Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Chocobo GP (NSW) Review

Let's start this week of SuperPhillip Central content off on the right foot, or talon in Chocobo's case! Chocobo GP launched last March with much, well deserved criticism towards its package, particularly its scummy desire to nickel and dime players. This has since been removed for the most part, making a game that I would have originally graded as at most a C- to something much better, as you'll find out with my review of Chocobo GP as of its second season.

Making a good reason to play during its second season

I don't think I'm telling tales out of school here when I say that Chocobo GP launched in an abysmal state. Fortunately, this wasn't from a foundational or gameplay perspective. In fact, the actual racing was quite well done and dare I say fun! Where Chocobo GP severely floundered was its frankly disgusting microtransactions and needlessly grindy Season Pass. No doubt the feedback and negative reception from both critics and players of the game (and probably the lack of sales from this) caused Square Enix and the developers of Chocobo GP to thankfully reverse course. Now, Chocobo GP is in its second season, and while the game still has some bumps in its figurative road, the overall package is well worth the price of admission.

Chocobo GP is character-driven racing game taking a cavalcade of familiar Final Fantasy and Chocobo series characters and placing them behind the wheel (or in some cases, ON wheels) of various vehicles to compete in three-lap races full of magic and mayhem. If you're at all accustomed to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or any game in that series, you might get a twinge of familiarity with Chocobo GP. There is your tricking off ramps, your starting boost at the beginning of a race, your drifting where a longer drift creates a bigger boost, and of course, items. 

Chocobo GP is no "wark" in the park! Er, I mean, a walk in the park.
It's quite the technical, strategic racer!

However, items in Chocobo GP aren't taken from question mark blocks, nor are they actual items. Instead, Chocobo GP uses a Magicite system, where players can accumulate magic and use them either offensively on foes or defensively to protect themselves when needed. There are three tiers of magic in Chocobo GP, much like the Final Fantasy series it's spun off from. There are also three tiers of Magicite orbs racers can collect as well. Each character has three magic slots. This can either give them three of a different spell, two of a different spell with one being a stronger version of a spell, or one powerful spell such as Firaga, Blizzaga, Thundaga, etc. The order in which a racer collects the differently colored Magicite orbs determines what kind of spell they get.

For instance, if your magic gauge is completely empty and you collect a Silver Magicite orb, you'll automatically get a level 2 version of a spell. Likewise, if you have a level 1 spell by collecting a Bronze Magicite orb, you can then collect a Blue orb to level that spell up to its level 2 incarnation. Leveled up spells are of course more powerful and can really turn the tide in races. Where Fire magic launches a fireball forward, its level 2 form, Fira, blasts a homing fireball at the closest opponent ahead of you. Meanwhile, Firaga at level 3 launches a meteor that targets first place, causing an eruption that stops in their tracks anyone caught in the blast.

Magicite orbs like these are the "item boxes" of Chocobo GP.
Depending on the color or color combo collected, your character will get a spell of varying power.

Aside from elemental-themed spells from Magicite, there are also quite vexing at times warp magic, that creates portals that go both ways. That is, a blue portal will move a player ahead, while the red portal that a player exits from can also be entered, resulting in a costly transportation backwards on the track! Then, there's Bahamut, which is essentially Chocobo GP's answer to Mario Kart's Bullet Bill, having a player transform into the famous summon and speeding in forward flight for a temporary amount of time. Like the elemental magic, these spells can also be upgraded from collecting the correct color of Magicite to make them more potent.

Each racer in Chocobo GP also comes equipped with their own special ability. Through collecting crystals sprinkled across the game's tracks, a crystal gauge fills. When it's completely full, players can unleash their special. Not only does this leave them invincible during, but it also creates a different effect depending on the racer's ability. For instance, Shiva puts the freeze on every racer, slowing them down considerably for a few seconds, whereas Chocobo speeds forward, leaving a trail of rings that other races can follow and gain speed boosts from. The more powerful and useful the special ability's effect, the more crystals are required to collect to unleash the ability. 

Ben the Behemoth says "forget the traffic" and decides to just storm
 through the competition on foot with his special ability.

When being targeted with a Magicite, a yellow alert will flash on the bottom of the screen. Generally, this can be interrupted with another Magicite shot backwards or even a shield spell. However, red alerts mean a special ability is being used and potentially being used on the player. This cannot be blocked, only avoided by some skillful driving or invincibility during your character's own special. 

