Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales | Developer: h.a.n.d. | Publisher: Square Enix | Year: 2006

Chocobo Tales NTSC-U Nintendo DS Box Art

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

Confession time: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is the only Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played. And that fact has probably lost me few readers right there. Disaster!

Mind you, this isn’t the reason I wanted to write about it. To tell the truth, after covering the Phoenix Wright games, the Professor Laytons, and numerous other titles in my DS Files series, I was feeling burned out on Nintendo DS coverage. But while my notes for Henry Hatsworth, Trauma Centre, and Scribblenauts grew too stale to keep around, I had to do Chocobo Tales simply because of how weirdly charming it is. It also has collectible cards in it, so there.

In a fairly unique angle, players literally jump into fairy tale kingdoms; each decorated with cut-out visuals resembling a children’s story book. The Chocobo is a little chicken feller who saves the day from baddies in a short but likeable adventure featuring mini games and card-driven boss battles.

It’s a nice looking game, this. The 3D adventure field is easy to navigate, and the Chocobo AKA “GG” can always gobble up a delicious apple to get a hint on what to do next. (That’s one way to encourage kids to eat more fruit, I guess.)

In a similar vein to Lost Kingdoms, players collect new cards for their battle deck by exploring the world around them. Collecting new cards from NPC quests and hidden paths is fun, even if the “pop-up duels” that use them are extremely simple in practice.

In a duel, you’ll play a card and try to line up its icons in a way that counters your opponent’s card choice. Colour themes and special abilities add texture, but the systems here aren’t complex enough to excite seasoned card game fans. Rather, these are colourfully-rendered finales to longer stretches of adventuring, and are just fast enough to offset the extreme amount of luck they involve. Those bosses do cheat something rotten though. Bounders!

Either way, this is a nippy adventure with a fun aura. (Weird ocean level notwithstanding.) The many cute characters will delight franchise fans, and yet the game doesn’t hold your hand that much. The abundant mini games make this point extra clear because some of their gold medal requirements are absolutely ruthless.

In truth, the mini games aren’t great. Certain trials are frustrating and luck-driven, and others feel too gimmicky. The one that involves players blowing into the microphone is especially annoying, as is the one where cacti bounce around the screen. These bits kinda suck because the developers forget to include a restart option — a gripe so profoundly annoying, I actually wrote it down twice!

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales gameplay screenshots

It’s not essential to win a gold medal in every mini game, but several of them unlock powerful foil cards to make your card deck stronger.

And yet, whenever I felt ready to throw my console across the room in frustration — you can do this so much easier with handhelds — Chocobo Tales always won me back with its wonderful writing. Seriously. The localisation team at Square Enix were clearly having the time of their lives writing this stuff.

“Oh, the gluttonous irony of it all!”, ponders one particular character.

“He wants to mangle you worse than his grammar,” declares another.

One funny moment is when GG saves someone from mind control, whereupon they reply:

“Goodness what have I been perpetuating?, Your grit and gumption shame my own! Excelsior!”

Even a simple locked door on the adventure map prompts the funny description:

“This gate won’t budge under your stubby Chocobo legs.”

The story runs out of steam towards the end, but the writing remains peppy all the way through. It’s worth putting in the nine or ten hours to complete it on that basis alone, so give Chocobo Tales a go if you missed it the first time around like I did.

… Excelsior!