The game begins with friends Pudding and Souma. Pudding is looking for treasure and it turns out it’s because she’s doomed to die of the ‘Die Laughing’ disease, and Souma’s task is to protect her. A number of other characters, each with their own reason to go to Arcanus Cella are introduced through the game as well as your custom character.
Really, though, the story is only there to move the game along between short bursts of dungeon crawling, which is by far the meat of the game. Each level is short, lasting from under a minute to a few minutes at a stretch. Unlike many RPGs, the equipment that you pick up in a dungeon isn’t immediately accessible, as you can only change or equip items from the game’s town.
In fact, the entire equipment system is a bit … different. While you can equip armor, a weapon (swords, axes and wands), the actual focus of protecting your character is the Magic Circle, where you equip … other characters. Essentially the concept is that you have a magic circle that you can equip other characters into to act as shields. When you’re hit in battle, hit points are taken from these other characters first, depending on their location in the circle. Once they’re all defeated, then your own hit points are at risk. Adding to the strategy is the fact that you can slog upgrades into various slots in the Magic Circle. If a character is defeated from those slots, the upgrades which are tied to the slots are also disabled which can definitely lead to some tight spots.
Mastering the Magic Circle system is crucial, since any characters that you have equipped gain XP (for as long as they survive) and stats gained through leveling as a sub-character are useful for being a main character, while stats gained through leveling as the main character are useful for being a sub. This means that the trick is to slot your custom character as a sub-account until you’re ready to go through the Rangeon (random dungeon) with your character, all the while cycling the other people as the main character as needed.
The dungeons themselves can be almost insanely difficult, especially if you equipped a weapon with a specific elemental attack only to find that half of the monsters….are immune to it. Luckily, when you die you only lose any items you’ve picked up and 1/2 the gold and XP, and the levels are short enough that dying really doesn’t hold any major penalties.
In fact, you’re expected to do dungeons multiple times, as you can gain Fame by beating the time limit on each level, which is used to open up various VIP levels in the shop, where some of the best items can be found.
The tone of the game is very goofy, with characters that frequently make comments addressing tons of RPG cliches (which abound in this game) with tons of humor which range from the truly funny to the really groan-inducing.
Being that the original title of the game was ‘Classic Dungeon’, the graphics are rather low-end, styled after 8-bit graphics. All of the graphics are done in this style, giving the game a retro feel which carries over to the music, as you have the ability to either listen to the game with an orchestral soundtrack or an 8-bit one, which is a nice option to have.
The controls in Cladun are fairly simple and both the in-game tutorial and instruction manual do a very good job at explaining how to play the game, unlocking parts of the game’s menu as you go.
Cladun may not be the deepest RPG in the world, but it has a ton of playtime, and with short levels you can easily pick it up at any point and jump right in. Also, the game features ad-hoc multiplayer for fun with up to four players via wi-fi. Given the sheer amount of playtime you can sink into this game, the $20 price tag is right in my happy zone. Also, the download is a svelte 185MB which means that it won’t take up tons of space on your memory stick.