To start off, ClaDun Returns are actually the third entry of the ClaDun series, coming after ClaDun and ClaDun X2. The series is built for an audience yearning for the retro RPG niche. It looks like a 2D RPG Maker game. Heck, it even has the title ClaDun, which is short for Classic Dungeon. Unlike most games of the same genre, ClaDun offers some of the largest customization options available, but does that make it great? Perhaps not, as its simplistic gameplay doesn't blend in too well with its convoluted system.
The story begins with the protagonist waking up in Arcanus Cella. While residing there, he has discovered that they have recently died and has an unsolved problem that prevents their soul to move on. While trying to solve the mystery of their unsolved problem, the protagonist takes on the task to help out other troubled souls. The story is actually quite barebones, largely consisting of missions are mostly fetch quests that try to move the story along.
There is a lot of NPCs to speak with, but you won't be attached to any of them as you won't get to know them too well. The minimalistic dialogue with the NPCs means they’re mostly there just to say something quirky or to provide help (i.e start tutorials, tips, and hints). The developers probably went for this approach aimed towards creating a multiplayer environment so everyone can bring their characters online.
The game's strongest aspect would be its dungeon crawling gameplay. Each chapter is divided into short stages that can be cleared in less than a few minutes, which encourages players to repeat stages to grind for better items or a faster clear time. The dungeons provide puzzles with minimal hints and must be solved by the player to clear the game. To start off, the game will let you create your own character which can be assigned to 7 different jobs, each with their own specialty (i.e different stat traits). If you don't like the character you have created, it gives you the option to make additional characters to assemble a whole party. This way, you don’t have to throw away the character you created before.
The main story is split into 10 chapters, each with a total of 5 stages. In each dungeon, the general hack-and-slash gameplay consists of trying to find the exit while overcoming the obstacles on the way. Certain stages will contain bosses, which I found to be quite clunky due to the weird hit collision they have. You can also easily exploit most of these encounters by simply going out of the screen and killing them with a ranged attack as the boss is unable to counter this.
As for the character you're leveling, you must rely on something called the Magic Circle system. The Magic Circle is a grid where you assign each party member to a square, arranging their equipment to make the leading character stronger. Party members that are not in the leading position are assigned as vassals which act as meatshields to take any damage. As you progress further, the game will provide a larger selection of Magic Circle arrangements.
Other customization options include the Fortify system which lets you put stones to further boost your characters. However, the effect isn't always a positive one. It could contain a negative effect that requires a lot of money to fix. Items found in dungeons can be upgraded at a blacksmith who will let you put additional titles on the items to give them unique properties. This is similar to the gear found in the popular Diablo games, but this system lets you put your own properties on it instead of a randomly generated one. A lot of the game mechanics are convoluted and they must be fully taken advantage of to get the best results later on. It adds a lot of customization but doesn't seem to mesh in with the game’s simplistic nature.
There is also other types of dungeons which provide better loot and offer more challenges not found in the main story. These extra dungeons will also let you recruit characters if you manage to find their soul though none of them feel that unique. They aren’t part of the main story, and with the existence of the character editor, there's less incentive towards recruiting these characters.
ClaDun Returns might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it will definitely fill a void for players who want a throwback to something from the retro days that displays strong fundamentals towards its dungeon crawling roots. The game is loaded with content as there are tons of stages, and its compact brevity is ideal for portable playthroughs. Unfortunately, this same feature is also holding the game back, making it an extremely repetitively and somewhat flawed experience.
Versions tested: PlayStation Vita
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.