Week Eight: Chocobos!
SPOILER ALERT!! This feature by its very nature contains spoilers for every Final Fantasy game. If you don’t want your cherry popped, make sure to skip the bits about games you haven’t played yet.
(Note: this week’s entry was going to be about music again, but it turns out I’m a liar. Whoops! Somehow, I expect no one will be disappointed…)
Behold the chocobo, noble steed of the Final Fantasy series. Is there any aspect of the series more iconic, more all-encompassingly representative than its beloved mascot? The folks at the Final Fantasy Wiki don’t seem to think so; they use one right there in their logo. Throughout the series chocobos have been ridden, bred, captured, flown, fed, chased, hunted, rented and raced — about the only thing you can’t do with one is eat it. (But don’t hold me to that; I hear Final Fantasy XIV is going to have a pretty robust cooking system.)
It was difficult to determine which FF game had the “best” chocobos since, obviously, every chocobo is great. I knew going into this list which showing would take the top, and which the bottom, but the middle is pretty much just a hodgepodge of adorable avian goodness. Possibly the most famous part of the chocobo mythos is the myriad of ways that timeless theme music has been remixed. I’ve presented links to many of these wonderful ditties as part of the exhibit.
Final Fantasy I: Chocowha…??
There are no chocobos in the first Final Fantasy. The little bird in that image is a cockatrice, not a chocobo. I believe cockatrices are the only birds in the entire FF1 world, which makes them the closest thing to chocobos you’ll find. Instead of being adorable and letting you ride them around, they turn you to stone and generally just suck out loud. I hate them.
I don’t know what else to tell you. The lack of chocobos in FF1 is a profound disappointment, but you can’t really blame the game for it; chocobos hadn’t been invented yet. We can, however, fault the various remakes for not adding them in retroactively. They wouldn’t have had to do much, you know? I don’t need to ride one, man. Just… have a forest tile somewhere in the world lead to a chocobo farm where I can see them. Put my mind at ease. No? Can’t even meet me halfway on this? Fine.
Screw you, cockatrices.
Final Fantasy X: Worst Minigame Ever
(♪♪ Chocobo Jam)
At the most fundamental level, the entire point of having chocobos is to present the player some way of traversing the world map quickly without having to worry about random encounters. Well, Final Fantasy X doesn’t have a traditional world map, so the riding of chocobos is limited to two maps: the Mi’ihen Highroad and the Calm Lands.
This isn’t why FF10 scored so low on the chocobo list, mind you; any amount of chocobo-riding is awesome and therefore given its due consideration. Plus, both of those maps are huge and having a bird sprint you across is a godsend if you ever decide to cross them more than once.
At some point, though, an FF10 player will get it into his head to start collecting his party’s super weapons. This is accomplished by a series of tear-inducingly unreasonable tasks, and yes, they soil the good name of the noble chocobo in pursuit of this goal. See, if you want Tidus’s super weapon, you have to complete the Calm Lands chocobo race in 0’00”.
That wasn’t a typo. You really and truly have to finish in zero seconds.
You accomplish this by collecting balloons strewn lazily around the track — each balloon knocks a few seconds off the clock, allowing you to complete the circuit in negative time. This whole business is stupid enough as is, but then they go and throw seagulls at you. The last leg of the track has an entire flock of ocean birds swooping down at you, and a single one is sufficient to knock you flat on your ass and ruin your chances of ever seeing your super-sword. Not only do you have to run the race flawlessly, you have to do so while contending with randomly-spawned obstacles and putting up with shoddy hit detection! Joy!
Screw you, seagulls.
Final Fantasy VI: Mode 7 Chocobos
(♪♪ Techno de Chocobo)
The good news is, all of the negative chocobo experiences are behind us. It’s all good from here on out. The absolute worst thing that can be said for the chocobos in Final Fantasy VI is that they’re kinda dull.
Considering the top-notch showing of the previous two entries, FF6 sort of only includes them for the sake of tradition. You never need to ride one in the course of the plot, and there’s only one or two points in the game where it’s really beneficial to rent one. In fact, the only exceedingly useful chocobo stable I can think of is in Nikeah; you can rent a bird there, ride it all the way to Barren Falls, then take the Serpent Trench back to Nikeah, thereby giving Mog a chance to learn his Water Rondo dance. The chocobo’s role in all this is just to save you a couple minutes on the world map.
There are no seagulls, though, nor cockatrices, so FF6 wins.
Final Fantasy VIII: Have fun with the import fees!
(♪♪ Mods de Chocobo)
Similar to FF6, chocobos in Final Fantasy VIII really only exist to carry on tradition. You can still ride them, but there aren’t a lot of instances where this helps you — at least not until Disc Four, when you need a chocobo in order to reach your stranded spaceship.
