Come Along For The Grind

Cladun brings a fresh-looking RPG but drags where NIS games typically don't.
Author: Ryan Green
Published: October 26, 2010
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I feel like there is a definite trend in PSP gaming nowadays. My PSPgo has 18 games on it, and only two of them do not contain RPG elements at all (thank you, Crazy Taxi). Normally, this would be cause for alarm, but this is the state of the PlayStation Portable currently. While Cladun: This Is An RPG is (surprise!) an RPG from Nippon Ichi, it actually strays a bit from their typical titles, for better and for worse.

Scene: a young, mischievous, girl and an overprotective boy venture through a door and into a netherworld. While these kids explore and search for treasure, they come across plenty of overly eccentric characters and misguiding frienemies, all with a veil of mystery around them. This is the setup of Cladun. If this sounds painfully familiar, it is because almost every NIS title is set up this way.

That isn't to say that the game is poorly written. Nay, Cladun is a somewhat more serious game than Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, but it never takes a truly dramatic step. In a way, it is bolder for taking a less slightly less slapstick approach to story telling while having many more characters that are grounded in reality. The result is a story shrouded in mystery with a mix of lighthearted characters and questionable allies. The world works, but it may not be what Disgaea fans are looking for.

What is likely to catch the eye of most gamers is the presentation. Cladun promises a retro vibe and it delivers just that. The game is rendered entirely in pixel are, giving every creature, object, and environment a distinct look. Despite a small view on your PSP screen, you can readily make out each block edge and rendered face in the game. A lot of fine detail went into many of the weapons, and you can make them out readily. Everything looks great, with the exception of the playable characters, especially the ones you can make (but more on that later). The one unfortunate side effect of pixel art is that it is incredibly hard to create proper bodies for the residents of the world. Some look rather well made, like the Punky Brewster lead, but the others sort of fall short of their actual personality. This is but a small gripe, as the rest of the game looks excellent.

But good luck making a new character that looks half as good as the pre-made ones. One of the great features in the game is the ability to design and designate a role to a slew of new characters, if you so choose. Why would you want to? So you can make your friends, enemies, or what have you journey along with the main cast. They don't have much background or depth, obviously, but it is fun recreating your boss, pixel by pixel, to have him later fall tragically in combat. Another feature is the ability (using the select button) to take a screen shot of whatever you see. If you connect your PSP to your computer, you can import them as PNGs, so you can show off how awesome you are for killing a monster with a giant ice ball. Unfortunately, the screen capture never pauses combat, so you are completely vulnerable outside of the game. These features help to distinguish Cladun from the many other action RPGs out there and indeed compliment the game well.
Even after that, Cladun delivers more in its audio. It is a very nice touch that you can choose between a chiptunes version and a MIDI soundtrack. I prefer the MIDI music, as the chiptunes seem to fit the bright and new-age look of the game. As spritely as the game looks, it does not equate to an 8-bit style, which conflicts with the 'retro' music type.

The soundtrack, overall, does fit the game despite the strangely Gaelic-sounding title. There is a very distinct level of Irish flair in each track that is driven by a typically high tempo. What you're left with is a very energizing auditory experience that stands out when compared to your slower, mopey orchestral pieces in modern JRPGs. With a gameplay focus around strong party (“family”) building, this final presentational element really wraps the experience nicely.
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