I recently picked up a Wii during a Gamestop sale (it was only $60, so I figured I might as well). Finding games to play on it for outside Mario, Zelda, and Metroid have been difficult, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon sitting on a shelf at the store.I’ve been a Final Fantasy Fan for as long as I have been playing games, and I figured Chocobo’s Dungeon couldn’t be any worse than Final Fantasy X-2 (which has a a special, awful place in my heart).
Gameplay: The first thing I noticed on the cover, is this game is intended for players ages 7 and up, which set up my expectations going into the game. I wasn’t going in to this experience looking for a fight against a boss like Ruby Weapon. Players control Chocobo, a small yellow chocobo, and guide him through dungeons to collect memories. For each step Chocobo takes in a dungeon, an enemy is allowed to take another step. This does necessitate careful planning if you venture into an area with multiple enemies, as well as an awareness of the range of Chocobo’s attacks depending on what class he is currently employing. There are eight classes that can be unlocked throughout the game (natural, knight, white-mage, black-mage, dancer, dragoon, dark knight, scholar, thief, ninja) which should be fairly familiar to anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game in the past. Some classes are unlocked through natural progression of the story, and others must be unlocked through special missions and hidden quests. You can only level each class up to level 8, so there is no need to spend hours level-grinding in the game, unless you are a completionist. That said, leveling up Chocobo’s classes is fairly easy, which is facilitated by being able to re-play dungeons that Chocobo has conquered in the past. Most of the dungeons are straightforward, Chocobo needs to navigate through each level of the dungeon until he reaches the bottom level. As the difficulty of the dungeon’s increase, so do the number of levels within each dungeon. Early dungeons are only five levels deep, while the final dungeon of the game is forty levels. In addition to typical dungeons, there are special dungeons. These side dungeons have special rules, for instance in one Chocobo only has 1 hp, and require more strategy and cunning to play through. Their addition to the game adds a way to take a fun break from the main dungeons in order to build your character and allow him access to new items and classes. Overall, the gameplay is what I would call “finaly fantasy light”. There are random encounters, the combat is turned-based in its own way, but the level of difficulty is low, and the dungeons are bounded, finite, and easy to leave if a player is feeling overwhelmed. I thoroughly enjoyed this low-stress variety of Final Fantasy gameplay, and I had fun seeing Chocobo dressed up in the different classes. The game should also only take up 15-25 hours of time to finish the main storyline, so it doesn’t require a large chunk of time to enjoy. Overall the class, combat, and dungeon system is engaging, while not as frustrating as some Final Fantasy games can be.
Story: The story of Chocobo’s Dungeons centers on Chocobo and a Cid character as they search for Timeless Power. After finding the artifact, Chocobo and Cid are magically transported to the town of Lostime within the isle of Memoria. All of the town’s inhabitants are slowly losing their memories each time the town’s bell, the Bell of Oblivion rings. Chocobo is not affected by the bell, and with the help of Shrima, a young white mage, and a magical infant from the sky, Rafaello, is able to enter people’s minds (in the form of dungeons) and unlock precious memories for each of them.
As more and more memories are unlocked, Chocobo begins to uncover the mystery of Memoria, and slowly learn of Rafaello’s origins. This ultimately leads to a calamity that Chocobo must face to save his friends and the townspeople. The story brings a solid narrative to the game, and unlocking new memories is made more enjoyable by the fact that you are learning new things about some loveable characters. The allure of unlocking more memories is an incentive for playing the mini-dungeons, which pay off in some interesting side stories. Again, this game is made for a younger audience than most Final Fantasy games, it does lack sweeping, vast, and interconnected story lines like previous Final Fantasy games. While simplistic and at times predictable, the story is cohesive and melds well with the gameplay. My only complaint is that the player is forced to view the cut scenes when Chocobo unlocks a memory. While most are engaging, there are times when the memories were unexciting or repetitive.
Gender/Race/Sexuality: While this game does continue to position women as white mages, (you can look at an explanation of the trope here) the game is inclusive of both genders on an equal footing, with female characters represented as much or moreso than male characters. Race is a separate problem, and one that Square Enix has traditionally not dealt with well. Part of the problem is that Japan is composed of a homogenous population, and Japanese gaming companies often lack an understanding of race relations in other countries. While they have attempted to address this with characters like Barrett from FFVII and Sazh from FFXIII, Square Enix clearly still doesn’t understand quite how to address this issue, and tends to employ all-white casts of characters in many of its Final Fantasy games. Sexuality is not discussed within Chocobo’s dungeons, which makes sense as it is targeted towards younger audiences, but the relationships presented in the game are heterosexual. This is no different than any other Final Fantasy game currently in existence, unless you believe that Cloud and Barrett should belong together. Overall, while the game is problematic in its adherence to heterosexual norms and the lack of diverse races, the gender portrayals of the game seem positive, as many of the women Chocobo encounters are both empowered and non-sexualized.
To Play or Not to Play: I would recommend this to anyone that owns a Wii. Although the game will predominantly attract players that enjoy JRPG’s the gameplay and story are accessible enough to invite a wider variety of players. Also, the game is so old at this point that it is fairly cheap (10$) to pick up a used copy. So if you haven’t played Chocobo’s Dungeon yet, GO. PLAY. NOW.