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.