Chocobo Racing (PlayStation) review
"Golem is about the most adorable pop-up book goof I’ve ever met."
About the last thing I expected from Chocobo Racing’s stuttery menu was a thoroughly enjoyable story mode and racing well tuned enough to warrant many playthroughs. And competition with friends. And more playthroughs. Chocobo Racing could have one of the best story modes of any racer I’ve ever played.
In the alternate universe of Chocobo Dungeon, a little known but respected turn based rogue-lite, everything is boiled down to its cutest elements. It’s called ‘chibi’, and generally refers to characters with small bodies and oversized heads. Stories and characters from mature franchises are distilled for younger audiences, and then transplanted into equally child friendly realms and mechanics.
Done right, it works very well, and Chocobo Racing get it very right. Somehow all of the characters you’ve gotten to know in Dungeon make a showing here ... we understand it now as a common alternate universe trope, a sort of re-imagining of the reality: “What if they were all in a game about racing?” The commitment demonstrated to the premise is impressive unto itself.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road: Chocobo Racing has just five modes: Story, Versus, Grand Prix, Relay and Time Attack. Here’s what you’re not expecting: The personality of the characters that keep you racing when things get tough as you learn the game. You might try Time Attack or Grand Prix first, but Story mode is where the heart of this game is.
Taking advantage of the PSX’s powerful sprite manipulation capabilities and sizeable texture memory, we’re treated to a pop-up style adventure. Each race takes place within the nine chapters of a virtual book, and in each one we’ll meet a new racer who introduces a new ability, track and magic stone to us. It’s a clever way of ramping up the difficulty whilst allowing the player to adjust to the learning curve. It’s also a lot of fun.
Chocobo Racing is surprisingly deep for such a light hearted experience, but it is unwise to underestimate the adorable. The intro movie can give the wrong impression of this just being a kid’s game, but you’ll be testing your skills against A.I. more skilled than you’re anticipating and much sooner than you expect.
Chocobo Racing has two principle mechanics with which you’ll need to come to grips: Abilities and Magic Spells. You’ll choose one for each race of the following: Dash, Flap, Grip-Up, Mug, Magic Plus, Barrier, Charge and Megaflare. These are tied to a self-recharging meter governed by the racer’s attributes. While you’re deciding when best to employ them, you’ll also be picking up eight different Magic Stones which provide defensive and offensive tactics.
Bothered by constant Fire spam from other racers? Grab Barrier and the Reflect stones where they appear for long term protection from all but Megaflare. Here’s another: Attack spells can be charged into greater versions, such as: Fire > Fira > Firaga, for more devastating effects. You can charge spells by picking up more of the same kind; use the Charge ability; or sneak up behind another racer and grab theirs. Each magic stone trails along behind the racer like a tail, adding a risk-reward system and tactical element to racing that is quite unique.
If you don’t like how your opponent is playing, you can change your tactics to counter theirs. It can create an entertaining mini game at the racer selection screen of who-chooses-what-ability, but can lead to frustration too. Chocobo Racing has solo players covered; its story mode is unmistakably its most rewarding.
Chocobo is best friends with Cid the engineer, and he’s just given him the gift of Jet-Blades. Why does he get all the cool stuff? You’ll race around Cid’s track to get acquainted with the new toy ... er ... method of locomotion, and then Mog will show up and ask about his own racer. Naturally. Stay with it though, because this is where it gets fun.
In the next chapter, Cid tells Mog that he lost the race (of course), because his “Flap”, which he calls a “flop” is different than Chocobo’s “Dash”, a powerful but temporary speed boost. The little greedbag, er, helpful friend decides to help Chocobo learn the secret of his blue gem. The sharp translation makes no bones about each character’s motivations, and their unabashed personalities are refreshing. As you meet new racers, each is accompanied by a new ability and magic stone to play with.
It can take time to win each scenario, but with saves occurring between each chapter, you only have to skip through the text if you actually shut off the Playstation. Losing a race gives you the option to retry immediately. Each racer you defeat joins the team and your roster of selectables, too. You’re given what you need to win, if you have the patience to learn the track and the tactics that work best for you.
At the end of the story, which has a suitably dramatic climax, ends with a crayon drawn animation which envisions the future of each of the racers. The theme music is performed very well, and doesn’t grow tiresome, which is important because you’re going to want to do it again.
Once the credits and animation ends, you’re given a score based on your overall ranking and race times. The higher the better. Then you’re introduced to Chocobo Racing’s own shining gem: The Create-A-Racer. Choose from the existing selection of racers, your preferred color, then distribute the points you’re given to create a racer to suit your preference.
Doing so is essential to unlocking the secondary roster of nine racers, ranging from Squall, Cactuar, to the S.S. Invincible (an airship) and Aya Brea (from Parasite Eve). As you replay the story mode and improve your score, you’ll be able to build a racer that will easily overshadow the best of the stock roster. Ultimately you’re going to make a racer better than anything the game provides, and you’ll be able to choose from any of the first or second rosters.
You’ll also be able to save your racer and use it on another PSX against your friends. That may seem a small consideration, but what’s the point of making a racer if you can’t show it off? Protip: I wouldn’t recommend putting anyone with maxed out speed on the F.F. VIII circuit; that’s just an exercise in frustration. Those unforgiving turns aren’t going to help you out.
Easily one of Chocobo Racing’s most stand out assets is its music. Popular Final Fantasy themes have been expertly remixed and are catchy as all get-go. Who knew Chocobo Racing EDM was so good? Each track has been given a suitable theme and suitable style to reflect its aesthetic.
This soundtrack is another shoe-in for addition to any Final Fantasy enthusiast’s audio library, though landing a copy can be tricky. Here’s my suggestion: Zophar’s domain and Foobar2000. You can download the soundtrack and emulate the PSX’s audio hardware with a freely available component. It’s a great way to get nostalgic with your favorite PlayStation One music on the cheap.
Chocobo Racing has tight controls, deep mechanics and tactical play, a wide variety of tracks and plenty of characters to experiment with. It’s music maintains the high standard of quality expected from Squaresoft. Chocobo's adorable chirp is joined by a cast of equally charming characters. Its story mode is appropriately short, which is good because you might be playing it a lot in pursuit of the highest score.
As a venerable PSX title, resolution is relatively low, just a paltry 640x480 on Composite or S-Video cable if you have the hardware. Playable on the PlayStation 2, you’ll have the option of hardware smoothing, but there’s no avoiding the limitation of the original hardware. Don’t be put off by the stuttering main menu; there’s very seldom any frame rate drops during racing, even when the screen is packed with action.
The PlayStation One qualifies as a retro console, and while Chocobo Racing enjoyed moderate sales, it wasn’t ported to the Playstation Network for play on the PS3 or PS4. Landing a copy of the disc based game can be difficult, but once you have, you’re probably better off emulating it. Modern emulators can handily emulate the PSX with more than moderate graphical enhancements and give you access to your favorite controller.
Community review by hastypixels (January 22, 2017)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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