Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon is the first PlayStation action RPG to star the chocobo, Square’s popular mascot from the Final Fantasy series. Although a good action RPG could have been constructed around this premise, Square fails to deliver a quality gaming experience with Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon. CMD falters in most individual aspects of gaming, and the overall product is even worse than the sum of its parts.
In CMD, you play a chocobo who you get to name (I’m going to refer to him as “Chocobo” for the rest of this review). Chocobo and his sidekick moogle Atra ride into town one day. They see one of their friends farming in his front yard, digging holes to plant seeds in. After exchanging pleasantries, Chocobo and Atra go on their merry way (this game is annoyingly cute), while their farming friend resumes digging. Suddenly, the farmer strikes a shiny stone with an ominous purple glow, and his eyes turn purple as he is possessed by evil forces.
Chocobo and Atra make the rounds in town, and finally end up returning to their farming friend’s house. The farmer tells them that he has something to show them, but when Chocobo and Atra follow him to the back of his house, he kicks them into a mysterious dungeon. From there, it’s up to Chocobo and Atra to figure out the mysteries of the dungeon and the details of what happened to their friend.
As you can see, the storyline isn’t too exciting to begin with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better. The plot pretty much consists of Chocobo exploring many levels of dungeons and finding items that make him stronger. There is almost no character development at all, and I found the pedestrian plot to be a complete snooze from beginning to end.
CMD is a 2D overhead action RPG that is played from a pseudo-3/4 perspective. As Chocobo, you run around, exploring trap-filled dungeons that consist of many, many floors. Like in most action RPGs, battles are carried out in real time, and Chocobo finds a variety of weapons, items, and magic to aid him in his quest.
The popular ATB system from many past Square games makes a return in CMD. In the ATB system, an attack meter fills up in real time, and, when it is full, Chocobo can make a full-strength attack. When the meter isn’t full, Chocobo can still attack, but doesn’t do as much damage. If Chocobo tries to attack too often, however, he misses a lot and does little damage when he does hit. Enemies use this ATB bar too, though they tend to attack only when their bar is completely full.
Along with his HP, Chocobo must monitor his stamina during the course of his journey through the long dungeons. Activities such as constant battle and working your way out of some of the traps uses up stamina, which is tracked in percentages. Stamina can be recovered through rest and certain items.
Magic is cast through books, rather than through MP. Each book that you have of a particular spell allows you to use that particular spell once. Using spells repeatedly allows you to level up your magic skill in that particular spell, and your spells become more powerful as your magic skills level up. The most powerful spells are in the form of beads, and are really rare.
Chocobo can also summon monsters, much in the vein of the Final Fantasy games. Summon attacks are carried out through summon stones, which, like beads, are fairly rare. The summons in CMD include many of the summons from FF games.
Although CMD’s gameplay is reasonably well-executed, it gets really repetitive quickly. CMD’s gameplay takes place almost entirely in dungeons with many floors that seem the same as each other. All of the dungeons are randomly generated, so they end up being completely different if you leave and then go back in. I dislike randomly generated dungeons, so I found this feature to be incredibly annoying. In addition, the combat is really boring; with the exception of the bosses, there is very little variety in combat with different types of enemies. Because some of the dungeons are really, really long, the game just gets incredibly boring to play.
CMD is pretty strong in the graphics department. The CG FMVs are phenomenal, and the character sprites that you see during gameplay are detailed, well-drawn, and fluidly animated. Although the character designs are a little bit too cute for my tastes, they’re certainly not bad. The summons are amazing, and the rest of the spells are impressive, too.
The backgrounds in the ¾-view dungeons, while not impressive, are serviceable as well. They are polygonal, and move in a 3D fashion. They do get repetitive, but they also look better as you get deeper into the dungeons.
CMD does pretty well in the control department, too. Chocobo can move in 8 directions and is fairly responsive to the control pad in his movements. However, he’s still not as responsive as the characters in most good action RPGs, and his responses to attack commands are a bit sluggish.
CMD is also pretty good in the sound department. Most sound effects, while not tremendous, are above average, and the explosions are actually quite memorable. The musical score, while not up to the standards of Square’s top soundtracks, is still pretty good, too. It suffers from being a little bit formulaic with its typical medieval RPG melodies, but it’s pleasant to listen to and rarely gets annoying.
CMD is what I like to call a “mascot game.” In other words, it’s a subpar effort dressed up in a popular videogame license, and its main draw is the mascot character it stars. I would recommend CMD only to those who have to have every action RPG out there and those who are such huge fans of chocobos that they don’t care about the quality of the game they are getting with the license.