Chocobo GP Review: Needs a Tune-Up
Everyone has songs they like but can't really explain why. You know, the ones with a strong sound identity or good vocalist but rubbish lyrics? That's how it is with Chocobo GP's theme song – and Chocobo GP itself.
The theme opens with a peppy, cutesy tune before a singer who wouldn't be out of place on a premier weekend kids' cartoon steps in. After a few seconds, I realize they're just singing about Magicite and reciting characters' names. It's almost literally nonsense, yet I don't turn the volume down and find it stuck in my head for the next day anyways.
Likewise, Chocobo GP is almost barren, with a directionless story and far too few courses, but here I am still playing and thinking about it.
It's never good for any game to make you wonder why you're playing it, but Chocobo GP doesn't completely spin out of control. Chocobo GP is a colorful and even strategic racer with some brilliant design choices despite the bizarrely empty selection of tracks and a narrative that's painfully unsure of its audience. It just might take a while to realize its full potential.
Chocobo GP Review: Needs a Tune-Up
Chocobo GP is a racer, and racers don't typically have the best story modes. But it's impossible to ignore the one laid out here. Almost all of your character unlocks for single-player and multiplayer races – those that don't cost actual money – come from completing story mode, so you're stuck with it.
There's precedent for a decent story in the series. The narrative in the original Chocobo Racing won't end up in a mainline Final Fantasy game, sure, but it is earnest and determined to tell its tale, even if that tale is a bit far-fetched.
Chocobo GP follows Chocobo and their friend Atla the Moogle, along with Racer X, a Moogle with a penchant for mischief. You'll run into the usual cast along the way – Shirma the White Mage, Cid, several summon spirits, monsters, and other classic Final Fantasy characters.
The problem is there's just no reason for it. Whatever the original Chocobo Racing's shortcomings, the story at least has a basic plot and motivations. Chocobo GP uses story mode as an excuse for a stream of self-referential jokes and other bits of odd humor that nearly always fall flat.
Most every line about Irma, Shirma's spunky sister, is about how she'll never find a husband with that attitude. At the same time, Atla makes extended attempts to make jokes about naming conventions in video games. Simple, lighthearted stories are fine. Chocobo GP's is just aimless.
However, the real game opens up once you've unlocked what you need from story mode. Aside from the actual Grand Prix — a robust online mode — Chocobo GP has a set of cups with predetermined courses and even a custom mode where you build your own cup. Custom mode is a particular favorite, partly thanks to Chocobo GP's other main issue.
There are more than 20 tracks, but that number is a bit misleading. Most of Chocobo GP's courses are re-skins of basic courses, with speed, length, and technical variations of the standard, shorter versions. Speed just adds boost pads, which is rather underwhelming. Technical is the most interesting since it changes the routes you're used to taking and adds obstacles. It's a far cry from the usual variations, which are essentially just featureless loops.
Take Zozo, for example, ostensibly based on Final Fantasy VI's den of iniquity. The Chocobo GP version is a brightly lit city with no features or obstacles aside from a few overflowing utility holes placed on parts of the track that no one is likely to be near anyway.
What makes Chocobo GP interesting is the Magicite system. Magicite is the equivalent of Mario Kart's item boxes, granting you crystals, helpful boons, and different spells like fire, haste, and the usual Final Fantasy magic. You can stack Magicite to create more powerful versions of the spells, and Chocobo GP makes it (relatively) easy to do with Magicite boxes color-coded for type. Gold ones, for example, are guaranteed to give you Magicite of the same kind you're currently holding.
The spells themselves turn the mundane courses into something much more exciting. By the second lap, there's inevitably a morass of fireballs, whirlwinds, time-space portals, earthquakes, and death ripping up entire sections of the course, and it's fantastically chaotic.
It also means you can go from first place with the finish line two feet away to dead last after an unfortunate accident, and the long recovery times after getting hit with a spell make it feel just a bit unfair. Usually, though, it adds a welcome layer of strategy that makes Chocobo GP unique among other racers. If only the courses were long enough where races didn't end right when things got interesting.
Each character has their own vehicle with special stats, which would be a positive feature if certain ones weren't obtainable only with Mythril, Chocobo GP's in-game currency. Currency and a season pass are baffling inclusions for a premium package and a concerning one for a game targeted at younger players. Square Enix has promised to adjust the rewards and how long it takes to get them, but it's still a distinctly poor direction.
Season two will also reportedly feature more courses. It's a positive sign for Chocobo GP's future, but it also means you're probably better off waiting a while to pick this one up. Try the free Chocobo GP Lite in the meantime if you're curious.
Chocobo GP Review — The Bottom Line
- Huge cast of Final Fantasy characters.
- Technical courses are smartly designed.
- Magicite system is excellent.
- Robust single-player and online modes.
- Shoddy story.
- Baffling monetization systems.
- Not enough courses, and the standard variants are far too short and basic.
Chocobo GP has the potential to be a much better racing game in the future. It's fun enough for now, though it feels unfinished, and despite the interesting technical variations, the course selection is really quite disappointing. Season two looks promising, but since Square Enix decided to gate content behind such a structure, hopefully, this support continues, and Chocobo GP doesn't break down on the track.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Chocobo GP used for this review.]