Following in the footsteps of the original Cladun and Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman, Cladun x2 is the latest in Nippon Ichi Software’s series of handheld 2D dungeon crawlers, with an increased focus on making you spend hours managing your characters. Then again, we noted in our Disgaea 4 review, most NIS titles seem to revolve around massive amounts of replay value built on rather basic combat with complicated gameplay mechanics. Cladun x2 is no different, as it continues its shares its predecessor’s quirks while introducing even more stuff to make you play the game.
Cladun’s infamous magic circle mechanic makes a dreadful comeback, once again forcing players to spend hours learning its overcomplicated and constant management to progress in the game, or risk messing up and making the game harder than needed. It requires the player to constantly swap out “main” and “sub” characters, the latter basically acting as meat shields for the main character, in order to alternate between the stats the characters gain when leveling up. Main characters gain more HP, while Sub characters gain ATK and DEF, stats which are needed by their opposing roles. As such, spend too much time as a sub character, and you might not be able to take as many hits from rougher enemies, while staying with one main for too long gives him tons of HP but low damage and defense. It’s a good mechanic in theory, but it requires you to often juggle up 7-8 characters between main and sub roles, often making the prep time between dungeons take longer than needed.
But combat isn’t Cladun’s forte, or the main appeal to the game. That lies with the game’s seemingly infinite customization and exploration.
Cladun x2 introduces Ran-geons, which are 99-floor dungeons that are entirely randomized each time you go in. Everything from trap location and enemy placement to treasure and exit locations are generated upon arrival, though enemy strength is usually proportionate to your current character. It’s easy enough to spend hours lost inside a Ran-geon, either coming out with tons of loot or just running into an enemy that was a little too tough and bolting for the next floor. It’s a lot of fun, even more so when coupled with Cladun’s great loot system.
Similarly to Final Fantasy X, Cladun x2’s equipment has empty spots where you can equip titles to give said tools extra abilities, bonus stats and the like. You can actually go into dungeons for the express purpose of looting multiple titles, removing the title from them (which will destroy the equipment in the process) and applying the desired title to something else. It’s an extra incentive to not simply selling everything you find, and it works wonders as a way to keep the player exploring every nook and cranny for more treasure. One of the titles goes so far as to let you fully change any equipment’s appearance, taking you to an editor where you can draw onto or erase things from it pixel by pixel. There are tons of items in the game as well, so those particularly invested could take the time to make a unique version of every single piece of equipment in the game, if they had the patience for it.
Character creation is another one of the game’s strong points, with pre-set character sets that can be further customized with an editor in the same way you edit equipment. There’s an extensive assortment of classes you choose from at the beginning, with more unlocked along the way, all of which play a role into the game’s magic circle system. In addition, you can even customize all the lines characters say when talked to, or create relationship charts for every single character you make (we’re not making that last one up.) Most of these are purely superficial and don’t actually affect gameplay, but they’re a nice touch and something worth noting.
Unfortunately, such a thorough character creation system leads to downsides on the game’s plot. Because the player creates every playable character, Cladun has to rely on other things beside the player’s character to keep things going. The world of Arcanus Cella simply isn’t interesting enough on its own to keep the player going. There are a few notable NPCs that are amusing and interesting though, so it’s not all bad.
Cladun x2, like most of NIS’ games, is particularly tailored toward a niche market. In this case, the game’s target audience is dungeon-crawler players who can find fun in just spending hours upon hours exploring every corner and finding every chest, only to have them changed on your next time through. It starts off painfully slow though, and the magic circle system only adds an extra difficulty sharp to those who don’t spend the time mastering it. Once you get past these hurdles, Cladun really opens up and turns into a much more solid game.