It's funny that recent conversations have had us thinking about retro-style games with new graphics, as Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is a fitting example. The game takes a ridiculously old-school style of gameplay—that of the great dungeon crawlers known as "roguelikes"—and gussies it up with the Final Fantasy trimmings.
The game's story focuses on Cid and Chocobo, who start on the search for treasure in the hopes of making an Airship but end up in a strange land where they have to unravel a time-related mystery that requires crawling through dungeons to unlocked the lost memories of the people. The writing is simple—though the localization team does deserve credit; I'm pretty sure the expression "same diff" wasn't in the original—but it does provide enough of a framework to keep you plodding from dungeon to dungeon.
The real meat here is the dungeon crawl, as is true of any roguelike. A huge array of randomly-generated dungeons, weapons, items, abilities, and more can be found to customize your character. Though you'll move your character in real time through the dungeons, combat is deceivingly turn based: you move a step and your enemy gets to move a step, you attack and your enemy gets to attack. As you move, you'll gain back health and skill points but you'll lose energy which you must keep up by eating. Sometimes you'll use your various abilities to mix things up in battle and once in a while you'll fight a boss. It's dull. Believe me. But the joy of play is derived not from the simple one-button combat but rather the grind itself.
Chocobo's Dungeon uses the job system to make the grind even more involving than normal, which is welcome since combat gets awfully repetitive. Chocobo can find and unlock new jobs based on those found in all many games in the series: the staple Knight, White Mage, and Black Mage will get you going before you unlock some of the more prestigious classes like Ninja and, my personal favorite, Dragoon. Each of the jobs has a variety of abilities that you'll need to use in order to overcome the game's various (and often challenging) dungeons.
Thankfully, the game isn't as ridiculously difficult as are some other roguelikes: death relieves you of all your money and items, but your equipped gear is no longer destroyed, so you won't have to worry about saving precious items for fear that they might quickly be lost. However, death is still suitably frustrating: I've had a few brutal wipes, which hurt especially bad after you manage to best an Esper and get the powerful one-use summon item.
Dungeon crawling isn't the only thing you can do in the game, though. There's a collection of solid mini-games that you can access after a few hours. The most prominent one is the Pop-Up card game, which is the exact same one featured in the other Final Fantasy Fables title, Chocobo Tales. Players can find a ton of cards by defeating monsters in dungeons and finding hidden phrases for a particular character. It's a solid card game, as it originally was, and it's nice to see they kept the online multiplayer for the Wii release.
Like most Square-Enix games, the music is particularly nostalgic. Anyone who's played Final Fantasy VII will get tingles up their spine when Chocobo first makes his way to Stella's farm, and the snippets of voice acting don't hurt, either. The visuals are a sight for sore eyes grown accustomed to the greys and browns of the current generation. The familiar graphical style fits with Square's recent titles. Surprisingly, the game does boast some nice effects: depth of field, in particular, is used expertly to set Chocobo's Dungeon apart. The general feel of the user interface is decidedly old school, but the trademark polish is abound.
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is a neat little title and fills the RPG void on the Wii for fans of the genre. It's decidedly old-school in design, but the Final Fantasy trimmings make this one of the better contemporary roguelikes around. If you can look past the cutesy gloss (or embrace it), then you'll likely find yourself in a great Wii grind. Just make sure you're ready for the according monotony.
Publisher: Square Enix
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