I am a bad person for buying and enjoying Chocobo GP. Only in the year of our Lord 2022 could the physical act of walking into a shop and purchasing a game prove itself to be a moral dilemma. The upcoming Harry Potter game also looks to fit neatly in this category, and consumers will have to grapple with the truth that their purchase of the title will directly fund Rowling and her transphobia. Chocobo GP, while filled with semi-predatory microtransaction nonsense is, at the very least, not the brainchild of an openly hateful individual. The worst the game will do is attract younger players with its cutesy characters and, through its barrage of pop-ups advertising in-game currency, make some parent (and their credit card) incredibly unhappy. Indeed, Chocobo GP’s greatest crime lies in the fact that it is a full-priced game that expects you to spend extra money on top after you’ve bought it. The characters that most players are actually going to want to race with, Squall from FFVIII and Cloud from FFVII, are locked behind a season pass that costs Mythril to even access. Worse still, said season pass comes in both a regular and more expensive premium flavour, the latter boosting you immediately to level 60, which unlocks Cloud and provides you with enough Gil (another in-game currency) to afford Squall. The only way to get Mythril without paying for it is by claiming your weekly login bonus — 50. If you log in weekly to claim your currency, you can work your way up to about 400 by the end of every season, just enough to cover half the cost of an 800 Mythril regular pass, and nowhere near enough for the ridiculously priced premium offering that sits at 2400. Either way, the game wants you to spend more money, even after paying full price for entry. You may think at this point that a 60-level boost from the premium pass is relatively generous, but it’s not. While you are guaranteed everyone’s favourite blond spiky-haired protagonist, season passes go all the way to level 200. It can take a while to grind out a single level when playing the battle-royale style Chocobo GP mode and participating in about 20–25 races only took me up to level 7. If you want Cloud without paying that premium then you better get ready for some blood sweat and tears; a couple of hours for thirty days straight should do it, you might just crack 60 at that rate. By the way, Mythril also expires five months after purchase, just in case you wanted to save it for a certain character or pass. Gil, at least, can be earned through participating in daily and weekly challenges, making Squall much more obtainable for those who do not want to spend anything extra — despite being, for the average fan, a much less desirable character.
The real tragedy at play here is that Chocobo GP, both mechanically and aesthetically, is very good. The moment-to-moment kart racing manages to be both frantic and strategically layered, all thanks to an item system that exists on a layer of complexity above the immediate competitors (Mario Kart, Team Sonic Racing and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled). Magicite can be acquired during the race and the item boxes containing it (eggs in this case) come in three flavours, bronze, silver and gold — each providing a more potent form of Magicite in escalating order. This Magicite can then be stacked, each having three levels of usability, much like the mainline Final Fantasy series. Fire, for example, can be stacked three times to unleash a powerful Firaga spell, or twice for the slightly less explosive Fira. This remains true for all the magic in the game and there is an awful lot of it, speed boosts in the form of Haste, mobile teleporters with Swap, the all-powerful Ultima and even the ability to summon the King of Dragons himself, Bahamut, who whisks you along the racetrack at incredible speed. The ability to stack your items and mix and match your approach to each race adds a much-needed element of strategy to the generic kart-racing formula. If it’s a shorter course, you may want to use your items as soon as you get them, playing for a quick advantage in the first lap that you can string out for the entire race. For longer courses, it may be more pertinent to stay somewhere near the middle or back of the pack, stacking your most powerful magic in order to execute a late-game comeback, avoiding the all-out brawl that is likely occurring near first place. There is still, of course, an element of randomness that plays a large part in the game (you can never really tell exactly what magic you are going to acquire) and that helps to include players who are just looking for a casual racing experience — ensuring that they can do relatively well without having to necessarily learn the best strategies for each course. All of the characters, and there are a lot of them (23 to be exact, and 25 if you count the two current season pass racers), also have a special super move, which they can activate by collecting a set amount of crystals that populate each race-track. These, as to be expected, do range in practicality and some racers eclipse the competition in terms of power. Shiva’s Diamond Dust ability is particularly egregious, freezing all racers, limiting their movement and item usage. Despite this, it is still a neat addition and makes each character feel unique and worth trying out. The only complaint I do have regarding the roster is that a lot of it feels like missed potential — focusing mainly on spin-off characters from Chocobo Dungeon, other sub-series and summons. A full Final Fantasy karting game that represents characters from the main series is a dream come true, and Chocobo GP only manages the bare minimum. It’s great to see the likes of Steiner, Vivi and Terra turn up (even, bizarrely enough, Maduin, Terra’s father, makes an appearance), but there is a rich well to draw from that Square Enix has simply ignored (or, more likely, saved for their season pass chicanery). Where are the reps from I-V, or the later games? If I’m playing a Final Fantasy racer in which Balthier can’t cast doom on Kain mid-race, then something has gone very wrong during development. Thankfully, the music is stellar, and you can expect fantastic remixes of classic tunes like The Man with the Machine Gun, Battle at the Big Bridge and even compositions like Accelerated Alexandria, which combines Over the Hill and Melodies of Life into one incredible techno bop.
