Roguelikes are new to me. After spending insane amounts of time with Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja and Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer, my interest in roguelikes stemmed from the risk:reward ratio these games have. Success isn't guaranteed so much by the equipment you have on; rather, it is guaranteed by carefully planning out your next move and being one step ahead of the enemy. Even knowing how unforgiving death in a dungeon can be in roguelikes was appealing to me, so knowing that Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is roguelike made me feel giddy inside. It's true that roguelikes are an acquired taste and do have variable learning curves, but Chocobo's Dungeon manages to take a few liberties with the genre and make a few exceptions to the rules. Change is good when done right, and Chocobo's Dungeon does it rightfully so.
For starters, Chocobo doesn't lose any equipped items or earned experience points when faced with death. Rather, whatever items were in Chocobo's bag at the time of death–unidentified until either you've appraised them or willingly fled the dungeon–plus the total amount of gil accumulated in the dungeon go away for good. Even though you could use an item to escape a dungeon, you could head for the stairs and select escape to quickly flee from the dungeon. Furthermore, because the game features a job system, using the abilities the various jobs have to offer ends up making the journey through these dungeons less painful by being able to use abilities that allow you to see where enemies are located and reveal the floor's entire layout to see where the stairs are and traps that can either blind you, sap your hunger or SP, or even take you to a dueling arena where you'll fight classic Final Fantasy monsters. While you can use the Wii Remote to move around, the game also gives you the option of using the Classic Controller, which feels a bit more natural and makes it easier to move diagonally.
The job system is somewhat of a double edged sword in Chocobo's Dungeon. While interesting in content, it's when you actually start assuming a job, each with their unique stats, that you begin to see just how important it is to plan on your next move and, incidentally, monitor your hunger ratio and SP restoration. The Dark Knight class, for example, is a hunger draining class; and while its abilities are top notch which often make fending off foes easier, the class comes at a cost of hunger decreasing at a steady rate, causing Chocobo to eventually drag himself slowly through the dungeon with HP depleting at every move. Luckily there are Gysahl Greens to restore your health; but considering how limited you often are in finding Gysahl Greens in dungeons, conservation of such health restoring items become more of a necessity than a commodity.
Yet, it is this principle of conservation and tactile efficiency that makes Chocobo's Dungeon as good as any of the other roguelikes out there sans its cutesy presentation and light-hearted story of Chocobo and Cid, along with Irma and Volg, sucked into a land far removed from the outside world and completely lost in time. As with other roguelikes, Chocobo's Dungeon does pick up in difficulty and shows you the depth of the game behind Chocobo's cuteness and cheerful attitude, yet its learning curve is fair to all to make the game easier to understand and play. The ability to combine Chocobo's saddles and talons to create powerful equipment with seals makes monster encounters easier, and whatever items and gold you don't need can always be deposited at the bank should you return to a hard dungeon.
The online portion of Chocobo's Dungeon is basically the card battles found in FF Fables: Chocobo's Tale with your deck composed of cards you find when defeating monsters in any dungeon. You also earn more cards by saying romantic phrases to Mog that you either get from letters from people whose memories you've restored or by going to Square-Enix's site for the game. It's fun to play card based battles against people!
Despite taking liberties with the roguelike formula, Chocobo's Dungeon still manages to be a great experience and a nice addition to the Wii's library. It may not be a game for everyone who is turned off by roguelikes and risk/reward ratios, but its a challenge worth trudging and experiencing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained is pretty much the underlying principle behind roguelikes.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.