It’s a little bit strange how the dungeon crawling genre has been mashed up with all things cute. It’s a strange combination, because memories of the intense difficulty of older dungeon crawlers like Shiren the Wanderer and Dragon Quest send shivers right up my spine. But for whatever reason, the dungeon crawling genre has come back, and while this new breed of rogue-like dungeon crawler doesn’t have the same blistering difficulty die-hard fans may recall, it nonetheless offers some fun and memorable gameplay.
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon definitely represents a member of this new breed of dungeon crawler, but despite its warm and fluffy (not to mention yellow) exterior, this title offers quite a bit more depth and difficulty than what you might expect.
For all intents and purposes, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon operates the same way you might expect from a traditional dungeon crawler. There is a central hub from which you can buy equipment, store items, and other miscellaneous preparatory functions.
From there, you are able to go on to your next dungeon, which is generally dictated by the story (although replay is an essential component of dungeon crawling and is available). While inside the dungeon, essentially everything you see is randomly generated and turn based. Every step you take, item you use, or attack you execute counts as a turn, and in this sense, the game is very traditional. But one thing that sets this Roguelike apart (and makes it uniquely Final Fantasy) is the implementation of the job system.
At first, you won’t have access to any jobs and will only be able to level up the “Natural” class, which is essentially just basic attacks. But after a few missions you will unlock the trademark Job Change ability and from there will be able to unlock classes like Black Mage, Thief, and Knight. You are only able to change jobs at the beginning of every dungeon. This gives the dungeons a very high amount of replay value, as some will no doubt want to keep all their jobs at a high level instead of specializing in only one.
Another aspect of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon that gives it tremendous replay value is the return of the pop-up card battle. Those who played last year’s Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales probably have fond memories of the pop-up card-based battle system and will be happy to hear it has been replicated here almost exactly. But this time, instead of using the pop-up battles to fight enemies, the battles are found in Mog’s arcade and are completely extraneous to the dungeon crawling aspect of the game, save for the fact the cards are hidden throughout the dungeons. This adds quite a bit of replay value to this title because you may find yourself trolling through bonus dungeons or beating special bosses in order to get special cards to beef up your deck. Once you’ve got the perfect deck, you can take your deck online and play against friends or random players.
This game is really easy to get lost in mostly because of the exhilarating gameplay, but the story is not too shabby either. As you might expect from a title revolving around Chocobo’s, the story is filled with many warm and tender moments but is surprisingly serious at times.
The story begins with Cid and Chocobo going on an adventure, just to be foiled (yet again) by Irma and Volg. However, as Cid and Chocobo confronted their enemies, they were suddenly transported to another world. In this world something strange is going on, and people are losing their memories. However, in an interesting twist, all the people in this world are happy they have lost their memories. Something terrible happened there, and although no one remembers what it is, they all agree it is best left forgotten. But the spell on the city starts to impair their memory of other things like their jobs, their families, and even their own names. But just when the situation seemed most dire, a newborn baby fell from the sky. This newborn possesses the power to unlock the citizens’ repressed memories and turn them into mystery dungeons, which it will be your job to traverse.
Sure, the whole “your memories are dungeons” thing is a little hokey, but aside from that, the story is quite solid and allows for some very genuine moments (as you might expect from a Final Fantasy title). While it can feel like the story is taking a backseat to the gameplay when you’re going through long and chained together dungeons, the game always brings the focus back to the characters, even if it is only briefly, which gives this game a real soul.
However, not all aspects of this title are as great as the gameplay or the story. On a visual level, this game is really hit or miss. The cinematic scenes look very polished and have very smooth animations. However, the in-game animations are extremely repetitive and substantially less smooth. Environments also have a great deal of repetitive texturing, and the whole thing is a very dramatic contrast to the cinematic scenes. Honestly, if you showed me footage from both the cinematic scenes and in-game, I wouldn’t believe that you were showing me the same game.
In addition to the graphical discrepancies, another area I was somewhat disappointed in was the sound. Generally, I don’t have many gripes about English voice over, but this one is pretty bad. Voices sound insincere, and the dialogue doesn’t even attempt to match character mouth movement. In fact, many times you bear witness to what I call the “Kung-Fu” effect, where a character will finish speaking way before his/her mouth stops moving. This game could have definitely benefited from a Japanese voice track, and it’s unfortunate it was not included. The music, however, is absolutely superb. Level music is beautifully orchestrated, and the game’s title song features sweet and melodic J-Pop at its finest.
One aspect of this title that many will appreciate is the different control schemes you are able to employ. You can use either the traditional face-up Wii-mote, the Wii-mote on its side, or you can forego the Wii-mote altogether in favor of the classic controller. All these are pretty easy and intuitive to use, but I would give the control edge to the classic controller just because the analog stick makes it much easier to get around non-dungeon areas and the shortcut shoulder buttons are very easy to use in battle.
Overall, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon is an excellent and surprisingly deep game. This title does an excellent job of walking the fine line between being a Final Fantasy title and a dungeon crawler and gets the formula just right. Plus, it has a cute little Chocobo as the main character, and that’s certainly a plus for me!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
Cinematic scenes look smooth and polished, but in game graphics have repetitive animations and texturing issues. 4.2 Control
With three different ways to control this title there’s something that will fit everyone’s gaming style, although the classic controller option seems to fit best. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and score are beautiful, but the voice over is seriously lacking, and this title could have really benefited from a Japanese voice track. 4.5
Although this title looks cute and fluffy, its dungeon-crawling nature makes it surprisingly challenging. The online pop-up duel element also adds a great amount of replay value.
4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.