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.

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