Player(s): 1-4 (Unlockable Multiplayer)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Steam
Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! Has all the trappings of a game I should be all about: good sprite work, lots of grinding, a myriad of character editing options, a breadth of gameplay offerings, a choice between a modernized soundtrack and a chiptune one, the works. I can be a girl with blue pigtails! Or a boy with blue pigtails! There’s so many classes to choose from and I can form endless parties for my dungeon crawling! Yet… I’m not having fun.
Cladun Returns is the latest entry in the Cladun series, a franchise by Nippon Ichi that focuses on micro dungeons, speed, efficiency, and customization. This particular game opens with a pretty in-depth character creator, and whisks you off to Arcanus Cella, a land of the undead with unfinished business. The main storyline is about you trying to help spirits reach some sort of peace by fighting ghouls, monsters, knights, and so on in various small dungeons. Alongside that are bonus “EX” dungeons, where you can recruit the souls of various Sengoku warriors to aid you in battle, a multiplayer component (I did not play this so I cannot comment on what it is like), and even more, even harder dungeons. Basically, the “story” of the game barely scratches the surface of what the game has to offer. Audibly and visually the game is fine. I find the music quite good, and the sprites are basic but enjoyable.
Gameplay is centered around the concept of lords and vassals occupying magic circles. I rather liked this system. Each character available to you can be a lord (essentially your player character), and has a fillable grid (the magic circle) for vassals (other characters used for taking damage first, defense, buffs, etc) and stat boosting items. Each character could unlock better and better magic circles, and you were free to set them up as you see fit while not in a dungeon. Characters level as long as they’re active in the magic circle of your choice, but get different stat gains based on if they were the lord or one of vassals. Essentially, leveling up as a lord gives you stats more useful as a vassal, and vice versa, encouraging frequent lineup changes.
Along with this is a huge amount of equipment stats. Each piece of equipment can have up to 4 “titles”, offering various effects. Some were positive, like offering more attack and faster walking speed. Some were negative, like cutting HP by 20%. Given that two pieces of equipment could have different titles, and have them added and removed in a shop, the game offers that much more customization, if you’re into that.
The dungeon crawling itself however left a lot to be desired. The basic dungeons can get large, but never moreso than would take about 10 minutes to get through. Each one has an ideal “clear time”, allowing you to focus on fighting just monsters that blocks doors and get to the exit as quickly as possible. There’s traps, but oftentimes the area of effect is a crapshoot, causing untimely deaths. Dying before exiting the dungeon causes you to lose all items as well as only getting half your experience points, a fair but punishing system. Controls felt unwieldy. Buttons not as responsive as I’d like. I only learned about the bow’s charge attack by accident it seems (although maybe I glossed over reading about it) Difficulty curve seemed outrageous for my level. Case in point: my first dungeon boss was level 6. I managed to grind to an average level of 12 across my lord and several vassals, and I still had to cheese the fight, even with okay equipment. Adding new titles was out of my price range for how far I was in the game, and nothing seemed to work more effectively than averaging a hit point’s worth of damage every 2-3 seconds until the boss was dead. Mind you, I went to the next set of dungeons and had an easy time until the next boss. Bosses seem way out of league for their areas.
The content however does seem neverending. If you’re into a game that you can play for half an hour here and there, and find more content, Cladun Returns definitely got you. There’s the main story, the EX dungeons, tri-geons, online dungeons, neo-geons, and more. There’s so many slots for party members, and each of them can change skills and jobs and be leveled up to 99. A gross amount of equipment titles to gather as well. I’m certain you could put hundreds of hours into the game and still not 100% it. To be honest, I don’t know if 100% the game is even a thing.
I wanted to like this game, I really did. I like grinding. I like playing games that are essentially spreadsheets wrapped up in sprites. I like optimization and collecting. But I couldn’t find the fun in Cladun Returns. The story was barely worth seeing through, the endless content only gets to be so unique after a while, the most important parts of the game don’t seem to be explained very well, controls got awkward, the works. Maybe this game is for you though. It’s cool if it is! It’s a lot of really interesting concepts thrown together in a not great game. It feels so close to being something more accessible to the masses, but for now, it feels like a niche game for only the most niche of gamers.
Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! Is available now for PS4, PS Vita, and Steam. This review is largely based on the PS4 version.
Sound: GREAT+ (Both the chiptune and the regular soundtracks are enjoyable)
FULL DISCLOSURE: This game was provided to A-to-J Connections free-of-charge by the publisher for the purpose of review.