The story is simple as far as Final Fantasy stories go. You (Chocobo) and Cid (human) are treasure hunters. You explore the dungeons and hopefully find treasures. Well, you do the dangerous bit, risking your life and feathers while Cid watches and gives advice. You find yourself in a town where every time the town clock strikes, it wipes out some of the town peoples memories. Fortunately, this has no effect on Chocobo who then has to enter “memory dungeons” and retrieve people’s memories.
The game has two modes – town mode and dungeon mode. While you are exploring the town, you could be forgiven for thinking you are playing just another Final Fantasy. You walk around the town, talk to people, go to the shops and play mini games which are just as frustrating and addictive as usual. The time passes and things change depending on the time of day. There’s a bank where you deposit items and cash that you don’t want to carry around the dungeon. There are several shops including a weapon and armour customisation forge. There are even Moogles, “Kupo!” (As a true Final Fantasy fan, I couldn’t resist saying that).
However, enter a dungeon and things change dramatically. Cute graphics could fool you into thinking that the dungeons will be a breeze, but think again. Walking through a dungeon requires a lot of patience and forward planning. The older gamers may remember Rogue, Moria, ADOM, (Z)Angband and similar games, and I don’t mind telling you I had an attack of extreme nostalgia when I first entered a dungeon. Gameplay is pretty much the same as in ever rogue-like: Every action costs a turn and for every turn you make, monsters make a turn too, at the same time. There are traps that sometimes look like useful things. Levels are randomly generated and if you die you lose everything in your inventory including all your cash and get kicked out of the dungeon. There is also hunger – your food level starts at 100% and you get hungry as you explore. If your food level drops to 0%, you start losing hit points and can die of hunger. Everything you find needs to be identified and if your preferred method is just to try everything on, you will probably soon find yourself wearing a cursed item with negative effects. Or you’ll be walking around in your brand new armour +15 when some inconsiderate monster will come along and spit on it causing it to rust and lose some of the enchantment. Ah, the good old dungeon games... In some cases special rules apply that mean you can only enter the dungeon with no equipment and only 1hp. And maybe blind. Some of those dungeons consist of one small room and many monsters all trying to get a bite out of you. In some you go in at 0% food and can’t eat so you permanently lose hit points.
So, what’s not to like? Well, as with all rogue-likes, so much depends on sheer luck. Sometimes you will appear right next to the stairs that lead to the next level. On the other hand, the only way to the stairs may be blocked by a trap that will easily wipe out all of your hit points. Random is the name of the game and if you get easily frustrated by such things, maybe this isn’t a game for you. If, however, you just accept that some special dungeons require an awful lot of luck to complete you can relax and enjoy yourself, die a few times, shrug your shoulders and try again. Personally, I tend to have almost infinite patience when it comes to things like that, so the randomness didn’t particularly bother me.
One thing I disliked was that you can’t step diagonally around the corners. It’s not a big deal, but you do have to take it into account when trying to get out of a difficult situation – you can walk diagonally around the rooms, but not step diagonally from a room into a corridor.
The other thing I found immensely frustrating was how the menus worked. Say you want to equip your weapon, your armour and your accessory item. You open items menu. You select your item, you select “Equip”. The whole dialogue box closes so you have to open the menu again. Then select the item, then equip. Rinse and repeat! Same goes for withdrawing or depositing items, buying or modifying items etc. Now think about this: The special dungeon doesn’t allow you to take any of the items with you. Everything you’re carrying gets automatically deposited. But you have to manually withdraw every single piece afterwards. How disappointing that it wasn’t made easier.
And now for the praise! Where to start? I love the job system. Very much in keeping with Final Fantasy flexibility when it comes to classes, you can choose which job you want to have and you can develop multiple jobs for multiple purposes. Some dungeons are easier with a black mage, some with a dragoon and some with a scholar. There are many jobs to choose from and the whole system is done really well.
Generally, dungeons aren’t too big. For those that are more than 10 levels deep, there are check points within them which means if you realise you didn’t bring enough food and can’t find any, you don’t have to do the whole dungeon again. The teleport will take you to the check point of your choice.
You can save at any time while in town or find the stairs in the dungeon where you can pause the game. It essentially means that when you reload, you will be back in the dungeon at the same floor you saved at, but it will be laid out differently so you may have to find the stairs again. Much better than the usual Final Fantasy system of save points.
The pace of the game is good, the dungeon keeps you on your toes and there is plenty to do in town between the dungeons. There are various mini-games that alone will keep you entertained for hours and they definitely have that "Just one more time!" factor.