Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is the latest NIS title available for the Playstation Vita – though it’s also available for PS4 users. We played it on our trusty handheld – here’s our review.
Playing Cladun Returns on the Vita was a conscious choice – it’s one of those retro-styled titles with a hybrid 8-bit/16-bit look that for some reason really appeals to me on the small screen but never manages to keep my interest for long on a big screen television. Perhaps, in the case of Cladun, it’s also a case of nostalgia – associating the Cladun franchise only with Sony’s PSP despite a later PC release.
In Cladun Returns, your aim is to free troubled souls (literally) who are caught regretting parts of their lives and are thus unable to move on towards reincarnation. That sounds deep and metaphysical, but this is an action RPG built around a multitude of dungeons that you will have to tackle in order to free said souls from their burdens.
Most dungeons are very short – lasting no more than a few minutes and in some cases even less than sixty seconds. You can replay them to upgrade your party’s characters and will also be able to access additional dungeons in a chapter after you complete it. In these optional dungeons, you’ll encounter greater opposition but also gain the chance to unlock a few extra characters for your party.
Combat seems relatively straightforward at first, but there are subtle nuances to play around with when looking for the most effective way of defeating foes – especially bosses. The angle of attack can determine how effective a strike is, and some weapons leave you more vulnerable when you strike simply because you put your body into it and leave yourself more open right after an attack. Organizing your party into certain formations and configurations (using artifacts you find) provides different ways to play, and this is augmented by the ability to craft weapons and use/combine special stones. It’s never been my personal favorite to spend a lot of time customizing a game, but those who enjoy it will have more than enough here to make them happy – and the game is easily enjoyed without it as well.
The game’s full title is of course “Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!” – pointing to the fact that the adventure is historically influenced. I’m not a big expert on Japanese history, but my guess is that the references to Sengoku are actually quite limited in their scope – both narrative and visually. It doesn’t hurt the game for me personally, but history buffs might take offense.
As was the case with the original Cladun games on the PSP, Cladun Returns is clearly inspired by the top-down action RPGs of the late eighties and early nineties, sitting somewhere in between the 8-bit and 16-bit console generations with its visuals. This style also extends to the game’s soundtrack, which brings back memories of some of that good old chiptune music. Music in the game can also be composed yourself, but I didn’t dare touch that part of the game. If retro isn’t quite your flavor, then you can also choose to have higher resolution fonts and more sample-based music instead – but for me the pixelated chiptune approach felt like a better fit with the rest of the graphics.
Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku! certainly isn’t the most ambitious Vita title we’ve seen, but it’s fun to play in short bursts with minimal amounts of customization or in long settings with tons of customization. That has to be a good thing in terms of game design.