Thursday, November 11, 2010

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon (Wii)


Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Simple and easy to pick up
Cons: Simple, with limited replayability

Introduction

I'm a huge Final Fantasy fan, and make a point of playing every Final Fantasy game I can get my hands on, and one of my favorites among them is Final Fantasy Tactics. I also just-so-happen to be a huge fan of dungeon crawlers such as Torchlight and Diablo. This game appeared to be a nice blend of the two, and that alone put it on my play list.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is more like the dungeon crawlers than it is like a traditional Final Fantasy role-playing game, although it does incorporate many elements of the popular franchise's previous titles.

Story

Cid and his partner Chocobo (quite an original name for a Chocobo) are treasure hunters, searching for a treasure called Timeless Power. When they find it, rival treasure hunter Irma and her black Chocobo Volg are already there, and mid-argument a swirling vortex appears in the sky and sucks them up in a rain of light. They are somehow transported to an island called Memoria which disappeared from the world fifty years ago. There, they pop out of a fountain in the middle of the town of Lostime, where all the residents lose their memories whenever the Bell of Oblivion in the clock tower rings.

Cid and Chocobo meet a young girl named Shirma who tells them about the tower, and then the crazy story continues with a magic egg falling out of the sky... out of which hatches a green-haired baby boy. The town's mayor remembers the boy is named Raffaello, even though he was just born and thus had obviously never met the mayor before. He can somehow travel into people's memories, and the Brooch of Memories that he leaves on the ground allows Chocobo to do the same.

That little bit of introduction story at the beginning of the game is about all your going to get, save for a few minor revelations later in the game. There are still piles of small video scenes randomly throughout the game to push the story along, and occasionally it even manages to take on that all-too-familiar Final Fantasy feel of being a button pressing movie rather than a game; but for the most part all that's left is hours and hours of good-ol' dungeon crawling.

Gameplay

The "world map", if you can call it that, consists of simply the town of Lostime and a farmhouse. There's also a little Font of the Goddess that seems to serve no purpose other than to let you swim in a circle. That's all there is to it, so when I say the game is linear I mean it. You can't go wandering around exploring new areas, but you also can't accidentally go the wrong direction and end up lost somewhere way out of your league.

The dungeons are all randomly generated each time you enter. They are tile-based and turn-based, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics - except that you only control one character, so there's no waiting time between moves. Every time you move, use an item or perform an attack/ability, every enemy on the floor also takes a turn. This makes battles fairly trivial, as you can retreat into a hallway to face enemies one at a time. To try and add a little spice to the mundane dungeon crawl, Chocobo can (in typical Final Fantasy style) change jobs and become a Knight, Dark Knight, Dragoon, White Mage, Black Mage, Thief, Ninja, Dancer, Scholar or remain Natural. The different jobs have different abilities such as healing, casting fire spells or stealing from enemies.

As well as Chocobo's health, he also has a food gauge that slowly depletes during the dungeon. When he gets to 10% food level, he walks like he's afflicted with a slow spell; and if he gets to 0% his health will start dropping. If you reach 0 health you have to start the dungeon over, and you lose every non-equipped item you were carrying and all the gold you were carrying. There are also random traps to contend with, some slowing you down or stopping you in place temporarily, others directly doing damage or sapping your food level.

As a dungeon crawler should, the game features random items on the floor or dungeons or dropped from defeated enemies. Potions and ethers are common, greens for chocobo to eat, a little bit of equipment. You can get talons (weapon), saddles (armor), and various neck pieces. Different equipment has different abilities, such as added fire damage or reduced ice damage, extra money or equipment dropping, immunity to sleep, etc. They can be fused with each other at the forge in town if the equipment has enough free slots, and can be upgraded to a predetermined level based on the item. There's not a ton of different items to choose from, and only the talons and a saddle can be modified - but at least they are customizable.

There are also some optional dungeons with special rules, such as everyone having 1 hitpoint, 0 food level or being blind. You are also unable to bring any equipment, items or gold into the optional dungeons. Some of them, such as Claire's Memories, are a real challenge; you have 1 hitpoint and all the enemies have normal health. They provide an extra challenge and some variety to the crawl.

