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Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon

by Nick DiMola - August 14, 2008, 1:13 pm PDT
Total comments: 42

6

Why randomly-generated dungeons suck.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is yet another entry into the Mystery Dungeon RPG subgenre. It also happens to be my first foray into said subgenre.

The game builds out a fairly in-depth story that boils down to a few simple elements. The story's protagonist Chocobo, along with a special baby that fell from the sky named Raffaelo, are traversing the city of Lostime in an effort to retrieve the lost memories of the villagers in the city. The task of retrieving a memory is done through the completion of a randomly-generated dungeon which may or may not have a specific rule set.

The gameplay of the title is nearly identical to any of the other Mystery Dungeon titles, putting players in the role of a character that has the ability to level up by fighting enemies while also gaining a variety of new moves and items.

Players navigate the dungeon in what appears to be real time, but is in fact turn-based movement. Each step or attack the player makes allows the enemies in the dungeon to move or attack. As you defeat enemies you gain experience and will level up your character's skills and move set. The game also incorporates a job system, making Chocobo more proficient and deficient at certain skills depending on which job you choose at the beginning of any dungeon. While in dungeons, players must monitor their stats, specifically hunger, a unique part of the mystery dungeon formula. As you progress your hunger will grow. Ignoring hunger will eventually impact health and cause death.

During gameplay it becomes obvious that, at its core, Chocobo’s Dungeon is a strategy-RPG. The concept of randomly-generated dungeons is simply added to avoid creating unique levels for each and every dungeon. Unfortunately, the great strategy-RPG aspects of the game are ruined by this randomizing; like the dungeons themselves, players must face randomly-generated enemies while at the same time dealing with what becomes randomly-generated leveling-up and character development. At times I would be totally overwhelmed by enemies because too many were generated in a particular area on a floor of a dungeon. My inevitable death would require me to replay large portions of the dungeon and be subjected to the mandatory cutscenes each and every time I’d play the level. Cutscenes can be skipped on your second play through, but you usually won’t replay a level. That's because it makes more sense to reset the game, since death results in the loss of all of your unequipped items and any money you possess.

There were other instances when I would be so underpowered in a dungeon that I would get annihilated after dealing with just two enemies. This was a direct result of skipping whole floors, since you’ll sometimes get spawned right next to exit stairs. Since your goal is to escape each dungeon, it makes no sense to fight your way through it when you can simply exit immediately.

My general displeasure with the random dungeons was augmented when I saw what it did to the art design within dungeons. Outside of the dungeons, the game has beautiful art direction and lively characters. Because the dungeons are constructed from random pieces, the presentation within the dungeons is fairly simple and lacks the flair and detail found outside in the town of Lostime. The graphical presentation is lackluster overall.

Fortunately, the game does deliver in terms of music. All of the featured songs and sound effects are simply outstanding, including a variety of Final Fantasy classics and some new compositions as well. This game is an aural feast.

I see Chocobo's Dungeon as a missed opportunity. Its gameplay is quite solid and forces the player to use tact and thought to complete all of the dungeons in the game; however, the randomly-generated dungeons really detract from its otherwise engaging gameplay. If the dungeons were designed rather than generated players could seamlessly keep pace with the increasing skills of their enemies; as it stands, players must grind dungeons to truly keep pace with the game. When it comes down to it, if you love Mystery Dungeon games, you should check this one out. Most other gamers just won’t appreciate its limited appeal.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
6 10 8 5 6 6
Graphics
6

The dungeon graphics in particular are pretty hideous, running at only 480i and featuring blurry, moving textures. The art direction (especially outside of dungeons) redeems it by being beautiful and compelling.

Sound
10

All of the music in the game is amazing, featuring new scores and returning Final Fantasy fan favorites.

Control
8

The mystery dungeon gameplay practically lends itself to somewhat clunky controls, but Chocobo's Dungeon does a nice job of making all of the menus and in-game moves easily accessible.

Gameplay
5

The core gameplay has some true potential to shine, but is utterly decimated by the randomly-generated dungeon scheme. Obviously, randomly-generated dungeons are a mainstay of this Rogue-like subgenre, but they aren’t necessary and could easily be replaced by competently-designed levels that truly make the game better in all aspects.

Lastability
6

If you manage to make it to the end of the game, you will definitely sink a good number of hours into into it - especially with all of the dungeons you will inevitably replay, as well as all of the grinding you will inevitably do to stay ahead of the difficulty curve. After completing the game, a simple Magic The Gathering-ish card game available for Nintendo WiFi play is the only thing left to enjoy with the computer, random players, or friends.

Final
6

Chocobo’s Dungeon clearly has potential and will likely be enjoyed by Mystery Dungeon fans, but the rest of you gamers out there may want to steer clear of this one almost solely due to the randomly-generated dungeons. They make the game unbearable at times and will really test your patience as a gamer.

Summary

Pros
  • Beautiful music
  • Core gameplay is engaging
  • Outstanding art direction
Cons
  • Excessive grinding is required to avoid death
  • Hideous graphics
  • Randomly-generated dungeons
  • The ramifications of death are too great
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusAugust 14, 2008

Personally I think this game is one of the better mystery dungeon games, there's a lot of depth with the class system this game has. The mystery dungeon series is a love it or hate it type of thing. The only frustrating dungeons in my opinion are the special dungeons.

This series needs to be burned to the ground.

KDR_11kAugust 15, 2008

Be glad you don't get "The ceiling caves in and crushes you, you die. Would you like your possessions identified? (y/n)"

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Quote from: Flames_of_chaos

The mystery dungeon series is a love it or hate it type of thing.

Doesn't have to be if they would evolve it a bit, but I think I went on about that enough in my review.

