We might have the waning Scott Pilgrim-verse to thank for assuring an even steadier flow of new games dressed up as old games, but the self-deprecating, rogue-like Cladun: This Is An RPG! is a reminder that even games dripping with nostalgia can be nuanced and deceptively complex. The dungeon-crawler’s story is largely inconsequential, and largely serves as winking filler between the hacking and slashing, by way of characters with goofy names like Pudding, cracking wise about cosplay. It’s there to absorb if you want it, but such cutscenes are likely included to preserve another time-honored gaming tradition: pounding on buttons to get back to the action.
And that’s where Cladun’s two-pronged core comes into play: When level-grinding with your character of choice, you’re also reaping benefits from your other characters by way of the “magic circle.” This strategic metagame is introduced early on, but its importance doesn’t become completely clear until later, via a mapping system that lets you assign different character classes and stat-increasing artifacts to aid your progress. To prevent eventual headaches, you’re best served by swapping out all your characters frequently, since they level up differently based on whether they’re on the back burner. Since you’ll be dealing with all these characters often, the inclusion of a robust character-creation tool aids in building a rapport with your team. Chances are, though, that you won’t be able to top Cladun’s funky afro-sporting wizard, Bob.
The reliance on your diverse crew further bolsters what Cladun is really all about: the Zen of the level-grind, and fine-tuning your team. Since you’ll often bump up against your party’s limitations, or the problem of particular characters not pulling their own weight, you’ll have to duck out to the Ran-geon, or randomly generated 99-floor dungeons, until you can meet the main quest’s next challenge. You’ll spend most of your time in those 99 floors, amassing gold, experience, and items. Without achievement points or trophies to help cheerlead your progress, Cladun instead implores you to press on for your own sense of accomplishment, even if it’s kinda silly to celebrate finally being able to slay a brown laser-shooting eyeball after paying your dues by killing beige ones for an hour. The slog gets awfully repetitive during marathon sessions, but if taken in proper doses, poking out those eyes and destroying loads of other palette-swapping enemies never gets old.