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Review: Chocobo Tales

The Final Fantasy series has been around for quite some time, being the dominating RPG series in the US (and only rivaled by the Dragon Quest series in Japan). Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is the most recent game to be released under the illustrious FF name; however, this is not a traditional Final Fantasy game by any means. Don’t let this scare you away, though–this spin-off game may not have the depth of a traditional Final Fantasy game, but it has a lot to offer and is a refreshing change of pace from the norm.

Chocobo Tales weaves a standardized tale of an evil locked away whom you must prevent from incarnating and taking over the world. You take the role of a Chocobo (an ostrich-like yellow bird of FF fame) who lives on a farm with a number of other Chocobos, and has other friends in the forms of a White Mage and a Black Mage. The story, while formulaic, has a decent amount of tongue-in-cheek humor, and on more occasions than one mocks its own clichés. The writing is fine, the occasional humor may make you snicker now and again, and you’ll get eased along well enough. The story never gets as cumbersome as it can in most Final Fantasy games because this title isn’t focusing on the main story itself but rather the more subtle things. While predictable, the story isn’t terrible, it hardly hinders the gameplay, and manages to pull of a few very cool twists in the form of its fables.

The fables are what make up most of the gameplay. As you traverse the overworld, you will find many magical storybooks strewn about. By opening the book, you’re transported into the tale itself and participate in it in order to write its ending. Basically, every storybook opens with an introduction to the story, accompanied by the classic FF Prelude of Light, scrolling text, and well-made pop-up animations. After this, the player participates in a minigame that leads to a conclusion to the story. Minigames can be played in a Trial Mode alone or against AI players competitively. Every minigame has multiple goals to attain–usually to complete levels of difficulty in battle mode or reach certain scores or times in trial mode. By reaching these goals, most of which are not requisite, you will write different endings to the story and earn pop-up cards (we’ll get to that later). The different endings will in turn cause something to happen in the world. For example, one story may have an ending where an earthquake takes place. As a result, an earthquake will happen in the world and crumble down a structure that was blocking your path. It’s interesting to see how obstacles are overcome through the remixed fables and their endings.

The fables themselves are usually rather charming because they blend Final Fantasy creatures with classic fables or fairytales. I’m tempted to give an example, but discovering how familiar tales are retold (occasionally with surprisingly dark endings), how FF creatures are integrated, and how they are even blended with other fables or fairytales is part of the experience of this title. I was impressed and intrigued by some of the cute and clever ways stories were changed or mixed around.

Because Chocobo Tales is obviously about tales, it’s very good that the stories are charming and add to the bright and colorful atmosphere of the game. The stories mold out situations which lead to minigames, and these minigames are surprisingly solid. First of all, there are a lot—16 minigames in all, and 23 microgames, which are essentially less-detailed minigames (though they are often just as sharp in their gameplay) These cover a wide variety of atmospheres and mechanics. All are controlled using the stylus, or the very rare use of the microphone. While many may grow tired of minigame fests on the DS, don’t be mistaken—these are pretty good. There’s only a few out of the lot of them which are duds, and when you have over 30 minigames, a small batch of bland ones doesn’t do much damage when the rest are fun and engaging.

While the minigames could have just been brief romps which one plays through once and is done, the incorporation of reaching goals makes the player do well in them to progress, but then rewards the player further if they take the time to master them through opening new passageways and pop-up cards. This element of reward in exchange for mastery over the minigames is well done. There are some minigames that will have you sweating to complete their top-tiered challenges. While not difficult to beat, the minigames can be challenging to master, but this effort is rewarded.

Chocobo Tales is split into three main gameplay types, two of which (overworld exploring and minigaming) we have covered. The third element is essentially the ends to which the other two look toward: pop-up dueling. Dueling is carried out in a Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokemon Trading Card Game affair, only less complex. As you progress through the game, you will find cards which you will use in duels to fight bosses and mini-bosses. The more you play the minigames and explore the world, the more cards you find, and the more strategy and variety you have at your disposal. Using light strategy elements, the card battles are played out by summoning Final Fantasy beasts of yore out to battle your opponent. While the variety isn’t near as crazy as a full FF game, there’s plenty of familiar faces re-imagined in a very cute storybook style: Ifrit, Shiva, Tonberries, Bombs, Leviathan, and Bahamut, to mention a few.

