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Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

For: DS

At the beak of its game

Product: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales | Developer: In-house | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure, RPG | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Japan
 
by Ed Fear
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales DS, thumbnail 1
There's an unwritten rule in Japan that every company must have a mascot. They range from the pink bunny that advertises Nova English language classes to the Nagoya Municipal Subway's station cartoon attendant, who has a golden dolphin for a head. (Don't ask. It's easier to not explain.)

The trend is even true of Japanese gaming franchises. The chocobo – a sort of cute ostrich/emu-type affair – is Final Fantasy's mascot of choice. And they're certainly useful in that context, with the common yellow version good for getting around without triggering random battles, the white chocobo restoring your magic points, and a black variant that can fly.

But is that really enough meat for a spin-off? It's not the first of course, but Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is without a doubt the game to prove the colourful little cuties are finally ready to emerge from the sidekick role.

Indeed while it may have its roots in Final Fantasy, don't expect any sullen teens with spiky hair here: Chocobo Tales is a brighter beast, set in a dayglo-happy world that's beautifully brought to life with all the skill and panache you'd expect from Square Enix.

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The plot follows a typical role-playing set-up. You're tasked with saving the residents of Chocobo Farm, who've been trapped inside eight picturebooks thanks to a demon called Bebas. In order to rescue your friends and overcome obstacles, your chocobo must enter the picturebooks and fight its way through the mini-games contained within it.

Each book is a fable (hence the game's title), starring monsters you might recognise from the Final Fantasy series. Completing each mini-game invokes the book's magic to clear obstacles in Chocobo Farm, freeing your brethren and providing an ending to the tale.

It's easy to get stuffy about mini-games, and Chocobo Tales is full of them, with over 20 extra ones dotted around the world as well as the compulsory mini-games in the picturebooks. But Chocobo's mini-games are all really enjoyable, with each one using the DS' abilities to maximum effect.

One minute you'll be blowing into the microphone to shoot blowdarts at clustering balloons, the next you'll be using the stylus to manoeuvre a trampoline to get a horde of suicidal cactus creatures (aka cactuars), to pop bubbles. Irrelevant they may be, but each mini-game is designed to a high-enough standard to convince you of their overall worth.

What also keeps the mini-games from being minor distractions is the range of completion conditions. There are eight such challenges for each picturebook mini-game and two for each of the the extra mini-games. Successfully clearing them grants you extra duel cards and, although clearing the harder challenges will take practice (and if we're honest a dash of patience), the cards rewarded are more than enough incentive to spend time mastering the games' nuances.

Cards you say? Well, that's Chocobo Tales' other main feature. Rather than having a standard turn-based Final Fantasy battle system, here you get the chance to participate in Pop-Up Duels.

Card battling may by its very nature sounds slow and stodgy, but the differing range of abilities present in the game's 117 cards creates a large enough space for tactical planning. Fluidity is maintained by the swooping camerawork and the dramatic effects that play out on the battlefield, while pace is encouraged by the way the turn order is decided by whoever thinks the quickest, which keeps you on your toes.

The only niggle is that the battles are a touch too random for our tastes. Both your attack and defence is decided by the card you play, which must be decided upon before you know what your opponent will do (or even what cards they have in their hand, save for a vague hint).

This randomness benefits the player as much as it does their computer controlled opponent, yet that's little consolation when a carefully planned attack is entirely negated thanks to a lucky pick by the enemy.

But despite that, underneath Chocobo Tales' cutesy facade lies a game of not only significant depth but breadth too, especially when you factor in that the Pop-Up Duels can be played online via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Some of the mini-games are likewise playable with up to four chums.

Indeed, play this game and you'll soon realise it doesn't really need the Final Fantasy tag at all. Chocobo Tales is such an enjoyable, varied title, it shows this is one bird ready to leave the nest and strike out on its own two wings. Let's just hope it makes it as far as a European release.
 
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales
Reviewer photo
Ed Fear | 7 February 2007
Don't let its cutesy role-playing-lite stylings fool you; Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is a quality game that's a blast to play
 
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