Logo for Byte Magazine at Ball State University

A Retrospective on ‘Chocobo Racing’

Note: The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.

Twenty-three years ago, Chocobo Racing raced its way onto the PlayStation One (PS1) and into my house. Well, I’m not sure when it entered my house, I’m not that old, but it’s always been there. In that time, it was one of the best games we owned and I never got sick of it. So, in the spirit of Chocobo GP’s launch, I wanted to revisit this old classic and see if it’s still able to cruise on in 2022 and how it compares to its distant sequel. 

Now, I’m not too concerned with the more obvious things, like how the game was already a bit ugly for a PS1 game, and time has done it no favors, or that the music is still good because audio doesn’t really age now that we’re in the CD era. I’m mostly concerned with how the game feels. Is it still fun to play after all these years? I often find controls are the first to go in a game. This makes sense, the PS1 and Nintendo 64 generation was the first with 3D games and developers were still learning how to make controls work with the new z-axis. Even a game like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the highest-rated game of all time, I find to have rather shoddy controls by today’s standard.

What’s Old is Uncontrolled

It’ll likely come as no surprise that I found the controls in Chocobo Racing to be pretty bad. Part of the issue is the awkwardness of not having a button to drift, but rather having to press both the accelerate and brake buttons at the same time to drift. Most of the control problems, however, is that despite this game featuring an analog controller graphic within the settings, it appears to just use eight-directional movement. No matter if I turned the control stick a little bit or all the way, the character seems to turn the same amount regardless. 

At first I thought that this could just be a placebo due to the fact that your character is just a two-dimensional sprite that faces either front, left, or right with little variation. However, when I checked out a game with similar character sprites from the generation that launched two years prior, Mario Kart 64, I found that it featured comparatively great analog movement. You’re able to fine-tune how sharp of a turn you want to make and it feels fantastic after playing with Chocobo’s physics. I’m not sure why Chocobo Racing’s controls ended up like they did, but it certainly is unfortunate.

If you’ve not read my review of Chocobo GP, which you totally should, the controls in it were one of the few points I had no complaints about. They’re tight, responsive, and I felt in control the entire time. If 23 years of game design has taught us anything, it’s how to make kart racing feel good. 

Photo by Mega Visions

Mirror Image

Interestingly, aside from modern controls, these two games are remarkably similar. On the main menu of Chocobo Racing, you’ll find five modes, Story Mode, Time Attack, Grand Prix, VS Mode, and Relay Race. On Chocobo GP you’ll find the addition of the titular Chocobo GP mode, and that Relay Race has been replaced with Custom Race. Everything else on the menu is the same.

Contradictory Images

Something that hasn’t remained the same between the two is the courses. What Chocobo GP gains in well-designed track layouts it loses in the charm and uniqueness of each Chocobo Racing course. Chocobo Racing was not going to win any awards for how each course was designed. Almost every course is filled with right-angle turns. Slamming into walls or falling off the edge quickly becomes the norm. The final story course of the game, Fantasia, is particularly bad as it is filled with tight turns, a narrow road, and a bottomless pit throughout most of it. 

Despite being infuriating at times, I love the courses in Chocobo Racing. Going through the story mode will have you racing through a sky garden, volcano, and crystal cavern all back to back. They’re all extremely memorable. By contrast, the courses in Chocobo GP are all laid out wonderfully, but I feel absolutely nothing while playing on them. They all contain blue skies, cheerful music, and either a countryside or medieval aesthetic.

Photo by Retro Gamer

What’s Old is Still Gold

Somehow, I’ve found myself enjoying Chocobo Racing more than Chocobo GP, which is not at all how I expected this to go. Chocobo Racing is incredibly dated, with the controls suffering, but I expect a certain amount of clunkiness when I go to play old games. It’s the older design that adds to the charm, and Chocobo Racing is nothing if not charming. It might have less content overall than Chocobo GP, but what it has is incredibly memorable. Or maybe I’m just looking at it with nostalgia-tinted glasses.

Feature Image: YouTube

Sources: Nintendo, Metacritics, Ball State Daily

Contact Ryan Minter with comments at rnminter@bsu.edu.