There was a somewhat baffling sidequest where you could befriend a baby chocobo that doesn’t seem to help in any particular way. Unless, that is, you imported some kind of crazy device called a PocketStation, which granted you access to a wristwatch-quality minigame called Chocobo World. I don’t know anything at all about this game except that it apparently exists, and if played long enough would grant bonuses back in FF8 in the form of treasure or magic spells or whatever else. I feel like I should take a minute here and research whether or not there’s anything in FF8 that’s only available via a link to Chocobo World, but I’m afraid I’d just depress myself.
Screw you, PocketStation.
Final Fantasy II: The Very First Chocobo
Several weeks ago I joked about wanting to find some aspect of Final Fantasy II that would let it claim a spot near the top of one of these ranked lists. A helpful commenter suggested I rank the games in order of cool things they introduced to the series. Surely FF2, being the first game to feature chocobos, would take top billing! Well, no, I think the gold medal in the “Introduce Cool Things” event would have to go to FF1 for introducing the series. But FF2 would take the bronze at worst.
What’s really interesting about FF2 is that it doesn’t really feature a chocobo so much as a kind of archaic proto-chocobo. Half of the theme music is missing, for starters. They’re only available at one very particular point on the world map. I especially like Amano’s early concept artwork, where instead of a fluffy yellow mascot we all know and love, the chocobo is depicted as a gargantuan featherless dinosaur creature.
The way FF2’s map is laid out, virtually every location in the world is reachable on foot — and therefore by chocobo. To find one, just take the airship to Kashuon (this only costs a couple hundred gil) and then walk directly south into the woods. Voila! Just be careful where you dismount; if you get off somewhere the monsters are too strong for you, then save your game for whatever reason, you’re pretty much boned. Because, see, even in matters of chocobo, FF2 hates you.
Screw you, FF2.
Final Fantasy III: Summonings and Inventory Management
To celebrate the first game in the series to really get some mileage out of chocobos, I tried to find a good screenshot of the Chocobo summon spell in action. This proved surprisingly difficult, so I resolved to get one on my own. The way I normally go about this is to just download a rom and an endgame savestate, but even in this the internet failed me. I wasn’t about to replay half the game just to unlock the Summoner job though, so I grabbed some Game Genie codes and cranked the emulator up to 300% speed. I realized even this would take too long though, so I buckled down and got thinky. I googled every combination of search terms I could think of and scoured the landscape of emulation sites left over from 1999. There’s apparently a great FF3 rom hacking app out there, but it only works with NESticle, which (as I found out) hasn’t worked on a version of Windows since I was in high school.
By that time I was ass-deep in a hex-editing FAQ, and it dawned on me I had invested the better part of two hours in search of something I was just going to crop into a 150×150 image for part of my chocobo article. I gave up and slapped some crap together from the Final Fantasy III DS intro FMV. You’re welcome.
Anyway, take my word for it: you can summon chocobos to attack monsters in this game, and you can stuff all your unwanted gear inside of a fat one. Oh, and there’s a pretty decent sidequest where you get prizes if you ride one all the way around the world. I’m too frustrated to talk about any of that, though.
Screw you, NESticle.
For the first 600 hours you spend playing Final Fantasy XI you have to walk everywhere. Everywhere. They won’t let you on an airship, you can’t learn any warp magic, and anyone who knows warp magic is too busy to take care of your pathetic newbie butt anyway. Just to salt the wound a bit all of the newbie areas are right next to the capital cities, where mid- and high-level players inevitably have a lot of business. So while you’re hoofing it all over creation you are constantly seing way-cooler-than-you people ride by on their chocobos.
You will hate all of those people, and you will hate chocobos. Every time you see one of them and you realize they’re going to get where you’re going in less than half the time, you want to reach into the screen and strangle yourself.
But then you ding L20 and, one slightly annoying quest later, you get your chocobo license and find out the sad truth: those players weren’t any better off than you, really. Sure they travel faster — and in style — but they have to cover three or four extra zones just to get to their leveling spot.
Still though, reaching an important milestone in an MMO is a Big Hairy Deal, and as milestones go chocobos are one of the biggest and hairiest. Plus, in one of the newer expansions, they let you raise a bird of your very own. I asked my go-to guy for all things FF11 whether or not this was at all annoying, and he assures me it’s not at all annoying even in the slightest. He has Stockholm Syndrome though, so I don’t know if I’d trust his word.
Screw you, Swamptrot. (I don’t know what that is.)
Final Fantasy XII: They make ’em tougher in Ivalice.
