Chocobo GP - Kweh?!
A lot has changed in the Final Fantasy franchise since Chocobo Racing launched on the PS1 in 1999. The landscape of JRPGs has changed, and so Final Fantasy has had to adapt with the changing face of the genre. Meanwhile, in the world of kart-riding, what was true in 99’ remains true in 22’ – Mario Kart is king, and in fact the gulf between the genre’s premiere title and the competition has grown larger in the years away. Having had time to assess what Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, Modnation Racers, and countless other kart racers have done over the decades, Chocobo Racing returns, in the form of Chocobo GP. Can this 2022 take on Chocobo racing blast off like a Golden Chocobo, or can it barely get out of the blocks as though a Fat Chocobo was in the back seat?
It’s hard not to develop a kart racing game in the current day, and not find yourself heavily influenced by Mario Kart. Games have tried to deviate from the formula and have fallen flat in the past, while others that deviated just the right amount, like Nintendo’s own Diddy Kong Racing, or Crash Team Racing, simply haven’t received the love from their publisher *cough Activision*, to build on the accelerated momentum they once attained. Chocobo Racing, while not nearly as well known as Crash, has followed a similar trajectory; one big release on the PS1, and then doomed to obscurity in the subsequent years. It made it such a surprise to see when in 2021 Chocobo GP was announced, and while the sneak peaks into the game were always brief, and frantic, there was a glimmer of hope present that Chocobo GP was going to be something great. The reality is that, despite being a fairly solid kart racer, it’s again another contender that Mario is looking at through his rear-view mirror.
Chocobo GP is a pretty standard kart racer in a host of ways. It boasts all of the accoutrements seen in all other contemporary kart racers. Online and Offline multiplayer, a large suite of racers with varying skill sets, who can all be customised in a host of different ways, a reasonably wide range of tracks to race on and both a Grand Prix (Series Races), Time Attack, Custom Races, a Shop, and a Story Mode. The problem resides in how some of these features are distributed to players. The Series Races, while not an egregious error on the developers part, are dolled out sequentially, so you can’t pick and choose to your heart’s content what you’d like to race for a while because of course the rest are rolled out sequentially in the games Story mode as well. My history with Final Fantasy goes back a long way, I rolled credits on Final Fantasy VI as a five year old, something I’ll proudly shout to all who’ll listen for years to come, but the number of straws that are clasped upon to draw elements of Final Fantasy VI, VII, IX, and several others together, is astounding, and quite ham fisted. Despite existing in worlds full of all powerful mages, espers, knights and summons, troublesome situations must be resolved from behind the wheel of a race kart, which, while quaint, and given the current world situation, would be a nice real-world solution to real-world issues, it only gets grating in this context.
The racing itself is quite exciting however. The track design is mostly great, with a wide range of obstacles being presented to give players something to think about at all times. The game classifies the tracks as Short, Technical, Hyperspeed and so on with almost every track has its own version of the aforementioned variants to ensure things are constantly being changed up. Much like Mario Kart, there are collectible items (Magicite) to accumulate as you race that can level the playing field a bit. The Magicite can be stacked to become more potent and vary from damage-dealing items, speed boosts and even warps that skip your further up the track. There is some rubber-banding not dissimilar to Mario Kart, that will always seemingly strike at the worst possible times, but there is more balance to the Magicite you collect than what’s seen in Mario Kart, with no Blue Shell equivalents presenting themselves to completely decimate your chances of success.
On the shop side, with each completed race, the player accrues shop tickets which can be spent to unlock characters you encounter through the story mode. It’s a shame that a standard playthrough of the story mode doesn’t lead to everyone being available instantly to race, but the ask beyond simple narrative completion isn’t ridiculous so it still won’t be long before the entire suite of racers is available to you.
For the revitalisation of a 20+ year old game, Chocobo GP scrubs up quite well. Chocobo in particular looks excellent, while it was quite interesting to see how other racers from the sub-franchises history looked in their return to the spotlight, nearly as interesting as it was to see the likes of Terra, Vivi, Steiner, and a host of summons including Shiva, Ifrit and Ramuh in this world. It’s fair to say they all look better than they sound, with an painful anime inspired voice-acting delivery being layered atop already ludicrous writing for the Story mode. The music on the other hand is sure to get you up and about, while other iconic tracks from core Final Fantasy games make timely appearances to complement the visual design of the tracks that they inspired.
The story may be wafer thin, and the rubber banding still brutal at times, but there’s a lot of charm in Chocobo GP, and lots of fun to be had. Square-Enix intends to continue supporting the game into the future with the likes of Cloud and Squall all on track to become available to players post launch, so there’s hope that unlike its predecessor, Chocobo GP isn’t an easily forgotten flash in the pan. Despite plenty of rough edges, this is a race worth being a part of.