What did I do to deserve this RPG, my lords?
In the style of Disgaea meets Neutopia (or The Legend of Zelda, if you know that one better) with a visual style
copied borrowed from Half-Minute Hero and What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord!?, ClaDun is a very customizable RPG (the name is truth in advertising!) where all you have to start is a stick and the clothes on your back, left to defend yourself... and your bossy best friend, Pudding. She's the reason you're in this predicament as it is.
[image1]But in this new world of Alcanis Cella, where Pudding believes endless chests of awesome loot can be found in the most exciting, dangerous dungeons imaginable, things aren’t always what they seem, people aren’t always what they appear to be... that’s a bit of an exaggeration since everyone here seems to be wearing themselves on their sleeves.
For a classic gamer, this is about as good as old-school graphics get. ClaDun (short for “classic dungeon”) is a visual throwback to the classic console RPG. I love pixel art, and this is some of the prettiest I’ve seen yet. The characters aren't massive on-screen, but all of the small details make a difference. The figures themselves don’t change (unless you change them manually), but every time your chosen main character is equipped with new armor, a new shield or sword, they run around wearing that armor or brandishing that new weapon. It's a bit of a fashion statement, but only the monsters ever seem to notice.
With all of that new equipment on and ready to go, the actual fighting is straight-forward. With a sword to do damage, the ability to run and block (which adjusts your defense accordingly), and a limited book of spells/special attacks that can be used in the battle to choose from, dungeon crawling can require some careful planning of spell choices but is otherwise not very deep.
But readying yourself for that battle is much more complex with that, thanks to the development of a system called the Magic Circle. Every character you meet (or create) can be used as the primary or as a sub, meaning they can be the one out getting their stabby-stabby on or in the wings, taking all of the damage for the primary. Yup yup, the controlled character doesn’t take ANY damage until the allotted stable of subs is wiped out.
[image2]One thing that this game does very well is what is so beautiful about portable games: You can play it for however long you like, but you can get a quick-dungeon fix if you don't have much time. The dungeons in the main campaign only take a few minutes or so each, while the random dungeons (similar in scope to the Disgaea universe's Item World) can go on for as long as you can hold out. And you might as well, since the punishment for being defeated in battle isn't too severe: Half of your collected money disappears, you're awarded only half of the experience you might have collected, and any and all swag you find while you loiter the monster-laden landscape is left in the crevices you found them.
There definitely is some balance here, along with a steady upward curve for both the difficulty and the deep Magic Circle customization. The more you play, the more you'll find yourself getting deeper into a dungeon each time, which will encourage you to equip and max out the appropriate stats for certain dungeons.
The one standout option is that you can end your game at any time. As in, you can leave, and it will give you an ending. From what I've been able to gather, each character introduced has their own ending while the characters you create really don't have anything to “go home to”, as it were. Just having the option to escape this little world at will is a cute addition that only an off-kilter group of game developers would think up. And with a cast of characters fresh from either the loony bin or inflicted with a serious case of multiple personalities, there are plenty of endings to watch. At least, until you get to the credits and find out you can't skip them.
The wireless co-op and versus play make this “technically” a multi-player game, but it really isn't designed for a lot of action with other people. I wasn't able to sit and play with anyone else, but I was still able to test out how it feels with a “connection” (meaning, I created a wireless room and played in it myself) and the levels I tested were bogged down to nearly unplayable.
[image3]The levels available are dungeons from the main campaign in co-op, and all of them are designed for very quick reflexes. Any slowdown will botch the flow of the fighting, and there is nearly a second from when you input whatever you're choosing to do and when your character will actually do it. It's a real shame, too... I could see this being fun with some friends, but the connection is just too sloppy, especially for a local connection (there is no online capability).
With tons of weapons/armor/shields/artifacts to collect, a random dungeon creator after you make it through all of the campaign missions (each of which are replayable and earn you Fame, which unlocks more options and features), and a retro style to throw you back to a time when you first discovered video game dungeons, ClaDun is one of the most enjoyable games I've played in a long while. For as much crap as I hear the PSP getting, or how I've heard it's dying, there is enough here to have me lugging my little buddy around with me everywhere for a while longer.