Oh my god he’s back again
Have you ever been enraptured by a single image from a video game? Just one shot, one minuscule slice of a final product that you just can’t take eyes off of, that lives in your brain for days or even weeks after? I’ve had my fair share. The first time I saw a still image of Orchid’s “No Mercy” move from the first Killer Instinct is one. The Hydra from God of War is another. Both are burned into my memory, but it’s actually a more innocuous picture that is the best example of this.
More than a decade ago, back when IGN still had video game news, I stumbled onto their screenshots for the game that would become known as Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon. I was unfamiliar with the sub-series of the Final Fantasy franchise and the roguelike genre didn’t do much for me at all. And yet, this one shot, just some of the rooftops of the game’s central town, called out to me. Its whimsical charm beckoned and, for the next few months, that picture sat front and center in my hippocampus as I diligently waited for the game to come out.
It sold me on that game before I knew anything about it. Admittedly, that sort of internal hype machine probably clouded my perception of the final product as I had already convinced myself it was perfect even before I unwrapped the game. Truth is, I don’t know if Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon is a good game or just a game I convinced myself was good, but I’m sure glad Square Enix has given me a second chance at a first impression with Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy!
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy! (Switch [reviewed], PlayStation 4)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: March 20, 2019
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy! is, for all intents and purpose, the definitive edition of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon. Not exactly a remaster and not exactly a port, Every Buddy brings the core of the Wii game to modern hardware, adds in some material from the Nintendo DS port that never made it out of Japan, and ties it all together with new features exclusive to this version of the game.
Every Buddy takes place in and around a town called Lostime. Those who live within its limits enjoy a fugue existence, their minds wiped clean every time the Bell of Oblivion rings. The titular Chocobo and his treasure-hunting companion Cid end up in the town due to an excursion gone awry, and soon the two are teaming up with a bubbly girl named Shirma and a quickly growing egg baby named Raffaello to restore the memories of the denizens and figure out just what the heck is going on.
Each citizen’s memory is locked behind a roguelike dungeon Chocobo will have to conquer. These randomly generated dungeons feature a bevy of traps and enemies that’ll whittle down Chocobo’s health and hunger as he dives deeper and deeper into each one. On the Wii, Chocobo’s journey was sometimes an overwhelming task. Behind its totes adorbs visuals was a taxing challenge, especially for anyone just jumping into the genre for the first time. With Every Buddy, the challenge is made easier with the addition of a buddy.
Throughout the story, Chocobo will gain the ability to recruit Lostime residents as buddies to take into the dungeon. He can also recruit the monsters he fights by collecting Buddy Points they drop when defeated. The more points he collects from a specific monster, the more powerful version of it he can team up with. The buddy can either be controlled by A.I. with limited input from the player or independently with a second player. Buddies’ abilities are limited — they can’t equip jobs like Chocobo can — but they do have unique skills that make them vital tools as the difficulty ramps up.
In addition to Buddy Points, defeated monsters also grant XP to level up Chocobo as well as Job Points, a separate set of experience points exclusively for whichever job you have equipped at the time. Unlocking jobs is arguably an arduous task, contributing to much of the grind you’ll experience with the game. It can be a slog, and the limited variety of dungeon rooms that are recycled in every head you jump into doesn’t help, but I thought it was worth it to get the most out of every job I earned. Ninja, one of the final jobs that’s unlocked, is an absolute beast at higher levels and ideal for the endless dungeon runs.
Spending the last month once again exploring the long lost memories of Lostime brought back some great memories of my own, but it’s clear the image of perfection I had a decade ago was inaccurate. For as much as I love this game, I no longer see it as the pinnacle of the Mystery Dungeon series. The genre has evolved. The dungeons, though still inferior to something hand-crafted, have vastly improved in make-up and variety. Too many times in Every Buddy, when I’d start a new floor, the exit would be right next to where I entered. Many of the dungeons I ran through were littered with dead ends. The buddy system, while helpful, also proved inadequate in the limited amount of control you have over them.
Many of the systems here are antiquated as well, in much need of some quality of life improvements. I can’t just use a potion to heal my partner but rather have to kick it at them. Load times are excessively long and the extensive strength and weakness system doesn’t feel as though it comes into play at all. (A previous version of this paragraph, mentioning the buddy’s special attack and the storage system, contained incorrect information. The passage has been altered for clarity. I apologize for those errors. The rest of the review remains intact.)
It’s unfortunate that these faults from Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon are still around more than a decade later, but thankfully, all of the strengths of the original release were retained as well. The story, the beautiful art direction, the charming characters, and the appropriate level of difficulty made that Wii game one of the best RPGs in the system’s library. Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy!, with its thoughtful additions, is simply a better version of it. Hardcore roguelike fans may find it too forgiving, but for anyone unfamiliar with the genre, you won’t find a better jumping off point than this.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]