Saturday, January 24, 2015

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, part 2

Labyrinth of Forgotten Time really is an addictive game, even though I complained about not liking Rogue-likes. I'd pretty much done everything that I felt like completing (maxing out all the job skill levels for the jobs I could unlock; testing, and failing at, the unlockable special dungeons; and reading all of the letters sent by the NPCs for accomplishing various milestones (maxing the job skills, or reaching particular floors in the 100-floor Chocobo Memories dungeon). The only thing that remained was Sid's dungeon, and after having spent a couple of hours on that as part of the main storyline, I wasn't all that interested in finishing it. However...

When you're playing Chocobo, there are four main "normal"  dungeons, housing the Fire, Water, Light and Darkness crystals. You're allowed to take items, potions, talons (weapon) and saddles (armor) in and out of these dungeons, and you get experience, job points and money as you do all your fighting. The dungeons themselves have a fantasy feel to them, and are populated with various monsters, elementals and magic users. Occasionally you'll find a special white gate that randomly teleports you to either one of 2 in-dungeon shops, or to a "duel room" to fight a mini-boss. According to the 2 English walkthroughs I've seen, at one point Chocobo has to locate his partner, the human treasure hunter, Sid, and talk to him to advance the story. Sid is standing in front of the Fire dungeon, and both walkthroughs state that you just get a short cutscene.

But, instead, I found myself in another dungeon, filled with machines and monitored by some kind of computer A.I. Sid himself had to explore the dungeon to get the notebooks of one Dr. Glen, a researcher who had tried to harness the elements to make his own weapons. The A.I. mistakes Sid for it's creator, indicating that the scientist may be Sid's father or grandfather. According to one Japanese walkthrough, Sid's dungeon only exists in the Japanese version of the game written only for the Gameboy DS (it's not available in the Wii version).

(Sid's top-screen status display, showing weapon, armor and accessory equipped, and Health, SP and "Stomach" (hunger level).)

Like the Chocobo's Memories dungeon (unlocked only after you beat the storyline boss), Sid's is 100 floors deep. You have to get to floor 30 within the main storyline, but after that it's blocked until you beat the main Chocobo storyline boss. This is a pure Rogue-like. You can't bring anything into the dungeon, and you always start at level 1 on floor 1. The game does store your inventory for you, so you can keep much of what you find, and you can upgrade your weapons and armor, but essentially Chocobo and Sid have completely incompatible inventories. There is one exception to the rule of not bringing anything out of the dungeon - Sid's dungeon also has the white portals, but there's no in-dungeon shop. You're always teleported to the duel room to face a mini-boss. Defeating the mini-boss gives you items that Sid hands to Chocobo because he can't use them himself, including pop-up duel cards and a few superior healing potions not available in Chocobo's dungeons.

Sid uses a pistol as his sole weapon, and his coat acts as armor. There are no shops, so no money. Sid only has one job (treasure hunter) but no upgrade path, so no job points. He starts out with one special skill, an "A.R.T.S." that uses up all 7 skill bars in one super shot. The skill bars refill very, very slowly as he walks around, so the A.R.T.S. attacks are best kept in reserve for the mini-bosses, or if you get in over your head at the lower levels. You always have the option of exiting the dungeon when you get to the stairs down to the next floor, and the Telepo potions teleport you out as well. Because there's no money, there's no way to sell items, potions or equipment you find. Rather, you discard what you don't want, or run out of room to carry, or store things in a "locker" found at the computer rooms on the 10th, 20th, 30th, 50th, 70th and 98th floors. You'll also find research notes in these computer rooms that unlock your next A.R.T.S. attack, with a total of 4 special attacks.

(Sid, standing in front of the storage locker in the research floor. The blue bars at the middle top of the screen represent SP; all 7 bars are burned whenever you use one of the 4 A.R.T.S. special attacks.The "100%" at the top right is for "Stomach" (hunger); when this goes to 0%, you start taking physical damage. When the heart bar at the top left goes to 0 you die and it's game over.)

Within the dungeons (each floor is randomly generated) you can find potions, items and equipment. The point to picking up items like mithral bars and silk cloth is that sometimes you encounter a replicator machine, which is used for upgrading equipment. There are 7 kinds of guns, and 2 kinds of coats. Each type uses different items for the upgrades, and the number of upgrades, abilities and max specs depend on the starting type of gun or coat you use. One type of gun can only be upgraded twice, making for less work in finding the required items, but is strong only against elementals, and only applies the "Slow" status attack to the enemies. That one has a starting attack strength of 1, with a maximum of strength of 100. The regular coat can be upgraded 18 times, for a maximum defense of 145. There's a special coat, the Chocobo Suit, found at the bottom of the dungeon with a starting defense of 1, and only 1 upgrade, but that upgrade, if you can accomplish it, gives a maximum 149 defense, and you don't get hungry as fast (meaning you don't have to worry about running out of food before reaching the final boss on floor 99.) Unfortunately, the upgrade requires 99 diamonds and 99 Chocobo Feathers, and I've only been able to average 5 diamonds and 3 Feathers per trip, and diamonds are only available between floors 76 and 97. It's taken a LONG time to get all the items needed for that upgrade...

