Whilst Final Fantasy may have a massive following around the world, the yellow Chocobo from the long running role-playing game series that help to transport characters across the gaming terrain without hassle from enemies is not quite as well-known, or at least popular, in the West. However, in Japan it has a sufficient amount of followers to warrant Square Enix giving it a few different game outings, such as a couple of dungeon crawling adventures that have had middling success to date. But now the feathered friend is back in a whole new DS game that promised to be a full-on RPG experience for the whole family. Does it manage to live up to expectations, though? That is what we are here to find out...
The game begins with a full story mode based around a farm village where Chocobo and his other avian friends live in peace. Chocobo's friend from outside the village tend to come and visit on a regular basis, and on this particular day a white and black mage have decided to head over and spend some time together. The two mages have brought a new book along this time so they can all have fun reading together. Unfortunately, as the black mage was keen to spice events up slightly, this new book is magical in nature and when opened it unleashes the power of an evil wizard by the name of King Bebezu. Upon spreading the pages, the whole world and its inhabitants are sucked right in, leaving Chocobo with the task of heading into an adventure to save everyone and restore the peace that once was by using the power of the four crystals (you know, 'those' four crystals from the FF series?).
Right from the start you know Square Enix has poured a lot of care and attention into making the game looked as splendid as possible. The introduction is a cute animated piece, rather than the usual CGI you see from the company in games like Final Fantasy and it all picks up speed from there. Once into the main game you are faced with bright, wonderful colours that literally pop out of the screen at you, all rendered in tasty 3D that actually works better than the models found in the remake of Final Fantasy III that was recently released on the DS here in Europe. But that is not the be all and end all of it, since there are pop-up books that you dive into during the main game that are animated in a very lively manner and shaded in a crayon-style that is more than a little reminiscent of Yoshi's Island on the SNES. Finally of note are the actual battles, which take on a Paper Mario appearance, with flat characters bouncing around the screen in a fashion that makes them look like they are being controlled like puppets on strings, except with the usual devastating command of graphical power that Square Enix normally brings to the table. Delightful indeed!
And the same goes for the soundtrack, which caters to the needs of not only newcomers but the Final Fantasy faithful as well. Throughout the main game you have a chirpy, light-hearted theme that plays as you wander around the village and nearby locations, but once you move into other areas you will be soon listening to many of the other addictive themes, such as a upbeat, immensely catchy one for the volcanic mountain section or the shiver-inducing, synth effort that accompanies the eastern forest area (this one in particular dredges up fond memories of the sacred forest theme in Secret of Mana). Then, once you are thrust into various magical picture books or dropped into pop-up duel battles, you will be treated to a selection of greats from the Final Fantasy world, with examples being the standard victory tune to ones that will remind you of other Final Fantasy games you have played in the past. Thankfully, all of the tunes can be accessed once the game is completed...
The game itself is a hodge-podge of styles with a story wrapping it all together nicely. Yet rather than feeling like a half-baked, overly disjointed affair, Square Enix has pieced everything together so delicately and refined the whole gameplay style so perfectly that you can hardly lay fault at its feet. You can control Chocobo by using the stylus, which responds extremely accurately, making the whole experience extremely easy to pick up and play, especially considering all other aspects of the game are simply accessed with the merest of touches. The menu screen is hidden away in the top-right of the lower screen and unfolds when tapped, but only has four options, one of which is to save the game, whilst another is to quit! It all starts off extremely simple and accessible so any gamer can enjoy. The game throws various puzzling mini-games at you, with the first puzzle you are faced with being that of opening the evil book by completing a sliding tile mini-game. Then the world proceeds to be sucked into its pages and the main adventure begins, with the aim being to save your village friends by working through numerous magical tombs that are found lying around the world, each containing a well-known tale, with the characters replaced by those from the Final Fantasy world.
There are all manner of mini-games available to play and various different goals and difficulty levels related to each one. For instance, the first book has you controlling a tortoise up a hilly path with treacherous boulders tumbling down at various points. You must either race on your own for the fastest time (using the touchscreen to guide your direction and speed with ease) or beat any number of opponents. Others include having players make Chocobo bounce upwards by drawing leaves on the screen that act like trampolines (longer ones have a low bounce, short ones propel you much higher), whilst avoiding obstacles along the way; as well as quickly dragging a looking glass over an arena to find out the odd-looking bird within a large group. It may all sound extraordinarily basic and overly simplistic, but it does prove a joy to play and there is incentive to actually compete multiple times as there are special cards to collect, not just the pleasure of savings friends.
