14 Sep

Did anyone else know that they were still making games for the PSP? I surely had forgotten about the little Playstation powerhouse, but apparently no one decided to tell NIS America about our current disinterest of the handheld—especially with the rapidly approaching release of the shiny and new Playstation Vita. Still, NIS has remained loyal to their PSP fanbase with the plethora of Disqaea and Prinny games they’ve lovingly laid on the system late into its life cycle (see deathbed). Because of this, I barely knew what to do when confronted with NIS’s new game Cladun X2, a sequel to another game I’d never heard of, Cladun: This is an RPG. It’s kind of a shame though, Cladun X2 does some great things and offers its players a degree of customization rarely seen in the media, however, the great things it does might also be what turns many gamers away.

Cladun X2 follows a hero of your own creation’s journey through the magical world of Arcanus Cella. It’s a world of dungeons and dungeon crawling. Literally. I mean that’s really all you can do there and, in fact, no one has ever found an end to the endless dungeons that Arcanus Cella seems to mysterious conjure. At this point, you can probably surmise what kind of game your getting into.

From the minute I turned the game on I found myself completely enamored by its charm. Cladun X2, like its predecessor, offers some amazing pixel art to make sweet, sweet love to your eyes. My only qualm was the slightly jarring J-Pop soundtrack that was also apparent. But wait? What is this menu asking? Do I want to use real or retro BGM? Retro, yes, a million times yes. Please serenade me with your delicious bit-trip audio.

Humbled and happy, I proceeded to the character creation. It seems to be a slightly weak system of hair styles and pre-rendered characters that await me along with a series of classes, and speech patterns (that have little effect on actual dialogue). Then the game begins…

Cladun X2 Beginnings

And so an adventure begins.

Think Secret of Mana, The Legend of Zelda, or any of those classic top-down dungeon crawlers of old recreated and at your finger tips. You navigate through the dungeons and use an array of weapons and armor that you find on your journey. The combat is mostly satisfying if not a tad shallow, and  the dungeons carry a wide variety of traps and obstacles to block your path. You can even try to race through a dungeon and meet the challenge time which will earn you fame and special items.

When not wandering though the dungeon you traverse the small hub town. From here you can buy weapons, talk to villagers, and create a party. I might have to clarify that last item. When I say “create party” I mean you literally get to make other characters using the character creation system. The game suddenly expounds on the earlier character editor and allows you to make insanely minute customizations down to the eye-color of your new team members. It even lets you specify the relationships each of your characters have with each other. The limitlessness of your options is almost daunting.

Cladun X2 Merchant

Once created, you can alter your character appearance any way you want.

Another clarification, by almost daunting, I mean it is daunting. You can create your own music to play during dungeons, redesign the weapons each of your characters uses, and so much more. Even the combat is customizable to the extreme.

You see, you don’t actually bring your new characters in to battle with you. Instead, you place them in your “Magic Circle”. By strategically applying each of you support characters to a magic circle the game considers them a literal meat shield in your dungeon exploration. Your alt-characters will soak up the damage meant for you as long as they’re standing. You can apply artifacts to each character that will alter your main character’s stats, using their mana to raise health or attack. With tons of these circle grids for each class and stat-boosting artifacts abound, the possibilities for customizing your character are endless, and just to add to the pool you can switch an alt character to a main and level them up to get added bonuses when you re-apply them to your original main’s magic circle.

Does that sound a little confusing? Good, because it is.

With a seemingly endless amount of dungeons (I admit I never reached the end despite putting a hefty chunk of time into the game), a beautiful art quality, and customizable options ranging from audio to visual to algorithmic, Cladun X2 is a old-school action gamer’s dream come true. Contrarily, for anyone else playing Cladun all of these positive qualities might hamper the experience.

The problem with games based on user generated content is that the users suffer a disconnect from their own work. Yes, I like my unique music and characters and weapons, but there’s nothing to them. Everything is shallow. Would Mass Effect be as interesting if Shepard only interacted with characters that I defined? And as for music, the gravity of the score wanes when every track is expected and rarely pertinent to the moment. If I’m expected to define the relationship of my characters and imagine interactions between them myself, then I might as well just write a book.

Cladun X2 Relationship Editor

While creating relationships between characters is interesting, it lacks depth.

Sure you can invest yourself in what little story the game provides and enjoy the basic humor that NIS so often injects into their games, but it’s not enough. And when you strip it down it’s just a really tough adventure game with a ton of grinding. Remember, every extra character you add needs to be leveled if you plan on making it in the sometimes unfair dungeons. And while a customized penis sword of your own creating is hilarious, an enriching experience it does not make.

If you love grinding and creating a world where everything is truly your own, then you will adore Cladun X2. It even makes a good bus or train ride game since you can clear a dungeon in about 5 minutes. But despite the massive amount of content, there isn’t enough actual game to hold the attention of your average player once the wonder of creation fades.

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Name: Cladun X2

Available on: Playstation Portable (Playstation Network Only)

Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.

Published by: NIS America

Release date: August 30, 2011

EG Score: 3 out of 5 / “Worth Trying”