SvladAugust 15, 2008

I happened across your review a few minutes ago.  I do not intend to be disrespectful, but your opinion of the game clearly reflects a fairly major failure to understand the very basics of the genre to which it belongs.  Given this, I have to question your fitness to be reviewing this game, for much the same reasons that would make me loath to claim to have a strong opinion about, say, a racing game.

I'm not sure what the local conventions are with regard to mixing quotations and reply, but the format is suited to establishing the problem at hand.  I apologize if anyone finds this irritating.

Quote:

During gameplay it becomes obvious that, at its core, Chocobo’s Dungeon is a strategy-RPG.

Actually, it's not a strategy-RPG.  It is a roguelike.  I invite you to examine the Wikipedia article on the subgenre here.

Quote:

The concept of randomly-generated dungeons is simply added to avoid creating unique levels for each and every dungeon.

The concept of randomly-generated dungeons is a core idea of the roguelike subgenre.  Your feeling that  this is laziness on the part on the developers is one of the major reasons I do not feel that you should be offering your opinion on this game as meaningful.

Quote:

Unfortunately, the great strategy-RPG aspects of the game are ruined by this randomizing; like the dungeons themselves, players must face randomly-generated enemies while at the same time dealing with what becomes randomly-generated leveling-up and character development

Coping with randomness is not a flaw in this type of game, it is very nearly the entire point  It offers a type of strategic problem that static content can only rarely match; in a game with hand-picked content, if you find some ammunition for your rocket launcher, you may rest assured that enemies vulnerable to rocket attacks will be appearing in the reasonably near future.  In a roguelike, if you find a sword of bat-slaying and opt to hang onto it, you run the risk that you may never encounter any bats.  You may feel that this distinction is subtle and meaningless, but it is one of the core gameplay values of the subgenre.

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That's because it makes more sense to reset the game, since death results in the loss of all of your unequipped items and any money you possess.   

...

Cons: ... - The ramifications of death are too great.

Again, please see the Wikipedia article on the subgenre.  This is something anyone who enjoys roguelikes is going to consider to be fairly standard.  It is totally understandable that this is somewhat surprising when first encountered - many newcomers to roguelikes are stunned by this idea.  It is nonetheless another of the major pillars of the genre, with the idea being that not only do you have to make strategic choices in adverse and random circumstances, but you must do so with the knowledge that if you choose incorrectly you will suffer drastic consequences.  This awareness of risk, contrary to your experience of it, means that every decision is interesting and exciting.  I don't claim that it's something everyone will enjoy or that you have failed in not enjoying it yourself, merely that it is on the same order as having downs in a football game, an expected standard feature.

Quote:

There were other instances when I would be so underpowered in a dungeon that I would get annihilated after dealing with just two enemies. This was a direct result of skipping whole floors, since you’ll sometimes get spawned right next to exit stairs.  Since your goal is to escape each dungeon, it makes no sense to fight your way through it when you can simply exit immediately.

Not to indulge in hyperbole excessively, but what would you say to a person who played a FPS, ran carefully around all of the ammunition, and complained that they were unable to kill enemies with their bare hands?  And then protested that it made no sense to wander around picking up ammunition?  Skipping a floor is intended to be a strategic choice available to you; if the results get your character killed, you are meant to learn to play more conservatively and to refine your analysis of when you are ready for the next level.

Quote:

Its gameplay is quite solid and forces the player to use tact and thought to complete all of the dungeons in the game; however, the randomly-generated dungeons really detract from its otherwise engaging gameplay. If the dungeons were designed rather than generated players could seamlessly keep pace with the increasing skills of their enemies; as it stands, players must grind dungeons to truly keep pace with the game.

At the risk of repeating myself, you are complaining about a core feature of the subgenre.  To pick another comparison, this is like saying that you didn't enjoy a turn-based strategy game because the pace of the game was too slow.

Quote:

Doesn't have to be (a love it or hate it thing) if they would evolve it a bit, but I think I went on about that enough in my review.

Roguelikes in general are very polarizing games, ones that one either loves or hates, for exactly the reasons that appear in your review.  Many people find them frustrating and perplexing and cannot imagine why anyone would play such a game.  Just as with, say, Japanese food, the fact that one person does not like it does not mean that it needs to evolve away from what it is.

I respectfully ask that you retract this review and hand it off to somebody who has more experience with similar games, or at the very least do some additional research into the subgenre and try to understand what someone interested in this game might be looking for before revising it to be more relevant.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 15, 2008

I respectfully ask you to retract your butt head comments.

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Alright I'm not going to quote line by line as you did, but I will address some of the major points which you seem to nitpick.

Randomly Generated Dungeons

Yes, they are a staple of the genre, but no they do not have to be to keep the core structure of the game alive.

Here is my reasoning, a mystery dungeon game at its core involves a few things:


A Skill/Class/Equipment System that changes your abilities based on your selection
A turn-based attack and movement system that is played as if it is real-time
An RPG system for leveling up your character(s)
A hunger meter to manage within dungeons
A money and item management system
Randomly Generated Dungeons


The final bullet on that list can disappear while maintaining every single other defining feature of the game. As a matter of fact eliminating that one feature would improve all other facets of the game. Less grinding would be required to succeed within dungeons and a more balanced and less repetitive play experience would result.

Finally, managing the randomness is a ridiculous idea; anything that is achieved through randomness can be trumped by well-designed dungeons. Item management doesn't need to suffer, make that random instead of the entire dungeon. The fact of the matter is the random dungeons are archaic and can be dropped at this point and more compelling play experiences can be provided.

