Review: Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku! sends players back into a world of their own making

Hey, remember Cladun? It was famous for being a roguelike dungeon crawler that told you right in the title that “This is an RPG!” Well, seven years after the original and six after the sequel, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! has appeared on store shelves. While it doesn’t do too much to change the formula, it is a solid game that gives more people an opportunity to speedrun through dungeons.

Story isn’t Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s strong suit. This is a game in which customizing characters and racing through standard and EX dungeons is what really matters. Still, some framework is in place. As is the norm with Cladun installments, players find themselves in Arcanus Cella. This is an otherworldly town that is best described as purgatory. Souls gather here before moving on. Your avatars and their allies are unique, trapped in this realm and tasked with helping lost souls so they can move forward. This involves heading through dungeons set in Sengoku-era Japan. Do enough good, and you might find yourself freed from limbo too.

Each character class makes Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s dungeon crawling feel a little different.

If you’ve never played Cladun before, it is best to think of it as a faster-paced The Legend of Zelda with bite-sized dungeons. Each area is filled with monsters, traps, treasures and locked doors. While you are technically timed, with scores going to a leaderboard, there is no real pressure. In fact, you might not even be able to see every part of a dungeon until you are at a higher level or using different character classes. All you have to worry about is getting to the stairs in each area so the next unlocks. When going through story dungeons, a boss might appear at the end to challenge, while EX dungeons could reward you with special lore.

Each character class makes Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s dungeon crawling feel a little different. The Samurai, Swordsman and Vile Priest classes are mainly physical. The Magician and Saint are mages. The Merchant and Onmyoji are just… weird. A Swordsman can cut through terrain elements, which makes getting through dungeons easier. Meanwhile, a Merchant offers new funds. This means new tactics have to be developed for each one. It is to your benefit to make a large party with at least one of each character class, then go through a dungeon with each one as a Lord, to build them up and discover new things.

Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is constantly encouraging character grinding. It is all because of the Lord and Vassal system, which is tied to the Magic Circle system. Each character learns Magic Circles as they level up, which allows you to place additional party members (the Vassals) and artifacts on spaces to boost the stats of and defend the current active character (the Lord). Everyone in the current Magic Circle when you head into a dungeon gains experience. Lords get more Mana for their Vassal state when they level up, while Vassals have higher attack and defense stats when they are in the Lord position.

The problem with Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is something that has been an issue in every Cladun game. None of these do a good job of helping you really understand the Magic Circles. There is a tutorial that walks you through setting up your first one, but it would really benefit from some optional, in-game tutorials that help with your comprehension. As is, it is really more of a learn by doing thing. Which is easy to do, since you will be going through dungeons repeatedly and having plenty of chances to try everything, but it is not the best way to handle something so complex.

The Magic Circles and wide variety of characters all speak to Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s greatest strength: its customization.

The Magic Circles and wide variety of characters all speak to Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s greatest strength: its customization options. This is a game that encourages you to make it your own. With each character, you set their gender, appearance, job, dialogue patterns and even relationships with other characters. The class is the only one with any bearing on gameplay, but each of the other elements allows you to make characters your own. And share them, once the Photo Store opens and lets you share appearance designs you have made in the Pixel Editor with other players. It is even possible to customize equipment with designs and titles. While the actual story is understated, you can imagine your own with original designs.

It nearly overshadows Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!’s replayability. There is always something to do in this game. There are the story dungeons, which really should replayed multiple times to gain levels and see every nook and cranny. You can take Suggestion Box quests to make revisiting areas more exciting. There are EX dungeons with new layouts and lords. When you are really far along and feeling confident, you can go into co-op Mode with others to fight bosses together, challenge Versus Mode to see who can get the most treasure, or even take on the level 99 Death-geons with others to see how strong you all actually are.

Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is a solid game. It encourages you to create your own characters; it wants you to keep playing. The breadth of customization options and wealth of dungeons are impressive. Unfortunately, the Magic Circle system, while beneficial to your parties, is as complicated as ever. Still, people with the patience to stick with it and make Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! their own will be pleased.

Score: 8/10
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform(s): PS4, Vita, PC
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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