‘Not another Pixel Dungeon Crawler’
Uniqueness shines bright in NIS’ latest title, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!, through its intriguing dungeon crawling gameplay, gorgeous pixel art and glowing personality. While the dungeons do lack variety at times and can be downright tedious and repetitive, the short-burst style of dungeon design and ‘pick-up-and-play’ approachability makes this a recommendation as a staying title on the PS Vita, but more of a ‘distraction recommendation’ for the Playstation 4, given the ultra-high standard and benchmark of recent Playstation 4 releases.
Whilst Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! certainly follows a very familiar formula of ‘beat the dungeons to defeat the forces of evil’, you’ll find that it finds its feet as unique experience by turning a number of gameplay elements on its head. You play as a single hero (by which he/she is self-named by the player) by which you must save your town from the evils above that have your town doomed forever. While you do, theoretically, only play and control as your hero, you’ll party up in a unique manner, through the power of vassals. Vassals, as explained in Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!, serve the purpose of multiple slots that are housed by additional heroes. These heroes serve purely as buffs for your hero, by way of additional mana, HP, or attack points.
Throughout the campaign, you’ll build an unstoppable party, despite the games’ unforgiving difficulty. At no point is Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! a cakewalk; you’ll be bullied throughout many of the dungeons, even in the 1st chapter of your campaign. If the standard campaign doesn’t beat you up and rub it in while doing so, you’ll face the EX stages, which ramp up the difficulty and enemies in each dungeon, ten-fold. While there isn’t a direct way to upgrade your hero, a slew of additional weapons can be bought in-game to truly turn up the heat on your unforgiving enemies. I found that the game offers quite a unique style of RPG elements here, forcing you to think unselfishly and throw your experience points towards your party and vassal slots rather than to your hero.
There is definitely a satisfactory variety of dungeons, but variability isn’t Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s strong suit. Given the game’s main story can be played through in just a tick over 20 or so hours, repetitive enemies and just a lack of difference between the dungeon ahead of you and your previous conquer are too little to differentiate, in some instances; your mileage may vary.
Graphics and Sound
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – ‘more 8-bit rip-offs’ – I can hear your many outcries in the distance. Do not fear, reader; in my honest opinion, I really dig the pixel art used here in Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!, assembled by vibrant, colourful sprites, and assisted by the expansive character customisation at your disposal. Your hero and partied vassals appear as badass ninja-folk, while still seemingly glowing with cuteness, and the foray of monsters and enemies that block your path are as visually menacing as ever. The endangering floor traps are reminiscent of 80’s old school first person dungeon crawlers, while level design blends together a ninja-shinobi theme, with an odd feel of the original Gameboy game. The musical compositions in Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! are competent, but far from noteworthy. While some tunes, notably those that blare through your speakers in each dungeon, are fast-paced and well composed, the main tune that you’ll hear in the hub world felt a little lazy and overstays its welcome quite quick. Thankfully, there’s options in-game to give your ears a break (just remember to flick the ON switch for the dungeon and battle tunes).
Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! provides a nostalgic stance on the history of the Japanese Sengoku era, while never taking itself seriously. It’s a fun take on an otherwise hit-and-miss theme, with great use of ninja combat, lightweight and accessible RPG elements, and a quick burst of dungeon crawling at home or on the go. While there’s nothing throughout my lengthy playthrough that blew me away, it might just be a staying title in my Playstation 4 library. As a Playstation Vita enthusiast, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! makes a strong case for a portable-based playthrough with its cleverly designed dungeons and a recommendation for budding historians and dungeon crawling masters alike.