Back in September 2021, Square Enix knocked our socks off with the surprise announcement of a proper sequel to 1999’s Chocobo Racing. In a time where the trickle of content is slow on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and there aren’t many new titles like it, Chocobo GP offers a similarly colorful kart experience full of characters either inspired by or directly from the Final Fantasy franchise. And while the game has you unlock a few too many things to experience it in full, its cast and driving feel as varied and cutthroat as a proper Mario Kart.
The story behind Chocobo GP (as if you needed one. It’s a kart racing game!) kicks off with a race-hungry Moogle calling itself Racing Hero X discovering a magic energy and using it to stage a contest. Any participant who can win the challenges set forth in a series of races can have any single wish their heart desires. This catches the attention of treasure hunters Chocobo and fellow Moogle Atla who excitedly get on board to win the race and achieve treasure beyond their wildest dreams. On their way to the race, they gather further friends and rivals, such as the Mage Chocobo Clair, the flowery Chocobo Camilla, the White Mage Shirma, the young Behemoth Ben, and so many more.
In addition to the Story Mode, Chocobo GP features a rather wide array of offline and online modes to enjoy. It’s got single races, Series Races (like a Mario Grand Prix series of four tracks), regular multiplayer, and online leaderboards. In particular, I like the Chocobo GP mode, which is a series of ranked races in which you must win your way through various brackets from 64 players down to a final, single race of eight finalists. It’s an awesome setup and sure to be where the glory-hungry are sure to spend most of their time.
As for the rest of the game, while I can appreciate both Story Mode and Series Races, I’m not as appreciative of the sheer amount of content in the game locked behind them. In order to play various characters, you must progress through Story Mode and unlock them. Until you do, you only have access to three characters, even in other modes like Series Race and Custom Race. The same can be said of Series Races. You only start out with one series and you have to get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd to unlock additional series with more tracks. Progress through either of these isn’t difficult, but it’s a bit of a bummer if you want to jump right in, play co-op or custom races, and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned kart racing.
Outside of that, once you do unlock everything Chocobo GP has to offer, it’s quite a lot. The tracks are a fine collection of fun nods to the Final Fantasy series, including the bandit town of Zozo from Final Fantasy 6 and the illustrious city of Alexandria from Final Fantasy 9. There’s even variations on the same tracks such as Hyperspeed (a very fast and short race) or Technical (which throws some unique obstacles and challenges on the course). The story, likewise and despite earlier complaints, is a funny little episodic adventure with tons of humor based on Final Fantasy and JRPG concepts. Furthermore, each track features fun arrangements of Final Fantasy music fans know and love such as the Chocobo theme, Final Fantasy 8's The Man with the Machine Gun, and Final Fantasy 9's Vamo alla Flamenco to create a riveting racing soundtrack. It’s all a great collection to explore and enjoy solo or with a friend.
All of the above content is fine and dandy, but what about the racing? Well, it’s pretty dang good, if not ridiculously chaotic. Many of the typical kart racer elements are here and well-implemented. You can get a boost off the starting line with good timing, drift around corners or hop off jumps to get further boosts, and pick up weapons to thwart your rivals in a myriad of ways. There are even crystals that act like Mario Kart’s coins. You can collect up to 10 of them to increase your overall speed, but you’ll lose some of them if you get hit and spin out. All of the basic elements you’d expect to work in Mario Kart work quite well here. Being already familiar with Mario Kart, I adapted to Chocobo GP like a duck to water and those with similar experience likely will too.
Weapons in this game take the form of Magicite: different spells from throughout the Final Fantasy franchise. Fire is like your typical Mario Kart turtle shell, Water acts like a banana peel dropped behind you, and Haste gives you a boost. There’s also Aero, which launches a tornado to mess up your opponent’s controls when hit, Quake to hit opponents nearby, Ice to freeze up a foe, and even Lightning to chain multiple opponents together for a multi-character wipe-out.
There’s even a twist here: You can stock up to three Magicite spells at any given time. Stocking multiples of the same spell make it a stronger version when you fire it off. For instance, a level two Fira will track opponents like a Red Shell in Mario Kart and a level three Firaga will zoom into the air and explode on top of the player in first place like a Blue Shell. What’s more, the Magicite eggs you collect your spells from have different effects. Bronze eggs give you one random spell, silver eggs give you a copy of a spell you already have in stock, and gold eggs give you two random spells at once.
With that in mind, there’s room to be tactical about your Magicite weapons. Why grab a gold egg if you have two Fire Magicite stocked and can grab a silver to turn it into that deadly third level Firaga? This is a really neat on-the-fly decision in races and adds some tactical depth to the overall affair. The only one I was not a fan of was M. Barrier. It’s the defensive option and should stop a single Magicite attack from affecting your character, but I found it seemed to be finicky and only work half the time.
You also get further offensive and defensive options in the form of ultimate Abilities, unique to each character. These Abilities can be unlocked by filling a meter as you race, with crystal pickups supplying boosts to the meter. Fill the meter and you can unlock an ability which can change the tide of the race if used correctly. Chocobo’s special ability allows him a dancing speed boost for a limited time whereas Atla will deploy a vacuum from his Moogle pom-pom that steals the crystals from other racers and gives him a boost based on the number of crystals stolen. These Abilities are crucial to your victory and can be the difference between last and first place when used properly in combination with your collected Magicite attacks.
Finally, as you win races and finish parts of either Story or Series, you’ll earn tickets that can be used in the shop. It includes everything from new colors and vehicles for your characters to sticker decals and background images for the main screen. The only one I’m not fond of is characters. Some characters you “unlock” in Story really only unlock the option to buy them in the shop, which is just kind of another layer of annoyance on the whole unlocking everything agenda.
Chocobo GP is a really great flavor for the kart-racing genre. Not only is it a fine collection of Final Fantasy franchise memories in one place, but it uses them nicely as well. Familiar characters, JRPG attacks and weapons, locations for racetracks, and remixed music we know and love make it a bright, fun, and familiar experience. I really liked the Magicite system for in-race strategy and character stats and abilities make them all enjoyable to play. I wish you didn’t have to unlock so much to enjoy the whole package outside of Story, but even the story is a fun romp. There have been plenty of imitators of the Mario Kart formula, but Chocobo GP feels like one of the most competent, all while bringing its own twists to the track.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital edition of the game supplied by the publisher. Chocobo GP comes out on Nintendo Switch on March 10, 2022.