Once enough of the cards have been accumulated, you stumble onto the Pop Up Duel element of Chocobo Tales. Working your way through the different tasks set in each book, in addition to random mini-games that are littered around the world (like a whac-a-mole game, stop the sliding turtle as close to the edge of a cliff as possible, follow the arrows in record time and blow darts at passing balloons using the mic, all with silver and gold targets instead of the level-based story book games), you will have various cards added to your collection. Each one has different attributes that can be used in enemy encounters (of which there are few in the entirety of the game, sadly). You must access the card maintenance option on the menu screen and then choose up to fifteen cards that will be used in your next battle (either against a human opponent over local wireless or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, or against one of the game’s boss characters).
When entering a battle, you will start with three cards randomly chosen from your deck and you must quickly choose which of these you wish to fight with. To determine what will be the best option for each of your turns (yes, the battles are standard turn-based ones, á la Final Fantasy), you must look at the icons emblazoned on the cards. A sword is (obviously) your attacking option and a shield helps to defend Chocobo, with one of these symbols found in one or more of the four circles around each card – some may have more than one shield, others may have no shields or swords, it all depends on what is in your chosen pack, with a bit of luck then mixed in when the three cards are selected by random. Once your card has been chosen, it is thrown onto the battle-ground simply by dragging the card from the lower screen and flicking it upwards, where it then transforms into a large creature ready to fight. The way hit points are determined is as follows: for example, if your top circle has a shield on it and the enemy’s card’s top circle contains a sword, then you are protected. A shield against a shield results in no points lost either, but having a sword against a sword or even a sword against an empty circle, will lead to damage be given or taken, depending on who has what. Other than that, there are the elemental aspects to keep in mind, since all cards are distinctly coloured to show if they are water, fire, and so on. Using the same type of elements repeatedly builds up a special gauge that can help to unleash a summon card attack of impressive proportions…Overall, the fine mixture of mini-games, battles and normal RPG conversations between characters makes this a very pleasing adventure indeed.
Now, the game is by no means long, which will put many RPG purists off, yet on the other hand there is definitely enough enjoyment to be had from the main adventure, as well as the replayable nature of its mini-games either on your own or against friends. Overall you are probably looking at between ten and fifteen hours for the main game to be wrapped up. But, as previously stated, there is much fun to be had bashing your way through the Pop-Up Duels with friends and tackling the plethora of mini-games on your own (or with up to three friends via local wireless) and when it all looks and sounds as tasty as this little package, the game becomes extremely hard to resist!
People may look at this from a distance and mistake it for a simple mini-game collection, but Square Enix has finely crafted a title that mixes RPG fun with a great card battling system AND stuffed brilliant mini-games in for good measure as well. A pleasure to play through.
The Nintendo DS is used fantastically by Square Enix, mixing 3D visuals that better those from Final Fantasy III with 2D hand-drawn ones that have a Paper Mario flat appearance and Yoshi's Island sketchy look to them. Superb work!
From the cute main theme to other memorable new audio creations and the plentiful supply of classic Final Fantasy music mixed in, Chocobo Tales is a joy to the ears.
Whilst the main adventure will not last you too long, the amount of mini-games you can play with friends via local wireless and the Pop-Up Duels via Wi-Fi add to the longevity overall.
To say that this one blind-sided me would be an understatement. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales was one of those games that looked like being fun, but limited. Instead it has turned out to be one of the best DS games of 2007, purely due to the expertise of the Square Enix team, masterfully piecing together various elements into one impressive little package. Sadly the game has failed to live up to expectations in Europe so far...do not overlook this gem!
Sounds quite fun, wasn't expecting the score at all! Nice work, Adam. :
Even after completing it, me and my wife keep coming back to it in order to have fun with the mini-games again and again. Shame it's just the Pop-Up Duel fights that are Wi-Fi and not the mini-games...
Even now, after playing through the whole game again in English for the second time, I seriously think this game is ridiculously undervalued by gamers...Why aren't people bothering to buy it? It's one of the most enjoyable DS games out there right now!!
Come on guys, show S-E that its risk wasn't misplaced. We're already not getting Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime because US sales were terrible. Don't make S-E wary of bringing over Front Mission 1st as well!! :cry:
It's not like other card-based RPGs, such as Baten Kaitos. The card shuffling and deck creation is made as simple as possible and the way cards are dealt out in battles in also easy enough...very user-friendly :