Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy, so far, is one of many Square Enix titles to land on the Nintendo Switch this year, but also is the one that I knew the least about from the outset. I was aware that the Chocobo subseries would often spill over into the larger Mystery Dungeon series, but that’s about it. Honestly, before playing the title for the purpose of this review I didn’t even know that it was a remake of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon for the Wii. That said, the Switch has caused me to immensely appreciate roguelikes, and one of the Final Fantasy variety seems like a match made in heaven. Read on to find out if that is actually the case!
Cid and Chocobo – esteemed treasure hunters – are drawn to a mysterious spire known as the Tower of Sands, which is said to house an artifact of magnificent proportions. However, as is the case with many stories involving questionable destinations and otherworldly treasures, their situation quickly sours upon discovering they are late to redeeming their prize. Alas, this mysterious rival only has mere moments to laugh in the face of the treasure hunting duo before they all are sucked into a pillar of light bursting forth from the tower. Well, that sucks.
On the other side, both Cid and Chocobo appear to be intact, however their rival and her companion, Volg, are nowhere to be found. Disoriented, the treasure hunters have little time to digest the situation at hand before Gale, the Mayor of Lostime, introduces himself. It is clear that somehow, some way, Chocobo and Cid have transcended space and time, only to land in a village of unknown origins and – unfortunately for them – things only gets worse from there. In the distance a tolling bell, known as the Bell of Oblivion, can be heard, expunging the vast majority of memories from those within earshot of its gloomy tones. Cid falls prey to it – Chocobo is unaffected – but both are saved by a passerby that offers shelter and further context to the situation.
Things get a little more weird after regrouping at the safehouse though. Long story short, fate unfortunately has you travelling right back into town when suddenly, an egg falls from the sky, hatching what seems to be a human-like baby. As a bystander to the event, Mayor Gale begins to recall a memory once lost, but not before the bell of oblivion rings once again, jumbling his mind once more (that was a lot of “onces”). As soon as that happens, the baby – somehow – goes into Gale’s psyche, and Chocobo follows suit with the help of the baby’s left behind pendant. Needless to say, it doesn’t get much weirder than this, folks.
Henceforth, Chocobo is able to jump into the muddled memories of townsfolk and has the potential to bring them back into the forefront of their minds. That is good and all, but why does this happen? Does the bell of oblivion toll to help the townsfolk forget a horrible event, and what does egg baby Raffaelo have to do with it all? WHY IS THE TOWN OF LOSTIME SO FREAKING WEIRD?
I’ll admit that the premise is quite odd, but I actually found myself enjoying the whole memory retrieval aspect as the events tie directly into both the plot itself and the main gameplay loop – dungeons. You will be jumping into the flustered minds of seemingly one-dimensional townsfolk, but each floor of their “memory dungeon” offers a bit more to their backstory, leading up to their total mind-view upon completing their dungeon. There are other kinds of dungeons too, but we’ll get into that shortly. Although the story itself and cast are not the greatest thing ever, I found the actual presentation of said storytelling to be quite clever in a genre that isn’t necessarily known for amazing narratives.
With Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon being a roguelike, and the fact that dungeon is also in the name, you can bet that there are tons of randomly generated labyrinths to explore. For the most part, there are two types of dungeons: the previously mentioned memory dungeons, as well as challenge dungeons. Basic memory dungeons tend to have a set level of floors, typically increasing in number as you progress through the game, and generally have no restrictions as far as items, equipment, and jobs are concerned. These dungeons are almost always tied directly into the main story, while challenge dungeons are a bit of an anomaly.
Challenge dungeons have you traversing randomly generated floors also, but are more restrictive in nature and may not necessarily be required to progress the story. That said, you’ll want to tackle these as you are able because they often unlock additional gameplay features – or shops – for your efforts. As you might have guessed already, challenge dungeons can be much more difficult than their vanilla counterparts due to their set restrictions.
Typically, you will begin these dungeons buck naked, meaning no items or equipment. Other conditions can be layered on top of that as well, such as taking damage each step, not being able to restore your ability points (SP), and/or not being able to bring along a buddy (more on this later). Don’t be upset if you can’t clear some of these dungeons upon unlocking them, as discovering a new job and/or buddy later on may be key to their victory.
Now, you might be thinking, “what the heck is a buddy”? This is a new feature exclusive to this new version of the game that gives you the ability to take along a helper into most dungeons. Interestingly enough, this helper can either by AI or handled by an additional human player, making Every Buddy (at times) a two player experience. That is pretty neat, though with the limited actions available to the buddy, I’m not exactly sure how fun or exciting a player-controlled buddy would be long-term. Regardless, buddies come in all shapes and sizes, and are unlocked naturally as you progress through the game.
