Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku is quite the title. The first part celebrates the reappearance of the Cladun series of games. Yeah, don’t worry, you’re not the only one scratching your head. Prior to this review I’d never even heard of the series never mind played any of them either. Cladun was a niche game released on the PSP at the turn of this decade and a sequel arrived a year later. The series came and went without much of a dent in the Western gaming world, but here it is once again on the PlayStation Vita. The subtitle This is Sengoku is what drew my attention to this release. Even if you’re not acquainted with Japanese history, at some point you’ve played a game that has something to do with the romanticised and hugely popular Sengoku period. Tokugawa, Nobunaga, yeah you’ve played something that has been inspired by Sengoku.
If you’re not familiar with Cladun Returns (and I wouldn’t blame you), on the surface, it’s a simple Action-RPG Dungeon Crawler from Nippon Ichi Software. Your main character (who is customisable) wakes up to find out he or she is dead and is currently in some sort of limbo before they can be reincarnated. Surrounded by other lost souls, each chapter of the game is dedicated to you venturing into dungeons and resolving unfinished business for the souls.
With 10 chapters, each with a handful of dungeons in them, it’s a fairly meaty experience, especially including the EX Dungeons which, while not for the story, are well worth playing alongside the normal dungeons. Yes, each of the dungeons per chapter could be considered “mini-dungeons” and can be completed within minutes, the game even invites speed running of them with goals and trophies.
The gameplay is pretty standard dungeon crawling action. You walk around solving simple puzzles and fighting dozens of enemies in real-time. There are loads of weapon types to choose from, each of which handle very differently and have their strengths and weaknesses. Of course the axe is powerful but slow, the sword is also fairly strong but has awkward momentum and the bow allows for distant attacking but needs to be charged up in order to deal a decent amount of damage.
As mentioned, each individual dungeon is pretty small but they are packed with mini puzzles, enemies and, like any dungeon crawler worth its salt, has loads of traps. From spikes, arrows, fire arrows, movement reduction and so on, you’ll be dodging them constantly. Despite their frequency they don’t become too annoying as they don’t pack enough of a punch to ruin your day. In fact they can be beneficial to you since they can be used on enemies too.
Aside from just making your way through the dungeons for the main story’s sake, there are side quests to keep you occupied. You can accept up to five at a time and they’re well worth doing as you can earn some much needed gold, useful items and fame. There’s a decent variety but most are fairly generic, such as kill a ‘X’ number of a certain monster on a particular stage.
Cladun Returns appears to be very simple but behind the scenes some of the mechanics will make you scratch your head a little, and I can’t decide if it’s just overly complicated, if the game doesn’t explain it well, or the interface makes it more difficult than necessary. In the hub world there’re a surprising amount of things to do and one of the most important things is curating your Magic Circle. As you create or rescue more allies you can assign them to a formation around you. From here you can attach modifiers that improve attack power, health and so on. It’s all quite perplexing until you begin to regard all of this as equipment. It’s still difficult to know what’s good and what’s bad, which is down to the game and menu interface.
I think that’s one of my main issues with Cladun Returns, the whole interface and accessibility doesn’t seem to be the most well thought out. Getting lost in menus and explanations is never a good sign. Finding things in the hub world can also be a little confusing. You enter a building to do something, but there’re twelve characters all hanging around and you don’t remember which one you need to go to. It became a chore at times.
Padding out the game are a few difficulty spikes mainly regarding the enemies. In fact I found it to be occasionally unbalanced. End bosses were a prime example for me. I really struggled with the final boss of the second dungeon, whereas the boss of the third basically rolled over for me. I think the problem was the communication to the player. It’s not always clear what you’re doing wrong or right.
Surprisingly, there are online portions to Cladun Returns. Sadly, I couldn’t test the feature out for review but it’s there for those who are in to that sort of thing.
Graphically, it looks nice. The hub world looks really gorgeous with its sprite work interpretation of the old Japanese style. I do have a slight issue when it comes to the dungeons though. I often found it difficult to discern between walkable paths and walls. It’s not a big issue and doesn’t affect the gameplay overall but it did become a minor annoyance after I kept walking into walls.
I think the sound is great. You can choose between a modern or retro versions but for me it was modern all the way. Odd, considering I usually go for the classic style. Music is difficult to explain but to me it had just a little essence of funk from something Atlus would produce. Just an essence, mind.
Overall, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku isn’t pulling up trees with it’s Action-RPG gameplay. There are a few issues, mainly involving the presentation with the menus and dungeon maps and it is a tad on the generic side. On the other hand, it’s still a solid experience that is easy to pick up and play. Short dungeons to play in quick bursts make it incredibly suited to a portable system and I did find myself saying “just one more quick dungeon” before bed. It looks and plays simple on the surface, but the oddly complicated mechanics behind the scenes left something to be desired for me. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Cladun Returns, I think that if you buy it you will get some decent enjoyment out of it.
Game provided by NIS America.