|By Zach Patterson||Tuesday, 21 Aug 2007|
I suppose it’s not a surprise to see a game with the Final Fantasy name slapped on it featuring chocobos to get its fair share of groans. Chocobo’s starring games usually are dull dungeon crawlers, or middling cart racers, so it’s understandable to see a new chocobo mini game/card battle game and not be too excited.
However, this game may have a bit of an advantage over the past chocobo series games. For one, the game looks rock solid and controls very nicely. Secondly, they remembered to make the game fun. I know, you would think every game would remember to include this ingredient, but believe it or not, it sometimes gets left out. It is a bit of a hodgepodge of genres smashed together (a traditional Final Fantasy-ish town overworld area to explore, moderately deep and involved mini-games with multiple achievements, quick and dirty microgames, and a simple but addictive card collecting and battle game), but it all segues nicely into each part.
Perhaps the game’s most striking feature is its graphical beauty, which uses what looks to be a variation of the Final Fantasy III engine to produce some beautiful (and a bit cutesy) 3D modeled characters and environments. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it even look better than FFIII at points, as the character models look much more solid and don’t have that occasional rough early 3D look to them like parts of FFIII did. This of course is just for the overworld. However, the graphical style is a little different when you enter mini-games, which are found in storybooks throughout the game. Upon entering these mini-game books, the graphical style because a bit like faux 2D construction paper/pop up book, which is a neat change of pace and lends itself well to the whole feel of the storybooks. While the stories told in the books are basically ripped verbatim from various old fables with Final Fantasy mascots slapped into them, they are enjoyable and not just a hindrance in the way of playing the mini-games. Some of the stories have some pretty stupid endings, but they are good enough for what they are.
The mini-games (and in fact, nearly the entire game) pretty much exclusively use the stylus to play. This is the part of the game that is make or break, as a mini-game collection with bad mini-games is pretty much a failure. Luckily, most of these games are pretty fun. The stylus control in some of them is a little suspect, but for the most part they do control very well and responsively. There are various tasks you need to complete in each book in order to finish it, most of them being pretty easy, but the last few always being a bit of a challenge. As you complete achievements, you unlock missing chocobo friends (as they are locked in the books as part of the storyline), new cards for duels, new areas, and even new microgames. These mini-games are perfect for short play and ideally suited for a portable game. Not a ton of depth, but just enough to keep you coming back. And while there are a few annoying ones (the Leviathan ones come to mind), they are all pretty fun and challenging.
Then there are the microgames, which range from ridiculously simple and quick, to ungodly difficult and frustrating. There aren’t too many in between. The game is either so simple a child could ace it, or so difficult that you need the fastest reflexes known to man to properly finish the game. Since I am a slow person when it comes to speed and reflexes, these were particularly hard for me. Additionally, since each game rewards you with a sweet card for getting a Gold in it, I ended up missing some nice cards by saving myself the frustration of losing a 20 second game over and over again for hours.
Then there’s the card battling, which you would think at this point is a total afterthought, and maybe it was, who knows. It’s not quite deep enough to hold it’s own as it’s own game, but it’s a good addition to this game in it’s own right. Each duel is set up like a Final Fantasy battle, except that you have a deck of cards with 3 randomly drawn cards you can fight with instead of commands. The cards have different colors that indicate their strengths and weaknesses, and additionally, some cards are offense cards, while others are pure defense. The cards you collect all have the names and portraits of Final Fantasy summons and characters, and when you use them in battle, a 3D representation of the card will come out and attack the enemy. The visual representation of the dueling as a 3D Final Fantasy battle is a nice touch and adds some flavor to what could have been a drab, text based affair.
There are some small issues with the card battling. While it’s very fun, a lot of it seems based entirely on luck. It’s very hard to guess what the enemy has and what it will possibly attack with, so many times, you go into a battle completely guessing and hoping you picked a good deck. Some battles can get drawn out forever if you both have a large amount of defensive cards. Additionally, card maintenance is kind of a pain in the ass. You can make a half dozen decks, but you really dont know what you are ever going to face or why you would need that many, and since you are getting new cards all the time, you must constantly revise the decks in order to stay competitive. I think it could have been streamlined quite a bit more. Regardless, it’s a nice little extra to separate it from other mini-game collections, and ends up being a fun part of the game as well.
The game has lots of references to the Final Fantasy universe, from recurring characters and vehicles to the music itself. The music is a mashup of various Final Fantasy games, and it is neat to catch all the references to classic games through the course of playing the mini-games or entering new areas. The game is also paced very well and opens up just enough at any given time to give you various objectives to complete and new areas to explore without making you feel stuck on one particular game you might not like. Finally, what I really liked about this game was that it has vague elements of an RPG without actually being one. I wanted something lighthearted and fun that was easy to pick up and play but had a bit of depth, and that fits this game to a T. Additionally, it also has a bevy of multiplayer features if you want to challenge friends to the minigames or card duels. Good stuff.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this game, and it may be one of my favorites so far this year. If you are looking for a fun, polished game that will provide you with a solid 20 hours of pick up and play fun, I would recommend picking this one up.