Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon Wii
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: h.a.n.d. Inc.
Release Date: Out Now
Of late there are several of Nintendo's head honchos claiming that hardcore gamers have not been forgotten and that next year we'll see some games that will appeal to them. Whilst it's true that most of the console's titles are aimed at those who wouldn't normally play games, there are games on the Wii which do, and will, appeal to those gaming veterans who have been wearing their thumbs out for two decades and more. Take a cursory look at the box for Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon and you'll probably get the idea that this is going to be a simplified RPG that most fans of the genre won't find interesting. However it's an assumption that could lead to you missing out on the best RPG for the system in Europe to date.
The game begins with two treasure hunters, Cid and Chocobo, arriving at the Tower in the Sands in search of a jewel known as Timeless Power. Cid reckons the jewel is essential for the building of an airship that will allow him and Chocobo to take to the skies. Unfortunately their enemies, Irma and Volg, have arrived before them and they have taken possession of Timeless Power. If that wasn't bad enough all four of them are consumed in a wave of light and are transported to another world. Cid and Chocobo end up being shot out of a fountain and landing in front of a clock tower. They find themselves in another world in a town called Lostime, in the region of Memoria. The town and the region are aptly named. All is not well in Lostime. The clock tower they've landed in front of has a bell known as the Bell of Oblivion. Whenever this bell rings the people in the town lose their memory. Not long after Cid and Chocobo have arrived in Lostime, the bell rings and Cid forgets who he is. A white mage named Shirma comes to their rescue and takes them back to her aunt's house. Later that night Shirma and Chocobo return to Lostime just in time to see what appears to be an egg fall from the sky. If that's not bizarre enough, a baby with green hair emerges from the egg.
This baby, called Raffaello, has a special power. He can create dungeons from people's memories to help them remember. With the dungeon created it's up to Chocobo to enter the dungeon and work his way down through the various floors defeating all of the creatures that reside there. After defeating a boss character Chocobo will find Raffaello, who is clinging to a memory shard (which looks like a jigsaw piece) and they will both leave the dungeon. The person to whom the memories belonged to will then begin to remember what they had forgotten. What's really interesting is that as you recover a character's memories they will return to their normal line of work and the town of Lostime will begin to come alive and additional options will open up. For instance when you recover Freja the blacksmith's memories, you'll be able to visit her to have your talons and saddles honed improving your performance in battle.
The meat of the game is exploring these randomly generated memory dungeons and it's here where the game truly shines. The combat in the dungeons is turn-based, although it doesn't feel like a traditional turn-based system in which you have to wait around a lot. Essentially for almost every action that Chocobo takes, his enemies will make a move. Your enemies will move when Chocobo moves, uses an item or uses an ability. The only thing Chocobo can do which doesn't result in an enemy doing anything is to change the direction he's facing. At first this all seems rather simplistic but it adds a level of strategy to the combat. You're always better keeping one square (pressing and holding the 1 button reveals the grid), between you and your enemies to give you the first strike in an attack. When faced with multiple enemies you're advised to head for a corridor so that you can see off one enemy at a time. There are also traps (some of which are invisible) to consider. Initially the dungeons you'll enter are pretty straightforward but later in the game there are some which are downright devious and set various status conditions on Chocobo.
There are various things to consider when inside a dungeon. First of all there's Chocobo's health. Thankfully this does replenish as you move around but there are potions you can use to restore health. There's SP which is used up when Chocobo performs his special abilities. You also have to make sure Chocobo doesn't go hungry. On entering a dungeon Chocobo will be 100% full but as you progress through the dungeon this percentage will begin to fall. Should it fall to 0% then Chocobo's HP will begin to fall. Keeping a good supply of Gysahl Greens is definitely advised if you want to prevent him from becoming hungry. Should Chocobo meet an untimely end in the dungeons he'll keep his level, experience points, job points (yes there is a basic job system here too) and items that have been equipped but everything else will be lost. Thankfully there are places in the town where you can store your items, so you don't have to take everything into a dungeon with you and risk losing them. Dungeons do become quite devious as the game goes on but thankfully you can exit them from any stairway. You can also quick save the game from any stairway which is useful if you don't have much time to play and it's important in later dungeons which are larger.
I really appreciated some aspects of Chocobo's Dungeon. You can play Chocobo's Dungeon with either the Wii remote or the Classic Controller. The Wii remote can either be held naturally or sideways. Whichever control system you choose you'll find the controls to be absolutely fine. There are some nice touches here. When holding the remote in the sideways position you can press the A button and 1 button together to go right to the Abilities menu, for instance, which is a really nice touch. When using the Classic Controller you'll find every button is used. All too often you find that various buttons on the Classic Controller have been ignored, but not here. The developers even saw fit to fit in a multiplayer card battling game which uses the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service which wasn't necessary but is appreciated.
It's difficult to deny that the game has a certain cute factor to it. The graphics, whilst not technically impressive, are very easy on the eyes and altogether charming. Still it has to said that most would have expected the graphics to look better than they do. This is a complaint that we have with so many Wii games. In fact it's such a common complaint you have to wonder if Nintendo were exaggerating a little about the console's capabilities as 99% of games look as though they could have been made for the GameCube (or PlayStation 2 even) and the other 1% only look fractionally better than a GameCube title. Still, Chocobo's Dungeon isn't a bad looking game and the characters and environments look pleasant enough. The dungeons are a little basic however but they get the job done. The lip-synching is awful but it's hardly a major problem.
Chocobo's Dungeon won't cause deaf gamers any problems. Virtually all of the game's cutscenes are subtitled and you'll be able to follow the storyline with no problems at all. The only one that isn't subtitled is the one that plays when the game loads up and this is just a composition of cutscenes that are in the game (and they are subtitled in the game) so it's not really a concern. There are no character names or portraits accompanying the subtitles in the cutscenes but during the in-game dialogue you will see the name of the person who is speaking. The text in the main game can be read at your own pace as you have to press a button to move the conversation forward. Between floors in a dungeon there are comments from the person whose memories created the dungeon and these comments are subtitled. You'll also be aware of when a boss character is on the next floor because you'll see red rays emanating from the stairs. In short the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
Don't let the cute graphics fool you into thinking that Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is an over-simplified RPG experience. The game will take around thirty hours to complete and for the most part it's a challenging experience that's really enjoyable. Yes some RPG enthusiasts may not be able to get over the cutesy charm and appreciate the quality RPG experience that's on offer here but that's their problem. In Europe at least this is the best RPG you can currently purchase for the Wii and any fan of the genre should definitely put the game on their wish list.