Played on… Nintendo Switch
Also on… Playstation 4
Developed by… Square Enix
Published by… Square Enix
Is a… mystery dungeon JRPG
Good to play… over many many lazy days
Confession time: I haven’t dipped my toes into the mystery dungeon sub-genre of JRPGs very much. I suppose the rogue-like elements usually put me off. The constant threat of losing all of your hard-earned items gets me sweating like a hoarder forced to spring clean. Yet to my bemusement, many people actually seek out this kind of high-risk high-reward gameplay; the challenge of advancing inch by inch; and cleaning out dungeons by the skin of your teeth. If such masochism sounds familiar, please read on. You’ll likely enjoy the many quaint features of this game, which remasters 2007’s Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon with more than a new lick of paint and a catchy new name.
Second confession: I am a Final Fantasy fraud. Despite being a great lover of JRPGs, I didn’t grow up with Playstation consoles and missed most of Square Enix’s iconic titles, which have since been regrettably fed to the backlog. Now, you might be asking an astute question: whatever am I doing with Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon then? Well, firstly, I was unexpectedly enamoured with the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series on the Nintendo DS and recently wanted another stab at dungeon-crawling. Secondly and more importantly, I am an absolute sucker for cute properties – and Chocobos (even I know this in my squarish ignorance) are kwehing cute.
So, what’s it about?
Like a yellow-feathered Indiana Jones, Chocobo and his buddy, Cid, are treasure hunters. As treasure-hunters do, they root around dubious places, find treasure and make right gaffes of it. Stumbling upon an artifact ominously named ‘Timeless Power’, the two are transported to the sleepy town of Lostime – a name equally on the nose. Chocobo soon finds that beyond the picturesque streets and disarmingly pleasant folk, something insidious is at play in Lostime. When the Oblivion Bell at the town’s centre rings, the Lostimers lose their memories. Ignorance is bliss according to the mayor but fortunately a young girl called Shirma whisks the player away before the bell can ring out a forgettable fate for our feathered friend. This is where the adventure starts proper. Lostime’s ready acceptance to just forget immediately seems uncanny and recalls the disconcerting myopia of Clock Town towards their own destruction in Majora’s Mask. So what to do? Obviously, you rely on a chicken to rescue the town from obscurity by diving into subconscious labyrinths and restoring the community’s memories! We all have some dungeons in the closet, right?
As it turns out, you don’t need to be much of a Final Fantasy aficionado to grasp the game’s appeal. The simplicity of the plot makes it easy to pick up and play periodically, which is all the better for this style of dungeon-crawler that can get repetitive in prolonged sessions. The story and characters are a bit thin on the ground. However, the slow drip-feed of the bigger mystery behind the town’s odd situation was enough incentive to keep me pecking at the dungeon’s door. Not to spoil much, but the core concept was intriguing and lightly touches upon ideas of trauma and collective burdens. ‘What is happiness?’ it asks. Is it merely the absence of conflict and pain, akin to the Epicurean principle of ataraxia? Or the contrary, does happiness lie in overcoming life’s obstacles? Facing one’s tragic past isn’t particularly novel for JRPGs but the application of this motif to a community wider than the ‘hero’ and their friends is a refreshing twist. Nevertheless, these underlying themes are somewhat glossed over by the cheery tone that seeps through the dialogue and every adorable pose Chocobo strikes. There’s a charm in the small-town interactions and smattering of backstories revealed from each Lostimer’s redeemed memories. Restoring the drive of the blacksmith, who has forgotten how to forge weapons, and reconciling the cafe owner with his memories of an old lostlorn love – these are the parts of Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon that I remember most fondly.
But, how does it play?
The game merges mainstays of the Final Fantasy series with key components of the mystery dungeon formula. The player explores procedural grid-based dungeons, stuffing as much loot as possible into a limited backpack and chomping down on some gysahl greens when Chocobo’s tummy starts rumbling. It wouldn’t be much of a dungeon without hordes of monsters though, and there are plenty to be found here. In turn-based fashion, enemies only move when you do so you can take your time to plan your attack. Meanwhile, concealed traps can get a careless Chocobo into a flap or they might turn a dire situation around if you utilise them tactically. There are two difficulty options: normal or hard. The key difference is that you keep equipped items when you collapse mid-dungeon on normal difficulty; enemies are more powerful and you lose all your items in the more traditional hard mode. Don’t be fooled by the cute exterior, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon is more difficult than it seems and isn’t afraid to throw around powerful foes to thwart the unprepared deep diver. Take the risk or tiptoe round it – either way, besting that once insurmountable boss with better skills and equipment is immensely satisfying.