Strategy-RPG Comments

The game is a Strategy-RPG at its core, you play it in very much the same fashion. It is turn based, you move around a grid and you attack enemies. The defeat of enemies provides for experience which in turn makes you stronger over time. The other stuff such as item management and hunger and the random dungeons just customize it to be something particular, in this case a subgenre called a roguelike.

In conclusion, I said in my review clearly, if you like Mystery Dungeon games get this, otherwise avoid it. Remember this review isn't written for a single audience, it is written for everybody. Most people will not prefer this style of gameplay and quickly notice that there are better experiences to be had elsewhere.

Also, I will not be retracting my review, because it represents my opinion.

SvladAugust 15, 2008

Quote:

You may feel that this distinction is subtle and meaningless, but it is one of the core gameplay values of the subgenre.

Quote:

Finally, managing the randomness is a ridiculous idea; anything that is achieved through randomness can be trumped by well-designed dungeons.

I can see the future.

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Quote from: Svlad

Quote:

You may feel that this distinction is subtle and meaningless, but it is one of the core gameplay values of the subgenre.

Quote:

Finally, managing the randomness is a ridiculous idea; anything that is achieved through randomness can be trumped by well-designed dungeons.

I can see the future.

I would have a discourse with you on this, but you are too closed-minded to discuss this or even consider an alternate view point.

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Yes yes we all know NWR staffers "fail" to comprehend a good mystery dungeon review.

Just kidding nick you did a good review on this game

UltimatePartyBearAugust 15, 2008

Considering there are OVER NINE THOUSAAAAAAND mystery dungeon games on the DS already, I'm surprised anyone even cares.

Quote from: Svlad

I'm not sure what the local conventions are with regard to mixing quotations and reply, but the format is suited to establishing the problem at hand.  I apologize if anyone finds this irritating.

Greg, is this your alt account?

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterAugust 15, 2008

Oh boy, its the FF III fiasco of 2006 all over again...

SvladAugust 15, 2008

Quote:

I would have a discourse with you on this, but you are too closed-minded to discuss this or even consider an alternate view point.

I'd be happy to have a real discussion of this.  I gave up on substantial discussion when you led off by accusing me of nit-picking and stated that something I held up as a core value is "ridiculous" and "archaic" without giving it any real consideration, and your accusation of being closed-minded on basically no grounds is another step down the path of meaningless flamewars.

How about we declare a truce?  I'll drop the unnecessarily elaborate style and the comments about you failing to understand things, you'll be a touch more polite and consider that there really may be something to this randomness idea, and I'll write up a nice thoughtful post when I get home from the gym?

By the way, as fun background, the reason I ran across this review was that my wife IMed me informing me that she'd randomly picked up a game I'd never heard of before.  I've now seen about two minutes of gameplay.  As far as the game's own merits, I have no fixed ideas at the moment.  I just recognize your complaints as ones common to new roguelike players.

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

Quote from: Svlad

I'm not sure what the local conventions are with regard to mixing quotations and reply, but the format is suited to establishing the problem at hand.  I apologize if anyone finds this irritating.

Greg, is this your alt account?

Well if I had an alternate account, I wouldn't use it to sound like myself now would I? ;) Also, I wasn't aware politeness was something to be ridiculed.

It pleases me to see someone who can express their disagreements with a review in a such a polite manner, however I think Svlad's request for the review to be retracted is quite ludicrous. The implication is that anyone without a certain threshold level of experience with a given series or genre should be disqualified from providing a review, and this is something I strongly object to.

As a gamer who has little to no experience with a number of prominent genres and franchises, I value the opportunity to read reviews written by people who are in the same position so that I can get a greater sense of what I personally could expect to experience if I decided to try that particular game out. By Svlad's standards, such oppotunities would be denied to me and those like me.

I'm sure there are many other reviews to be found that are based on a greater familiarity with the genre, so it is not as if this review has somehow prevented people from getting that kind of analysis of the game. Hence, I do not see why it is necessary, or in any sense desirable, for Nick's point of view to be erased in favour of a more genre-familiar one. 

SvladAugust 15, 2008

This is going to be a long post.

Chapter 1: Yoshidious

Quote:

I think Svlad's request for the review to be retracted is quite ludicrous. The implication is that anyone without a certain threshold level of experience with a given series or genre should be disqualified from providing a review

I trust you knew I wouldn't be able to resist rising to this.  :)

To go way over the top, imagine if someone whose total exposure to games was a half-hour of Windows Solitaire was asked to review X-COM.  Obviously that's far beyond the situation at hand, but it's the basis on which I asked that the review be, well, reviewed.

My contention here is that the majority of the review is the things a player who is new to roguelikes would be shocked by.  That's valuable for most of the reading public, just as that Solitaire player's review of X-COM is valuable to people like him or her.  People who know what a rogue-like is, however, are going to find the review, well.. laughable.  I'm sorry, I know that's not a wonderfully nice thing to say, but based on my reaction and those of several people I forwarded the review to, it's accurate.

Maybe I'm drawing a false distinction here, but I believe that a review is supposed to try to be somewhat objective.  If it were the reaction of some random individual to a film, game, what-have-you, it would be a blog post.  Reviews, in my expectations - have I established that this may be subjective yet? - are supposed to be the work of someone who knows a lot about the subject matter and who can judge it relative to other works in its field.  A review of a roguelike that spends a lot of its word count just coming to terms with the fact that it's a roguelike doesn't do that justice.  As I mentioned in passing, I would not purport to give an authoritative review of a racing.. or sports.. game.

So that's why I feel a change should be made, great.  What do I want that change to be?  On reflection, I don't think the review should be deleted.  It's a fair appraisal of the game from the perspective of an 'average' gamer; I concede that point, people absolutely do need that sort of information.  I do think someone else on your staff who has more experience with the genre should take a look at the game and add some opinions from a more jaded perspective and make it more of a true review.