(♪♪ Chocobo ~FFXII Version~)
It’s easy to forget this, but chocobos technically are monsters. The only FF setting to consistently sell this is Ivalice, and Final Fantasy XII lives up to expectations by having an entire menagerie of chocobos to kill for their delicious EXP. Chocobos of all shapes and sizes and colores, roaming the wilderness, ripe for the picking. There’s even a rare super-powered L99 chocobo wandering around one particular map for those (un)lucky enough to stumble upon it.
None of them hold a candle to Trickster, though. Trickster is an ultra-fast white chocobo who can turn invisible and erect a perfect damage shield. When you agree to hunt down Trickster, there’s really no way to know what you’re getting yourself into. The fight starts out well enough, but Trickster is just lulling you into a false sense of security. When you get him down to a quarter or so of his total health he kicks it up into overdrive, running around the map at warp speed, immune to all forms of damage, engaged in an all-out war with your hapless party. He favors hit-and-run tactics; he can dart in, one-shot-kill one of your teammates, and dash away before anyone else can even target him with a single attack.
Like all the Elite Marks in FF12, finally toppling Trickster is almost euphorically satisfying. You even get a cute little icon in your Sky Pirate Den to show for it. Truly one of the most epic chocobos to ever exist.
You can ride them too, of course. Normal chocobos, I mean. Pay for one, take it out, yadda yadda. Nothin’ fancy. Hardly worth mentioning. Moving on, then?
Final Fantasy IV has all the same types of chocobos as its predecessor; yellow ones you can ride, combat-ready ones you can tell your little green girl to summon, and fat ones you can stash your excess inventory in. Someone realized, though, that with FF4 they were truly building a mythologhy around Final Fantasy as a setting. And part of that mythology? More chocobos! We therefore get two brand new styles: black ones and white ones.
The use of the white chocobo is subtle: catching one restores all of the party’s MP. If you have a white magic user in the party you can find a white chocobo, waste all your MP casting Cure spells, then catch the white chocobo again — bam! All the benefits of an inn stay, except free. The practical use of this trick is actually pretty narrow — it’s not like that 100 gil or whatever is going to make or break you after all — but it feels like you’re getting away with something, and that’s what’s really important.
Black chocobos are the real new hotness here. See, they can fly. Like an airship. Well, a neutered airship, anyway; they can’t travel over mountains. You need to catch a black chocobo in order to advance the plot at one point in order to take advantage of its ability to land in places your airship can’t, and later in the game you can utilize the black chocobo forest to consolidate all your airships and other miscellaneous vehicles into a single location.
Er, that last thing is way, way more awesome than it sounds. I think. It’s possible I’ve just played too much FF4 for my own good.
Sazh Katzroy, the suave gunman character from Final Fantasy XIII, keeps a baby chocobo in his afro. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. This baby chocobo — this frocobo, as it were — is totally great. Sazh is sort of a comic relief character, see, and his mascot bird gives that aspect of his character a little more dimension than simply “lol goofy negro is goofy”.
Frocobo aside, I found the chocobos in FF13 to be very well-designed. There’s only one map you can ride them on, the Archylte Steppe, but that one map is larger than the entire overworld of some of the series’s titles. The player first arrives at the Archlyte Steppe in Chapter 11 and… wow. Let’s just say, there’s a reason people describe the first ten chapters as a really long tutorial. Exploring the Steppe in its entirety, doing and seeing everything it has to offer, is a massive undertaking. Chocobos are a big part of what makes this particular area of the game so majestic.
It’s not just how long it takes to cross from one end of the Steppe to the other, see — there are entire huge portions of the map you can only reach while on a chocobo. And unlike the previous two games, you may stay on board for as long as you can manage to steer yourself around the meandering monsters — no preset time limit. To make things better, you’ll periodically be prompted to dig up buried treasure by pecking it out of the ground. A little bit of everything, come to think of it.
Finally, after thirteen games and however many spinoffs, the oft-remixed chocobo theme music finally gets some lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re dumb lyrics. But they made me grin nonetheless — of course chocobo lyrics are going to be dumb. But this is a tune that has been begging to be sung ever since it originated in FF2, and that dream has now been realized.
By this point in the series the designers were running out of tricks. Black chocobos could already fly; if they were made any more rad, they’d make airships completely obsolete… and quite frankly, airships were here first. Worse, they had re-designed the inventory system to be non-retarded, and had no more use for the fat chocobo and its bottomless gullet. Really, what could they give chocobos to take them to the next level?
“How about plot relevance?” someone asked.
