"Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon" didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was released more than 10 years ago. The role-playing game was overlooked because the Wii-powered visuals failed to impress players and it wasn't a mainline chapter to the long-running series.
It was a spin-off story, starring Chocobo, a horse-like bird that has become the unofficial "Final Fantasy" mascot. The cartoonish version of the character has starred in a kart racing title and minigame collections. Its RPG efforts were notable because of how it added an action element to turn-based gameplay.
In fact, "Chocobo's Dungeon" may have been too far ahead of its time. Fast-forward to a decade later and several of its core ideas have become popular and new platforms have made RPGs more appealing. Developer Square Enix saw an opportunity to remaster and retitle the game as "Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy!"
Now, players will have a chance to rediscover a game that's surprisingly fun and deep, though not impressively graphically. The campaign follows Chocobo and Cid, who are treasure hunters looking for the Timeless Power gem. During their search, they end up transported to the town of Lostime on Memoria Island.
It looks like a conventional town, but Chocobo quickly discovers that all is not right. The Bell of Oblivion rings and it erases the residents' memories. The people accept this because they believe forgetting bad memories will keep them happy. Ignorance is apparently bliss.
That doesn't sit well with Chocobo, and with the help of new allies Shirma and Raffaello, the creature sets out to restore the memories of the townsfolk. Chocobo does this by entering labyrinthine temples and the minds of victims, which are manifested in the form of monster-filled mazes.
This is the heart of "Mystery Dungeon." Square Enix's developers created randomly generated levels that players explore. Because there's no set design, players have to be cautious as they delve into the rooms and hallways. If Chocobo dies, players lose all of the items and gear that they accumulated. They start with nothing but the equipment on their backs.
"Mystery Dungeon" is essentially roguelike, a genre that has gained favor over the past few years. The unpredictability and the difficulty is a draw to gamers, and it has led to the popularity of projects such as "Spelunky" and "Dead Cells."
Square Enix mixes in an action element to the turn-based gameplay. Every step is counted as a move for all characters in the dungeon. If Chocobo takes a step, an enemy will do so as well. If players attack, the enemy will counter. They also have to keep in mind that there's a hunger meter that prevents players from aimlessly exploring. All of this creates a more tense and visceral experience filled with layers of strategy.
Another element in "Mystery Dungeon" is a partner that trails after Chocobo. This is a new addition from original. The buddy can be one of the townspeople or it can be a monster that players find during one of the dungeon crawls. A second player can control the ally, which has its own traits and special attacks. To be successful, players have to choose the right ally for a dungeon.
Although the first few stages are easy, the difficulty ramps up quickly in "Mystery Dungeon." Players will suffer setbacks and lose everything. It can be discouraging, but those who grind for experience and job points will make their Chocobo grow stronger. They'll see the protagonist gain more hit points and unlock more moves for the class they have chosen. Along the way, they'll also uncover better equipment that makes a big difference in combat.
Part of the joy in this genre is fiddling with different loadouts and finding the right mix of gear to help Chocobo survive each dungeon. Although it's tempting to sell equipment that may seem weak, clever players can find ways to turn those drawbacks into a strength.
As for the story, players will discover a motive behind the madness of forgetting. Lostime is hiding a traumatic past, and as players help out oracles, they'll discover the intriguing secret behind the bell.
It all adds up to a good dungeon crawl, one that "Final Fantasy" fans will be glad wasn't forgotten.
'Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy!'
2 1/2 stars
Platform:Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Rating: Everyone 10 and up