Platforms: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Playstation Vita (reviewed), and Windows
Grinding in RPG’s is so entrenched in the genre that, at this point, it almost feels like near impossible for it to divorce itself from it. Hell, it’s such a part of the genre that a subgenre of them relishes in the grind, letting those of us that like watching numbers go up. Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! does exactly that, adding in loot drops and some randomly generated dungeons to keep the grind from going stale.
You’re dead. You wake up with amnesia. Something is going wrong with the afterlife and some mysterious stranger needs you to get to the bottom of it by solving problems for souls stuck in the limbo that you’re also in. Solving these problems is basically going to a series of dungeons and when you finish them, the character remembers who they are. It’s not the most compelling reason to push through, but it serves its purpose and the writing has some rather amusing moments.
These dungeons aren’t particularly complex, rather putting a fair amount of enemies and traps to hinder your way through. Some can be cleared in well under a minute once you’re powerful enough and know your way around it. For every regular dungeon you complete, you’ll also open up an EX dungeon, each of which has a new party member to unlock. If those weren’t enough, there are also the randomly generated dungeons that have a risk/reward mechanic that, based on the type of exit you take, ups the item drop rate and the level of the enemies you’re facing. It’s still a random number no matter what type of gate you pick, but the proportion of which number increases is based on the type of gate.
The leveling and party systems are quite…complex. The party system, called the Magic Circle (no, not The Magic Circle), has you only controlling one character, your Lord character. You can have multiple Vassal characters, which effectively act as additional hit points and stat increases for your Lord. Your Vassals’ stats will level up more than the Lord’s, so you can switch them when you’ve leveled up someone enough to be useful. You can also put the higher leveled Lord as a Vassal for a different Lord, so you can start using a new character with some stat increases or just do it to better level up your original Lord character.
You can also switch class types, which will put that character at level one again, but their base stats will also increase based on their levels and previous class, making grinding not necessary, but incredibly beneficial if you plan on tackling some of the tougher, later random dungeons. Doing this multiple times can lead to characters being incredibly powerful, but, with the amount of grinding required to do so, is something that takes some extreme dedication.
Combat is, compared to what I just went over, a simple enough affair, with a variety of different weapon types to choose from. With just a little progression, you can start to add up to five titles to your weapon, each title adding different perks and stat boosts. You purchase these titles by racking up kills with the weapon, so you might extend the weapon’s usefulness by adding the right perks to it. It leads back to grinding, but the payoff comes a little more quickly than it does with the level and class grinding, albeit the ceiling for improvement is considerably lower.
Still not enough potential for stats for you? You can also build up a castle that increases your stats. The base level is easy enough to fill out, unlocked after a few stages are cleared, but the subsequent additions cost large amounts of money. Back to the grind once again.
You can take on side quests that can add in specific enemies to hunt in dungeons you’ve completed, has you collecting a certain amount of money, using certain Magic Circle types, or finishing dungeons in certain time frame. The rewards for those can be money or items that might be out of reach for your current level to unlock (or just out of your price range). I was rewarded with a sword that served me well after I attached the right titles to it. Going back and doing these helps the grind not feel quite as repetitive, although you’ll be forgiven for thinking the game is a bit of that based on how much grinding I’ve talked about.
My biggest gripe with the game is the information overlay on the game screen. It takes up way too much screen real estate and the information could be relayed just as well by making the text boxes considerably smaller. I found myself a bit baffled at the decision to keep these boxes as large as they are considering how quickly you can be moving through some of the stages. Giving you more screen to see what’s incoming would have been a huge help, particularly in some of the tougher stages.
The soundtrack is a pleasant surprise, supplementing Cladun Returns’ style of mixing the old with the new. Each track has a standard instrumentation version or a chiptune version, both fitting quite nicely. Your ability to stomach chiptunes might affect which one you use more, but I found myself enjoying both versions. Being able to switch them whenever is a nice option to keep either version from going stale. While the tracks are all quite catchy, like in any long RPG, you’ll be hearing them a lot. The biggest problem I found with the soundtrack was that there wasn’t enough of it. Even being able to switch out which version you can listen could lead to a bit of fatigue.
Cladun Returns fills an odd hole. It’s almost deceptively deep. It gives the impression that endless grinding is the only way to progress, but has enough loot and party configuration customization that can keep grinding to a, relative to the genre, minimum. If it hooks you like it did me, you can find yourself plinking away at it for a quick hit here and there or hours on end as the “just one more run” mindset rears its head. It’s not going to hit for a lot of people, but for those it does, Cladun Returns offers plenty of charm and depth to keep you coming back for dozens of hours.