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   Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales - Staff Review  

A Book Worth Reading
by scanDallas Richardson

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
12-20 hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Can you blame any major game developer for creating a spin-off for their franchise? If fans would do anything for the chance revisit the fantastic universe one more time, then developers have no problem giving it to them. Square Enix is certainly attest to that, what with games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Dragon Quest Monsters, and Dirge of Cerberus. Some of these spin-offs flop, while others end up rivaling the success of the main series. Though Square Enix's latest, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales for the DS, most likely won't win any awards, it is, thankfully, one of the best spin-off titles Square Enix has to offer. Mixing RPG elements with mini-games, Chocobo Tales is an excellent light-hearted adventure that doesn't take itself to seriously.

   The story told in Chocobo Tales is easily the game's weakest point. The game begins in a small Chocobo farm where the main character, whom the player names, and his friends live. Shirma, the resident White Mage and caretaker of the farm, decides to gather all the Chocobo and read them a new book. Before she begins Croma, the Black Maage, interrupts her and boasts about a new book he has purchased. He opens the book, breaking an ancient spell and releasing the evil Darkmaster Bebuzzu out into the world. He, appearing in the form of a book, promptly turns all the Chocobo, save for the main character, into cards and sets out to unlock his full power. Being the only Chocobo left, it is up to the main character, the player, to save all of the Chocobo and defeat Bezzuba before he can fulfill his evil plans. Sure, the story is simple and predictable, but it actually fits the game's theme quite well. Considering that Chocobo Tales is clearly aimed at a younger crowd and that the game revolves around children's books, it makes sense that the overall story would be straight-forward and easy to comprehend. The usual melodramatic storytelling found in almost every numbered Final Fantasy wouldn't work well here. The story is just as simple as the popular children's stories retold in the game.

   The story's sole function serves to guide the player to the next objective. Chocobo Tales holds a variety of activities and games for the player, some optional and some required to continue the plot. Overall, though, the gameplay is good fun. The game's story is advanced by jumping into books lying around in the world. Each book contains a story remarkably reminiscent of a real-world children's story. For instance, "The Admantoise and the Cactuar" resembles the classic "The Turtoise and the Hare" and "The Boy Who Cried Leviathan" follows the structure of the "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." These are just a few examples of the many children's stories represented in the game, each with their own Final Fantasy twist featuring well-known characters and staples of the series. The player must complete the objectives set out in each book to complete the story and receive the proper ending. This is where the player will spend the majority of his or her time with the game.

Stylus Action The entire game can be played with the stylus, and it works really well.

   Each of the books is a mini-game of its own that requires use of the stylus to compete with NPCs or race against time to win. One example is the aforementioned "The Boy Who Cried Leviathan." In this mini-game, the player must swim through the underwater cave for as long as possible to avoid being eating by the angry, pursuing water serpent. To do this, the player will have to avoid obstacles that litter the course. Before Chocobo hits the bottom, the player must quickly and repeatedly swipe the stylus on the touch-screen to make Chocobo swim up and let him drop to avoid hitting the ceiling. In "The Admantoise and the Hare," the player must use the stylus to control the Admantoise and navigate through the course. Each book has its own unique minigame and, once certain objectives are completed, a readable epilogue will unlock, creating a miracle related to the story in the world. Miracles are what allow the player to progress in the story. For instance, unlocking the epilogue related to Ifrit, a fire spirit, creates a fire that melts the chunk of ice that blocks a path. Players may also repeat the mini-games to unlock new and rare cards for the Pop-Up Duels, explained below, and releasing Chocobo's friends from their card forms. Aside from mini-games, there are also micro-games scattered all about the world. Unlike the story book mini-games, these are completely optional and lack any sort of story element. Instead, they are simply straight-forward little tasks that net rare cards upon reaching the set high scores. Though the majority of the mini-games and micro-games are both fun and rewarding, a few are frustratingly difficult, since some are very unforgiving or just plain boring. Thankfully, there aren't too many of these, so the mini-games are quite fun overall, making for a unique and interesting interface.

    Aside from the frequent mini-games, the player must participate in Pop-Up Card Duels. Each and every one of these duels is a story-driven boss battle, which tally up to less than ten in all. In these battles, Chocobo and the opponent choose one of three randomly drawn cards from his own deck and the battle ensues. On each card there are four circles: red, blue, green, and yellow, one color on each side. In any given circle, a sword icon might appear, signifying an attack ability, or a shield icon, signifying defense. Each card has different abilities and parameters that depend on a successful attack or guard. For instance, a Goblin card might have an attack icon in the green circle. If the green circle on the opponent's card is empty, the attacks is successful. If a sword icon appears on the opponent's green, then the attack does half damage. And if a shield icon appears on the opponent's green circle, the attack fails, and the opponent is able to counter. When the attack succeeds, the parameter detailed on the card, such as the Goblin's "Deal 2 damage," is performed. Also, most cards have a certain elemental attribute, like fire and water. When that card successfully attacks or guards, its element color is added to the CP, or Crystal Point gauge. Stronger attacks require a certain number of CP to be used, like Cactuar'S 1000 Needles attack which requires two green CP and a successful attack to pull off. Overall, the Pop-Up Duels are simple, yet strategic and fun. Competing can be trying at times, though, as luck is an important factor. Much like any card game, if the player is dealt a bad hand, there's not much he or she can do about it. But it's a good thing that the player can assemble a custom deck, using cards won in mini-games and found in the world. Pop-Up Dueling is just another element of Chocobo Tales that makes gameplay such an enjoyable experience.

Simple Story The story is just as simple as the gameplay.

   Just like most Square Enix titles, the graphics and sound in Chocobo Tales are top-notch. The game features some of the best 3D and 2D graphics for the DS, even a bit better than Square Enix's own Final Fantasy III released just last year. The game has a fine mix of colorful 3D characters and settings and 2D pop-up figures and environments reminiscent of Nintendo's Yoshi's Island. The 2D graphics fit very well with the children's stories theme, as characters and environments pop up and move around similar to a pop-up book. This is easily one of the best-looking DS games yet. The sound doesn't hurt either. Many classic Final Fantasy themes make their return in the game, such as the battle theme for the original Final Fantasy. These tunes are just as great as in the old games and fit right into the game. The only complaint is that some songs are used far too much. Many of the games feature the same three or four tunes. As great as the music is, it gets quite repetitive very quickly. It would have been great if Square Enix had used a few more tracks from its immense library. There are a few original tracks made just for the game, but they aren't nearly as memorable as the classics. Overall, the graphics and sound are far better than your average DS game.

   In the end, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is one spin-off that Final Fantasy fans shouldn't miss. But, someone who has never played Final Fantasy or a Square Enix game will certainly enjoy this game as well. Either way, there's much fun to be had in Chocobo Tales. The game is recommended to anyone who isn't looking for a huge time commitment or an overly complex battle system. Though there's little replay value, other than beating high scores and perhaps competing with others through Wi-Fi, once it's over, just about anyone who likes pick-up-and-play style games will get a kick out of this one.

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