Chocobo GP Review
I didn’t know until recently that a Final Fantasy kart racer came out before Chocobo GP, so I’m wasn't sure if that meant this was an anticipated modern revival of a classic game. I just saw an avenue for simple-minded Final Fantasy fanservice and naturally got excited for some fun in the vein of Mario Kart. When it shines, Chocobo GP gets to be just that. Monetization and a lack of content keep it from shining as much as I’d like though.
When you boot up a Kart Racer, in my limited experience with the genre, you expect to be able to just dive right in and have fun. I don’t play these games online as I’m far too bad, so I prefer local races with friends. Four-player splitscreen on Mario Kart 8 at a party? Four people with their own consoles playing local races? Both are heavenly chaos. So the part of GP I cared the most about was the local gameplay, and it was the first blunder the game made. The only kind of splitscreen on offer is for two players, and you’re limited in the kinds of controllers you can use. You can either use two individual Joycons or two Pro Controllers. You cannot mix and match them in my experience. If I wanted to use a Pro Controller and my roommate wanted to use two Joycons combined to be one controller, he can’t do that.
Once we finally got the game going, we were then met with an incredibly small starting roster. I’m okay with having to unlock some characters by playing the game as long as there’s a decent pool to pick from. Chocobo GP starts with three. The rest need to be unlocked by playing the story. Once you’ve done this you’ll have a good roster to play with a few lingering ones available to buy with in-game currency won from winning races. Further customization is also in this shop, and, from my experience, can be mostly unlocked without needing to pay any real money.
This means that you’ll be going through the story mode first thing, which could be off-putting for some. It won’t take you more than a couple of hours, and I think the characters are fun even if their jokes are repeated more often than I’d like. I’ve never been too much of a fan of locking characters behind kart racing story modes. The genre prides itself on utter chaos, with wacky items to keep engagement from all players regardless of their place. When you lock progress behind specific goals in a game where you quite often fall from first place to fifth right before the finish line, you don’t really feel like you’re earning the characters you’re unlocking.
This was a rough start, I’ll admit. Thankfully, Chocobo GP’s gameplay is tight and is one of the best Kart racers available on Switch without our favorite plumber in it. Every character has different stats and abilities, the drifting feels nice, and the courses are fun. There are some duds mixed in with the course pool, but most offer a unique gimmick and look great. There just feels like there aren’t enough, and I’llgo into the caveat with that shortly. Also worth mentioning are the racing remixes of classic Final Fantasy tracks - they all sound great, with Battle on the Big Bridge sticking out the most. The only two tracks that grew to annoy me are the intrusive menu vocal theme and the jarring racetrack introduction theme. They’re both jarring with their implementation and I skipped through them as fast as I could every time they popped up.
Maybe I’m alone here, but I believe that the best-designed Kart Racers make the controls invisible. You should never think about how the game plays, thinking shouldn’t even be a part of the equation. If a racing game can click with what you expect the cars to feel like, convey the complicated nature of a wheel and pedals into a controller, then they’ve done a good job. Chocobo GP is one of those games. Once I found out how to play, I never looked back. The racing is just fun, and it’s probably one of the only Kart Racers to ever truly click with me outside of Mario Kart. It’s about as good to play as well, I’d say. The thrill of weaving through an onslaught of items being thrown out and still making it on top wouldn’t hit if they hadn’t spent so long ironing out how all the various characters feel.
I wish there was more variety on launch, however. There are a lot of original characters from the original Chocobo Racing, and very few classic Final Fantasy characters. Terra (my main), Vivi, and Steiner stand out, but they’re the most recognizable faces. I’ll give props to the reimaginings of summons as racers, they’re all well designed and fun to play as.
Magicite replaces item boxes, giving all the typical ones fun Final Fantasy flare. Out of all of the unique ones, my favorite had to be one that opened up a portal to teleport the user right a set distance ahead of them on the track. The clever bit about this item is that it creates two portals, a blue “in” and a red “out”. These linger for a few seconds after the initial use. Players who enter the blue portal behind you also can get a quick boost, but players who find themselves accidentally driving through the red portal will be shot back to the blue portal. I think these kinds of ideas are innovative, and I wish more of the power-ups attempted to be this creative. They’re fun though, and the effort to “Final Fantasy-ify” all the usual suspects was a success in my book.
With gameplay so solid, it’s truly disheartening that the majority of Chocobo GP’s flaws lie from the monetization. There’s a free version and a paid version. The paid version will let you unlock a majority of the characters, but there are microtransactions on top of this and a Battle Pass-like model for content. Fan favorites Cloud and Squall are both locked behind these, which feels a bit gross. Square has responded to the backlash by stating they’ll ease up in the future, and offer free courses to all players next season. It’s always nice to see this kind of course correction, but these probably should have never made it this far, to begin with. If Chocobo GP was a purely free-to-play game, this mobile game-like monetization could have been more understandable.
Chocobo GP is a wonderful controlling Final Fantasy-themed kart racer held back by a lack of content and uncomfortable monetization. When you’re in the zone, playing a race, you’ll be sure to have a great time. However, it’s hard to give the game an outright recommendation when all the fun is locked behind a story mode that is easy to bounce off of. There’s also a strange lack of QoL in vital areas and a menu that presents its modes in an unintuitive way. It’d be nice to see Chocobo GP make a comeback from its messy launch. There’s potential here, and a brilliant Kart Racer underneath the monetization. Your mileage will vary on how much they impede enjoyment in the short term.