I have a couple complaints about this part of the game. First, the music gets very repetitive very quickly, so I have the volume turned off. Second, the game is specifically designed so that you have to keep going through every room on every single floor many, many times. And it can take 3-4 hours just to go from floor 1 to floor 70, so you have to expect that it will take 2 weeks before you can finally get strong enough to face the boss on floor 99.

(Sid, with 2 enemies (a sleeping bat and a Tonberry), plus the red switch for a bomb trap at the upper left.)

What I mean is, one of the better weapons is the Arutairu (Altair). It starts with an attack of 8, and can be upgraded 10 times, for a max attack of 149. Each upgraded version of the weapon gets its own name (Capella, Vega, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Los Arugety (sp?), Aldebaran, Spica, etc.) To go from Aldebaran to Spica requires 32 Crystals, 16 bone fragments, 30 Emeralds and 20 Dark Ore. Crystals and Dark Ore are easy to come by, and are actually two of the most common monster drops. Emeralds can only be found on floors 30 through 69, and the most I've found in one trip is 10. Bone fragments can be found anywhere from floor 2 to 98, but the average is about 5 per trip. And that's just one upgrade. In total, for the gun and the regular coat, I need 140 bone fragments, and 150 Emeralds. The super coat above needs 99 Diamonds, 99 Crystals, 99 Chocobo Feathers, and 99 Velvet cloths. After delving into the dungeons at least 10 times, the farthest down I've been able to go without being killed (and losing everything) is floor 74, and I only have 5 Velvet cloths, 26 Chocobo feathers, and no Diamonds. As mentioned, just to get to floor 70 takes 3-4 hours, and I'm expecting at least 2-3 trips just to get enough items for one upgrade of the gun. Because the coat also requires Emeralds for the next upgrade, that's another 2-3 trips to boost the coat, too. One good thing, though, is that with each upgrade, Sid can hold out a bit longer against the tougher monsters, letting him go down another 2-5 floors before being overwhelmed. Still, that's a lot of churning just to get a small amount of improvement out of just one weapon.

A comment on the Duel Room mini-bosses. There are 5: Golem (floors 11-25), Stone Golem (26-50), Mithral Golem (51-75), Goliate (76-97) and Mini-Tendar (11-97). They hand out 600 to 1000 exp when defeated, and you can pick up some Crystals, and a few special attack bullets for the gun. I think, depending on the last one you beat per run, you get one item to hand to Chocobo when you exit the dungeon. As your weapon improves, your A.R.T.S. attacks will put a maximum of 999 hits on the Golem bosses. You only get the one special shot per battle, unless you have ethers for quickly replenishing spell points during the fight. This will be an important point for me to keep in mind, because the final boss on floor 99 has a rumored 6,500 hit points... This is why upgrading the gun to its ultimate point, and getting the regular coat up to a defense of 145 is going to be so important. It's going to be a l-o-n-g final battle.

(Sid, in front of the replicator used for weapon and armor upgrading. Towards the bottom of the screen are the stairs down to the next floor.)

So, if it's going to take months of sporadic game play and hundreds of runs through the dungeon to beat the final boss, what's the pay off? You can't sell unneeded items, and Sid doesn't receive money or skill points. Well, there is supposed to be a secret ending CG just for Sid, and it's just on the Japanese Gameboy version. And, it turns out that there is a minor purpose to unused items. When you click on items in your inventory that are used for coat and gun upgrades, you get three options - Experiment, Drop, and Description. If you have a large enough quantity of a given item, "experimenting" lets you turn them into something else. Often it's something you can easily find in the dungeons, like cookies (for appeasing hunger), special bullets, or +1 potions for improving the gun and coat stats. But rarely, very rarely, you'll get other items, such as 1 or 2 Bone fragments, or 3 Diamonds. If you don't have enough of the item, experimenting with it will fail and you'll lose all of that item that you're carrying.

In short, Sid's dungeon is an interesting addition to the Chocobo game, but pretty much no one outside of Japan will ever see it (nor will anyone within Japan playing only on the Wii). It's just that it's the definitive example of a Rogue-like, and all Rogue-likes depend too heavily on luck. For Sid's dungeon in particular, needing to spend hours on just one run-through to get supplies to do just one mid-level coat or gun upgrade, makes it a major waste of time in the long-run. On the other hand, I often spend a couple hours a night on the PC playing solitaire games, so maybe the trick will be to limit myself to an hour a day on Sid's dungeon in place of playing solitaire.


Sigh. After writing the above, I put pretty much a solid week (what can I say, I had a long New Year's break) into the game. Doing so, I managed to defeat the final boss on floor 99. I followed this by upgrading one of the guns to an attack of 149 and the regular coat to a defense of 145. This is about the best you can get short of finding another 200 Diamonds (I could only get 35) for upgrading a different gun and the Chocobo Suit.