Chapter 2: The Quickening

Mr. Jack, or Nick, or Mr. DiMola, as you like.  I again apologize for the fact that this interaction started out fairly badly. 

You took exception to two of the points I raised.  I'll deal with the strategy-RPG versus roguelike question first, and I'll open by saying that classifying things into genres is a useful tool for describing things but that when one gets into individual cases one invariably runs into problems of subjective opinion, semantics, and just all-around fuzziness.  I'm going to take a stab at defining things, but I'm not going to pretend that I expect this to be the Final Ultimate Supreme Papal-Infallible Word on the subject.

A strategy-rpg is FFT, or Disgaea, or half of X-COM, or Battle of Wesnoth.  You control multiple characters, strategy revolves around using them effectively as a large team and deciding which of them to develop in what way.

A roguelike is POWDER, or IVAN, or Angband, or Nethack, or.. THIS place!  One night in Bangkok and a strong man.. er. 

Roguelikes feature control of one character, or one character and their pet.  Strategy revolves around coping with randomness and permanent death and that one character is developed to a very great degree only to be heartlessly reset to level 1. 

I could keep naming features distinctive to each, but my essential point is that I feel the two are distinct.  Space Rangers 2 is an RPG, and it involves strategy, but it is neither a strategy-RPG nor a roguelike.  Disgaea has some random elements, but focus is not on one character and coping with those random elements is not really the main problem of the game - it's a strategy-RPG.  This game has strategic elements, but they are those exactly typical of a roguelike.

If you want to say that any RPG involving strategic elements is a strategy-RPG, I can't really disagree with you - genre definitions are subjective and fuzzy, as I noted above.  But that's not how I see the term generally used.

Chapter 3

Randomness versus hand-made content.  Round 1.  FIGHT!

I'll lead off by backing down on one item.  Your point that the dungeons are ugly and incoherent is accurate, and it's a problem the game should not have.  X-COM (this is where I thought of using this as an example, all other uses have resulted from, hey, it's easy) managed to randomly generate battle maps that were up to the visual standards of the day.  It's not a hard problem to solve, and it is a failure of the game.. ljust ooking over my shoulder as my wife plays it.

Of course, no REAL roguelike player cares about graphics!  We all think Dwarf Fortress looks great and have lots of hair on our chests and.. yeah, no.  Presentation matters.  You have a point.

Meanwhile, on to the core battle I announced at the start.  I am by no means saying that all games should use procedural content, or that it is good every time it appears, or that hand-made content is bad, or any other such silly things.  I am saying that random content is an outright superior choice for some games and that it does have value in its own right.

Essentially the remainder of this argument is going to be an extended version of the reasoning I already gave, but let's play it out.  If someone designs a level in a game, it is going to have cues indicating which direction the player should go, it is going to have items that are actually useful, and it is going to have opposition that is carefully tailored to what the player can handle.

And if you're nodding your head and saying yes, that's great, I will start linking you to mods that removed level scaling from Oblivion because there were a fair number of people out there who hated that feature, who did not want to always run into appropriate challenges, who wanted adversity and the unexpected.

The unexpected is what randomness offers, and it is to be valued.  In the face of the utterly unknown with, strategic decisions are changed.  You cannot count on there being a reasonable number of monsters on the next level.  You must therefore do whatever you can to prepare for an unreasonable number.  You cannot assume that you will start at any given distance from the exit.  You cannot assume this, that, or the other.  Surely I do not have to explain the pleasure of truly not knowing what is down that next corridor?  Even the most sadistic and clever designer must make choices, and I'm sure you're all fairly experienced with the jrpg phenomenon of figuring out which direction leads to the next plot point and either avoiding or seeking it.

Randomness offers other pleasures, too.  As my wife conveniently just exclaimed, "yay for small levels."  In a designed scenario, if there is a small level it is because a designer has decided that it shall be so.  In a random one, that small level or treasure chest with a useful item or whatever is a gift from the RNG.. and in the face of permadeath, one to be prized.  A hand-made world is a pretty Skinner box.  You know where the sugar button is.  A random world makes finding sugar cubes an event

As far as more compelling experiences being available.. that's especially subjective, so I have license to be subjective back.  I have found that managing randomness is, as experiences go, unique.  There are other things that are entertaining, it is not the Ultimate Gaming Experience, but it is fun and distinct and something I would not want to abandon.  I don't think it's for everyone, but I really do think it's unfair to say that it should be left in the dust.

I don't think I've said everything I possibly could say here, but this is supposed to be a dialogue, not a monologue.. and I've said quite a bit. :)

GoldenPhoenixAugust 15, 2008

I feel like I've been transported to nerdy Mystery Dungeon heaven (or perhaps it the other place).

I think Children of Mana proved that semi-randomly generated dungeons (pre-designed rooms linked in random, but competent ways) are a good balance to keeping dungeons fresh while also ensuring non-stupid dungeon layouts.  It just takes a little more deliberate coding and design, which is never a bad thing.

Svlad, can you think of a Roguelike game that couldn't be criticized in the same way that Nick is criticizing Mystery Dungeon?  From what I can imagine, this sequence of events...

1) Get spawned next to an exit, so you leave the dungeon immediately (therefore achieving your goal)
2) Next level you get creamed because, in completing the goal of exiting the level as quickly as possible, you didn't walk around artificially grinding to keep your level up

...just sounds like bad game design to me.  It reminds me of the first NES RPGs, in which the primitive game design dictated that you had to sit there and grind endlessly just to get your level up to a point where you could defeat certain monsters.  It's the way the games were designed, and some people loved it (and still do), but in the big scheme of things they designed the game that way because the didn't know any better or couldn't do any better with the technology at hand.

