There is a certain, everlasting stigma about "kiddie" games that is awfully hard to look past. Whatever merits a given game may or may not have, the simple representation of a game as "kid friendly" can often doom a game to utter neglect by anyone unable to look past their own prejudices; anyone unable to approach a game without a preconceived judgment. Such a stigma will certainly doom Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, a light-hearted romp through the brighter side of the Final Fantasy franchise without a drop of melodrama or brooding teenage angst to be found. Alas, this lighter side has come with an assured linkage to all things "kiddie" and will likely lead to the general passing-by of this delightfully charming title. For those able to cope with the smiles and sunshine, though, Chocobo Tales offers a very entertaining selection of funny micro-, mini- and card-based games that draws heavily from the heavy favorite of RPG franchises.
Paying homage to various Aesop and Grimms' tales of yore, Chocobo Tales recounts the adventures of a nameless Chocobo whose friends have come under the spell of the pop-up fable books of a long lost, evil power. Somehow, the star Chocobo manages to escape the clutches of evil, only to set off on an adventure to free his friends, which requires delving into the different books and overcoming some sort of mini-game. Each game has two different modes (trial and versus) in addition to the main story mode. The goal for each book is to beat the mini-game and thus rewrite the ending of the tales in your favor, giving each of them one of three various happy endings—each of which has a different affect on the game world, or a different prize for you.
Realistically, this adventure mode framework (which plays out very similarly to the NES/SNES Zelda games) is merely an attempt to mask the fact that the game is "just another" one of the infamous mini-game collections. I've already voiced my opinion on these types of games, but to be fair to Chocobo Tales, the framework does a much better job of carrying the action in a whole format than does that of most other mini-game compilations.
There are three basic types of games to be found: book-based mini-games, world-based micro-games, and the boss-battle-based card game. Each book has a unique mini-game and a variety of difficulties for that game. For the most part, these games are enjoyable and have a pretty decent amount of replay value. As you adventure from book to book, you'll come across various micro-games that appear as objects on the world map. Whereas there are few sub-par mini-games, these micro-games are more of a mixed-bag: some are enjoyable, and some are tedious. Lastly, the card-battling game is saved solely for boss battles. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the dynamic card-play most of all. The game isn't overly complex, but there's enough variety and strategy to make it worth playing. All of the gameplay modes can prove surprisingly challenging, which is why I really don't consider this game one for the kids at all.
As is the custom for most Square-Enix titles, production values are through the roof. The graphics engine is the same that was seen in Final Fantasy III, but the animations and quality of the character models are much improved. Likewise, the sound is a treat: nostalgia drips from the speakers with each passing, familiar tune. Even the writing (and localization) are top-notch.
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales surprised me in a lot of ways. The mini-game games may have worn out their welcome, but Square-Enix has managed to assemble quite a great collection of genuinely challenging games, held together by a decent adventure infrastructure and a solid card game. Many of the games are playable over local WiFi and the card game is playable over the net, giving the game a mighty nice shot of replayability. The core game is rendered impossibly charming by both the collection of nostalgic Final Fantasy elements and the childhood memories bred by the familiar Aesop and Grimms tales.
That said, the verdict is tough to give. Your ability to let yourself go and just succumb to the Final Fantasy fan service and simple charm of the stories will be pivotal for your ability to enjoy the game. Thus, I'd say that the game warrants at least a rent from those who are curious. If the games stick on you, consider the purchase. As for me, well, I'll be online, throwing down my Carbuncle card until the cactaurs come home.
ESRB Rating: Everyone
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