Chocobo GP

Video Game Review

When it comes to the Nintendo Switch, or current generation gaming, no developer or publisher has managed to topple Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from the top spot in the casual kart racing genre. The latest company to make this attempt is Square Enix with their Chocobo spin-off series in the Final Fantasy franchise. Dubbed Chocobo GP, this is the spiritual successor to 1999s Chocobo Racing which was exclusive to the PlayStation 1. While receiving only a mild reception at the time, it did have a small cult following that clearly was deemed worthy enough to justify a successor more than 20 years later. Did it revolutionise the kart racing space and become a new go-to for competitive play for family and friends? Is it the new go-to when you think of an online racing experience? Read on to find out.

Online play and monetisation

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Before continuing with this review, I think it is essential to outline the structure of the game’s main mode. Known also by the Chocobo GP moniker, online players are randomly pitted against one another in a series of four knock-out rounds, with the top four in each set of eight going through to the next round. Starting with 64 players (Eight groups of simultaneously run 8 player races), that number will cut the number of players by half until the final eight dukes it out in a final race. While each player can choose their preferred character and customise them how they wish, the racecourses are chosen randomly – no democracy or anarchy settings here, folks – you obey the whims of the game. With the courses being relatively small in size and completable in only a few minutes, the game loans itself to short bus rides or a quick 15-minute gaming pick-me-up. However, this is also the conduit for what I consider the biggest let-down of Chocobo GP.

There are two versions of Chocobo GP available on the Nintendo Switch. For those looking to spend money, you can purchase the full version of the game, which comes with access to all game modes, such as the multi-chapter story mode, the complete line-up of characters and ability to create private local (2-8 players) and online races. On the other hand, there is Chocobo GP Lite which grants any player access to the Chocobo GP online mode for free. This is not a bad thing, since as time goes on and the active player base drops down, the free-to-play audience could keep the game running for many months or even years later. Unfortunately, as there is a free version, the game enters the world of microtransaction monetisation.

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 Chocobo GP is structured around in-game seasons spanning a couple of months each, encouraging players to progress through the game every few months for hours on end to unlock the feature character, their carts and more. But to unlock the star character of the season (This time the ever-popular protagonist of Final Fantasy VII – Cloud Strife) and obtain more perks for your labour, you have to dig deep and get out your card. There are three currencies that players can use. The big one is Mythril (Crystals), which costs real-world money a la mobile game style, Gil, which can be unlocked in small quantities by playing the game, and tokens that are more a freemium currency incrementally unlocked through gameplay. The prices are not horridly egregious, but as someone who paid full price for the game at launch, it feels rough to immediately be greeted by weekly rewards, and premium currency prompts the moment I opened the game. Sure you get access to more game modes and more characters as a paid player, but I feel like the game should have been released at a $20.00 price point for offline content if they were to push microtransactions and a slow-to-level season system on me. At the very least there is no gacha mechanics, which is very much welcome.

Additionally, as a paid player, not having to pay for a monthly Nintendo Switch Online to play the game’s namesake mode would have also been a welcome feature.

Kart racing gameplay is decent, but feels unfair at times

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Now that we have addressed the online gameplay and microtransactions elephant in the room, how does the game play? Those who have played any other form of kart racer on the market over the last few generations should be able to pick the game up immediately and be able to dive straight into the races. This is fortunate because they don’t provide much of a tutorial outside of the few mechanics exclusive to Chocobo GP. The drift mechanics are smooth, the number of courses are sadly few in number but adequately designed, and the items you can use on the field perfectly suit the magical abilities used in mainline Final Fantasy games. The development team managed to create a set of controls which are pleasant to the hands and responsive throughout gameplay. Kudos to them for that. As mentioned above, the short nature of the tracks does lead to races you can complete in a few minutes – suiting the portability of the Nintendo Switch. At the same time, those after a meatier racing experience with multiple routes and more ways to approach the road ahead may be left lacking. 

But with short courses also comes chaos. Especially in online modes, but even in the offline story mode, the best way to guarantee a first-place victory on a course is to get so far ahead of the other players somehow that no barrage of attacks can get close to you. If you get ahead on even the first lap of a race, you will likely face no challenges if you play well enough on subsequent laps. It’s a different story if you find yourself in the scrum of other races, with the AOE effects of many skills and the long recovery times for most spells and abilities. Races can come down to purely who got lucky enough to avoid being a casualty of the most hits in the final lap. Thus, some races can feel more RNG based than anything based on skill.

Putting this aside, though, what I do like is the game’s 9 chapter + epilogue story mode. While primarily a means to unlock new characters and alternate kart variants, the story is a short but enjoyable romp that lets you try your hand out at every race. Furthermore, you get to learn (at least a little bit) about every character available to you as a racer. Especially with the Chocobo spin-off series being mostly limited to Nintendo portable consoles for well over a decade now, it was nice to see the series’ main cast and their takes on iconic Final Fantasy series summons/primals, many of whom take on the role of a verbal character over a beast.

Audiovisually, the game is impressive

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Although I felt that the development team did drop the ball in some areas of gameplay, particularly the scrambling chaos of some races, the limited number of courses and what I consider to be the wrong approach to microtransactions, I cannot fault their creative team for what they have produced. In the audiovisual department, Chocobo GP is stunning. Every character is well detailed, and while small, each racing track is differently paced, has its own individual quirks, and is uniquely detailed. Furthermore, the soundtrack has some great songs, from a lyricised menu theme (in English and Japanese) “What a Fine Day for a Race!” that you will hear so many times but be unable to get out of your head, to remixed songs such as “Battle on the Big Bridge” from Final Fantasy V. Sure, the latter has been remixed so many times before, but is always a great song to have remixed.

With so many racers in the story mode, very few get more than a few lines of dialogue outside of their usual racing grunts and lines. But this didn’t stop them from getting some big name voice actors in to voice such characters. This includes but is by no means limited to Laura Post, Crispin Freeman, Sean Chiplock, Cristina Valenzuela, Erica Mendez, Sam Riegel, Kath Soucie and more.

Final Words on Chocobo GP

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What’s clear is that much love and effort went towards delivering the experience offered by Chocobo GP. At least in the creative departments. With an extensive cast of Final Fantasy mascot characters available to unlock, incredible English voice actors for relatively minor roles, and both designs and soundtrack seeking inspiration from the early Final Fantasy games and their respective scores, there is much to enjoy. Yet, while some elements are worthy of praise, it falters somewhat in the gameplay department. The often unfair difficulty posed by the overpowered attack items, the lack of racecourse diversity and – most egregiously – the monetisation of what could be purchased as a full-price game kept it from being a gem that could go up against Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe monolith on the Switch. It is a decent racing game for what it is, but hardly a game that I would see myself playing as every in-game season rolls around.


Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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