I look at Roguelike games the same way.  Their gameplay has stood the test of time, and there's still a fanbase (heck, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon for DS sold something like 600,000 copies),  but that doesn't mean everybody should just "get it".  In fact, I'd wager that most people won't because they're looking for gameplay that's, frankly, less primitive than what Roguelike games have to offer.

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusAugust 15, 2008

Svald, I appreciate your well thought out (and extremely polite) response.

I will concede that random dungeons *can* be done right given they are generated intelligently. I realize I am not an experience roguelike player, but I do know what the genre is and have read and discussed extensively about it. If you care to look at my game collection in my signature you can see that I play a very diverse selection of games and have played a number of RPGs, Tactic games, and Strategy games.

In my opinion, at its core the game very closely resembles a strategy-RPG. Yes you are only managing 1 and sometimes 2 characters, but much of the equation is similar. Of course that comparison was only to connect the reader with the point I was trying to convey. Most people haven't played roguelikes so I needed a venue to describe it. These games are *different enough* to warrant their own subgenre and I tried to convey that with my review.

It's my opinion as well, that the game could be done with perhaps randomly placed enemies as opposed to randomly generated dungeons to provide for a more even handed experience. As I described in my review, you need to grind often in order to keep pace with the game. Now the randomness of the dungeon could provide for a great experience for you, but for me it provided nothing but heartache. It created some unfair situations that forced me to reset the game and replay the whole dungeon, or reassess my current standing and decide whether or not I just needed to grind more to continue. It just wasn't fun when it came down to it. I think a designers touch would've minimized the tedium of the game.

Finally, I wouldn't agree that my review was coming to grips with what a roguelike is. I established that fairly quickly while playing. At the end of the game I had no other complaint other than the cascading negative effects of the random dungeons. So I used the review as a medium to describe the repercussions of the random dungeons. As far as someone else reviewing the game, it couldn't happen because we don't have any roguelike fans on staff. I felt my review covered the game well enough as did our reviews editor. If you felt it wasn't deep enough as a fan of a roguelike you are most likely better suited seeking out those details elsewhere as the games do not vary greatly from game to game. Those details will ultimately push you towards buying, trying or avoiding the game.

SvladAugust 15, 2008

Silks

Quote:

Svlad, can you think of a Roguelike game that couldn't be criticized in the same way that Nick is criticizing Mystery Dungeon?  From what I can imagine, this sequence of events...

No, I can't.  It's a problem a new player will have with the genre, and they won't enjoy it one bit.  Full stop, no arguing.

I'm not sure that it's entirely fair to toss the pejorative "primitive" at them, though.  Platformers originated very early in the history of gaming, and we're not saying that any game involving timed jumps is primitive.

Whether it's good game design is an interesting question, though.  Here's what's in the bag of counterarguments. 

One, what's good game design?  You yourself (very fair-mindedly, I might add) have supplied a figure arguing that there are people who enjoy games like this.  I am not lunatic enough to suggest that popularity and quality are at all equivalent, but that does argue strongly that the design isn't truly awful.

Two, what you see when you describe that scenario is someone getting punished for what seems like no reason, because their character has been moved back to the start as the result of seemingly innocuous actions.  What I expect of a roguelike is, more or less, to die until I learn how not to die.  The play experience of a roguelike is not focused on character development as much as it is player development - character development is an ephemeral thing that can be lost at any moment.  It is the lessons one learns as a player, such as "do not descend to depth X of the Pits of Angband until you are able to resist these forms of attack" that are the actual development process.  Arbitrary death is not the destruction of your hard-won effort, it is a step in the staircase.

Three, as established, I absolutely agree that most people cannot reasonably be expected to be pleased when confronted by this subgenre.  For crying out loud, we are talking about games most of whose representatives use ASCII for graphics.  Why do you think my wife bought a game with no information on the simple premise that, hey, console roguelike!  Not only is it hugely underrepresented in the mainstream, it is by nature something that those used to RPGs will find almost painful to play initially.

Mr. Jack

There's a certain inarguable validity to "it looked like a strategy-RPG to me, so that's what it'll look like to whoever comes along, so I'm calling it that so they'll know what to expect."  On those terms, you're right.  I suspect that it's possible to draw bright shining genre lines in absolute terms and finally show you that roguelike and strategy-rpg are entirely different bubbles in the great Venn Diagram, and on that level I'm fairly certain I'm right.. but pragmatically, what your readers think matters more.

Having to grind often is a problem specifically with the game, and I wouldn't begin to defend it.  I still haven't seen enough of it to have an opinion on whether the grinding is excessive, but I will say that it won't be the first roguelike I've burned out on for that exact reason.  That is a design concern, but it's not one that necessarily mandates the removal of randomness.  It does mandate that someone tweak and examine the results of their algorithm, and failing to do that, well, sucks.

As far as how much of your review is coming to grips with roguellike properties, 50% of the listed "cons" are standard roguelike features.  However.. If this is the sort of review that you feel will appeal to your target market, you presumably know your business.  I don't feel it's a good review of a roguelike, but it seems that you're saying that isn't what your readers are likely to want.  More power to you, then - you are not here to appeal to my ideal of a perfect review.

You're dead on as far as my interests being very, very specialized, by the way.  And I say that with no rancor.  I had to accept quite a while ago that the mainstream generally does not care about me and learn to be satisfied with the occasional Disgaea or Etrian Odyssey thrown my way and otherwise enjoy the efforts of individuals working in their basements.  Thank you, Tarn Adams.  I'm not entirely alone, though.. those games do sell.  I landed here by sheer chance, as you know from previous posts, and you are absolutely right to not consider me part of your target market.

