Who Gave This Chicken A Driver's License?
When Chocobo GP was first announced during a Nintendo Direct late last year, it was something I never expected to be announced. A sequel to one of my favorite niche kart racers, Chocobo Racing, in 2022? The sudden announcement of this feathered friend with rocket skates seemed too good to be true. Even looking at the trailer, something felt off. Naturally, the original game released in 1999 featured 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds, so maybe seeing Chocobo and friends in full 3D was the outlier? I didn't think of these things at the time, I was just excited to see Chocobo make his return.
The original Chocobo Racing, much like Chocobo GP, is a part of a spin-off series based on Final Fantasy simply titled Chocobo. Before Chocobo Racing, the series was best known for its Chocobo Dungeon series, a dungeon-crawling RPG featuring Chocobo and Mog the Moogle. Apparently, there was supposed to be a sequel on the 3DS, titled Chocobo Racing 3D, until it was canceled. The reason was that Square allegedly didn't like the quality of the game during its development. Ironic, considering what we got instead is probably worse than what the 3DS title would have been.
CHOCOBO, CAMILLA, AND CAMILLA'S PA!
Booting up Chocobo GP, I was treated to the most awful menu theme my ears have ever heard in their lives. This may be entirely subjective as I personally think vocals in music themes can either be good or bad. This one was very bad and what's worse was that it replayed every time you returned to the main menu. It's one of those catchy upbeat intros to a pre-school cartoon that introduces the entire cast and their wacky adventures. If that was the desired effect, it was executed poorly. Thankfully, the actual in-game music is good, mainly featuring remixes of several Final Fantasy songs.
The story, like most kart racing games, is simple and inoffensive enough. A Moogle named Mystery Racer X starts a tournament where the winner grants any wish they desire. As Chocobo makes new friends across each chapter, a reoccurring villain, Gilgamesh, shows up to challenge the crew. It's as basic as basic gets although I appreciate the presentation of the cutscenes. Each scene is set in a storybook fashion much like the original Chocobo Racing. Each character has their own sense of humor and quips that both break the fourth wall and are increasingly self-aware. These moments are admittingly comical if not forced, but it's harmless funny banter.
"Welcome To Chocobo Kart!"
If you've played a kart racer in the past twenty years, you've played Chocobo GP as its basic mechanics are all the same. Before you begin the race, you get a starting boost if you rev your engine just before the timer counts down to 1. Drifting causes sparks to fly under your wheels and the longer you hold the drift, the more powerful its boost. Flying off of ramps causes your character to trick and increase its speed. Even the various speed modes are Mario Kart-esque as the fastest speed, Master, requires brake drifting which is vital in MK's 200cc. The one thing that makes Chocobo GP unique is how it handles power-ups. Each driver can hold up to three power-ups, known in-game as magicite at a time.
It's encouraged to match three of the same magicite as doing so increases its power up to three times. The Fire magicite, for example, shoots out a ball of fire much like a Green Shell. Collect two Fire magicites and it turns into a single Fira spell, with a homing ability similar to a Red Shell. Collect three Fire spells and the player can unleash a Firaga magicite that now spreads across a wide area, taking out anyone in its path. The combination of evolving spells, knowing when to stockpile spells, and knowing when to use them is vital to winning. Each magicite is color-coded meaning players can intentionally pick a specific one regardless of position. Each character also has a unique ability that fills over time. Chocobo, for example, has Chocobo Dash that gives him a speed boost as well as invulnerability for a set period.
As With Most Things, MTX Ruins Everything...
So far, while the presentation screams "budget title," it's not a bad game so far. The mechanics are relatively faithful to the original with a modern twist. Chocobo GP's humor is on par with the original with enough fan service in its characters, tracks, and songs to keep a Final Fantasy fan entertained. What could possibly go wrong?
Remember how I said there's a shaky feeling I had in comparing Chocobo GP to Chocobo Racing? Yeah, this was the main reason and it has been beaten to death like a dead horse. My personal thoughts on microtransactions in a game like Chocobo GP are that it's almost predatory. Here is a game, with its wackiness and aesthetic, targeted toward a younger audience. Then there's Square, locking iconic characters behind a paywall. I can already sense some kids digging through their parent's wallets to take their credit cards already.
Even for an older crowd, this is telling its players that in order to fully enjoy Chocobo GP, you must purchase a "Battle Pass" to then play and earn Cloud. Buying the pass isn't enough to guarantee him as you have to be Level 60 to unlock him. That's a lot of grinding and this is only "Season 1." This is the only way to unlock Cloud in the game as of this writing.
Squall isn't much better as you need in-game currency to unlock him. The problem is that Gil is so difficult to come by that it's infinitely easier to buy the pass that nets you more Gil per level. Even the "free" option isn't free. What's worse is that both characters alongside other cameo characters like Aya Brea from Parasite's Eve were unlockable in Chocobo Racing. No extra money was needed, just dedication to beat the game's story mode a certain number of times.
Square Is Disappointing Me This Year So Far And It's Sad
Honestly, I was looking forward to Chocobo GP as a fan of the original. I thought Square would show the game the same love it did for the original over two decades ago. To Arika's credit, they did a great job developing the title as they are much known for their fighting games like Fighting EX Layer. Unfortunately, this is blemished by Square's greed which was part of the cause of the "downfall" of Babylon's Fall.
Underneath all of the muck and grime, there lies a decently fun kart racer that would have been perfect with a budget price tag. Despite this, I can only recommend this to the most die-hard of Chocobo fans and I wouldn't even go that far. Just play the original Chocobo Racing instead. That's 1 and 3 so far, counting Stranger of Paradise as Square's lone positive title in 2022 at this time.
Chocobo GP is available on the Nintendo Switch.