Dungeons have checkpoints every 10 levels that allow you to warp from the beginning to that point in the dungeon to ease the arduous task of returning, and every dungeon you complete can be replayed as many times as you want by using a mirror in the church to re-enter it.

There are limited other things to do, such as fishing or planting flowers, but they are not very well fleshed out and won't keep you busy for very long. There are only 2 places you can fish, and only 8 different fish you can catch... in addition, you can only hold one fish at a time and they are pretty useless except to give one of each kind to the Chocobo who runs the vault to give you more space. You can only plant 4 flower seeds at once, and the 8 different flowers just give you a few job points or cast a spell when used.

Controls

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon doesn't really make use of the Wii's remote. You can hold it vertically or horizontally to control Chocobo, but it doesn't use any of the motion sensing or movement tracking stuff, except for a tiny bit in the Pop-Up duel mini game. You can also (like I do) play the game using the Wii's Classic Controller for a more traditional console feel. The directional pad moves you around the map, and one square at a time in the dungeons; the 2 button (A on the Classic Controller) attacks or talks to people... there's really nothing to them. The nunchuck is not supported, so no analog movement either.

There's no jumping, no adjustable camera angles, no complicated moves - just simple controls and easy to navigate menus.

Graphics

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon features bright and colorful 3D graphics. The player models are mostly terrific, pastel cartoony colors with fluid movement. Many of your favorite Final Fantasy monsters and summons are here in the same cartoony style, such as Malboro, Cactuar, Tonberry, Shiva and Ifrit. Backgrounds and dungeons are beautiful, but really, really overused.

The particle effects are probably one of the nicest parts; fire, water and lightning are all vibrant and semi-realistic. It's a shame they aren't used a bit more. The video cut scenes are also good, as you'd expect in a Final Fantasy game. They really bring the characters to life and sell the story.

Sound

For the most part, the mellow background tunes are quite fitting and exactly what you would expect out of a game with Final Fantasy in the title. Many of the songs are remixes of songs from previous Final Fantasy games, and if you're a fan of the series that should speak well to the quality. They do a good job of helping to set the mood in the game, and are fairly easy on the ears. The sound effects are equally above par, but some, such as Chocobo's incessant chirping from the Wii Remote's speaker, can get old mighty fast.

The voice acting, however, is hit or miss. Most of it isn't bad, Cid's not bad and Raffaello is actually pretty good most of the time. The girl Shirma and the Moogle who goes by many names are two of my absolute least-favorites as far as voice acting goes. I truly wish that I could selectively mute just their voices, or somehow replace them on the game disc with anything else. Nails on a chalk board. I'd almost rather listen to Fran Drescher - and I don't say that lightly.

Final Thoughts

There are a few little mini games that you can play at the Moogle's house. Bat Basher, Credits, Kick Darts and a card-collecting Pop-Up duel. Think Yu-Gi-Oh meets Pokemon. However, there's really not much to the first three other than trying for a high score to get a collectable card for the Pop-Up game.

Replaying through the actual game holds even less interest due to the linearity of it leaving little-to-nothing new to experience. About the only thing worth doing after you complete the game is battling other players in the Pop-Up mini game over the Wii's Wi-Fi connection. If you can find it for a reasonable price it's worth buying to play through once, but after that you may as well sell it on eBay or give it to a friend.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Destiny of an Emperor (NES)


Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros:Good plot, lots of characters
Cons:An annoying bug, historically inaccurate
 
Introduction

Destiny of an Emperor is a role-playing strategy game published by Capcom and produced by Tokuro Fujiwara, who is notable for also producing the Mega Man series. Loosely based on the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. Most of the characters and locations are from 2nd and 3rd century China, though many of the translations (especially character names) leave something to be desired.

You take control of Liu Bei and his blood brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu as they set forth on an adventure to defend their village that ultimately leads to uniting China under Shu Han. This is historically inaccurate, as Shu Han was actually the first of the Three Kingdoms to fall.