The racing itself is relatively weighty and snappy — everyone (apart from very young players) should push to play the game on master mode, which ups the speed and general challenge of the mechanics. Drifting, as with most kart racers, plays a big part in navigating the twisting courses and the longer you manage to hold onto your drift the bigger the eventual boost you receive. The game is at its peak during those moments you and several other racers all speed around a corner at the same time, bouncing off each other and weaving in-between an onslaught of magic projectiles. The relatively average, inoffensive racing is enhanced by the item system and general charm of the aesthetics. Characters burst with vibrant colours and equally vibrant personalities (for better and worse), each sporting a unique kart that can be customised with tickets — tickets being yet another in-game currency that are, mercifully, much easier to acquire and consistently rewarded to the player through actually playing the game. There is a fun, brief story mode that introduces all the playable racers, tracks and useable items, which comes complete with fully voiced cutscenes. Your mileage will certainly vary with how much you enjoy this mode, but I found it to be charming enough. The voice actors are clearly putting the effort in with what little they were given, and the dialogue has a quaint self-awareness to it, often referencing and poking fun at series moments and tropes. The Series option also helps beef the single-player experience up and completing these set tracklists rewards you with a ton of in-game tickets, as well as providing ample practice time on all available courses. Speaking of courses, however, the game falls a little flat in regard to the number currently available. While all 8 tracks are well-designed and come with several different variations (bumping the total number of different racecourses closer to something like 15, or 16), there is just not enough of them. You can’t help but feel that Square Enix is looking to bolster the anaemic track count via future season passes; yet another excuse to wring more money out of the Final Fantasy fanbase. The main meat of the experience is, as mentioned previously, the titular Chocobo GP mode — a 64-man gauntlet played in stages where the top four of each eight-man race move onto the next level, culminating in the overall top players challenging each other for first place. This mode, thanks to the game’s solid design, is suitably addictive but hampered by the tiny amount of EXP it gives towards leveling up your season pass — even if you end up winning the whole thing. Often, it feels like diminishing returns, and the slow drip-feed of coins and stickers isn’t enough to keep your attention for extended play sessions.
As much as I like Chocobo GP, I cannot recommend that anyone buy it, at least not in its current incarnation. Maybe one day there will be a version of this game truly worth playing, a deluxe edition that removes all the season pass stuff and collates everything previously offered into a neat, single package. The damage, however, has already been done and the fans have been squeezed in all the wrong places — asked to pay a stipend purely to play as their favourite Final Fantasy characters in a Final Fantasy racing game. Do not support Square Enix and their grubby, anti-consumer business practices. There is a great game hidden beneath the bloat and slog of the dreaded live-service design philosophy, one that deserves to shine as a charming little tribute to a much-loved series. Vote with your wallet – say no to microtransactions.