Back in the heyday of Squaresoft’s prime, after the massive critical success of Final Fantasy VII and them leaving Nintendo in the dust in favour of the disc based Playstation, they were running every possible angle they could. While most of their outings were RPGs of various flavours, they did dabble into other genres. One such title was Chocobo Racing, their spin on the kart racer which Mario Kart made popular. While it never had the same lasting success as the plumber does, Square Enix of today is not one to turn down another opportunity. So here we are with the all new Chocobo GP, a fresh coat of paint on the old classic. Does it roll past the finish line with aplomb, or does it lag behind in last place? Find out in our review below.

Nintendo Switch
Developed by Arika
Published by Square Enix
Released: 10th March 2022
Digital copy provided by Nintendo UK

Allow me to introduce you to the world of the Chocobo franchise. Branching off the Final Fantasy brand, the Chocobo are an avian species that typically act as the fast mounts of the series. Big, yellow and very fluffy, they’re a series staple and a fan favourite with their famous kweh/wark cries. It’s no wonder they were chosen as the mascot of the more kid-friendly subseries, which chooses to make caricatures of many of Final Fantasy’s characters, monsters and summons. While this series has covered a variety of genres, from card-based RPGs to Mystery Dungeon, the focus of this review is the bird’s foray into kart racing.

The core gameplay of Chocobo GP should feel very familiar to anyone who’s played a kart racing game before, which shouldn’t be much of a stretch considering Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s large player base on the Switch. You have your usual drifts and boosts, alongside special items scattered across the course that can give you an edge in the race. The items are referred to as Magicite, owing to the Final Fantasy heritage, and range from extra boosts, projectile magic and many other special effects. The potency of the Magicite can be increased by collecting more of the same kind of pickup on the track. Naturally, as with any race, whoever clears three laps and reaches the finish line first wins. It is chaotic fun from start to finish.

Alongside the Magicite, each character possesses a special ability that builds with time, or by collecting crystals dotted on the track. Once charged, it can be activated to either cause havoc or aid the user, depending on the character selected. The characters range from familiar faces from titles such as Final Fantasy VI and IX, regulars to the Chocobo subseries and a few new ones for good measure. Fan favourites such as Gilgamesh and Steiner join the roster alongside a few unexpected faces, like Madiun from Final Fantasy VI. Several classic series summons also make an appearance, as well as the time honoured tradition of Cid, portrayed as a friendly yet easily riled mechanic.

Chocobo GP has several modes, all of which are fairly straightforward to understand. The first mode is the Chocobo GP, an online 64-player tournament where people race to reach number one spot in the bracket. The description is a little misleading, as it suggests simultaneous 64 player races, but it’s actually a sequence of eight player matches where the top four players proceed to the next round. It’s not a bad mode, by any means. In fact, it’s really fun and very competitive, but suggesting it’s 64 players is a bit much. After that is multiplayer, which is effectively the same as above but with single races instead of a whole tournament. This can be played in local and online modes.

Up next is the story mode, which is a fairly quaint little romp, featuring cute and silly interactions between the variety of characters present in the game. It’s nothing to truly write home about, but considering the young demographic it’s sure to garner a few smiles and giggles with its quirky humour and frequent trips past the fourth wall. It has an exceptionally cute style, almost sickenly so to varying degrees, but it owns it with pride and has a lot of fun with it. The voice acting is something of an acquired taste, though it’s very suitable for kids.

Time Attack has you trying to beat your best times, with the added bonus of being able to compete against other players’ records through online connectivity. Lastly there is the Series Races, which takes the form of various cups you must clear. This one is most familiar to Mario Kart players, being the primary single-player mode of that series, though you have the added bonus of being able to play it in co-op locally. Custom Races is the last playable mode, which allows you to set your own rules, this mode also allows you to play locally with a friend.

With all this said, it’s looking as though Chocobo GP is a fun, lighthearted game that’s ideal for children with a lot of Final Fantasy flavour for the older fans. But it’s unfortunate to say that there is one single aspect that lets the whole experience down, the microtransactions. It doesn’t make sense that a full-priced game even has them to begin with. Upon starting the game for the first time you are immediately greeted with a weekly Mythril reward, the in-game paid currency, and shown off the Prize Pass. The pass itself is free, but you don’t get nearly as many good rewards unless you pay for one of multiple tiers of increased drops. Some aspects, such as Cloud Strife as a playable character, can’t even be unlocked without a paid tier of the pass. While I have no objections to a free set of rewards for simply playing the game, the addition of monetary incentives sours the whole thing.

Looking at how much you have to play the game to get many of the rewards makes the game feel more like a games as a service title than a full package, especially for a full priced product. Not only that, but the “fear of missing out” (better known as FOMO) practice is put to full use with the prize pass. While it is nice that there’s effectively a free trial for it, it’s woefully restricted and basically necessitates buying the full version. Even then, there are still the matter of the  unlocks hidden behind the Prize Pass, of which the good rewards only come from using the premium Mythril currency. Not only that, but the free Mythril you can obtain expires with time, pressuring the user to spend it before it’s too late, further adding to the FOMO. Even though the paid mythril does not appear to have this expiry attached to it, it hardly makes up for the fact that it’s a predatory system.

It’s unfortunate that the experience is bogged down by the aggressive microtransactions and FOMO nature, as there is a genuinely fun game to be had here. Efforts to mitigate things haven’t really solved the problem in any capacity. If anything, it just further highlights that there is a big problem. I do wish to praise the game for what it does right, even if it wasn’t ever going to dethrone Mario Kart, as an enjoyable, if somewhat lacking, romp is certainly present; I just can’t in good faith be generous with the scoring unless the whole payment system is gutted entirely. If you can look past the microtransactions and don’t mind missing out on the rewards they offer, by all means, enjoy yourself, it’s far from a bad game. For the rest of us though, it’s a hard pass.

Final rating – 2.5 out of 5

Chocobo GP available now for Nintendo Switch.

Long time fan of Nintendo and games in general, I always lean on the quirkier and unique sides of things in particular. It all started when I was lucky enough to get a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow for my tenth birthday and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve always had a need to get my voice heard and share anything I find interesting with the world.