As a wanderer from outside, though, I must say that I am very pleasantly surprised by the discussion that's evolved here.  I'll have to lurk around and see if this happens again, even if your reviews aren't aimed at me. :)

We're going to run out of staff to review Mystery Dungeon games.  How come when I reviewed one it was like "YOU IS STUPID!  THER EARE HARDER ONES OUT THEY'RE!  YOU COMPAINT NOT VALID CUZ IT NOT TEH HARDIST!" and Nick gets the most civil discourse in a review thread ever?

PaleMike Gamin, Contributing EditorAugust 15, 2008

Has anyone linked Svlad to the mystery dungeon review yet?  I think he should discuss that one too.

In that case, I wonder if he has anything to say about my Izuna review.
Actually, I want to see Zach's Izuna 2 review.

KDR_11kAugust 16, 2008

Dying in order to learn a lesson is trial and error, players don't enjoy it because dying is seen as a punishment for bad play but in trial and error scenarios it is unavoidable. A good game lets the player realize something will kill him before it will kill him (and it will let him avoid the death, of course). Trial and error is made even worse by making deaths remove a lot of progress since it means endlessly replaying the parts you already know like the back of your hand anyway. Generally gives a feeling of "how the fuck did you expect me to know that?"

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusAugust 16, 2008

Svlad, I just wanted to take point on a couple of things you noted in your last response.

Quote from: Svlad

As far as how much of your review is coming to grips with roguellike properties, 50% of the listed "cons" are standard roguelike features.

Unfortunately, they really are cons for the average player. As I said earlier the review isn't written for a roguelike audience it is written to approach even someone who was never played a game before. If someone looks at that from a completely unbiased or untrained eye, hearing that the game includes excessive death alongside major consequences and excessive grinding, that could be enough for them to say, "Hey, this game's not for me." The pros and cons list, at least in my reviews, are meant to bring so intrinsic details of the review into an easy to consume list for a reader skimming the review.

Quote from: Svlad

What I expect of a roguelike is, more or less, to die until I learn how not to die.

I think this is really what it all comes down to right here. Expectation of a game in general. Most games have evolved (for better of worse) to be much more forgiving than they once were. I think that is where the primitive comments come from and where much of love it or hate it comments come from as well. I tend to agree with KDR above, a game should let you flirt with death to learn a lesson rather than deal it. Especially in a roguelike, death is not only a lesson but a damn hard lesson at that.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, what death teaches you is grind, grind, grind, and again in my opinion, grinding is a failure of game design. Now I won't stretch this point to all mystery dungeon games, but this game in particular majorly failed in that department. Too much covering of old ground to experience new ground.

What that also did for me, discounting the grinding, was actually made the game boring because it was never actually challenging. Once I learned grinding was the key, I would grind until I could just slaughter my enemies, get to the next stage, see how hard they were, die purposely, go back to the last dungeon and grind until I could repeat the cycle again. Pretty much at all times I dominated my enemies once I "figured out" how to succeed, and that is no fun either.

I won't beat my point to death, but at least in this game, either better randomization or better level design would've made for a much more enjoyable experience. Just for fun, what would you consider a game that follows all other conventions of a roguelike and doesn't contain random dungeons?

Quote from: Svlad

As a wanderer from outside, though, I must say that I am very pleasantly surprised by the discussion that's evolved here.  I'll have to lurk around and see if this happens again, even if your reviews aren't aimed at me. :)

I'm glad to hear that, and I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on a variety of other topics that come up in daily discussion in here. Welcome to the NWR forums!

shammackAugust 16, 2008

Quote from: Crimm

We're going to run out of staff to review Mystery Dungeon games.  How come when I reviewed one it was like "YOU IS STUPID!  THER EARE HARDER ONES OUT THEY'RE!  YOU COMPAINT NOT VALID CUZ IT NOT TEH HARDIST!" and Nick gets the most civil discourse in a review thread ever?

Maybe because Nick didn't spend weeks ranting on the podcast about how he wanted to kill everyone involved in the production of the game?  (He only did that one week.)

I think you'll also find that many of Svlad's points are similar to the ones I tried to make about PMD at the time, but expressed much more eloquently.

vuduAugust 16, 2008

Why does this happen after every single review of a Square-Enix game?

The Mystery Dungeon series is bad and you should feel bad.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 16, 2008

Mystery Dungeon is the most amazing game ever, the random dungeons are STUNNING. The pure genius of putting your character right by the exit or not pacing your character's leveling up via an inconsistent random dungeon system is proof of excellence of the game.

You made me do that GP.

SvladAugust 17, 2008

Quote:

Unfortunately, in my opinion, what death teaches you is grind, grind, grind, and again in my opinion, grinding is a failure of game design.

...

What that also did for me, discounting the grinding, was actually made the game boring because it was never actually challenging. Once I learned grinding was the key, I would grind until I could just slaughter my enemies.

This response made very little sense from what I understood, so I went back to looking at the game.  My wife has been the primary player of this game so far; I've spent a fair bit of time watching her, and a few things have slowly dawned on me.  Such as a revelation that explains why people keep talking about grinding and getting blank looks from me.  A confession is in order - while I have plenty of experience with the roguelike subgenre, my knowledge specifically of this particular series is nil.  So I was surprised to learn that, well..

You don't lose all of your levels when you die?!

I might not have to spell out what consequences this has, but I'll give it a shot anyway.  In most games in the subgenre, all character development is utterly ephemeral.  At any moment the classic "It breathes.  You die." event may make all of your leveling and equipment collection and effort instantly irrelevant.  This alters all sorts of strategic issues; if there's a very long leveling game, one hopes that death becomes increasingly unlikely towards the end of it, because at that point the stakes are very high.  There are several roguelikes with gameplay like this, including Angband and Nethack.  Dying near the end of these is not uncommon, but you do in fact generally have warning that it's going to happen and lots of ways to avoid it.  If you didn't, they'd be awful games.

