I think I know what a Pokemon feels like.
I'm not much of a Final Fantasy buff, but I know what Chocobos are. They are those big yellow birds that heroes routinely ride to suit their transporting needs until they find a ship that may or may not be airborne. I also know what Pokemon are. They are creatures that inhabit a world in which the humans live with and utilize them for tasks and other purposes, and they are stuffed into a ball for storage. You wouldn't think that they have much in common, but they do. Both are used to serve human convenience and both are then tucked away into forests or small spheres. Both are used by the ruling human class to participate in gladiatorial combat for the amusement of their owners. And finally, at times both get their share of the limelight in sidestories. Chocobo Tales is one of those times where the workhorse gets a chance to shine, even if that shining is still at the behest of the workhorse's masters.
First, a quick and dirty description. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales is a single-player Mario Party game with an above average card game and oodles of Final Fantasy fanwank. It was actually sort of fun having my Final Fantasy Fanatic brother identify the music that was playing out of my DS. "Hey… that's from V. Hey… that's from the first!" Yes, a lot of old music has been remixed. In fact, having unlocked the sound test, I can say that the only totally original piece of music in the game is the game's theme, and even that is a remix of the Chocobo music that is so familiar to us all. But it's all good.
So what is actually happening in this game? That is to say, what is this yellow bird's motivation? Well, a white mage named Shirma wants to read a book to all the chocobos on this farm, when a black mage named Croma busts into the scene with another book for Shirma to read. She accepts, the book eats all the chocobos except hero chocobo, and hey, guess what? You gotta free them all. This heroic act is done by finding storybooks dispersed throughout a surprisingly large game world and completing the challenges therein, all to the tune of familiar old stories most of us have heard before, like "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." All, of course, gussied up in Final Fantasy attire. In each storybook is a mini-game that is not unlike the ones you would find in Mario Party, except a little longer and more in depth. For example, in the "Tortoise and Hare" type story, the player must guide a turtle up a mountain in order to defeat a cactuar… whatever that is. In the "Shiva and Ifrit" story, you collect fruit that falls down from the top screen. You get the idea. The game progresses like this, finding more books and playing more mini-games until the "boss battles" occur, in which the player brings in the aforementioned card game. I won't get into the rules of the card game, but rest assured it is not nearly as complex as Yu-Gi-Oh. You can unlock more powerful cards by completing more difficult levels of the mini-games, though this action also has effects on the outside world as well. And that's the game, really.
Now that's all well and good, but is the game fun? Surprisingly, yes. The game design for each mini-game is very solid, and the card game is also strategic without the need for an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules. This card game is available to play through WiFi, which I did for a couple of rounds to see how it performed. I found little to zero lag and felt it went as smoothly as the duels in the single player game. The mini-games are not available to play on WiFi, but all of them are playable locally via Multi-Card wireless. Rarely was I not challenged or entertained by the content, and I found a strange urge to continue playing. And here I will have a special note about the presentation. The graphics of this game are very creative and in some cases downright amazing. Most of the visuals have a storybook-meet-Paper Mario look that is more than welcome on the DS and looks great to boot. The sound quality is also an aural pleasure, and these two facets really show that Square Enix knows how to push out the production qualities of the DS.
So, how does Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales make me feel like a Pokemon? Mostly because the hero character still runs errands around for the humans as they stand oblivious to the world around them. They run this poor bird ragged, and all he gets for his efforts is a bunch of cards for a fictional game. Whoopee.