Final Fantasy V only barely has a story as it is, so they could get away with goofy weirdness like giving the hero’s pet chocobo a touch of characterization and his own subplot. Let’s be clear: Boko it not a major player in the grand scheme of FF5… but he’s just prominent enough to give Bartz a touch of extra heart, and to offer a bit of comic relief after one of the game’s most climactic paradigm shifts. See, while Bartz is off adventuring on some alien world, Boko hooks up with a ladybird named Koko and has a whole flock of chocobo chicks, much to the surprise of his pirate caretakers. How precious!
There are some clever sidequests towards the end of the game that require Boko to complete, including a rechargable magic item that casts Summon magic for free. By the time this item is down to summoning chocobos itself, you know it’s time to hop back on Boko and go re-up.
So chocobos were awesome in FF5, and then kind of an afterthought in FF6. For Final Fantasy VII someone revisited the original idea of how to make chocobos better than just being able to fly. What they came up with was the awe-inspiring golden chocobo which can cross any kind of terrain. It zips straight over mountains and along the surface of the ocean — the only reason you still need an airship at all is there’s no other way to enter the final dungeon.
Ah, but the game makes you work for this legendary omni-chocobo. Standing between you and the sweetest ride on the Planet is severeal hours of racing, a few generations of incest and a trip or two to the elusive Chocobo Sage. I mean GameFAQs.
In FF7 you are put in charge of an entire stable of chocobos and given explicit instructions on how to capture, raise, feed, train and breed them. Between “normal yellow chocobo” and “kickass gold chocobo” is a labyrinthine twist of monster drops, monetary investment and randomness. I believe you can suss the method out legitimately, but no honest player ever has.
The process also involves many, many chocobo races. This time will just fly by, though, because chocobo racing is wicked fun. The racetrack is this bizarre cotton candy nightmare world that could only exist in the fevered bowels of a Final Fantasy game. Racing is simple, addictive, and — dare I say? — cathartic. You could surgically remove this part of FF7 and package it as its own game.
Oh wait, they did, in the FF series’s mascot kart racer for PlayStation, Chocobo Racing. Why Square-Enix is depriving us of a modern version of this game (with online play plzthx) is beyond me.
Once again the developers were at a loss when it came to topping FF7’s incredible chocobo content, so for FF8 they didn’t even try. For Final Fantasy IX, though, it was time to go back to the drawing board. “What if,” someone posited, “we combined the deep minigame aspects of FF7 with FF5’s sense of having your very own choco-buddy?” The result was Zidane’s adopted bird Choco.
When Zidane meets Choco he is but a simple yellow bird capable of crossing fields and not much else. By the end of the game he is a majestic golden creature capable of crossing any terrain and of flight. The path from point A to point B isn’t nearly as obtuse this time, and the high-octane races have been replaced by a frantic treasure hunting minigame.
Treasure hunting with Choco comes in two distinct phases. First is the actual minigame, Chocobo Hot & Cold. In this game you run around a small map pecking at the ground. The closer you are to buried treasure, the more excited Choco’s responses will be. Upon successfully unearthing a treasure Choco will get a little stronger, enabling him to dig deeper and faster. Eventually he will start unearthing Chocographs.
Chocograph in hand, Zidane and Choco enter the second phase of their treasure hunting adventure. Each Chocograph comes with a picture of the spot the buried treasure is, along with a short hint on where in the world you should start looking. Thus begins a mad search spanning the entire world, requiring the player to really dig in and explore the overworld in a way that hasn’t been reasonable since the 8-bit days. When you finally manage to find that funny-shaped island or that exact pont where two rivers come together, Choco unearths a cache of ancient treasure: powerful weapons and armor, rare consumables, or, best of all, a new terrain ability. When Choco’s color changes, that means he can now walk through shallow water, or over mountains, or whatever the case may be.
It also means new sections of his Hot & Cold maps are now accessible, and therefore new Chocographs are available. Thus does the cycle begin again.
As minigames and sidequests go, it’s hard to think of a better one than Choco’s incredible treasure hunting escapade. If you were to play the entire scenario start to finish (as I did on my first playthrough, as I completely missed the Chocobo Forest on Disc One) you would spend six or seven hours unearthing goodies and puzzling out the mysteries of the Chocographs — and you’d do it all without ever getting into a single fight. Sublime.
Dear readers, hopefully you leave me today knowing a little something more about these wonderful creatures and the enduring mark they’ve left upon the Final Fantasy series. It’s clear they were trying to strike this match again with critters like moogles and tonberries and cactuars, but nobody was biting — the chocobo is the series mascot, now and forever.
The question is, where does the series go from here? FF14 is an MMO, so we can likely look forward to more breeding/racing/renting etc., but beyond that? A chocobo as the final boss? A half-human half-chocobo party member? Chocobahamut? The possibilities are endless.
Thank you for reading!