This game essentially removes the "permanent death" aspect of roguelikes, and n my opinion it suffers very much for this decision..  Why?  Because it means that you can just power through dungeons by going elsewhere and gaining ten levels.  The developers have no control over what overall and job level you bring to the dungeon, so content can be obviated by overwhelming power.  In other words.. it makes grinding possible, and since it's possible it becomes mandatory in short order.  It shouldn't even be meaningful to grind in a short roguelike.. but here we are.  Ugh.

And yes, that means I feel that a major problem with the game is that the death consequence is not harsh enough; it breaks the fundamental gameplay.

Quote:

Especially in a roguelike, death is not only a lesson but a damn hard lesson at that.

In this particular case, where the only thing death has to say to you is "grind more," there's not much positive to be said about it.  Let's pick a more useful example.. say, IVAN.  It comes up frequently enough in discussions of roguelikes that despite it being very obscure compared to mainstream games I feel comfortable saying it's relatively well-known.  IVAN's full name is Iter Vehemens ad Necem, and the webpage for it helpfully reminds me that that translates to A Violent Road to Death.. which is a fair description.  Among other nasty features, IVAN makes becoming more powerful a major risk; your enemies will without fail become more powerful to match.

I have never won a game of IVAN.  I've come very close, close enough that I'm fairly sure I know how it's done, but I must nonetheless admit defeat.  The duration of my longest game has been perhaps three hours.. and that is really the core of my point.  Most of my deaths have taken up less than twenty minutes of gameplay.  The ones that have lasted longer have been desperate, odds-defying exercises of wit, strategy, and sheer luck.  For all that they were the product of a simple turn-based game, they were exciting and difficult and.. yes, in the end, frustrating.  But I got all the way to the Enner Beast that time!  And after a while, something becomes apparent: when you find a strange, unknown room, item, creature, what-have-you, it is imperative that you try it out.  Even, or perhaps especially, if it kills you instantly.. because if it doesn't, it may lead to learning something that will keep your next character alive a little bit longer.

It is also very important to note that each character is a wildly different experience in IVAN; it is very important that you become familiar with all the things the game can possibly throw at you, because you will only see a small subset of them in each game.. and it is imperative that you exploit whatever oddities the game grants you this time around to have a chance of survival.  There are all sorts of things you can do to hugely increase the power of your character.. if only you are lucky enough to have access to them.

This game does not dream of recreating that experience.  To reiterate, I agree.  The grinding it teaches you represents a serious failure.

Quote:

Just for fun, what would you consider a game that follows all other conventions of a roguelike and doesn't contain random dungeons?

It depends on just how much randomness you're subtracting.

If you go for a completely static world.. IVAN would not be the same at all if I knew, every single time, that I could get shrines of gods X, Y, and Z at certain points in the game and that I should therefore hang onto certain sets of items to sacrifice to them so that I could instantly gain their favor, pray to them, and get various huge advantages.   

I think the mechanics of sudden, permanent death and randomness are fairly strongly tied together.  If the world is the same or even very similar each time you trek through it, we are reduced to the scenario occurring in multitudes of games consisting of a save point that's too far from a difficult boss.  Your eighth trip through the first couple levels is no longer interesting because this time the game gave you a wand of lightning and some major problems were obviated; instead, it's a humdrum trip through "open secret door Y, pick up wand of lightning, fry monster Z, blah".

Maybe some truly inspired designer could decouple those two mechanics.  I would be very interested in seeing the game that would make it fun.

Svlad, I'm sure it hasn't escaped your attention that these Mystery Dungeon games (which may or may not subscribe to your exact definition of roguelikes) have been applied to family-friendly and extremely mainstream licenses such as Pokemon and Final Fantasy.  Let us assume that the publishers aspire to sales reaching far beyond the built-in audience for the subgenre.  That means they are hoping to introduce this type of gameplay to a userbase of which a likely majority will have never played anything like it before.  I'm sure they are very pleased, in theory, to get feedback from players such as Nick who are trying their first roguelikes and who may not even have heard that term or known that such a subgenre exists.  In that sense, I hope you can see how Nick is not only a perfectly appropriate and reasonable choice to review this game (he being a fan of Final Fantasy) and that his review is perfectly legitimate.  In fact, as you have surmised by now, Nick knew what he was getting into much better than the typical player of this game.  When he writes about disliking the random dungeon structure and other elements that you consider inseparable from the game, he is not showing any ignorance or institutional bias.  That is his earnest opinion from playing the game extensively.  Obviously you disagree, and your perspective is valued here, but I hope you will reconsider and retract your suggestion that we should retract this review.

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusAugust 17, 2008

Yeah I agree with you Jonny me and Nick sometimes discussed the mystery dungeon games via instant messenger and his thoughts through those conversations are echoed in this review. He does acknowledge that the core gameplay and depth in the game mechanics are pretty deep (since you can pick what class you want and roll in with them). Nick just has a distaste in the random dungeons and I can see how people can dislike it  since a lot of people favor good level design to a random generated floors.

This genre is really a love it or hate it because of how archaic this design is, I personally like them if the core gameplay has a lot of depth like the customization of character or weapons, interesting story and if the gameplay is enjoyable enough that it makes me want to come back to it (which is what Izuna 2 is doing to me currently).

KDR_11kAugust 18, 2008

Supposedly the MD games usually reset you to level 1 when you die (Shiren the Wanderer does) but the recent ones based on mainstream RPG franchises don't.

