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Would a Chocobo's Dungeon be the type of place that you'd want to venture into, or is it best avoided?
- Deep gameplay.
- Good controls.
- Lots of side quests.
- Annoying voice acting.
- Long cut-scenes.
- Slow pacing of main story.
You'd expect a Final Fantasy spin off adventure revolving around a Chocobo - their loveable cute bird mascots - to be a rather frivolous encounter, lacking anywhere near the depth of the main Final Fantasy series it stems from. The incredibly cutesy art style and Wii exclusivity would also weigh in as circumstantial evidence for at best a substandard adventure title.
Let me put those fears to rest. This is a very solid adventure title for the Wii that incorporates some surprising RPG elements you'd think would never show up on Nintendo's family friendly console. It includes interesting strategy, stats based gameplay and a fair amount of item management. However, its not all stats and tactics.
The premise behind this game is that Chocobo and the treasure hunter, Cid, find themselves transported into the town of Lostime without any means of return whilst out on an expedition searching for treasure. Lostime's residents suffer from amnesia: with each ring of the central clock tower bell of Lostime they lose their memory.
Initially when you arrive in the town, the residents seem quite content with the idea of losing their memory. For them, its simply a way of maintaining happiness - if they can't remember something, it must have been bad and they no longer need it in their memory. Their way of thinking is soon challenged and they are forced to ask themselves if ignorance truly is bliss and to question the value of memory, regardless of its content.
Very early on, Chocobo gains the ability to help Lostime's residents recover these memories. This is done by going into their thoughts, which generates a dungeon with a random layout and a series of floors you must delve through. At the bottom of each dungeon, the treasure is a lost memory. By progressively doing this, you will slowly unravel the mystery behind the town of Lostime.
A chapter system neatly divides the section of the main story up into nice, manageable chunks. Taking a look at the map will also show a marker showing you where you need to be, and who you need to talk with to progress the story. As there are plenty of residents in the town, each one potentially being a dungeon, a hint system like this is actually quite welcome. If you really wanted to, there's plenty of side quests and dungeons to explore.
As previously mentioned, the dungeons have randomly generated floors, so you'll never go through the same dungeon twice. The random layout also applies to the location of monsters, good items, bad items and the all important staircase that leads you to the floor below. From battling with monsters you will inevitably lose hit points as you receive damage and magic points as you use special techniques and spells. The act of walking around will gradually replenish your hit points and magic points, but drain on Chocobo's hunger. Walking around whilst in dungeons actually does a little more than that. It's also the basis of the combat: with each step you take, the enemies will also move or take an action, such as attacking you. After the first few dungeons it will become apparent how important it is to be mindful of where you are walking and what the implications of it will be in terms of your vital stats and enemy placement.
Inventory management, usually something associated with survival horror games, also plays a key role in Chocobo's Dungeon. There's limited space to what you can carry, and maintaining a balance between health restoring items, single use offensive spell items and surplus offensive and defensive equipment to sell on is really important if you want to survive. Don't fret though: this is an adventure title that is meant to cater for a broader audience than Final Fantasy, and even if you perish in a dungeon you'll keep your experience points, only losing any non equipped items and money.
Although you only play as Chocobo, there is a job system in place which means that at the beginning of a dungeon, you can choose to have characteristics of Final Fantasy's black mage, white mage, knight and other additional types. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and some dungeons have special rules to them such as experience level limits or no items allowed, making you further rely on assorted job types.
Chocobo's Dungeon also sports a sensible use of the Wii mote. Because the dungeons are essentially grid based, using the d-pad to move around feels very natural and leaves the other buttons free to navigate the menu's. In the inventory screen, a shake of the Wii mote will organise all the items - this is the only use of the motion sensing in the main game and doesn't interfere with the gameplay.
A high graphical standard is maintained throughout this game, and although it doesn't push the graphical boundaries of the Wii, there is plenty of colourful graphics and a nice warm aesthetic quality. The voice acting in this game very quickly becomes annoying due to the slow, patronising speaking speed. This irritable quality also carries over to the cutscenes (though thankfully they are skippable). Keen Final Fantasy fans will recognise returning musical themes from previous games, the most obvious being the chocobo theme itself amongst others.
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