This year marks the 35th anniversary of Final Fantasy and despite all the potential spinoff revivals, the one I never expected to see was a brand new Chocobo Racing. That said, Chocobo GP is a strange title. Granted it’s been years since its predecessor released in 1999, and the constant attempts at its revival punctuated over the years with a sequel intended to come out in 2010 on the Nintendo 3DS. Nearly 23 years later, Chocobo GP has fixed most of the issues found in the original and introduced some great additions to the racing formula.
Unlike its predecessor, Chocobo GP boasts a variety of modes and features such as the 64-player mode “Chocobo GP”, multiplayer, time attack, custom mode, series mode, and most importantly a story mode along with split-screen support for most everything available. However, while I wasn’t able to try out multiplayer due to it not being available during the review period, most of my contention with this title lies with modern trappings that have wormed their way into a lot of recent multiplayer outings.
Given the hot-button nature of that topic, I wanted to talk about that before diving into the rest of the review.
Simply put, the game features an in-game shop that’s a rather head-scratching inclusion given the target audience. On the surface, it’s a simple way of offering more customization in the form of utilizing in-game currency to purchase new colors and stickers for racers. The more you progress within the game itself the more items become available which is a nice way of rewarding progression. On the flip side, however, Chocobo GP also features a premium currency and seasonal unlocks resembling that of a battle pass in other multiplayer games. It’s strange seeing iconic characters like Cloud or Squall being monetized in this fashion. I knew with Chocobo GP being a “live service game” it likely included this sort of monetization, I just didn’t expect it to feel so emphasized given the dichotomy of its cutesy exterior with the greedy nature of its downloadable material.
It’s not an exaggeration to say this drastically affected my overall experience. Square Enix is asking for a premium price yet monetizing Chocobo GP as if it’s a mobile game. It’s also distasteful to think that upon booting up the game you’re immediately greeted with a “login bonus” despite the cost of buying the game outright already, especially when the currency they give you expires after a few months locking further content behind yet another paywall. While the rest of the game is far more enticing, this aspect of Chocobo GP continued to leave a poor taste in my mouth.
A quick tutorial puts you into the meat of the game, with Chocobo GP opening up and quickly situating you with a fleshed-out story mode with classic kart racing progression. With the course and roster unlocks all tied to the story, there’s plenty of callbacks to older titles along with character cameos that longtime Final Fantasy fans are sure to enjoy. All of this makes for a pleasant surprise given how kart racers as of late are often devoid of more single-player-focused content leaving them feeling barebones in comparison.
The game mechanics are also largely improved in more ways than one. While Chocobo Racing was a neat little spinoff with some great designs and fanservice, it lacked precision in its controls. Chocobo GP remedies this issue with tight and fluid controls paired with a comfortable camera that allows you to keep track of all the chaos unfolding on the track. The core gameplay experience should be familiar to those who’ve played other racers, but what makes Chocobo GP different is how these mechanics are expanded upon in a number of clever ways.
By far, the highlight of Chocobo GP is its diverse roster. While initially starting off with just the Chocobo, the character lineup expands to a total of 24 racers in the base game itself, all with their own unique abilities. Each race features a meter that when filled up allows you to use said abilities and items picked up on the track can be stacked to give you further mix ups.
While not all of these items and abilities are equal, the sheer variety and detail given to each racer is much appreciated and the fact that you can individually adjust values such as balance and speed for vehicles offers a nice layer of depth allowing for a playstyle that best suits you depending on the racer. The designs of the tracks are also a treat with several iconic areas from previous games in the series re-imagined as race tracks along with a handful of original additions as well. The total amount of tracks is a bit lacking given the game currently has a total of nine of them which seems sparse in comparison to how much consideration was put into the game’s expansive roster. Hopefully over time more tracks will be added – which seems likely given its structure as a live service game.
Additionally, the game looks great in motion both in docked and handheld modes. Chocobo GP’s whimsical designs paired with its energetic soundtrack make for a relatively comfortable and fun gameplay experience. The voice work here also factors pretty well into getting the expressiveness out of the designs and adds more to the charm – something Chocobo GP has in spades.
At the end of the day, Chocobo GP is a fun (if old-school at times) kart racer with plenty of fanservice and charm that is sure to appeal to longtime fans of the series. Despite the lack of track variety and the baffling decision to include microtransactions in the form of seasonal unlocks, it’s hard to knock Chocobo GP completely because of the effort put into other areas. So while Chocobo GP is a flawed experience that inherently holds a lot of promise, at the moment, Square Enix is offering a “lite” version of Chocobo GP that I’d recommend trying out simply to test the waters before diving in completely.
Simply put, Chocobo GP is a competent racer with some great gameplay variety that’s enough to differentiate itself from its competitors and it’s a shame to see it fall into the trappings of so many other modern multiplayer games. Hopefully, in future updates, Chocobo GP might add more content and do away with the microtransactions entirely. Given its nature as a “live-service game” the future of its add-ons will decide its place in the series history. As for whether or not that effort is reflective of a confident dash or a mad scramble to the finish line, only time will tell.
Disclaimer: Review code provided by the publisher Square Enix.