Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! (PS4)

Cladun makes perhaps one of the series' most significant returns in, "Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!". That return being centered around an Edo period spirit world called Arcanus Cella in which reincarnation is the ultimate goal. Still utilizing the voxel and pixel appearance of older series iterations as well as dungeon exploration aspects of the same the newly released PS4 port of this latest Cladun adventure takes the gamer on an otherworldly journey that's all about defeating yokai, and making right the wrongs of your life so that you can be reincarnated. Through the aiding of lost souls, and the micro-management of the game's unique magic circle mechanic you will take your class and personality specific self through ran-geons (speed-run focused dungeons) as you battle, loot, and better equip yourself to take on the ten chapters worth of story driven gameplay. On the side you'll also gain access to lucrative optional quests that reward in currency, items, and fame points. You'll even trek through special 99 floor ran-geons with a random gate system which will either reward you with rare item drops, or make it hard for you to survive long enough to get to the next floor's gate. Along with those replay heavy additions comes an editing system where you can customize your characters' looks as well as extras like the MML song creation system in which you'll be using music scales, octaves, and other musical options to create music within the game. Needless to say this game is chock full of interesting, and noteworthy content that will definitely give the gamer more bang for their buck if they are willing to give it a chance.

When you first get into Cladun Returns you'll be tasked with creating a character. This is not unlike some of Square Enix's older SRPG setups, though it is unique in it's own way. You'll get to select the gender of the character, their job (Samurai, Saint, Vile Priest, ...), and their dialogue (Scholar, Drunkard, Sexy ...) which equates to their personality. Along with these options you'll be able to pick a preset appearance from two pages worth of pixel constructed character creations. Both pages sporting male, and female options none of which have to adhere to the male and female standards. Once you spot a body you like you can press the shoulder buttons to cycle through hair colors. Lastly you'll have to give your character a name which is limited to only a few characters' length.

Beyond the character creation menu you'll be thrust into the Edo afterlife that is Arcanus Cella. It is here that a mysterious caped person of interest will give you the lowdown of your soul situation and introduce you, through progression, to the features of the village locales before you. As a wayward soul with lost memory you'll first be tasked with aiding other lost souls as they appear within the Arcanus Cella on a per chapter basis. By taking up arms, and equipping armor, shields, and abilities you'll traverse the ran-geons of each given chapter to their exit in order to fulfill the current lost soul's reincarnation wish. This includes playing through short-lived dungeons where the goal is to clear out enemy yokai, open up areas therein, and exit through an end portal as quickly as possible. There are four basic dungeons in each chapter, and a final boss inclusive area. Once completed in full the chapter will give way to a five ran-geon EX version of itself in which item drops are more rare, and the possibility of finding Lord Souls which can be added to your party will come into play. Lord souls being pre-made vassal characters that can be applied to the magic circles.

Navigating the dungeons, and combating the threats within the world of Cladun Returns is a layered experience that takes into account several different features. While character classes, and their weapon specialization (swords, knives, shuriken, sickles, staffs, hammers, bows ...) plays a major role in the mix you'll find that the "Magic Circle" mechanic does so even more. When it comes to the magic circle mechanic it is a menu accessed function that will boost your Lord and Vassal effectiveness within the ran-geons. The "Lord and Vassal" system I speak of is a system in which your controlled character plays the role of the Lord, and has Vassals accompany them offscreen in magic circles in order to boost defenses, mana, attack, and other special attributes. In the basic sense the magic circles, which allow for the placing of special items alongside the vassals via a menu setup, will make for a better approach to different dungeon scenarios. Some magic circles are about defense while others are about attack, or ability enhancement. Magic Circles open up in availability as you level up your character through battle. Much like your magic abilities, and abilities do. Usually at the center of a magic circle lies the lord with up to 8 vassals surrounding them with adjacent tiles for item placement.

Each job class in the game will have it's own unique set of magic circles to choose from, and will double as job boosts for magic circles that incorporate titled vassal jobs. The main thing you'll need to focus on in regards to said magic circles is placing the right type of vassal in the right space. That, and placing the right items within the right vassal slots. The slots beside each vassal will change according to magic circle type, and will include various boost options. Things like attack, defense, SP, HP, mana, critical hit, and growth items can be placed in coinciding slots for stacked effect. To get the items you can either loot the ran-geons, or purchase them from the shop located in the Arcanus Cella village.

Speaking of the shop it is the hub where you'll be spending yokai dropped currency for better equipment, and items. It is also at the shop where you can sell unwanted equipment, and items for currency. Along with the traditional shop offerings comes other village options pertaining to equipment, and character building. As you progress through the in-game chapters via the magic stone portal or the "OPTIONS or TRIANGLE" menus you will open up the village even more. Shops like the Blacksmith will become available. The Blacksmith in particular will allow you to enhance weapons with KO points. Points which are earned by using the weapon against yokai. Enhancements offered up by the Blacksmith amount to additional buffs pertaining to the same attributes that the magic circles utilize. The main difference being the elemental damage resistance, and the boosts to walk and run. While armor, and shields are equally as important as the yielded weapon they are not able to be enhanced through the Blacksmith's services.