The card battles can sometimes rely a bit too much on luck—which is unfortunate—but are overall rather enjoyable and pay off good strategy well enough. Something important to point out is the fact that by going through the game and getting all of the cards, you will have access to a few cards that are very powerful in comparison to ones you attain early on, but detail and attention was paid to keep the cards well balanced. Cards that may seem at first glance very strong will in fact have glaring weaknesses, as well. This is very well done, and you never feel too empowered or disadvantaged because of inherently unbalanced cards. This was intelligently crafted, because after you beat the game, you can play the card game online. Thus, all of your efforts in the main game equate to a greater variety of cards at your disposal to face off against other players—and it’s uncommon to be disadvantaged simply due to the cards themselves because they are well-balanced.

These three elements all come together very nicely to create a unique gameplay experience.

Graphics: 8
The graphics are vibrant, oozing personality and color with every page. The overworld itself is actually the most-bland, so it’s fortunate you don’t spend much time there but rather inside the beautiful books. The stylized worlds created by the pop-up book stories are adorable and gush out personality. While reminiscent of the Paper Mario games, or perhaps Yoshi’s Story, the style does not fail at distinguishing itself and creating a style all its own. The animations of the storybooks while reading them are chock full of details and the worlds look great. The pop-up duels, especially, feature slick animations and very nicely styled character designs that bounce with child-like vigor.

Aside from the overworld looking a touch bland at times, the ruffle in this Chocobo’s feathers is the fact that, while very stylized, the storybook worlds can, on occasion, look scratchy or blurry. The crayony look is great, but sometimes, when close up, things can look too pixilated for their own good. This doesn’t happen too often, but if it were touched up and polished, the graphics would match some of the best we’ve seen on the DS.

Sound: 8.5
The sound effects are mostly crisp and potent, but the music steals the show here. It’s almost (if not entirely) composed of remixed Final Fantasy music, so this is no shock at all. The tunes of this series are known for their well-crafted flavor, and Chocobo Tales isn’t afraid to wash you with old songs from the classic games, while throwing in a couple from later on the series. The music sounds excellent, but the main flaw is that there simply isn’t enough of it. What’s here is sharp, but every other minigame plays some version or another of the Chocobo Theme—and while a catchy song, it can get a bit grating after a while, as is the classic FF Victory Fanfare every time something of any significance at all happens. Other than this issue, the soundtrack is some of the best on the DS.

Gameplay: 8.5
Sometimes it can seem that the different gameplay styles might stretch attention too much in too many directions, but this is not really the case. The different gameplay types mix well together. The card duels are quick and fun, and the minigames reward the player for mastering them. Everything is solid. You won’t be blown away, but the gameplay is fun, addictive, and just plain well-crafted. Many of these minigames are good examples of what DS minigames should be: intuitive and fun.

Value/Challenge: 8.5
Depending on your skill level and how quickly you pick up on the minigames, this game could take a while to complete. If you blaze through everything, it probably won’t take much time at all, but you’ll be missing out on a large chunk of the game if you do. The minigames can be rather challenging on occasion, but playing them is worth the time to retrieve the cards which you will use in battles online. The online card-battle function is a smart addition, adding incentive to go back and grab everything you missed as well as keep playing with other players in duels. It’s a shame that you can’t play any of the minigames online and only microgames are available for DS download play, but even so, there’s a healthy amount to do and it’s not too difficult for younglings to complete, while offering challenge to hardcore gamers who want to find everything.

Presentation: 10
This is a Square-Enix game, so you know you can expect a stellar presentation. The story is charming and cute and doesn’t take itself too seriously, lending itself instead to create clever twists on well-known fairytales. The way that all three main elements of the game work together in tandem is great. The graphical style and classic FF music combine to create an undeniable Final Fantasy atmosphere while being unique and refreshing at the same time. The menus are slick, the animations of subtle storybook pop-ups are great, and the card duels are smooth and have great aesthetic (right down to the very satisfying sword/shield animations when cards collide). Everything from the gorgeously animated intro to the energetic crayony world of the storybooks creates a Final Fantasy world like no other. The package is very professional, and while cutesy, can still be appealing to all age groups with its charm.

Awards:

Outstanding Visuals

Intuitive Controls/Gameplay

 

 

Overall Score: 8.7

 

Final Word:

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is a wonderful spin off in the well-known franchise. It serves its namesake well, but in a completely new way not seen before. The integration of minigames, overworld, and card battling and how they all rely on one another combine to form a fun and addicting gameplay experience. The reward system in place for minigame mastery and the balanced cards keep things rock solid. The art style is unique but familiar at the same time, as are the stories presented within. Chocobo Tales is recommendable to Final Fantasy fans who’d like to experience a change in pace, and to anyone else looking for a well-crafted, fun, and engaging DS experience. Despite its appearance—that of targeting a young audience–Chocobo Tales is a rewarding and highly charming experience which gamers of all ages can enjoy and appreciate.

”It’s about time we got a decent plot twist!”

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