The original PlayStation was a magical time for the video game industry – and if not, at least for my childhood. It was like my coming-of-age party in the gaming sense. This is where I first experienced Final Fantasy VII and found my true love for RPG gaming. This is where I began to really enjoy the perks of reading and writing; this was it. Thanks to nostalgia, the PlayStation has been cemented as something special within my heart of hearts. As I’ve grown, it’s become a mission of mine to collect all of the PS1 games I never had a chance to play as a child. And so, recently, I came across Chocobo Racing.
Thanks to Mario Kart’s success on the N64 (let’s face it, the ones before were not great), knockoffs began arising from every developer. From Naughty Dog, we were given the wonderful Crash Team Racing. Eventually, Sonic got his own All Star Racing. From Squaresoft, we found the little-known title Chocobo Racing. For those somehow not in the know, Chocobos are the large, yellow birds present in every Final Fantasy game. On the PlayStation, Chocobo was given a few games in the likes of Chocobo Dungeon and Chocobo Racing. With a mascot like this, how could this game be anything less than awesome?
Sarcasm aside, Chocobo Racing is your traditional karting experience with a few catches. The story mode in Chocobo Racing follows young Chocobo, who is gifted a neat set of roller blades from Cid, the brilliant inventor. Unfortunately for Cid, he forgot to craft the villainous Mog’s kart – and so he puts together an odd bike for the moogle. Mog, of course, loses to Chocobo, and when Cid explains that Chocobo’s gem is the key to his special ability, Mog, of course, wants to help search for more. Together, the two set off on entirely separate missions (Chocobo to reclaim the stones, Mog to steal them), where they meet and recruit about six extra allies in total.
One thing I noticed straightaway was the in-depth narrative. Most karting games have some sort of a story, but it usually isn’t terribly fleshed out. In Chocobo Racing, the player is treated to a storybook telling of Chocobo’s tale. Each chapter includes a separate race track, and the overall play time equates out to approximately 1.5-2 hours depending on your skill level. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, that’s okay; Squaresoft included a Time Attack, Grand Prix, Vs. Mode, and Relay Race for you to consume more time. Most modes are straightforward, with the Relay Race allowing you to race one-to-three laps with three characters against another person or a computer. With such limited content, Chocobo Racing must rely on solid gameplay in order to survive. Mario Kart and even Crash Team Racing worked so well because the multiplayer mode was fantastic. Unfortunately for Chocobo Racing, the lack of many characters and unique abilities really hinders its value.
In Chocobo Racing, you only have eight characters to choose from initially: Chocobo, Mog, Black Magician, Goblin, White Mage, Golem, Behemoth, and Chubby Chocobo. Other secret characters are unlockable after beating the story mode, but the selection only reaches about 13ish. On top of that, there are only about eight tracks to race on, too. So when you race a Grand Prix, you’ll have to choose half the maps to race anyway, which really dwindles the value of the experience. Still, even all of this could be overcome if the gameplay played as well as your top karting game, right?
Well, maybe; but Chocobo Racing doesn’t come near that level of success. The visuals – particularly the tracks – lack any sort of polish, and the game becomes troublesome to navigate due to its blocky tracks and confusing layouts (perhaps they’re confusing due to the poor visuals). The kart handling in Chocobo Racing, too, was pretty awful. The square button is your accelerator, and combining it with X allows you to drift…ish. Tight corners or sloping corners didn’t matter, as your kart couldn’t make any of them. The later levels struggled the most, as your enemies would tear you apart. I had to have failed the last few levels numerous times before finally accomplishing my goals.
But the biggest flaw in Chocobo Racing was its lag. The game suffered from numerous slowdowns that really chopped up gameplay. Even on the menu screens, the game stuttered so much that its soundtrack (which was, perhaps, the best part of the experience) skipped until it finally caught up to itself. Turning corners or passing/attacking enemies was rendered impossible when lag occurred, as I could hardly control my kart. Really, the experience felt like Squaresoft’s lazy attempt at a karting game.
There were two positive aspects I enjoyed with Chocobo Racing. The first – and most important – was its innovative idea on stacking spells. As in most karting games, you can pick up items and utilize them to sabotage the racers in front and behind you. Chocobo Racing doesn’t differ on that front, but it allows the player to stack attacks for a stronger version. For example, if I picked up three fire spells, I could use a much more devastating Firaga spell when cast. Unfortunately, some abilities (like Goblin’s Mug) would always tip the favor into another person’s hands, causing an ever-present imbalance in gameplay. The second aspect I enjoyed was seeing classic Final Fantasy characters represented (and the unlockable characters like Cloud or Cactuar were cool, too), though this faded quickly as I was confined to only a few and could only race on even fewer maps.
Overall, Chocobo Racing is a game better left in the annals of PlayStation history. The now Square-Enix has found success in far better places (and had back then, too) and is much better for it. For the sake of nostalgia or collector’s purposes, Chocobo Racing is, I suppose, an acceptable buy. But if you never experienced it or ever thought of trying it out, there were and are much, much better options available.