Friday, January 23, 2015

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Back about 10 years ago, I received a Chocobo Dungeon game for the Playstation 2 as a present. I liked the graphics and playing with Chocobo as the main character, so there's that nostalgia thing at work. Recently, I found a used copy of Chokobo no Fushigina Danjon Toki Wasure no Meikyu (Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon: the Labyrinth of Forgotten Time) used at Book Off. The problem was that it was still priced at 2,500 yen ($22 USD), which is way above my 1,000 yen limit on used games. But, it was close to Christmas and I figured I'd get it as a present for myself this time.

I've mentioned before that I don't really like Rogue-like games. I've played Shiren 1, Toraneko 1 and the extra dungeon that opens up at the end of the PS2 Chocobo game. What I dislike so much is that luck is such a big factor in being able to survive battles. One small random choice made by the game engine, and you die within seconds, and lose everything in your inventory.

Labyrinth of Forgotten Time (2008, for the Gameboy DS) is nothing but Rogue-like dungeons. The premise is that treasure hunter Sid and his partner Chocobo are exploring a dungeon tower when they're suddenly teleported to an island where all the inhabitants (shopkeepers, villagers, the Mayor) are caught in a time loop. When you talk to them, they lose their memories and you have to help them out by entering the dungeon that represents their trapped thoughts. There's well over 20 separate dungeons, some up to 50 floors deep. Those are just for Chocobo. As for Sid, he has his own science-based dungeon that he explores by himself (the difference being that he uses guns instead of claws, and he always starts at level 1 and floor 1 when you play him. Although, he does keep his inventory between trips).

(Chocobo talking to one of the merchants.)

Dungeons come in two categories - normal, and special. Normal dungeons are part of the storyline, and you can bring money, items and equipment in and out of them. The first dungeon is only 5 floors deep, while the final boss dungeon is 50 floors (but you can teleport to every 10th floor once you defeat each of the mini-bosses). Defeating the main dungeon bosses returns the memories to each victim, and opens up the next part of the story. Special dungeons are largely optional, and have restrictions like level caps, not being able to bring weapons or items in or out, and maybe things like "only use potions" or "you only have 1 hit point". For the most part, special dungeons just reward you with a letter to your mail box. Reading the letter gives you a secret "romantic message" that you type into the screen for Mog, the Romantic Hero - X. If he accepts the message, he gives you a pop-up duel card, or sometimes it's an invitation to another secret special dungeon. The pop-up duel game is exactly like the one in Chocobo's Magic Picture Book. This time, it's only there for you to play against your friends in a wireless match, so there's not much point to playing any of the special dungeons, unless you like Rogue-likes, and you want to be a completist.

(Chocobo's stats screen, when you're in one of the dungeons, for the Hero X job type.)

There are 10 or 12 job types for Chocobo, from Normal and Thief, to Black Mage and Dancer. Some of the jobs are unlocked by finishing a normal dungeon, others are either from a special dungeon or as a reward for a romantic message. All of the jobs require job points for leveling up, and they cap out at level 8. Job points are dropped by monsters at random, so leveling up any given job is very time consuming. But, there are advantages, such as having the Thief's ability to view the entire map of each floor, the Black Mage's range spells, and the White Mage's healing spells. So far, I'm missing two jobs that are buried in one special dungeon, and the Dancer, which seems to be permanently locked on me. I've finished the storyline boss, but only a handful of the special dungeons. As I've said, I don't really like Rogue-likes, so if a dungeon takes more than 3 tries to beat, I'll give up on it.

Looking over the two online walkthroughs for the game, it seems that the English and Japanese versions are so different from each other as to be almost separate games. The English version has more floors to the dungeons, but the battles seem to be easier. Items and equipment aren't made available at the same time, and Chocobo has more play-time activities than in the Japanese version. A case in point is the flower garden. In front of one house in the village is a garden that you can plant mystery seeds in. These seeds give you job points for leveling up a given job type. In the Japanese version, you buy one type of seed, plant it, visit a dungeon, and then come back to pull out the fully grown flowers. For the American version, there are two types of seeds for sale, and you have to use a watering can to water the seeds twice (once before entering a dungeon, and again before going to a second dungeon. The seeds bloom only after the second visit.)

(Chocobo as a Knight.)

Naturally, the two versions use separate languages. Romantic Hero X only accepts English phrases in the English version, meaning that I had to find a Japanese walkthrough to get the Japanese phrases. But, that's to be expected. On the other hand, the list of romantic phrases looks to be longer in one of the Japanese walkthroughs. (Apparently, some of the Japanese romantic phrases were published on the Square Enix website, and only worked for a short time.)

 (In the dungeon, facing a giant. Unfortunately, the camera had trouble differentiating between the similar shades of blue for the giant and the background.)

Overall, the game looks and sounds great. The artwork is terrific, as is the music. The gameplay has lots of features, from the tons of dungeons to being able to play on the swing sets in the town playground. One "mini-game" is Chocobo fishing, where you can try catching items that can be used in the dungeons. There's almost infinite replay value, given the sheer number of dungeons, and the restrictions placed on the special dungeons makes them very challenging. I put in an easy 60 hours on this game, just to get through the story, and the "Chocobo Memories" dungeon. Very few other games I've reviewed in the past year have been that good at keeping me occupied. On the other hand, I hate the luck factor, and I keep feeling that playing Rogue-likes is a major waste of time after a while. So, I'm putting Chocobo away so I can get back to working on other stuff. At least, until I get to missing him again...

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