Another place of interest within Arcanus Cella includes the character creation building in which several different owls offer up different services of their own. Services such as tutorial explanations. You can even create additional vassals/lords at the character creation building as well as enter the 'Tri-geon', and 'Neo-geon' ran-geons through the different owls that are located there. When it comes to said special ran-geons the goal is to make it to the 99th floor while surviving, and looting as many rare items as possible. Items which are found in chests, and dropped from downed yokai. The catch is that the exits are randomly placed gates (Angel, Heaven, Abysmal, Hell, Transition ...) that will either boost your chances at scoring rarer items, or deplete said chances accordingly. The only way out is to find a normal exit portal which will also appear randomly. Along with these ran-geon options you'll find another ran-geon type (Mu-geon) at the Inn which also sticks to the 99 floor formula, but with a slight difference. That difference being a higher difficulty with stronger yokai.

The shop, the blacksmith, and the owl hut aren't the only places you'll be frequenting in Arcanus Cella. In fact there's a mailbox for quests, an Inn with different owl services, and a fortification castle to further fortify your magic circle attributes with. In regards to the village mailbox you'll find that it's where you'll be picking up quests in classic NISA fashion in order to score currency, items, and fame points. By killing the set amount of yokai in specific chapters, or doing timed speed-runs through chapter specific ran-geons you'll earn these additional items/perks. Of course the more quests and chapters you complete the more that will become available. The fame points which are also associated with the quests can be cashed in at the Inn via an owl for some rarer rewards. Returning there often can loot you some good stuff for your characters, and their magic circles. Additionally the village fortification castle which is located behind said mailbox is also a village feature which will help build upon stats and attributes. With it you'll be able to once again boost character attributes. This time through castle fortification though. A process which requires the placing of special items into connected slots for stacked effect. Once an item is placed it is stuck. You can however repair, and renovate said items/castle for a price making your fortification an even stronger, and more helpful one. With the costly renovation you can increase the number of slots available making your magic circle all the more fortified.

It goes without saying that the more you play the more the game will open up. And as grind heavy as it may seem it is done in a way that is inviting, addictive, and fun. The fact that the developer has incorporated Japanese mythology, and yokai lore makes this a very special game. One which Japanophiles like me can easily get behind.

The Controls ...

Controlling your lord in Cladun Returns is easily done, but difficult to master in the speed-run sense. For attacks you'll be spamming the "X" button, sometimes with a limited rechargeable meter. For defense you'll be holding "SQUARE", and for abilities you'll press "TRIANGLE" after having selected the appropriate one via left or right on the "DPad". Speaking of which only the lord's equipment, weapon, and ability setup can be tweaked in the magic circle menu. After pressing "TRIANGLE in the village to bring up the quick access menu you can select the "Magic Circle" option, highlight the red lord space, and press "X" to bring up a sub-menu listing with the weapon, armor, shield, and ability assignment options in place. It is here where you can assign abilities which are made available as you level up. Another thing to note is that you can change which character is the lord or the vassal in the "Magic Circle" menu. You can also save magic circle settings, and load them via the same menu listing. 

Other character options includes movement via the "Left Thumbstick", running via "R1",  sliding by following up running with "SQUARE", and finally jumping done with a pressing of "CIRCLE". All of the movement options are geared to get you in, and out of a dungeon as safely and quickly as possible. In regards to dungeon/ran-geon layouts they are usually maze-like, and feature hidden tile traps as well as other types of hazards placed in your way. Sliding will get you past some of them while other times jumping will be your best option to avoid damage. With damage coming from elemental variables it's best to avoid getting hit by anything even if your armor blocks most of the damage. You should also learn how to best damage yokai as some can only be damaged in certain ways.

The Presentation ...

Cladun Returns is laid out much like a classic "Legend of Zelda" game. You have the village hub of operations, and dungeons to explore in the slightly top-down sense. The graphics are a mixture of pixels, and voxels making the game seem like more of a retro experience, or indie game than a modern JRPG. Not that I'm complaining though. As far as the soundtrack goes it contains a themed series of tracks that stick to the Edo period the game is set in. It has a more traditional instrumental sound, but can be changed to a more modern synthesized sound at the options menu. Overall the game is a very attractive, and pleasant gaming experience.

The Verdict ...

I really, REALLY like this game. I didn't know what to expect going into it, but the more I played it the more I wanted to play it. It is Awesome!!! I feel out of all the JRPGs I've played so far this year that Cladun Returns is the most inviting. Not only that, but it has extreme replay value. Almost on par with a game like "Diablo 3", or "The Binding of Isaac". I cannot recommend it enough. If you like retro JRPGs, and don't mind experiencing something new in the way of mechanics then I feel you'll love this game just as much as I do. It gets the Inferno's seal of approval, and then some! You'll find it available on the PS4, and PS Vita soon!

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