Previously released on the Wii, Nintendo DS (as Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon) and now Switch and PlayStation 4 as Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy! On the surface looks like yet another cutesie Final Fantasy spinoff, from the beautiful press start menu, the titular protagonist’s adorable appearance, to quaint village hub world setting full of blissfully smiling, forgetful cartoony residents.
Once you dig beneath the cheerful surface, however, you will find a deep, addictive and challenging gameplay, themes of loss, lobotomy morality and a killer bird that murders defenseless sleeping creatures in the hope of harvesting their bodies for the possible treasure.
For a Final Fantasy title, the story is remarkably grounded, the tale of Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy! starts off naturally enough: a wondering treasure hunter and his adorable, moped-sized bird sidekick get sucked into a mysterious hurricane and ejected out of a fountain in a village full of amnesiacs, called Lostime which is situated on the conveniently named island of Memoria, which was rumored to have vanished fifty years ago. At first, the residents seem perfectly happy hiding behind their unfailing Stepford smiles, and it is not long before a mysterious baby inside an egg hurtles from the sky and lands in the middle of town.
This bizarre green haired infant grants you the ability to leap into people’s minds and restore their lost memories. Chocobo gets chatting with each of the residents, and each of their veils drops, they suddenly remember that they have each forgotten essential details from their pasts and are each moved in different ways. Some are furious something has been removed from them without permission others mourne what is missing. Luckily for the people of the village, Chocobo has recently learned the ability to enter people’s subconscious, battle their inner demons and restore their minds to what they once were.
Gameplay, on the whole, involves finding your way through floor after floor of randomly generated dungeons and while defending your player controller duo from the monsters that infest each level. Commands are given via long-winded menu selection or can be popped into a handy shortcut menu that unfortunately can only store four commands and if you are ever in a situation where you need a multitude of attacks you may find your self fiddling around and potentially wasting a lot of time if you fail the dungeon by running out of HP.
It is almost imperceptible in the in early dungeons but like any true Rogue-like every action you take is one turn. That means anything from changing your weapons or equipment, moving one square or pressing the attack button by mistake all cost a turn. Every other creature in the dungeons is out for your blood but also shares the same turn-based existence as Chocobo so you have to be conscious of every button input.
Every so often another resident of the village will pop up and offload their amnesiac anxieties on to the philanthropic protagonist, inevitably leading to another challenging dungeon mission. After freeing a particularly bizarre NPC’s memories, you are rewarded with an infinite dungeon although will loop after 500 floors – enemies get stronger as you progress with a scoreboard recording your furthest dungeon excursion.
Your health and SP (your special abilities currency) will recharge a tiny bit between turns. Walking on the spot is the equivalent of skipping a turn and can be a life-saving tactic only to be sparingly used when your health is running low, and there are no enemies about! To aid your adventure there a swath of useful items and tools to use including Warp Wings which can teleport your Chocobo to a random square on the board. Due to the random nature of Rogue-likes, this item could take you miles away or one square away. The reliance on the behind the scenes RNG will drive some players mad with frustration one minute and then have them laughing at their luck when the next floors door spawns one square away from you.
There’s some lovely classic Final Fantasy music used throughout Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy!, with a strange focus on FFVIII’s soundtrack. Eventually, you get to choose songs to play on a jukebox, but control of the music would have been preferable outside of the small Cafe area the jukebox is contained in. It has some of my favorite music tracks from classic Final Fantasy games and going through dungeons, again and again, hearing the same song can get a little tedious, this could have easily been remedied by allowing what song we are hearing.
With a few small improvements Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy! could have been the perfect roguelike for Final Fantasy fans, Rouge-like beginners and seasoned adventurers alike. One of the main quality-of-life developments that could be made is one-handed mode support or button rebinding, this should really be a feature in every game especially one that is a remake. Also, the touchscreen needs to be implemented as this could help refine movements and aid precise interactions.
Everything is laid out in a chunky little village which is perfectly pleasant to walk through the first few times, but fast travel or a menu based hub world alternative could have cut down on hours of dullness going backward and forwards. This quaint collection of shops and houses gradually opens up with more NPCs, missions and shops, though not all that many.
Some creative decisions really suggest rushed development, for example, you can’t check your jobs outside of dungeons. Many of the Final Fantasy remasters have had a Fast forward or speed up feature, though not Final Fantasy X. This has generally been well received by the Final Fantasy fan community and is sorely missing as some animations take a while to complete and you will have to do them over and over as you level up your killer yellow bird.
It is hard to tell when it’s your Chocobo or your partner’s turn. The only way to discern turn timings is the tiny reticle under my Chocobo changes from red to green when it is his turn, these colors often blend into the dungeon’s floor or Chocobo’s equipped armor. I have learned to remedy this by holding the left shoulder button which reveals your ability list when it is your go. This clunky method saved me wasted a dangerous turn walking in the wrong direction or kicking the air.
One of my biggest gripes was the fact that you cannot turn the camera, so when battling large enemies, you can often be obscured behind their bodies. Some animations could have done with more work to them. One animation cycle partially stood out, when you unlock, series mainstay summons, Shiva as a follower she skates around the dungeons behind you, but after pushing off once she slides around the level with one leg cocked like a frozen incontinent pooch being dragged along by a lead. For the best video game ice skating, please see Bayonetta as her animations have graceful push offs to keep up the momentum as she uses frozen skates to traverse levels.
The classic Chocobo Dungeon series is one that I have admired from afar for a long time. Being a European PAL user without a chipped PlayStation there were a handful of PS1 era games I have always coveted. Was this Nintendo Switch repolishing of a Wii title worth the wait? Except for a few annoyances, I can safely say that it is a very cathartic feeling to have an urge fulfilled 20 years later. Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy! is an unpolished but fun remake, suitable for anyone that wants to dip their toe into the near-infinite world of Rouge-likes.
The Nintendo Switch may well end up filling all of my video game wishes, fingers crossed Xenogears, Chrono Crisis and Snatcher finally get released everywhere in the world via e-shop! Make it happen powers that be! If I had my way, a dream update would bring along VR support. With the recent release of Nintendo Labo VR the fixed perspective, multilayered dungeons always reminded me of the long-forgotten Persona spin-off game Jack Bros. for Virtual Boy which was exactly this but monochrome.
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy! is available now as for download on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. As an added bonus, all players who purchase the game will receive the Buddy Chocobo “Alpha” DLC for use in-game.