Final Fantasy XIV
FFXIV is, by about 4000 hours and counting, the Final Fantasy game I've spent the longest time playing. That means I've had a damn lot of time to get used to the chocobo offerings in XIV, and it's why
XIV is my choice for the first review in this series. Overall, Final Fantasy XIV gets a total chocobo rating of:
Riding a chocobo in XIV gets the job done and not much more. There's no actual difference between riding and walking on foot except that it's faster and you can fly if you have flight unlocked in the area. That means there's not really any joy in it, except the innate greatness of being seated upon a chocobo. There's also no difference between riding on a chocobo and literally any other mount in the game, of which there are many. It's great to have variety, but most people don't care enough about chocobos to use them over another mount they find more appealing, so your chocobo becomes kind of redundant after unlocking other mounts. It does get a few points for having pretty nice ground animations. I especially like the walking animation even if there's rarely any cause to use it beyond roleplaying.
They've got very cute faces, with just the right lack of any thought behind their eyes. Their legs look good too, with feet that look well able to hold them up. However, I do think that the plumes and tails of the ordinary chocobos look a bit odd especially if they have no or only lightweight tack. The colour of their feathers is just right, though, and the wings are well shaped. The build is perhaps a little thin and light, though. Overall a very solid chocobo design; you look at it and say "Yep, that's a chocobo." Has just enough cuteness and personality.
The sounds that chocobos make in this game are very endearing and sweet. There's no chocobo sound effect that takes me out of the game by being obviously stock or just not sounding very chocobo-ey like there are in some other games. Only thing is they don't make many of them, I guess. Perhaps some people would find that annoying but as mentioned previously there's like a bajillion other mounts you could pick intead and I personally prefer chocobos to be a little more vocal.
Although the theme that plays for riding the default company chocobo mount is a pretty middling one, it does have a few winners beyond the company chocobo theme. The chocobo porter theme is one of my favourite renditions of the chocobo theme (just tragically underheard by virtue of being tied to a mechanic that's nearly completely useless after 5 hours of playtime) and there was a solid enough remaster of Fiddle de Chocobo for the racing minigame. It also gets points for playing "TVCM Part 1" at the end of the Omega raid series, which is a top tier yet critically underrated version of the chocobo theme.
This is REALLY where XIV shines chocobo-wise, and I would argue it's what saves the chocobos in this game entirely. For one, there's the companion chocobo system, which allows you to have your chocobo with you on the field and have him battle overworld enemies with you. While this may not be particularly relevant, since there are only a couple of reason you would ever be fighting overworld enemies past level 15 or so, it is very helpful when you are doing those few things (you wouldn't believe how many times my chocobo's healer skills have saved my butt doing FATEs!) and it lets you have your bird with you while you're doing quests which I love.
There's also the chocobo customisation features. You can change your chocobo's feather colour to any of the game's dye colours (provided you have a house/apartment and plenty of colouring feed), and there's also chocobo bardings which let you dress up your chocobo in a variety of different outfits which can be mixed and matched. You obtain the bardings by crafting, from some battles, from achievements, or by purchasing them from special vendors and other players. You can also dress up your racing chocobos, although instead of being able to freely dye their feathers, their colour is decided only by genetics, so you'll have a lot of breeding to do if you want a specific colour. You can really make your chocobo yours!
And on the topic of your chocobo being yours, another thing I appreciate about the chocobos in XIV is that rather than just renting a random chocobo, your chocobo is yours to keep permanently. I always appreciate it when a game lets you have your own chocobo, since it lets you build an attachment to your bird like you can't really do otherwise.
Then there's, of course, chocobo racing! Chocobo racing in XIV may not be the peak of racing games, but it's a fun side thing and I like the breeding system. My main issue would be that there's not all that much in the way of built variety. You can choose from a bunch of different once per race or passive abilities to have in your race, but your ultimate goal is always just going to be breeding a chocobo with maxxed out stats and after that it doesn't matter that much what abilities you pick. Plus, not enough people play it to reliably get real people in a race, and unless your chocobo seriously sucks you can consistently steamroll the bots at higher difficulties. And while they're a bit of an acquired taste, I think that the controls are pretty nice. There's a bit of delay on all your inputs that makes it feel less like you're moving yourself and more like directing an animal. Racing can also give you a bunch of achievements which give you chocobo-related titles, chocobo barding, and a cute chocobo mask for your character!
It's also highly appreciated that XIV has a whole host of chocobo-themed fashion and housing items to choose from. There's a chocobo costume bodysuit, and two heads to go with it; the afforementioned mask from chocobo racing and a fat chocobo mask which can be purchased with a special currency obtained by earning achievements. There's gloves with chocobos on them (earned by making progress in the Island Sanctuary side activity, notable for letting you keep a farm of 20+ chocobos if you so desire), a chocobo apron, and if you're willing to shell out an extra 15 euro for the collector's edition of the Stormblood expansion, there's also a chocobo sword for red mages, and surely others I forgot to mention. Then on the housing front you have chocobo tables and chairs, a giant chocobo pillar, several chocobo plushies, even chocobo wallpaper and flooring. You can imagine what my in-game apartment looks like.
You can also get a number of chocobo minions that follow you around the game looking cute. There's a million different kinds of chocobo hatchlings, a tiny fat chocobo, even Bartz from V riding on Boko which is from the same Stormblood collector's edition as the sword. The only minion I regularly use is Wayward Hatchling, which is a simple yellow chocobo hatchling and also the first minion I ever got. I spent almost all the gil I had at the time to get one after crossing Thanalan on foot to go to the weavers' guild and buy some items (I was living the free trial life and had no access to the market board!) and Wayward Hatchling has been at my side ever since.
Also, Alpha. Must I even say any more?
And that's the end of the review, bringing the rating to a 6.3/10. I think that XIV's chocobos have some really solid ideas and concepts, but they're being held back quite severely by the game's movement engine and MMO nature that prevent them from shining. Ultimately, no amount of cute wallpaper and dress-up can quite make up for a mount not being particularly nice to ride, even if it does give a lot of material for chocobo lovers to work with!