So capping off the week have a review of last week’s ClaDun x2, a dungeon crawler put out by NIS America. A sequel to the previous ClaDun (obviously) this is another RPG trying very hard to be as 16-bit as it can. Honestly the most surprisingly thing about this game is that it’s coming out on the PSP instead of waiting for the PSVita. I find that’s kind of nice considering I’ve been wanting something to play on it while I’m waiting for the Vita to come out. So is this title worth dragging out last year’s model for another spin around the block before the new hotness is kicking it’s ass? Read on and find out.
So the thing that sets this game apart from the myriad other dungeon crawlers across various the platforms is that this one is incredibly focused on user generated content. This game has systems that allow you to make close to everything: weapons, armor, custom character sprites, music, all wrapped around whole parties of characters you create. You can even go in and set up big complicated relationship charts for your characters giving them soap opera style back stories which despite having no gameplay relevance are great for crazy people to play around with. For those of us who don’t have more cats than sense the systems for creating all the other stuff I mentioned work better then you’d expect. I personally loved spending probably more time than warranted making weapons that not only can you change the visuals on but with enough work you can add special effects to them along with the rest of your weapons. The whole set of systems is super in depth, it’s just kind of pity that the actual gameplay they support isn’t all that good.
The problems here are three-fold; the combat is unsatisfying, the menus and progression systems are obtuse and overdone, and the dungeons are boring. The reason the combat isn’t fun is because it’s basically just one button with liberal use of special attacks which in and of themselves are rather bland. This would be okay if the leveling system was at all rewarding but sadly it’s not thanks to it being the most convoluted thing I have ever dealt with. The way you get more powerful is by using what are called magic circles which allow you to essentially equip other party members to defend you as well as a number of random objects to boost their stats. The trick to using this system well is constantly switching which character is the main character and as each character has its own-ever increasing in size-magic circle managing them all becomes both a Herculean and Sisyphean task. Of course even then if the levels were interesting there might be some saving the gameplay but sadly they are just building block tile sets full of crappy traps and uninteresting enemies. The absolute saddest part of the whole thing is that it would be salvageable if you could at least download other people’s stuff but you can only do that through ad-hoc so unless you can find someone in person who’s playing this game-let alone still using their PSP-you’re stuck with your own imagination.
There is another big downfall to this game and it’s one shared by a lot of games that focus on user generated content, boring original content. You see for as crazy and cool as you can make your own stuff, the stuff that’s there already is uninspired. Enemies are either meaningless blobs or boring RPG archetypes like spiders and lizard men. The same goes for the looks of the levels, the equipment, and the NPCs though a lot of those have a some anime thrown in for good measure, though it honestly does nothing for the variety. The music is at least decent and there is a cool option to change it from chip tunes to realistic at will but there’s simply not enough of it. There is of course the issue of story as well in that it barely exists. There is a set up of the first character you create being put in this realm, never being able to leave, and having to face endless dungeons but beyond that it doesn’t really explain much. In the four hours I played I pretty much just got a few scenes of NPCs rambling about this place maybe being hell but also really awesome to live in and that’s about it. Context for this game is derived entirely from your own creations…for better or for worse. I just find the presentation here lacking and it really feels like a shame, it’s less a colouring book with and more just a blank notepad.
The thing with this game is it just feels like too little too late and a poor implementation of some really decent creation systems. The whole game is a dollhouse for people who want to craft elaborate role play scenarios but unfortunately there are many other outlets for that particular activity that are better and actually allow some community interaction. What could have been the Little Big Planet of action-RPGs and a sweet ride reminding us of all the good times the PSP has given us has just been a mediocre ride to pick up milk at the local corner store. It’s not a bad experience it’s just so what you make of it that what is there is insubstantial. So for the video game version of toast, lots of great stuff to put on it but on it’s own so benign it might as well not exist, ClaDun x2 gets a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s serviceable and at $20 bucks affordable but unless you’re really willing to put some time into it this is a boring experience you will most likely give up on within an hour.