Gameplay

Destiny of an Emperor, for the most part, plays out like your typical NES-era role playing game. You run around the world map killing random enemies to gain experience and gold, and then use that gold to buy new weapons and armor for your characters. You can have up to 5 characters at a time participating in battle, and up to 7 total in your party. The additional characters can take the place of one who was killed in combat, and one can also act as a tactician.

Unlike fantasy role playing games, there are no magic spells in Destiny of an Emperor. Instead, players can assign a tactician to fill that role, lending his military tactics to the active battle participants. These tactics serve the same purpose as magic spells, by attacking enemies, healing yourself, preventing enemy attacks or other effects. They take a little getting used to; with names like Bei Ji and Shui Long, it takes some time to learn which tactics perform which effects. There are 6 total tactics that can be learned at one time, and you have no control over them; though you always learn one fire tactic, one water tactic, one healing tactic, etc.

Thankfully, many of the tactics have upgraded forms, and they stay in their same position in the list, making it easier to figure out what does what later in the game. For example, Lian Huo is the first fire tactic you learn, and it appears in the first place of your tactic list. As you level and get upgraded versions, they will remain in first place where fire tactics always go, so even though Da Re looks nothing like Lian Huo, you know it's a tactic designed to damage the enemy with fire just because of it's in the first spot on your list.

Most random battles are with pirates, brigands, bandits or rebels; but a great many of these random battles will also contain one or more generals. One of the best features of the game, is the ability to recruit enemy generals. After defeating a general in a random battle you will sometimes be able to capture them, and be given the option to convert them or let them go. If you try to convert them, sometimes they will join for free if you are much stronger, but usually they will only join in exchange for some amount of gold or a horse (which can be purchased in item shops for 200 gold). They won't always join however, and most who appear in story battles will only be able to be recruited after you have bested them there first.

It's a pretty linear game, with most areas inaccessible until you complete the story line in the previous area. Only one place in the game does the storyline "branch" and let you go to two different areas simultaneously. You must complete both areas anyway, and both of those areas are equally as linear, but at least it's something.

Characters also require provisions/food in the game, and if you run out you'll steadily take damage while walking around the world map. This usually is never an issue, because you gain quantities of food from most story battles, but you can always buy more in towns. The more soldiers your generals have in their armies, the more food they require, so towards the end of the game if you're not strong enough and stop to level up for a time you may run out. It's easy to notice, because your screen flashes red every step you take and makes a little thwack sound.

Generals in Destiny of an Emperor don't have hit points either, instead they have soldiers, though for all intents and purposes they are the same thing. Most generals in the game do not increase the amount of soldiers they command when they level up, so recruiting better generals is vital to success, especially in the early to middle portion of the game. The few generals that do increase their soldier count every level are usually very strong, and they usually become a permanent fixture of your army. By the end of the game, you have enough of these special generals that you usually won't be concerned with random enemy generals any longer as they won't be of any benefit to you.

With so many different generals available, you would think this game would have amazing replayability, but since you're usually using the same handful of generals at the end of the game that's not really the case. Once or twice is nice, maybe using mostly physical attacking generals once and mostly using intelligent generals and tactics the next time through, but anything past that is redundant. Unless you play through some type of challenge game, like not using generals who gain soldiers at level up, or trying to beat the game at as low of a level as possible.

Bugs

There is one glaring bug that affects things a number of ways. If you have two generals in your party that are capable of learning tactics when they level up, one of the games subroutines can mess up and overwrite certain memory addresses that deal with treasure chests and search-able items. Sometimes this can result in duplicate items, or missing items, but is generally not a huge deal - except that one treasure chest contains an item that is required to advance the story line.

If that one happens to be bugged you either better have a Game Genie, or you have to restart your game from the beginning. You can minimize the chances of this by only leaving one strategist in your party at a time, but that limits the already somewhat limited replayability factor. If you come to a new area and see open treasure chests instead of closed ones, or search where you know there's an item and find nothing... you've been bitten. You still may be able to proceed though, only one chest is vital to progression to my knowledge, if all the other chests are bugged you would still be able to finish.

