Cladun: This is an RPG hands-on preview

We’re not exactly sure how someone can be sexy “in an 8-bit sense,” but we certainly applaud the folks at NIS America for loading up their latest retro gaming throwback with some seriously off-the-wall character dialogue and wacky self-referential humor. Amusingly, Cladun: This is an RPG literally wears its genre on its sleeve while poking fun at it in the process. Blocky 8-bit warriors, jokes about cosplay, heavy duty dungeon grinding and talking cats punctuate this promising and quirky retro RPG.

The game kicks off with your stick-wielding hero babysitting a bratty young girl who’s a little too eager to score some sweet loot. After a little chit-chat laden with gags aimed at RPG fans, the duo is sucked into a danger and treasure-filled land that serves at a hub world for the loot grinding, dungeon hacking adventure that ensues. From the get-go, Cladun’s intentionally pixilated visual style sets a nice old school tone with a mix of 8-bit and 16-bit era art. You can even toggle the soundtrack between lush orchestral scores and scaled-down chiptune versions. But even with the super-saturated retro vibe, we’re pleased to see the gameplay mixes a few fresh ideas in with the old.

Make no mistake: Cladun’s heart beats as old school as they come. You’ll dive into dungeons to carve up monsters, grind for loot and experience, beef up your party, and then repeat as necessary. The action-RPG combat is straightforward, letting you dish out attacks based on the weapons you’ve equipped, and dungeons themselves are designed to be plowed through in under a minute or two. Getting the job done quickly and efficiently can unlock goodies for your character, and there’s a subtle speed run element that encourages repeat visits to these dank catacombs. Aside from lumbering beasts and shiny treasure, dungeons are loaded with traps and puzzle-like doors that open only when specific mini-boss monsters are slain.

Trips to the hub world are frequent, but based-on what we saw in our hands-on session, it’s actually quite small. Most of your time there is spent engaging in bizarre chatter with a rotating cast of oddball characters between missions that play into one of Cladun’s most unique elements. Every new character you meet can eventually be added to your party and used as the main hero. While you only directly control your hero inside dungeons, other support heroes act as human shields. Using a cool “Magic Circle” system, you’ll plug heroes into various slots that affect how they level up and develop. Slotted characters will take damage first before you main hero is injured, and you can also plug artifacts into different configurations around the circle to boost everyone’s stats. There are many different Magic Circle layouts to unlock, each with advantages and disadvantages of course.

In addition to meeting to pre-set adventurers to add to your group, there’s also a robust character editor that gets unlocked early on in the adventure. This lets you make custom heroes from among any of the game’s various classes, but the best part is you can even edit their sprite’s appearance pixel by pixel (expect plenty of Links and Marios). Cladun’s retro flair and weird quirks give it some solid charm, but the gameplay holds up over the long run too. Keep an eye out for this one when it launches next week, or hit up the rather clever official site.

Sep 17, 2010