Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon - Staff Review  

The Other Fable Series
by Glenn "7thCircle" Wilson

Less than 20 Hours
+ Solid Japanese roguelike gameplay
+ Good remixed music from the main series
+ Jobs are balanced and disparate
- Optional dungeons can be frustrating
- Town setup and load times slow down play
- The chocobo is named Chocobo?!
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Cid and his pet chocobo, named Chocobo, are pilfering a tower in a desert when they get blasted into the sky and land in the town of Lostime in which a sporadically ringing clock tower deletes the inhabitants' memories to the point that they might not even recall their own names. Soon thereafter, a levitating, glowing, talking, baby humanoid in an egg crashes into the center of the town, and Chocobo gains the ability to teleport into people's minds in order to regain small fragments of their memories. So Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon starts out on the strange side; however the weird setting provides a premise for the existence of numerous, shape-shifting dungeons in a manner more reasonable than most dungeon crawlers do, and also allows a typically light-on-plot subgenre to tell a deep story.

   A rather straightforward, turn-based dungeon crawler, Chocobo's Dungeon offers little new at the most basic level of gameplay. There are dozens of dungeons in the game, they are randomly generated upon entry, executing an action causes every enemy on the floor to take an action, getting surrounded is extremely bad, and losing results in the loss of inventory items and the retention of experience points. Relative to other modern, Japanese roguelikes, Chocobo's Dungeon is a touch easier, mostly because there are significantly fewer foes per floor here than in similar titles. Invisible traps and devious enemies capable of dealing massive damage or inflicting status ailments are still ubiquitous, but regularly facing one bad guy at a time makes the gameplay less difficult, and because a generous chunk of the floor is always visible, trapping opponents in bottlenecks so that they line up for the slaughter is commonplace.

   While tearing through enemies and trying to stay alive, Chocobo must maintain his HP, SP, and food level. HP is health, and it slowly rises as Chocobo moves. SP is used for special abilities, and the SP gauge fills as Chocobo runs around. When it is completely full, one SP is regained. The food level, on the other hand, drains during the course of play, and when it hits zero, HP decreases rather than increases. All three measures can be restored by items, and equipment can be found that affects the speed at which they rise or fall.

   The crafting system in Chocobo's Dungeon is simple and effective. Chocobo can equip talons to alter his attack and a saddle to improve defense. Each piece of equipment can be honed for a fee to increase its power. To keep this in check, every wearable item has a honing cap. Once this is reached, attempting to improve it again results in a random outcome: either the defensive/offensive value will shoot up several points, or it will drop several points. If it goes up, the equipment is at its true maximum strength and cannot be honed again. If it goes down, more cash must be spent to build it back up.

Boss battles put a new spin on combat. Boss battles put a new spin on combat.

   In addition to strength, each wearable item also has seals which impart various effects. A seal can be transferred by fusing two items together to create one with the seals of both. This is all there is to equipment crafting, and it is a gift from Square Enix that the process is so clean, yet versatile. Useful equipment is only found via the randomized dungeons, so finding and customizing equipment involves enough freedom and luck to stay fun while still being very basic.

   Of course, the largest choice impacting how the player tackles each dungeon is the selection of Chocobo's job. In Final Fantasy III fashion, Chocobo has several jobs to choose between, only one can be selected at a time, and there is no dual-classing or carryover between jobs at all. The well-executed trick here is that each job forces the player to handle dungeons in an entirely different manner. The white mage job has the glorious benefit of healing and protective spells, but has difficulty dealing out much damage and so will get face-punched more often. A knight, on the other hand, cannot heal, but gets a boost to defense and can dish out powerful attack skills to take out enemies without getting hit too often. The black mage has some of the most damaging abilities in the game; however he is physically weak and also lacks the white mage's healing spells. More jobs are handed out over the course of play, and the beauty is that all are so different and so balanced that the game can reasonably be completed with any job. Chocobo's separate character level has the biggest impact on his statistics, allowing new jobs to start out at only a small disadvantage, thereby encouraging the player to test out new ones. Also, job level points do not increase as quickly as experience points throughout the game, so running a new job through an older dungeon is a great way to let it gain levels and abilities.

   One serious issue in the gameplay design comes in the form of optional dungeons. These all involve helping townies recover memories not required for the main quest. The problem comes in their puzzle-like nature. All optional stages have strict conditions governing them, ranging from level caps, to setting Chocobo's HP to 1, to predesigned, nonrandom layouts. The result is a series of voluntary stages which are sometimes too easy, but more often are irritating and require a healthy dose of luck to complete. While recovering these memories can make new items or shops available, hence greatly assisting in the completion of the game, many of them provide no immediate rewards. It is frustrating to attempt a 1 HP stage many times, finally have enough luck to succeed, and then get nothing in return.

Surprisingly, cactuars are in the game too. Surprisingly, cactuars are in the game too.

   Moving Chocobo around the game is decently managed. The options menu allows him to be controlled using the Wii Remote with one hand or two. Playing one-handed is gratifying for laziness purposes, and the setup works all right. The two-handed setup is less awkward, but requires dedicating two hands to the game. The interface as a whole is acceptable and clean. There is an odd problem in the dungeons caused by the slanted camera angle. While the player can see several squares into the distance, only two tiles in the foreground are displayed. The impact is that enemies can fly out of nowhere and lead to some sticky situations if they happen to approach from the front of the screen. Conversely, enemies approaching from the background can be anticipated six or seven turns before they can reach Chocobo. Another problem arises in the organization of the town. The storage, blacksmith, magic, and item shops are all as far from each other as possible. Selling, storing, and upgrading items after a successful tour takes an unfortunately long time, and it gets annoying quickly. The load times in town and when entering dungeons make this even worse.

   The overall production values are rather nice and deeply saturated in Final Fantasy nostalgia. The music is nearly all recycled from previous Final Fantasy games, which is actually quite pleasant due to the remixing of some more obscure, peaceful tracks from the past; Aeris' Theme does not play on repeat throughout the whole game. Similarly, all of the foes are redesigned or cute-ified versions of recognizable series standards whose expected behaviors are satisfactorily fit into the roguelike setup. The jigsaw puzzle motif used throughout the game to symbolize the fragmented memories of the citizens of Lostime is unique, abstract, and, frankly, quite cool. All dialogue is voiced, and the acting work is solid, if not slightly soulless at times. For a game with a childish aesthetic, it happily manages to mostly avoid the commonplace squeaky-sounding boys and screeching girls.

   Chocobo's Dungeon does nothing particularly new or fascinating with the roguelike JRPG subgenre which has been quickly expanding its library over the last few years, but it does manage to do everything well while being a touch less difficult and a hair less frustrating than other games of its ilk. The plot has an unusually strong presence for a dungeon crawler. Although the story is predictable, it is told well enough to deserve the player's attention. The main quest is short and should be completed in under twenty hours, although the post-game content, optional stages, and multiple mini-games can stretch out the experience. Anyone already enjoying the prominence of this subgenre should feel free to continue doing so with this entry. Potential newcomers should seriously consider giving Chocobo's Dungeon a shot, as it is one of the more enjoyable ones. The warm, fuzzy, Final Fantasy-ness covering everything doesn't hurt, either.

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