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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: NIS America
Developed By: Nippom Ichi Software
Genre: RPG
Players: 1 (2-4)
Rated: E (Everyone)
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Screenshots: Link
Price: $19.99
Written By: Anthony Cara

September 13, 2010 - Beautiful blocky pixels, midi format music, swords and sorcery abound in the latest PSP venture from delightful JRPG niche publisher NISA. Together with Studio Prisma, NIS brings gamers a strange yet amusing dungeon crawler/hack n’ slash RPG hybrid that will both delight and frustrate gamers as they fight and grind their way through limitless perilous dungeons.

The game is presented in glorious retro fashion with 8-bit blocky heroes and cheesy goodness at every turn. It is also unexpectedly humorous, and from time to time you will encounter dialogue, “That’s unbelievable!” Finally, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is its soundtrack. The opening title screen greets you with a touching little orchestrated melody, and the in game music continues in a similar, high-quality vein. It’s good, but nothing special… that is, until you switch to retro mode! Every track in the game has a low-bitrate evil twin and they are definitely treats for the ears! If you are a fan of warm fuzzy nostalgia, you will not be disappointed!

Arcanus Cella is a mysterious world that everyone seems to arrive at by different means. The one thing most have in common is they were guided by a mysterious talking black cat, and they can’t seem to befriend the Tsundere genius sorceress Despina. The game features something of an ensemble cast with no real main character – though your first playthrough does seem very Despina-centric. One of the game’s core mechanics is that anyone can be the “main character,” so each chapter of the game focuses on a different resident of Arcanus Cella as it explores their motivations and desires. The game features two endings for each character: The “Leave early, life sucks” and the “Beat the boss, save the day.” Throughout the course of your daring dungeon defeating you will meet such characters as a shield-obsessed blowhard, an afro-wizard, a wimpy, neutered, anime-style male hero, and even a “beautiful” princess from a far off world. Will they all find what they are looking for in Arcanus Cella? I suggest you actually beat the boss (with each character respectively) to find out!

Cladun’s game engine is similar to most NIS games in that it takes just a little while to beat, but possibly the rest of your life to master. Like most dungeon crawlers, the game features a centralized town location with a magic portal to the various dungeons. In town you can speak with NPCs, do some shopping, create custom characters, and adjust you equipment. You are also welcome to leave at any time, but if you would like to see a better ending, you should probably stick around. When you are ready to go you can either hop into one of the random bonus dungeons, or step through the magic door and progress through the story dungeons.

Once you get inside a dungeon, everything is pretty simple. You hack, you slash, you occasionally cast, and you try to make your way safely toward the exit. Sometimes you have to kill certain enemies to open doors, sometimes you have to break a black chest open, and some other times…you just have to make a dash for it! Along the way you must avoid traps and keep your guard up as often as possible. The game offers no viable dodge option, and if you try to strike and run, your defense is cut in half. There are numerous enemies and traps that can one shot you later in the game, so you will often find yourself carefully trading blows and hiding behind your shield. These dungeons offer up some old school difficulty, and I assure you it only gets worse in the bonus modes. The game can be beaten easily enough, but I weep for anyone who attempts those level 9999999999 widowmaker dungeons!

As I said earlier, the dungeons are not terribly complicated. The trickiest part of the game is getting yourself ready. The game employs a complex, highly customizeable Magic Circle menu where you can customize your main and sub characters, equipment, spells, and artifacts. Each character can unlock a series of different Magic Circles by gaining levels. These circles contain slots for sub characters and artifacts. Sub characters have the dual function of activating artifacts through mana and also taking damage for your main character in battle. Artifacts boost your stats and abilities, but rely on the chosen sub character’s mana to do so. For example, let’s say Pudding has 20 mana and 100 HP. You put her on Souma’s Magic Circle grid as a sub character and then in the nodes adjacent to her, you place artifacts that cost 7 mana and raise attack power by 2. Since she only has 20 mana, if you place a third ATK up artifact, it will not activate, unless there is a free node where you can place a free Mana+1 artifact. Finally – remember that 100 HP I mentioned? Well, when you are in battle, she will absorb 100 HP worth of hits before she dies, and if she was the final sub character to fall, Souma is now responsible for his own damage! This all sounds complicated because it is, but once you figure it out, tweaking the Magic Circle to get it just right can be one of the most rewarding and addicting experiences in the entire game. In fact, the decisions you make on that little grid eventually become more instrumental to your success in dungeons than maxing out character levels!

Another interesting aspect of Cladun is its original character creation system. Similar to 3D Dot Heroes, you customize your hero from all angles, so as they move about there is an illusion of animation. The strange part is, all the characters in the game are actually disembodied heads floating atop detached armor with feet and hands bobbing up and down nearby. If you design your character well enough, you can minimize the appearance of the armor and blend the hands and feet to give them a natural look. I have seen very well made Etna, Flonne, and Prinny characters that almost made me forget that there were a few pixels of armor sticking out of them as they dashed about the dungeons. Aside from their appearance, you can customize the character’s class, their canned-response small talk, and even their arch nemeses. Interestingly enough, at a certain point in the game, you can do most of this customization with any character. You can make tweaks to appearance and color as you see fit, and changing the characters’ classes once they are at the max level is one of the keys to filling out their stats.

Casual gamers won’t need to worry themselves with most of these features as they begin their 10-20 hour journey through the world of Cladun, but if a player wants to truly maximize their experience, it will cost them dearly. The end game grind of Cladun easily puts the Disgaea series to shame with the sheer lunacy it requires of players. Gaining levels quickly is no small feat, and obtaining the best equipment requires you get 99 of every item! To get the most of the Magic Circle, your characters need to have a TON of mana, but even at level 99 they have very little. You are actually forced to level several characters to 99 and switch their classes again and again and again. In so doing, they keep a portion of their stats, and their mana gets higher and higher. Even then, this means nothing if you don’t have the best rare artifacts. The shop will never carry most of the best artifacts in the game, and their drop rates are very low. Even if you have all the best weapons, armor, and maxed out sub/main characters it will mean nothing if you don’t have some kickass artifacts on the grid!

Prepare to be obliterated… a lot.

Cladun also offers players 2 adhoc multiplayer modes. Versus mode pits players against each other in a last-man-standing deathmatch. Co-op mode allows players to defeat previously unlocked dungeons together (as well as a few multiplayer exclusives). The co-op is nice in that it allows players to collect loot and gain levels with the help of a friend or three. The only problem is both multiplayer modes are unfortunately laggy. To access multiplayer mode, players must progress through the game until the mysterious blue door finally appears at the right side of the screen. At this point you may either step into the door or simply access it from the menu.

Cladun offers 15-999 hours of playtime, adorable 8-bit blocky fellows, midi music to melt your heart, trap-laden dungeons, and the grind of your life. If this sounds appealing to you, then the price should be even more so! At twenty bucks a download I suggest you slap on your dungeon-crawling pants and get to work!


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