If you aren't already versed in the Mystery Dungeon games, they’re essentially real-time dungeon crawlers with turn-based combat. Originally a Dragon Quest spinoff, this series of RPGs essentially did the whole roguelike thing before it was cool. Over the years, they’ve collaborated with Pokémon, TwinBee and, of course, Final Fantasy. Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon is actually a remaster of the 2008 Wii title Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon. The game launched to a solid critical reception back then, but how has it aged?
It all starts with a pretty straightforward premise. Cid (yes, the airship dude) and his adorable Chocobo companion accidentally stumble upon the mysterious town of Lostime, where the ominous Bell of Oblivion is routinely wiping the residents of their memory. Naturally, it becomes your job to restore fix everyone’s memory and save the day. Although the whole amnesia motif is a tired cliché to rest your entire narrative on, there’s still an engaging layer of mystery surrounding the world. Quirky characters like Dungeon Hero X, an overly-eager Kupo who likes to share his dungeon-exploring expertise, keeps things fun and charming. Not to mention the Chocobo lead, whose cheerful chirps never get old.
However, the formula of forgetfulness quickly becomes repetitive. Since the Bell of Oblivion is always present, the townspeople are frequently struck by sudden amnesia. This’ll cause them to lose their train of thought mid-sentence. You’ll have to hop inside their mind and tackle a dungeon if you want their piece of info or access to their services. These dungeons are typically shorter than their story counterparts. They often come in the form of a unique challenge scenario, hindering you with special requirements like not allowing you to take items in or not regenerate HP or SP. The dungeons themselves are short and sweet, but the context surrounding them grows tiresome. It may be charming the first three times someone loses their memory, but how about the twelfth?
Dungeons are randomly generated with layouts that shift each time you enter. They consist of a series of floors inhabited by wandering enemies, items, and traps that provide either positive or negative effects. Some mess with you in interesting ways, like the Amnesia trap that causes you to forget the current floor’s map. Others offer a quick heal or replenish your hunger meter. There’s a risk-reward element to some traps, too. For example, the Shop/Duel traps present you with either a merchant to trade with or a tough opponent to fight.
Although they start off brief, It doesn’t take long before dungeons become gruelingly long. Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle them in one go. You’ll get a checkpoint every 10 floors that you can zip to from the entrance. This becomes essential for getting through dungeons with 30, 40, or even 50 floors. Slowly chipping away at a dungeon can take some time, but it’s rewarding to reach that next milestone. A tough boss always awaits at the end. It might take you longer than you expect to finally defeat them.
The combat takes place on a grid, where you have a variety of spells, items, and abilities at your disposal. It’s a snappy blend of real-time and turn-based combat. There are no menus to select your next move from. You simply move, attack, or cast a spell and the enemy will perform their action. The combat’s flow pairs with lightning-fast movement speed to create a breezily-paced experience. It ensures that journeying through long dungeons with dozens of floors is engaging and satisfying rather than grueling and laborious.
The Job system - which lets you pick a role at the start of a dungeon - keeps things interesting by giving you a wide number of approaches at your disposal. The Knight, for example, is the first Job you’ll earn. It’s simple and effective, operating on the premise of high defense and attack power without any magic. The Scholar, on the other hand, has a blend of magic and utility, like being able to deal elemental damage and reveal the layout of your current floor. It's fun and rewarding to experiment with different Jobs. You unlock them at a steady pace and each one feels uniquely viable.
Enemies can drop several types of rewards. Experience (EXP) will increase your overall level, whilst Job points apply to your currently equipped Job. There are also Buddy points, which feed into the brand-new Buddy system. It’s a simple yet effective concept that lets you bring a companion into dungeons with you. Buddies can be characters you’ve met in town or monsters you’ve slain. It’s a neat addition that adds some much-appreciated extra depth. The huge variety of possible dungeon assistants, who each come with their own stats and spells, makes room for some fun experimentation.
Monsters can drop a variety of items, but you'll also find items littered throughout dungeons. They include consumables, gear, spell books, and more. You'll also earn money, which is essential for upgrading items and trading with vendors. Unlike the various forms of EXP you earn along the way, your precious money and items aren’t permanent. In a move that sometimes feels too brutal, dying causes you to lose everything you’re currently holding. You’ll have to make frequent trips to the town’s storage facilities if you want to hang onto what you’ve earned.
Consequently, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon can be quite punishing. The rapid pace at which you acquire and lose items teaches you not to be greedy with healing items or hesitant with consumable spell books. The fact that certain enemies can steal items or weaken your equipment further amplifies this. Furthermore, new dungeons that pop up always seem to be several levels higher than you. This left me tediously grinding EXP and Job points just to be able to get through these lengthy and challenging dungeons.
The crafting element of Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon lightens the burden a little. Gear comes in three slots: talons, saddles, and collars. Visiting the town’s blacksmith will let you hone these slots and improve their effectiveness, but fusing items allow them to have real longevity. Fusing one item with another will merge their stats - making the end result stronger - but it’ll also combine any passive effects they carry. These passive improvements can be invaluable, like making an item immune to degradation or making your attacks inflict ailments. It’s rewarding and satisfying to engage with, but the need to constantly be upgrading and fusing feels somewhat at odds with the mechanic that brutally empties your inventory upon death.
If the screenshots don’t make it readily apparent, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon is not a new game. The change of title makes it easy to lose the thread, but it’s actually a remaster of the 2008 Wii game Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon. Although the visuals certainly look sharper than the original, they still look considerably outdated. This is hardly the prettiest game you’ll find on the PS4 or Switch, especially up close. Fortunately, the music still sounds great. The soundtrack is lively and jaunty, presenting some great tunes that are infectiously catchy.
Ultimately, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon is a charming RPG with tough but snappy dungeons. Although there are design decisions that make the game feel excessively punishing at times, it’s still rewarding and satisfying to make your way through the myriad of dungeons. The new Buddy system is a cool addition that makes tackling lengthy areas less intimidating. The remaster is pretty basic, but what the game lacks in impressive visuals it makes up for in personality, fun writing, and catchy music.
TechRaptor reviewed Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon EVERY BUDDY! on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Charming World
- Tough And Satisfying Dungeons
- Job System Is Varied And Rewarding
- Overly Punishing
- Tediously Grindy
- Amnesia Premise Is Dull