If you’re a fan of Japanese games and RPGs (as I am), you have to love NIS. They, along with XSeed Games, have taken up the gauntlet held by Atlus and simply run with it, giving us a slew of games over the past few years. The latest offering to come to the west is Cladun X2. This is the sequel to 2010’s Cladun: This is a RPG! and features more of the roguelike random dungeon, ability to create-your-own-everything that people enjoyed the first time, although with the sequel, even more of the game is customizable.
Upon starting the game you’re given the choice of real background music or 8-bit, and you can go into the options on the start screen and change the menus from either dot-matrix or ‘real’ text as well. Like the original title, you begin in the world of Arcanus Cella and are immediately thrown into character creation. You have the choice of your name and gender, as well as one of seven initial classes: Warrior, Wizard, Saint, Guardian, Ranger, Merchant and Swordmage, with more classes that you can unlock later in the game. Unlike the first game, however, all of the other characters (at least at the beginning) are also created by the player. Given that the game revolves around the use of Magic Circles and sub-characters, then rotating between them to level everyone up, you’ll generally want to create a solid half-dozen or more characters. You can also choose your character’s look, hair color and complexion to give you more variety with your character. Later, you can even edit your characters to look like just about anyone or anything.
The game starts you immediately in a dungeon which you have to fight through to get to Arcanus Cella itself. Once you’re there, the story of the game takes place. Admittedly, just like Cladun before it, Cladun X2‘s story really doesn’t impact upon gameplay that much in the early going. Essentially, you’re going to create your sub-characters and start running dungeon levels over and over again to gain Fame (from beating dungeons under a certain time limit), money and equipment.
Along the way you’ll slowly unlock both bits of the game’s story as well as more features of the game, such as the ability to enter random dungeons, edit characters or items, apply titles to items, buy things from the game’s shop as well as the Black Market (where you’ll get the additional classes as well as other scarce things) and the ability to go to another player’s game world.
Every dungeon in the game is randomly generated, including the 99 level Rangeon from the original Cladun. However, it’s now the Neogeon, and there’s a new foe to face: the Trigeon: a three-tiered dungeon with each featuring 99 levels (297 levels in all!) and titles such as ‘Heaven’, ‘Hell’ and ‘Normal’. Here’s where you’re going to spend a lot of time, as some of the best equipment and level grinding is going to be found. However, these are not without their own dangers, as each level has its own types of exit gates: Angel, which can vastly improve odds of finding loot and rare items; Devil Gates, which can lower those odds while also increase monster level; Demon Gates which are like Devil Gates but are much worse; Gamble Gates, which can either vastly improve or lower your fortunes; Warp Gates, which can move you forward multiple levels of the dungeon; and others including the standard ‘Stairs’ which will let you leave the dungeon. Laying in wait for the unwary is the ‘Doom Gate’, though, which can catapult the difficulty level extremely high, leaving your level 10 character to face a level 1000 dragon five steps in.
If you don’t like the music that’s playing, you can even unlock the ability to change the music using a musical macro language. It’s perhaps a bit difficult to pick up (as is the character / item edit function), but it really allows you to get as creative as you want to, almost like 3D Dot Heroes did on the PS3. That said, the music in the game itself is fairly solid, if nothing too special.
The controls have not changed from the original Cladun, as the circle button attacks, X jumps, square defends and the triangle button performs your slotted special attack or skill. The left shoulder pad changes which skill is selected while the right one allows you to dash about (with your defense lowered by half, making this very dangerous in an area full of monsters).
The gameplay, as well, is much the same. Unlike a Roguelike game, Cladun X2 is an action-RPG, and standing still is a great way to be completely killed by monsters which stray across your path. Also, you cannot equip any items you find in the dungeon as you have to be out of the dungeon to change equipment. While each dungeon level is relatively short (three minutes or less, at least for the first half of the game at least) there is a lot of complexity in how you arrange things. Not only do you want to routinely change your main character around (so to evenly level up your sub-characters and improve the stats on your main character), you’ll want to adjust your Magic Circle for each character as well as their equipment, spells and abilities, to improve your chance of succeeding against the monsters. Not only that, you’ll want to make sure that you use the proper artifacts in the Magic Circles. Don’t forget, though, that if a sub-character dies while you’re using them as a shield in the dungeon, you’ll lose any buffs that they’re providing from their artifacts.
The fact that the game comes in such bite-sized chunks is both good and bad. It’s good because you can literally pick up the game, play for 10 minutes, save and put it back down and repeat this whenever you want. It’s bad because since they’re so short, it leads to the ‘one more turn’ phenomenon, which can easily lead to late nights, missing appointments, and the end of your personal world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, this thing can get addictive.
To be honest, the game features a ton of grinding, as you try to get just a few more levels or the right piece of equipment to make it through to the next dungeon area. The game on average can take between twenty to forty hours to complete, but as with many other NIS titles, you can easily sink hundreds of hours into this,trying to see what all you can find in the random dungeons. It’s fun, and at only $20, it’s well worth the price.