Controls & Battle System

When I first started playing this game, I was pleasantly surprised by the speed at which your characters walk. You walk around with the directional pad on the overhead map, but the characters seem move around twice as fast as most similar games. This improves the pace of the game somewhat, and makes traveling around areas much quicker and less annoying.

Nearly everything in Destiny of an Emperor is accessed via a menu interface. Talking to people, searching the ground, using or equipping items, looking at your current party members or rearranging them. This can be really bothersome at times; say you wanted to switch one of your characters out with another. When you give all of one character's items to another character, the multiple nested menu choices take a significant amount of time.

Bring up the menu, choose item command, choose which character, choose which item, choose pass, choose who to pass it to. Bring up the menu again, choose item command, choose new character, choose the new item, choose equip. Do that with your armor, your helmet, and your weapon; as well as transferring any non-equippable items he may be carrying. After about the 20th time you swap out a character, it gets a little more than tedious.

Battles occur randomly on the world map, as well as in fixed locations relating to the story line. Nearly every fixed story battle takes place at a town or fort, or at a gate in front of a palace or fort. There are a limited number of story battles that take place after talking to NPCs in town, and a couple that take place in random over-world fights. The battles take place on a plain black screen with a side view of the player's generals on the left and the enemy on the right facing each other.

During battles, every character can choose to battle, use a tactic, defend, or use an item. Characters with higher strength will hit harder with physical attacks, and characters with high intelligence will have a better chance of connecting with tactics (and avoiding enemy tactics). The first character (party leader) can also choose All-Out, Retreat or Report. All-Out is like an auto battle that makes the your army attack the enemy until one side wins. It makes everyone on your side attack with physical attacks only, and don't allow much room for strategy, but it speeds up random battles and easy battles considerably. The enemy can still use tactics, but you can hold the B button to stop the All-Out attack and return to the battle menu if necessary.

Retreat obviously tries to run away from the battle, but if it's unsuccessful the enemy armys will each get a free turn to attack you. Report spys on an enemy general and gives you vital information about it, such as it's strength and intelligence and what tactics it may be able to use. If an enemy general has high strength, he's going to hit harder with physical attacks; if his intelligence is high he's going to hit harder with tactics as well as be missed by most tactics used against him by your less intelligent officers. It becomes a vital strategy to take out the enemy general that is the biggest threat, and Report helps you figure out which general that may be in any given battle.

Graphics & Sound

Destiny of an Emperor features a top-down view on the world map and in towns, similar to Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior or The Legend of Zelda, and the aforementioned side view in battles.

Having been released in 1989 (1990 in the US) in the middle of the NES's life cycle, the tile based graphics are simple and colorful, but show no improvement over earlier tile-based titles. The grass, forest, hill, mountain and ocean map tiles of the world map are all pretty standard fare; as are the two small tile-sets for palaces and forts. There are no rounded edges here, and the water is the only thing other than characters that has any type of animation.

Where the game sets itself apart, however, is in the variety of characters. It looks like most of the 150 or so characters in the game have their own unique graphic, and I'm not just talking about a couple of palette swaps either. Many of them even have matching character portraits as well.

The world map music is fun and plucky, and contrasted nicely by the slightly more up-tempo and synthetic battle music. The palace music is different from the music in the fort, which is the other type of town tile set. The music inside buildings differs depending on the type of building, inns and save points have one type of music, castles have another...

The sound effects are average and familiar; the little dot-dot-dot sound when NPCs talk, the blip of the menu selection cursor, and the thwack-thwack sound when you hit an enemy... you've heard them all before.

Final Thoughts

Despite the one glaring bug that occasionally requires a complete restart, overall this is a really good game, and one of my all time favorites on the NES. I've played through this game a couple of times many years ago, and recently finished playing through it again.

Destiny of an Emperor should be a part of every collection - especially for RPG fans.