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Nintendo DS Review: Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

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You live on an island where story time is the highlight of your day. You have feathers, clawed feet, and a gang of friends who have been kidnapped. Luckily, your lack of vocal chords and opposable thumbs don’t stop you from taking on the ultimate evil in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales for Nintendo DS.

Chocobo Tales manages to be both outside the Final Fantasy series and completely defined by it. You play as one of the franchise’s iconic chocobos, the supporting cast members include a white mage, a black mage, and a moogle, and you read stories where the hares, giants, and swans are replaced by cactaurs, titans, and chocobos. The plot’s not very complicated, and the dialogue can get a little silly, but it’s a solid game with something for all ages.

The game starts as Croma, the island’s black mage, brings home a rare book that turns out to be a powerful and ancient evil named Bebuzzu. Although strong enough to trash your home and imprison your friends, Bebuzzu falls far short of his goals for world domination. The rest of the game is spent trying to control the damage and contain the evil before his minions can seize the day.

You’ll be playing three types of games in Chocobo Tales. The storybook challenges are central to the action; they’re mini games based on well-known children’s stories. You might find yourself guiding an adamantoise along a racetrack in the “Cactaur and the Adamantoise” book, or collecting bouncing coins in the “Ugly Chocobo” book. The challenges are brief, fast-paced, and unlock plot points, bonuses, or trading cards in matches played against your own high scores or up to three other computer-controlled opponents. Also sprinkled throughout the world are micro games, which have you blowing into the microphone to shoot a dart gun, playing memory with sprites from the original Final Fantasy games, or tapping patterns to clear a series of blocks from the screen, all for more trading cards. Finally, you use your trading cards you have collected in a special game that uses attacking and defensive stats, elemental alignments, and status effects to determine a winner.

The game quickly establishes a working formula. A challenge will block your path, and you need to enter into a new storybook and beat its mini games to overcome the obstacle. Eventually, you will clear the way to a boss battle, which is fought as a card duel. If you’ve unlocked enough cards, you can win the duel to get confronted with another obstacle, which sends you into another book.

Individual tolerances for this game will vary. The pacing can get held up by the card battles; since some of the micro games (and a few of the storybook battles) rely heavily on luck, players will have to repeat the same tasks over and over until they win strong enough cards to pass the next duel. While it’s possible to win the duels with only the cards earned from the required challenges, it can be very difficult. Having to face the same unskippable mini-game intros over and over again just to get one more card for another chance to advance the plot a little further gets very tiresome.

The game play itself is easy to get into (and back out of). Not only can it be played one-handed with the stylus, but games can be saved almost anywhere for quick saving and loading. The music is catchy, neither memorable nor obnoxious, and a variety of sound effects contribute to the game’s light-hearted mood. The graphics are cute, with the storybook segments looking like paper cutouts (think Paper Mario). Some of the game’s challenges can also be shared in multiplayer mode.

The game is fun, the challenges are varied, and the plot is goofy enough to keep you wondering what will happen next. Chocobo Tales may not captivate you until you have hunted down every last card and won every last challenge, but it’s at least worth a look; Especially if you’re a fan of the Final Fantasy series.

Pros: Quick to get into, Final Fantasy monsters and themes, more than just a kid’s game.

Cons: Some mini-games are more a matter of luck than skill, repeating the same challenge multiple times gets tedious quickly.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief and Mild Fantasy Violence.


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About Peter M. J. Gross