If you have an obsessive attention for detail and you love doing the same thing over and over, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is for you. Perhaps you’re an accountant, and you just love going through your client’s tax returns to find the juiciest deductions. Or maybe you’ve been employee-of-the-year five times in a row at your data entry job. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person that just enjoys casual hack and slash RPG’s, then you can have a lot of fun with the first half of the game, but don’t expect much more than that.
Everything is customizable. Everything.
Part of the potential appeal of Cladun is its customization. From the very start, you can choose between a frankly ridiculous number of character models, change their hair, and even decide if they speak in a sexy voice, if they’re shy, or if they say nothing at all.
Once the game starts, the level of customization hits absurd levels. You can draw individual pixels, you can create relationship connections between your characters which have no impact on gameplay at all, and you can even create your own custom music. Beware of this last one – I made a one-note song just to test out the feature and accidentally spent a whole dungeon listening to that note over and over.
Luckily, everything is optional.
At first, it seems like the philosophy behind Cladun is “Why make a game when you can have the player do it for you?” But luckily, there is already a considerable amount of effort put into a wide variety of weapons, enemies, and music. You can even choose between retro and modern style music, and the soundtrack is pretty awesome – a fusion of classical Japanese instruments and action beats. The pixel art is also a good fit for this style of gameplay. This is all great, because you are free to ignore the customization aspects of the game and just enjoy what has already been produced for you.
Nevertheless, the plot and gameplay do suffer a bit from the tedious level of customization. You play a group of dead souls trying to reveal the histories of other lost souls so that they can be reincarnated, but for some mysterious reason the reincarnation isn’t happening. That’s as interesting as the story gets, however, because there are just so many characters sharing brief snippets of dialogue that the noise begins to drown out any greater meaning.
The mechanics are also frustrating in complexity. You control one character, hacking and slashing his or her way through monsters, but, between dungeons, you need to manage “Magic Circles.” The concept behind this is that you assign a Lord, which you use to fight, and Vassals, which serve as supporting party members. You need to select a configuration that gives you slots in which you place items to give yourself modifiers and abilities. While this is conceptually simple, it can quickly become a complicated mess.
After a brief tutorial, you are thrown into the deep end, with no clear idea of how the Magic Circles really work on a technical level, or even what certain stats do. For example, weapons have an “attack” stat and a “strength” stat, and it’s hard to tell what the actual difference is. Other stats are merely a tiny pixel art picture which is completely open to interpretation. There is a school-sort of building where owls will give you tutorials, but they seem to answer all the wrong questions. In other words, there is no easy way to tell how to make your characters better, which can lead to frustration when the dungeons suddenly jump from easy to extremely difficult. You might be tempted to just give up when all the monsters in a dungeon are seemingly invulnerable to your attacks no matter what you do.
The gameplay is fun, but nothing to write home about.
If you power through the first levels long enough to figure out what you’re doing, it can be addicting to hack and slash your way through dungeons. That’s what Cladun is all about, since there are not only story dungeons to progress the plot, but also two different kinds of randomly-generated dungeons through which to grind in search of the choicest-of-choice loot.
There are a wide variety of enemies and traps, but somewhat limited options for attacks. You can do a normal attack or you can do a special attack. The special attacks run out of mana pretty quickly, so you’re then stuck with mashing the same button over and over. Much of the game therefore happens between dungeons, when you’re customizing your party to be the best it can be. If you don’t enjoy this kind of extremely deep RPG play, then you’ll have fun mashing keys until the game becomes impossible.
Outside the dungeons, there isn’t all that much going on. There are a huge number of NPCs you can go around and talk to, but most of them have nothing valuable to say and no real contribution to the plot. They are simply there for background dressing, and even their combined presence doesn’t achieve the illusion of a story. In the end, it’s clear that Cladun is for a very specific kind of gamer.
Cladun Returns This is Sengoku achieves what it sets out to be with an apparent abundance of effort on the part of the developers. However, Cladun is not for everyone, and probably not even for most people. It is intensely focused on customization, attention to detail, and a formidable obsession with stats. In the process, it sacrifices story and the option for casual gameplay. If you aren’t really familiar with heavy RPG play, then you might want to think twice before plunging into this one.