By Mathew Imfeld / June 23rd, 2017
|Title||Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!|
|Developer||Nippon Ichi Software|
|Release Date||June 6th, 2017|
|Genre||Action RPG, Roguelike|
|Platform||PS4, PS Vita, PC|
|Age Rating||E10+, T|
Here we go, another rogue-like to tackle and this time it’s an ARPG. I haven’t played any of the previous entries of this series or even a traditional Nippon Ichi Software game before. However, that doesn’t prevent me from approaching Cladun Returns with open eyes to see if it truly does take advantage of the retro aesthetic it’s trying to accomplish. After all, only a few retro inspired games achieve their goal of capturing the feel of older games. Does this game avoid the classic mistakes other developers made? First, let’s talk about its setting.
To start with, the story begins with you being completely naked. Devoid of any weapons, armor, or even a shield, you are awoken by Yukimura Sanada. He reveals that you have died and were waiting for reincarnation in Arcanus Cella. Obviously, that didn’t happen despite him trying to assist in said reincarnation. Without any memories to fall back on, he tells you to find the problem and also ease troubled souls in the process.
The story is very formulaic with very few twists. Seven chapters follow the same path. A troubled soul must remember how they perished, reveal their true appearance, then another soul comes along. The perpetrator is revealed in chapter eight where the story continues on based on that revelation. Thankfully, the story’s tone is very light so the simplicity is not a true issue. I just simply would’ve preferred that it be a little more entertaining.
As for gameplay, it’s a top-down ARPG overall. However, the magic circle system is what makes the game stand out. You have one playable lord with the equipment and abilities they are assigned with. You must think of how to arrange other characters called vassals where they act as invisible meat-shields. Magic circles are essential as your lord alone is horrendously weak without any vassals. They use their mana to boost your overall stats, abilities, or even drop rate with artifacts. I personally love this system as it is rather unique and gives purpose to every class in the game as they obtain different magic circles as they level up.
Different weapon types also play an important role in how you play the game. Each weapon type has its own unique set of attributes. I don’t mean just swords compared to bows but even swords versus blunt weapons behave radically different. For example, there are two projectile weapon types, bows and shuriken. On the surface, they are the same. However, bows can charge up to increase damage and range but shuriken can be thrown much faster yet with less overall distance. Daggers and spears were my personal favorites but most weapon types still felt worthwhile using.
Yet, what is a dungeon-crawler without its dungeons? For the story, each dungeon has a particular theme or gimmick including the unlockable extra dungeons. Dungeons can revolve around finding the right set of switches, what enemies bar your path, or just be a plain enemy gauntlet. Dungeons are extremely varied, even if some are very short. Some are only thirty seconds long, while others can take around 3 minutes. Then you have the randomized dungeons, called ran-geons in the game, which contain the game’s more rogue-like elements. Yet with ran-geons, each set of floors have a particular theme so you have something to look forward to as you get deeper.
Your main obstacles are both traps and enemies. Traps can be rather deadly if you are not paying attention and even with recolors in mind, there are a lot of different enemies. No two enemy types are truly the same. This makes approaching each situation rather varied. This is especially true for status ailments that both enemies and traps can inflict. They are quite debilitating even in comparison to other RPGs.
As typical of a rogue-like, item drops are for the most part random. In the fixed dungeons, there are chests tied up by yellow rope but they can only be opened once. The RNG is not an issue though as the quality of drops is based on surrounding enemies. As such, enemies can’t outpace your quality of equipment during the story. Enemies can outpace during ran-geons but that is more due to the fact that you can’t use drops until you find an exit to return to town.
In terms of presentation, this game is visually pleasing. The sprites and environments are crisp, clean, and have a good amount of detail. Most importantly though, the game does in fact take advantage of the retro aesthetic. While environments are on par for the SNES era, characters and equipment actually look more akin to prettified NES instead of being more Atari-like. You can actually technically make all the equipment or human characters in town yourself. With the pixel editor, you can make characters what you imagine them to be based on the game’s art style. I can hardly draw but I still dabbled in the pixel editor for a good amount of time.
The town looks very much alive with many interesting places to see. Each theme is also visually distinct so the game doesn’t become a visual bore. I do wish the townsfolk were more interesting however. Most of them don’t change their dialogue over the course of the game. At the very least, the town does open up as you progress through the story, so you have more to look forward to.
The soundtrack is a treat to listen to, be it 8-bit or modern. Each track has a distinct style to it where it can be downright awesome, atmospheric, or even both. A vast range of music genres are used be it based on the Sengoku era, jazz, rock, rock combined with chiptune, or even mariachi-like. Each track is great in their own way whereas I did the story with the 8-bit version of the soundtrack and started doing the ran-geons with the modern style.
However, are there any major issues in this otherwise well-crafted game? Well, two important issues are present throughout the game. Sadly, the level design can be downright atrocious. Bad level design is rather infrequent but noticeable nonetheless. Two examples comes to mind; Osaka Castle and the extra stage Sanuki. Osaka Castle is a teleportation maze that sends you to fixed points in the stage. The game suggests you draw a map but it’s impossible to even draw one. Without a possible map or guide, you can just wander until you just so happen to reach the exit.
Sanuki, in contrast, is a nightmare of a level as it’s an enemy gauntlet. Each area is filled to the brim with traps, is cramped and difficult to navigate in where the enemies can casually ignore all the traps within the area. Without any ability to know what is ahead, you will die a lot in this stage. This took me longer than Osaka Castle and proved to be the worst moment in the entire game.
The second issue is a technical problem. After around maybe three to five hours of play, the game soft-locks once it tries to load a new screen. This happened to me the first time right after finishing a set of extra levels and story levels without saving. One of those levels was in fact the aforementioned Osaka castle, as if Yukimura Sanada cursed it himself. It took a fifth of the time to return to my original point but imagine if this happened during a ran-geon if you’re around the last floors. Soft-locking is the only technical issue in the entire game, outside of time completion and experience gained not being displayed correctly in the result screen.
Outside of these issues, I still had an immensely enjoyable time with the game. The game offers a lot of variety in its presentation and mechanics. It offers immense highs with a few lows here and there. Despite being repetitive, the game is extremely fun and does not wear out its welcome.
If you are a fan of dungeon crawlers and rogue-likes in general, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is very much worth your time. I can actually recommend it even at its full price of forty dollars. The only big deterrence is the soft-lock but even then that only happens after many hours of play. Obviously, if you only play for like one to even three hours, you should be fine. Otherwise, it is a smooth trip from here on out.
Review Copy provided by the publisher.
ARPGNippon Ichi SoftwareNIS AmericaPCPS VitaPS4rogue-like