There's a certain appeal to retro-style game graphics and mechanics that has not gone unnoticed among the development community. Such throwbacks have been appearing on the market for a few years now, and they run the gamut from brilliant little pieces that recapture a nostalgic feel to painful experiences that remind us why some old game design elements were abandoned. Riding this bandwagon is NIS America and System Prisma's ClaDun series, a 2D pixel-painted action role-playing series with near limitless dungeons to conquer. ClaDun x2 is the franchise's second installment, and while it's a solid game, it lacks the sort of appeal that makes the classics it aims to resemble so endearing.
ClaDun x2 begins with your character appearing in Arcanus Cella, a strange island in a pocket dimension from which, it is said, there is no escape. The presentation of the game is immediately striking: not only are the graphics and character animations done up in a pleasant, old-fashioned pixelated style, but the text display and music can also be changed to resemble that of an 8-bit game of yesteryear, giving you the option for an even stronger dose of faux nostalgia. It isn't long before you discover that there is only one major thing to do in Arcanus Cella: fight through many dungeons to earn fame, money, and lots of awesome gear. You and your fellow stranded visitors traverse the various dungeons of Arcanus Cella and perhaps solve the dimension's mysteries in the process. The game's story is presented in occasional cutscenes in between dungeon runs, but it's not particularly interesting. You're a lot more likely to play through ClaDun x2 strictly for the thrills of leveling up, getting loot, and opening the next dungeon set than any sort of plot twists.
The base gameplay should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a traditional, overhead-view action role-playing game in the past. You romp your way through a dungeon, defeating monsters, opening doors, and collecting treasures until you reach the exit and open up the next stage. There are various traps scattered throughout--some beneficial, some hazardous--and using or avoiding them is an important part of play. Depending on your class and equipment, you have access to spells, skills, and defensive techniques, as well as a running/sliding attack that greatly increases your speed at the cost of your defense. Learning how and when to make use of your current character's abilities is key to your dungeon-exploring success. As you clear more dungeons, more options and extra stages open up to you, including extra-challenging randomized dungeons that offer some of the most valuable goodies in the game.
One of the best elements of ClaDun x2 is the variety of characters and play styles it offers. You have many different classes of characters to go exploring with in ClaDun x2, each with different strengths, weaknesses, and special attacks/abilities. You can create several different characters and customize their pixels with the in-game graphics editor, swapping between them as you like. As you gain levels, you learn new skills and abilities, as well as unlock more advanced classes to play with. The classes are different enough that it's interesting to experiment, and you need to switch central characters from time to time to build up different stats and take advantage of the magic circle system. Magic circles essentially let you set up some of the other characters in your roster as sub characters who grant various special abilities. By placing sub characters in a magic circle formation and giving them special artifacts to hold, you can bestow a wealth of abilities to the central character, as well as gain the ability to use the sub characters as a sort of damage buffer before your lead character starts losing hit points. As you gain levels, more magic circles become available for each character, with different advantages and disadvantages for each. It's an interesting system, but one that is initially extremely confusing. It also requires a lot of experimentation and time investment to reap worthwhile benefits.
This is an issue present throughout ClaDun x2. Things simply aren't explained all that well; you often need to dig through poorly organized help menus or spend time fumbling around with various options to work things out. For example, there are a ton of customization options, including being able to redraw weapons and armor, but it might not be obvious that in order to do that, you need to have the special "edit" property attached to the item you want to modify. What are the different properties of your various magic and special attacks, and how can they be effectively used? The status screen descriptions are basic--the only way to figure out your attacks' effectiveness is to spend a lot of time throwing them out and seeing how they do and don't work. Some players might welcome this lack of "hand-holding," but many will find it confusing and a bit frustrating.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about ClaDun x2 is how little it improves over the original ClaDun. While the retro-style graphics and the editor have been ever-so-slightly improved, most of the basics--the game's progression, the controls and skills, the magic circles--have remained unchanged. It feels more like an expansion to ClaDun than a full-fledged sequel.
ClaDun x2 is a fundamentally solid game that offers a lot of different and interesting ways to play. The exploration can be very fun, and it's exceptionally satisfying when you slay a rare creature or find a particularly awesome piece of gear. However, the rather steep learning curve for the game's more advanced features, as well as the lack of an interesting story, will likely turn off those who aren't specifically looking to play a traditionally styled dungeon crawler. There's a lot to dig into in ClaDun x2, but only those with patience and a lot of time to invest in learning its ins and outs will be able to enjoy it to its fullest.