Thus, you can imagine that there is a lot of strategy--surprisingly so--on when to use Magicite, what color to collect of orbs, and when to keep or use special abilities. Using a spell or special ability at the wrong time or moment can make all the difference between coming in first place and being cast to the back of the pack.

Chocobo GP sports plenty of offline modes to engage players with, such as traditional Grand Prix events, time trials, and even a story mode with two difficulties. The latter is how you unlock most of the characters within the game, and there is a sizable amount of them too! Everyone from standbys from the Chocobo series, to summons like Ifrit, Ramuh, and Golem, to Final Fantasy series party members like Terra from Final Fantasy VI, as well as Vivi and Steiner from Final Fantasy IX. Each have unlockable vehicles (one with standard stats, one tuned more to drifting, and one tuned more to speed), color combinations, and more to customize them and their rides.

Races are often won not just through sheer driving skills,
but also through proficient Magicite and special ability use!

However, the main event and attraction in Chocobo GP is of course the eponymous mode of the game. The Chocobo GP pits a field of 64 players against each other in a series of four elimination-style races. Each round sees the racers ranking fifth place and below become eliminated while fourth place and up advance to the next round. Ultimately, the last series of eight racers remaining compete in the final, with the winner becoming Grand Champion of the Chocobo GP, earning both bragging rights and lots of season experience in the process.

Players earn experience throughout each Chocobo GP season--lasting three months generally--that they collect and level up. With each level earned, a prize is unlocked. Sometimes it's one of the game's currencies like Gil or Mythril, while other times it's special season-exclusive content like characters, vehicles, cosmetics, and more. 

A major issue with the first season of Chocobo GP was that the season itself was a major grind. To unlock Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, one had to either pay to level up to level 60 immediately (which cost real world money to do) or grind the Season Pass to unlock him sloooooowly. Furthermore, the prizes handed out were so paltry compared to the prices of items in the game's store. It was like squeezing water out of a rock with how stingy the game truly was with handing out and awarding Gil and Mythril. Mythril is the major primary currency of Chocobo GP, and while the developers handed out enough for the cost of the Premium Season Pass, the effort to level up was hardly worth it with how slow progress was.

With Season 2, not only is the amount of experience required to level up much smaller, but to unlock every major new thing in the season, players only have to get up to level 20. This takes but 5-6 hours to do, which in the span of three months is hardly a major effort. Furthermore, the game is much less stingy about rewarding Gil or Mythril. I have both coming out of my ears now through regular play, while in the past season, both were incredibly hard to accumulate. 

While Chocobo GP is a much better game than it was in its first season, there is one thing holding it back currently, which will hopefully continue being remedied with time. That is the track selection, or rather the amount of tracks available. There's a modest amount of locales in the game, and while most of these sport different track configurations, you'll quickly see all of them in no time. While you probably won't get bored of them (save for the obnoxious Rift tracks quite possibly), the number is a bit disappointing, especially compared to other competitors in the genre. Still, what tracks that are here are quite enjoyable and thrilling to race on, especially sites like Final Fantasy IX's Alexandria and a newcomer set of tracks for this season: Final Fantasy VIII's Balamb Garden. I'm eager to see what locales are added in future seasons, assuming that future seasons actually happen!

New and familiar locales abound in Chocobo GP.
This is gorgeous Alexandria of Final Fantasy IX fame.

Because who knows the future of Chocobo GP. This could be a Super Bomberman R Online situation where the game loses support in a short amount of time and is abandoned due to the figurative fumbling of the ball at the game's launch. Hopefully not, though, as the gameplay is so stellar, the characters and current content on display are wonderful, and the signature Chocobo GP mode and updates to the formerly scummy season pass system are both most welcomed. If you dig enjoyable, character-based racing games, have a soft spot for Final Fantasy, or a combination of the two, you'll find a great deal to like about Chocobo GP. While this bird isn't the final word on kart racers and won't give plumber boy a ride for his money, Chocobo GP will more than serve as a lovely complement to Mario Kart on Nintendo Switch.

[SPC Says: B]

Want to try Chocobo GP but are still not sure what to think even after my review? Try the Lite Version of Chocobo GP first, where you can now play online with players of the full version of the game!

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