One critical point is also how well-designed the random generator is, the Japanese will often slap something together that creates an ugly and pointless maze of twisty passages, all alike. There are no special random events or points of interest like shrines for sacrifices or other optional hazards, usually it's just floor after floor of random geometry filled with monsters picked from a small list, there's rarely much difference between the playthroughs except of course things are moved around on the map (not that it matters since you're expected to kill everything on a floor anyway and thus always take the stairs last). Oh and because the number of levels in a dungeon can be increased just by changing a number in a file (instead of designing parts by hand) they tend to turn it up to 11 for good measure.

SvladAugust 18, 2008

Quote:

Obviously you disagree, and your perspective is valued here, but I hope you will reconsider and retract your suggestion that we should retract this review.

Turnabout is fair play, I see!  Well, I respectfully request that you retract your respectful requect that I retract my respectful request to retract the review.  Not for any actual reason, but because it was fun to type.

More seriously, see the next quote from a previous post.

Quote:

As far as how much of your review is coming to grips with roguellike properties, 50% of the listed "cons" are standard roguelike features.  However.. If this is the sort of review that you feel will appeal to your target market, you presumably know your business.  I don't feel it's a good review of a roguelike, but it seems that you're saying that isn't what your readers are likely to want.  More power to you, then - you are not here to appeal to my ideal of a perfect review.

Please note the last couple sentences.  I've already implied it there, but I will formally say it here: I apologize for requesting the review be altered.  It serves its target market well, even if it's not me.

I cannot ask others to eat crow unless I'm willing to pick up a fork.

I have nothing to say about this game's failure to generate sufficiently interesting randomness other than insightful comments like "yeah, it sucks."  I could reword it and pontificate a bit if you like, as in "This demonstrates exactly why strong randomness is so important to roguelike design."  But.. same thing.

Okay, I wasn't sure if that earlier quote was intended to be a full retraction of your call for a retraction.  Glad we got that cleared up.  :-)

By the way, Nick wasn't writing his review for any particular audience.  We don't pander to demographics; see Game Informer's infamous review of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for an example of why that's a terrible idea.  All you can ask of any reviewer is to be honest, thorough, and direct.  It's up to the reader to decide how to interpret or apply the review to his or her own decisions.

vuduAugust 18, 2008

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

We don't pander to demographics; see Game Informer's infamous review of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for an example of why that's a terrible idea.

???  Care to explain for those of us who don't generally give a shit about Game Informer?

KDR_11kAugust 19, 2008

They gave it a significantly lower rating because, while they liked the game and all, they thought it's not something the mainstream would like (coincidentally they also gave Bangai-O Spirits a bad rating lately).

This whole thread is reminding me how there seem to be two distinct groups in gaming.
One who likes rogue-like games and another who wants to burn Chunsoft to the ground. Because of that, there will probably always be a disagreement on every future Mystery Dungeon review on NWR.

Note: I know Chunsoft didn't develop this game (pretty sure at least)

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusAugust 19, 2008

Quote from: nron10

Note: I know Chunsoft didn't develop this game (pretty sure at least)

That's correct while Chunsoft did launch the mystery dungeon series back with Shiren on the SNES(theres a DS remake in america) they don't make a lot of mystery dungeon games. H.A.N.D. developed this game.

Caffeinated CheeseSeptember 03, 2008

Grrr, there's too many words in this thread.

The heart of the issue is that the design of the dungeons aren't that good.  There's little reason to explore any given level, because there's little motivation other than gaining experience.  That's a problem.  The only reason to stay on a floor is to find the best saddle and claws of the ten levels before item selection changes, and after that, it's experience, solely experience.  It's a flaw because gaining experience for the sake of having experience is tedious and pointless.

Now, the game does have unique dungeons, basically challenge dungeons that limit your items, equipment and levels.  Those are fun, and the random dungeons are appropriate, for that matter, since things like the items you pick up and your energy are much more important in most of these dungeons.

The crafting system is also an annoyance.  If you want to upgrade your equipment to the highest point, you have to have tons of money or cheat and reset.  Either way, it takes a long time to reach the desired effects, and this all takes place outside of normal gameplay, it's all outside of the player's influence.  I know what Svlad said was a part of the genre, but to most gamers, the genre needs a makeover, and this type of gameplay will frustrate the Final Fantasy fans who picked up a game with "Final Fantasy" in the title.

Another disappointment is that the co-op play was completely removed from the game.  I was really hoping to see it expanded on, but unfortunately, I'm sad to say it was removed.

To me, the previous Chocobo's Dungeon iteration got a lot of things much better than this game did.  It's fun to play, yes, but not nearly as good as the one before it, which had greater point to explore dungeons, allowed greater levels of interaction with enemies, and had co-op play.  In exchange, this title offers a slightly different spin on challenge dungeons and a class system.  Personally, I think most players would lean to the former rather than the latter.

Oh, and there was also a better system for item usage before, too.  Claws and Saddles could break from use.  It was very challenging to balance everything necessary to win, and while tedious leveling did happen, most of the time, you'd also be able be hunting for great items, rather than the generic, mostly useless, offerings in this game.

I think the rating was fair.  Fans of the genre will pick it up and be satisfied, but not truly pleased, IMO.

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Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer Square Enix
Players1 - 2
Online1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon
Release Jul 08, 2008
PublisherSquare Enix
RatingEveryone 10+
jpn: Chokobo no Fushigi na Danjon Toki Wasure no Meikyū
Release Dec 13, 2007
PublisherSquare Enix
RatingAll Ages
eu: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon
Release Nov 07, 2008
PublisherSquare Enix
Rating7+
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