Chances are, with a straightforward title like ClaDun: This Is an RPG!, you're going to have some idea of what to expect. But while ClaDun has instant charm and appeal, what will keep you playing this game are the features our old favorites didn't have. Upon first playing the game you might wonder if it's going to be as breezy as the 8-bit world it portrays, but it only takes a little time to discover that the island of Arcanus Cella has more to it than it lets on.
The magic circle adds some desired strategy to what otherwise is just a hack 'n' slash.
As we've come to expect from Nippon Ichi titles, ClaDun isn't lacking quirky characters and amusing (or cheesy) dialogue. At the beginning of the game the two main characters include Souma - a level headed and protective boy, and Pudding - the loud, mischievous girl he tries to look after. Souma and Pudding are the first two who come across Arcanus Cella and initiate exploration of the island. If these two start to get on your nerves, you'll love the ability to custom create your own character(s), unlocked after completing the first few dungeons.
The character creation process will allow you to select a class for your character (dragoon, warrior, guardian, wizard, or merchant). From there, you'll have ten different sprites to choose from as a starting point, but they can later be tweaked pixel by pixel, which is a ton of fun. (Doing battle with my own self-made heroine was probably my biggest thrill. I loved coloring in blonde hair and adding a pink bow, and I felt so clever after adding a bit of blush.) After naming your character, there are eight different conversation patterns to pick from, but with the additional ability to type in your own words for each character, choosing from a list just doesn't compare.
What you're likely to be spending the most time on in ClaDun is arranging your "magic circle," the games unique battle dynamic. The magic circle adds some desired strategy to what otherwise is just a hack 'n' slash. You start a magic circle by choosing any character to play as the main character. You then place selected sub characters in the circle to take damage while adding attack, defense, speed, and other attributes to the main character. Attributes are beefed up in the game by using artifacts: items that are attached to sub characters within the magic circle. In order to be able to equip an artifact, a sub character must have the required amount of mana. Magic circles come in different patterns, and as you level up more magic circles will become available.
Since your team members will level up differently depending on whether they're a main character or sub character, the magic circle is designed to encourage swapping characters frequently and trying out different strategies.
ClaDun is definitely all about the grind; if you rely on a good story to keep you motivated while drudging through caves and dungeons, than there may not be enough substance to keep you going. The cut scenes go at a good pace in the main quest but serve more as lighthearted intermissions. Those who never tire of dungeon crawling will appreciate the Ran-geon, or randomly generated 99-floor dungeons. The dungeons are genuinely fun and not overly tedious - full of gold, items, traps and occasionally the adorable Hiyo.
Overall, ClaDun: This Is an RPG! has done what it was meant to do, and did it well. The games retro feel will definitely bring players back, but it gives us something new to mess around with, such as a robust character-creation tool and a unique stat-enhancing metagame. At just under $20, it's definitely worth the download.