When you think of Wii, you may think of very vibrant family friendly games – games that are very easy to pick up and play, as well as those that have little or no challenge. In other words, games that appeal to non-gamers more so than the hardcore veterans.
Though Wii holds host to some 'hardcore' franchises, yet most of these have been toned-downed a little so that non-gamers can pick it up and play without any confusion; Mario Kart Wii and Super Mario Galaxy are just two such games that have undergone this transformation. By adding vibrant and cuddly graphics to games, as well as downgrading the difficulty a little, developers have managed to find success in the market with easy games. The former part of that statement is correct with Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon, the latter is definitely not. What looks like a cute and cuddly game on the outside is actually a ferocious beast on the inside.
While hunting for a treasure known as Timeless Power, Chocobo and his treasure-hunting partner, Cid, mysteriously end up in a tiny town known as Lostime. As expected, this isn’t your typical little town; whenever the giant clock tower rings, people’s memories vanish instantly. The citizens of the town are more than aware of this, but instead of doing something about it, they are happy to keep this cycle going, as they believe their lives are less painful without remembering the emotional baggage of their problems.
One day though, the mayor of the town, Gale, has a dream that the heavens will send forth something to help the town with their issues. Shortly after this, an egg falls out of the sky, and inside it is a baby boy - wowever, this isn’t your typical little toddler. Named Raffaello, this precocious child could talk instantly after being born, and on top of this, he can enter people’s minds; restoring peace to their memories. Soon Raffaello bravely jumps into Gale’s thoughts, and, in a valiant sense of honour, Chocobo decides to hop in and try aid him – the first of many such adventures.
When inside, Chocobo must make it through a randomly generated dungeon, which at the end is located an item that looks like a piece of a puzzle. Once acquired, the person’s memories will be restored and Raffaello and Chocobo will return to Lostime. However it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Though the game starts off relatively easy, the difficulty picks up rapidly, and before you know it, you’ll be in many mind-boggling situations.
In these dungeons, the game turns into a turn-based experience, as opposed to the free-roaming experience provided when in Lostime and its surrounding areas. Chocobo and all monsters in the dungeon are controlled through this system of taking turns. If Chocobo moves one step, enemies will have the opportunity to move one step; making every step you take important. Trust us here, one simple wrong step and the result will see Chocobo being defeated. Every step, every spell, and every attack needs to be considered. On top of this is quite a clever system where each turn you take raises your hit points and magic power slightly, but there is a price. In the upper right-hand corner is a percentage that represents your hunger; let this drop to 0% and Chocobo starts losing hit points. To stop hunger affecting Chocobo you’ll need to feed him, and this requires a bit of forward planning – If you don’t make the right decisions, you’ll be sure to struggle.
Perhaps one, if not the most, important thing you need to take into consideration when traversing a dungeon is your job (character build). As you progress through the story you'll obtain memories of jobs, and this enables you to use the Job Change feature. Using Job Change, you can effectively select how you are going to play the game as each job has its own attributes, strengths and weaknesses – with stronger abilities becoming available as you level up. Examples of some of the jobs in the game are: white mage, with the ability to cure and protect themselves, black mage, able to cast spells such as fire and blizzard, and knight, with the brute strength required to knock out opponents physically.
Though the main task of each dungeon is to make it to the last level, there are also several things you can do en route. For starters, Chocobo can stroll about and pick up items and equip them; items such as talons can be used to raise Chocobo’s attack, whereas saddles will increase his defensive stats. Asides from these equitables, there are a whole host of consumables consisting of: vegetables, potions, ethers, among many others.
It's not just going on a treasure hunt inside somebody’s mind, though; you can also go on a killing spree! Each level in the dungeon consists of an endless horde of enemies that will net you experience points and maybe even some job points when defeated. By accumulating experience points, players can raise the level of Chocobo, thereby increasing his stats in true Final Fantasy style. Job points work in a similar way too, but instead of increasing stats, Chocobo will gain new abilities.
At the end of each dungeon is a boss – an enemy more powerful than any other in the current dungeon. Going head-on with these nasties is a sure-fire way to see the game over screen. Instead, you must heed bosses’ pattern to decipher the right way to bring them down. Nethertheless, the odds are that, as you progress through the game, you'll encounter game over a fair bit.
Unquestionably the best part about Chocobo’s Dungeon, in our opinion, are the pop-up duels. Despite any real depth to them, they do prove to be very enjoyable. Pop-up duels consist of three phases: the pop-up phase, the matching phase, and the end phase. The pop-up phase deals with selecting a card to fight with and the matching phase consists of the battle between the selected cards. Finally, the end phase shows the results of the round. After this phase, the process repeats itself. Using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, players can duel friends and random people. Like Mario Kart Wii, players start with a set number of points and depending on how the duel turns out, their score will drop or rise.
The biggest issue with Chocobo’s Dungeon is unquestionably the controls. Though the game is playable using the Wii Remote held sideways or upright, it doesn’t lend itself very well to playing with the classic controller. The classic controller has a lot buttons to allow for more options, but it sometimes gets confusing trying to remember which button does what exactly. Personally, we would’ve liked to see the controls, and the actual game, simplified a little bit more.
Graphically, Chocobo’s Dungeon is a mixed bag. Though the CGI work in the game looks great, the in-game graphics aren’t anything exceptionally well done. Square Enix has been known for pushing systems to their limits, most notably with the Final Fantasy series, yet that doesn't really seem to be the case here. The same thing can be said with the music in the game; nothing exceptionally well done, but nevertheless, it’s decent.
For people hoping for a game the same standard as the main Final Fantasy series, we have some bad news – you aren’t going to get anything even close here. What you’re getting is a very cute and cuddly looking game that is as tough as nails. Though this experience is recommended for hardcore gamers, newcomers to the Final Fantasy series might be put off by the steep difficulty, with a strong chance that they’ll get frustrated fairly quickly. Still, if you savour a challenge then this is worth investment.