Where this game stands out lies in its Final Fantasy roots, most notably the job system and character designs. Chocobo starts out as a measly freelancer but new jobs are soon unlocked as you progress through the story. Each job has various skills and with thirteen unique jobs in total, there is ample space to experiment with different playstyles. Seeing Chocobo decked out in chibi black mage gear, firaga-ing goblins’ arses is my highlight but there is much to relish here. Although some jobs are more effective in certain situations, you can stick with a couple of preferred jobs if you’re willing to grind to get the good skills – and, yes, there is potentially a lot of grinding. According to average playtimes on HowLongToBeat, the main story can be completed in as little as 25 hours. On the other end of the scale, a completionist playthrough can run into the 140+ hours range. That leads onto the next biggest offender in the grind machine – the eponymous buddy system.
It’s dangerous to go alone! Luckily, Chocobo can recruit different ‘buddies’ to accompany him. Defeating monsters typically yields experience, job points and buddy points. Raise the buddy points of a monster class high enough and they will join Chocobo on his adventure. Who knew the key to making friends was to kick them in the head first? The two-toed terror can even coerce bosses into playing crewmate, though it will take quite a few beatings before they submit to the chicken. While only one buddy can be taken into the dungeon at a time, their level and stats are linked to Chocobo’s so feel free to switch them up. A nice feature of this Switch remaster is the ability to play it cooperatively with two local players, where the second player acts as the buddy. I didn’t try this feature but I imagine it would be fun with a friend. Between the job and buddy system, there are many layers to fiddle around with that will keep the patient player going for a long time. The pace did feel a bit plodding at times, especially when I kept dipping in and out of dungeons; however, it was perfect for when I wanted to switch off my brain and play something leisurely.
Besides the main story dungeons, there are several optional quests that involve traversing the memory dungeons of less essential townsfolk. These usually have interesting gimmicks that force the player to complete the dungeon under certain conditions. For example, you might have to brave some dark and dangerous corridors blind or fight on an empty stomach while taking hunger damage. These sidequests could be quite challenging and often revealed little titbits about the Lostimers. There are a few more digressions outside of combat but they are all linked to making dungeoneering easier. Purifying and forging allows you to improve your equipment. Farming lets you plant seeds that grow into flowers with different effects in combat. My favourite was the fishing mini-game that yielded useful items and fish, which could be handed over to the bank’s fat
cat birb, who will gladly increase your storage for every unique fish.
Well, what’s the finish like?
It can’t be a Chocobo game and not be cute. The soft-styled aesthetic and character animations are simply charming. Even the monsters are chibified! Environmental detail is also on point. What’s not to like seeing Chocobo drinking tea outside the local cafe or taking a dip in the goddess pond? There aren’t any mechanical benefits here but seeking out these little moments were rewarding nonetheless and enforces the game’s wholesomeness. Yes, there are trials to best but the amiable atmosphere encourages you to go at your own pace. The soundtrack is equally appealing and Final Fantasy fans will appreciate the familiar tunes from the instance they hit the title screen, which sounds and looks like an unholy union of the Chocobo theme and MitchiriNeko March. The town theme is suitably chirpy and the dungeon music is epic and not too grating – a good thing since you’ll hear it on loop.
Turning to functional aspects, there isn’t much to remark upon since the game has benefited from being in a longstanding series and is well polished and well ported as a result. The UI is clean and fairly minimal making dungeons easy to navigate. You can change directions, lock onto foes, and move diagonally with the touch of a button. After my nth time running a dungeon, I realised that it would be nice if buddy points and job points could be received automatically like experience but there’s admittedly a tangible pleasure to picking up these little glowing orbs.
I came for the Chocobos and stayed for the systems. As mentioned, the mystery dungeon scene isn’t one I frequent often. Regardless, I’m glad I picked up Chocobo Mystery Dungeon and it stayed with me for a good while before I decided to put it to nest. If anything, it’s dangerously made me want to double dip on the Switch port of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon again. Overall, it’s a great game to switch off to and mindlessly manage the various mechanics on offer. So, hey, if that sounds like your jibe and you haven’t tried Chocobo’s Dungeon from 2007 yet, why don’t you make up for lost time and pick this cutie up
Need more? Try…
- Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a great addition to the Switch’s library and an easy pick if you like mystery dungeons and cute critters.
- Got into the beat? Try Crypt of the Necrodancer, a fiendish rogue-like game remixed with rhythm game elements. Zelda fans might also be interested in the crossover game, Cadence of Hyrule, which has a turn-based combat option for the planners.
- Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded is another procedural dungeon crawler based on a hit Japanese property, only with cute anime girls rather than chickens.