We wouldn't blame you for writing off Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon at a glance - previous Chocobo games have suffered from overly-simplistic kid-friendly gameplay, which sounds like a recipe for disaster when mixed with the dungeon crawler genre. But with its variety of dungeon types and robust job system, Chocobo's Dungeon kept our interest for far longer than we expected. And with famed composer Nobuo Uematsu supervising the soundtrack, it's saturated with nostalgia-inducing melodies, featuring reworkings of themes from various Final Fantasy titles throughout, which is a huge bonus for FF fans.
The story, while not incredibly profound, is suprisingly good for a kid-friendly dungeon crawler. Instead of the usual battle of good vs evil, the conflict here is all about forgetting vs remembering. In the land of Memoria, there's a town called Lostime with a huge clocktower in the center. Every time the clocktower's bell chimes, it causes selective amnesia to anyone who hears it. The townspeople are divided as to whether or not this is a good thing - some want to forget painful memories, but others yearn to remember, no matter how difficult. As a brave Chocobo named Chocobo, it's your job to dive into people's heads (aka dungeons) and recover their lost memories.
Each dungeon is a grid-based series of floors, with tons of monsters and items randomly throughout. The battle system is simple, as your only options are moving from square to square, attacking, and using special attacks (which consume SP). As you walk around your health and special attack meter constantly replenish, but your hunger levels increase, so you've got to constantly maintain a balance among the three by eating food and walking around. It sounds tedious, but it's pretty easy to keep a good balance with little effort.
The basic battle system may sound too simple to keep your interest for long, but as you unlock different memories, you'll also unlock the ability to change jobs at the start of each dungeon, which does a lot to keep the gameplay fresh. Like Final Fantasy Tactics A2, you can unlock quite an extensive list of jobs, and you'll have to level up each job separately to unlock its special abilities. Depending on the dungeon, the job you select can have a crucial effect on your success, since some special abilities are infinitely more valuable in certain situations, which adds a welcome layer of strategy to the hack 'n' slash gameplay.
The main dungeons generally aren't too difficult, but some of the most frustrating moments come from special rules dungeons, where Chocobo is stripped of his equipment and items, and has to submit to the whims of a dungeon's special set of parameters. In particular, the special rule dungeon where you only have one point of HP can be incredibly frustrating. Imagine somehow making your way through six dungeon floors avoiding enemies, only to spring an invisible summon trap, surrounding you with enemies and leaving you no choice but to start over. Then imagine that was your 10th attempt at getting through that dungeon (blood... pressure... rising). Still, it's definitely on the easy side, and aside from a few frustrating dungeons, even younger kids should have few problems getting through it.
If traipsing through multi-tiered dungeons for hours, leveling up a multitude of job classes and equipment, and keeping track of health, hunger and magic levels sets your heart aflutter, it doesn't get much better than Chocobo's Dungeon. But if your eyes just glazed over and you suddenly feel like giving up on life, there's no magic here that's going to make you enjoy this game. Still, if you're curious about the genre, Chocobo's Dungeon is a great introduction - if this doesn't hold your interest for long, no dungeon crawler will.
Jul 15, 2008