Beating the boss just gave me a series of still images of Sid (with Chocobo, and while fighting monsters) and a new set of ending credits. Unless there was an embedded Romantic Message that I missed for getting a Pop-up Duel Card, there was nothing to exit the dungeon with to give to Chocobo. In fact, the end credits say that Sid was teleported somewhere and never seen again. Which was a little weird when I rebooted the game and found him standing in front of Chocobo acting like they'd just first met. After this, I could reenter the dungeon and I still had my inventory from the end of the boss battle, and I could run back down to floor 99 to fight the boss again. Still, it's kind of anti-climatic, playing the game for over 2 weeks, just to get a "Congrats for playing, please come again" message.

The really frustrating part of playing a game this old, and with a dungeon that is only in the Japanese Gameboy version (not the Japanese Wii, or the American Gameboy releases) is that I think I've found an Easter Egg and there's no one to brag to.

One Japanese walkthrough gives suggestions on how to beat Omega, the final giant mecha boss. These include putting Haste on Sid and shooting Omega with a "Slow" bullet, in order to get four attacks in to one of Omega's, which will be good for 1-2 turns until Omega dispels the effects on both of you. During this time, shoot it with Fire Bullets to put elemental damage on it (about 125 hp per shot) and then switch to Blood Bullets to drain some hp from Omega to heal yourself when you need to. The problem with this approach is that often Omega will dispel the Haste on you the second you cast it, costing you a turn, it will hit you with attacks that deal 300-400 damage each, and every few turns it will heal itself for 500 hp. Ultimately, this is a losing battle. The A.R.T.S. specials generally only deliver 150-200 damage, and then your SP bar goes to 0. This is when you're really dependent on the potions you brought with you. The most important is Elixir, which restores full HP, SP and Stomach levels, but these are hard to find, at maybe 2 per trip through the dungeon.

The easter egg comes from the research notes that Dr. Glen left behind. You find 3 pages of notes every time you reach the research lab on floor 70. There are 10 sets of notes, so you have to get to floor 70, starting over from floor 1 each time, 10 times. The notes themselves are ignorable, just talking about how Glen created the A.R.T.S, which led to developing the monster robot Omega, which he had to seal away because it was so dangerous (he disappeared about the time Omega got sealed). The important part is that each batch is dated something like "S Month I Day". On a hunch, after collecting the final set of notes, I wrote down all of the letters to get the message "STUNELECTR ICFOROMEGA", in English. I guess that none of the Japanese gamers could read this, because doing a google search on this phrase turns up absolutely nothing, and the hint doesn't factor into the walkthroughs on how to beat the final boss.

So, there I was, facing Omega, and the Japanese walkthrough hints weren't helping me. I was being whittled down and going through healing potions too fast. I'd tried shooting it with Thunder Bullets, but that was only good for maybe 200 hits, which on a 6,500-hit boss wasn't good enough. Getting desperate, and more by accident than anything else, I was rushing through the list of the four A.R.T.S. when I noticed that one was titled "Lightning" in katakana. I tried that, and 'poof', 999 hits. Gulp an Elixir to bring SP back up to max, another Lightning A.R.T.S., and bang, anther 999 hits. I'd brought 7 Elixirs with me, but I'd used 3 just to stay alive, so I only had four left at this point, and I'd also wasted one attack with an A.R.T.S. that wasn't Lightning. The rest of the damage was applied with Blood Bullets, and I still fully expected to die first, when suddenly, Omega went down.

Just to test the theory, I ran through the dungeon 3 more times to upgrade the gun and coat to their highest levels (I needed 30 Diamonds for this), and could only find 3 more Elixirs. I then equipped a handful of High Ethers (recovers 2 SP bars) and Maxi Potions (recovers 500 HP). Not wanting to go through all 98 floors yet again, when I got to the bottom I continued on to confront Omega again. Haste myself, Slow Bullet on Omega, Lightning, Elixir, Lightning, Elixir, Haste, Slow Bullet, Lightning, Elixir, Lightning, a few High Ethers and Lightnings (500 hits each), Slow Bullet, Maxi Potion, Storm Bullet, Omega goes down.

Which brings me to now, as I type this up, and no one to brag to about finding a hint to beating the boss that none of the other Japanese players figured out. If I'd had 4 Elixirs I'd probably have been able to take Omega down within 2 minutes. 5 Elixirs and I'd be guaranteed to win without needing to use the Slow Bullets and Haste. (Actually, I think Omega only has 5,000 hp, but its ability to heal itself of 500 hp every 2-3 turns makes it look like it has more.)

And, with that out of the way, I can put the game away and never feel compelled to play it again. Still, it was nice to see Chocobo for a while. Maybe we'll meet again if I can find something else used. (Which may be difficult, because both SoftMap and Book Off are reducing the shelf space dedicated to used DS games to make more room for the 3DS...)

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