These buddies can range from important npcs – like your pal Cid – to all sorts of infamous Final Fantasy creatures, like Bombs and Goblins. There are over 100 of these buddies to unlock and collect, with each of them having their own strengths, weaknesses, and a singular special ability. As a result, you will find yourself swapping these out in order to best suit the situation at hand, though unfortunately, you are limited to where you can actually swap them in and out.
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon offers plenty of customization options to Chocobo in the form of jobs, equipment, and items. There are 14 jobs available to unlock, with some of them being discovered through natural story progression while others require completing certain challenge dungeons. Many of the staple jobs are present, including but not limited to the White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage, Thief, Dragoon, and Knight. Like the Buddy system, jobs have their own advantages in certain situations, but I found them to be less balanced than companions.
Sure, some challenge dungeons specifically are best suited for certain jobs, but standard story progression dungeons – I found – were often best dealt with by using one or two different jobs at best. The Black Mage, in particular, is so strong in most situations that you’d be a fool not to use it. Granted, this is based on my experience with the normal difficulty level, but I can imagine that it doesn’t change much on the higher difficulty and, if anything, just becomes far more obvious.
Chocobo has both a base level and a job level that can grow, with the base level growth handling most statistical bonuses while job growth results in new job-specific abilities. While every form of Chocobo has a basic attack, the abilities are really the bread and butter here, and they obviously can vary drastically across jobs. Ability usage expends SP, which regenerates over time, or can be replenished on-the-fly through items.
Chocobo can equip talons (weapons), saddles (armor), and collars (accessories). Gear is primarily found in dungeons, though some base level of equipment can also be purchased in shops. They are generally found in typical roguelike “unidentified” fashion, which adds some risk/reward to equipping them before they are identified since they could very well be cursed (ie. becoming unequippable until the curse is lifted). That might not sound like a big deal, but curses can be quite unfortunate in the midst of a dungeon run when you go from that sweet +10 saddle to a crappy -1 version. Most restorative items are discovered in an unidentified state too, but all of these can be revealed by an appraisal consumable, as well as for free at the church in town (after you complete its prerequisite challenge dungeon, of course).
Eventually, gear can be upgraded by honing and fusing. Honing allows you to permanently increase the stats of a piece of gear while fusing has you combining two components into one (hopefully better) item. Fusing is important because it allows you to carry over passive traits – or brands – to new gear. You only have a finite amount of opportunities to upgrade each piece of gear though, so consider how you are going to develop them before making rash decisions.
Excess gold, gear, and items can be stored at the local bank, and you’ll want to leverage the system often as you will lose any non-banked unequipped items when you die on normal, and ALL non-banked items on hard mode. The process can be a bit tedious at times, running to and from various dungeons in order to optimize your loadout and reserves, but the payoff is well worth it. Outside of the main gameplay loop, Chocobo can take up secondary tasks, like fishing and gardening, which are fairly basic in design but offer incentives – and a change of pace – to those that choose to dabble in them. Overall, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon has a lot of simple – yet abundant – moving parts that makes for an enjoyable roguelike romp.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
For as fantastical as Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon seems, there isn’t much “fantastic” about the graphics. While the UI has seen an overhaul and the characters are a bit more crisp in comparison to their Wii predecessor, it still makes for a package that feels a bit dated. Granted, the game goes out of its way to fully embrace the cutesy, ultra-stylistic approach, but something about it just feels a little off to me. That said, the inclusion of all sorts of creatures throughout the Final Fantasy franchise kind of makes up for the gripe. Also, I don’t care who you are, Chocobo is just as cute as ever here.
The Final Fantasy creatures are just the beginning of the nostalgia trip though, as remixed versions of many iconic Final Fantasy tunes make up the majority of Mystery Dungeon’s soundtrack. Those that adore the franchise will simply love it while even newcomers will likely find something to appreciate with the various tunes. Performance-wise, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon runs at a consistent 60FPS but suffers from one minor setback that could actually be a design oversight rather than specifically a performance one. There is quite a noticeable delay inserted at the end of almost every ability that is kind of annoying, especially when you consider how it adds up over a 30+ floor run. Again, this may not be tied directly to performance, but was worth noting regardless.
Ports and remasters can often be a tough sell to certain crowds, but I think Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon handles the scenario gracefully enough. The new Buddy system alone – no doubt – adds value for both new players and those that cleared the game in its original form. While I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is my absolute favorite roguelike on the system – in fact, there are a handful of roguelikes at almost half the price that could arguably offer a better time – the infusion of Final Fantasy design within the roguelike framework is a wonderful thing, and one that is sure to resonate with many players. Some interesting development decisions and job balance woes rough up the experience a bit though, but it is still a solid choice for roguelike and Final Fantasy fans alike.