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Final Fantasy 1988 to 2016: The Evolution of the Chocobo

Birds do not say, “WARK!” I don’t know what kind of birds Hironobu Sakaguchi and the rest of the original creators of Final Fantasy were hanging out with, but it’s a safe bet that they chirped, squawked, honked, or quacked. Those are the noises real birds make. Wark is the sound of fake birds, yellow freaks that can carry the weight of giant swords and beast men all while traversing mountains or walking on water. Wark is the call of the chocobo, Final Fantasy’s enduring beast of burden, a terrifying cross between a hyper-intelligent ostrich and the friendliest chicken in history. First introduced way back in 1988, the chocobo has warped and warked its way through myriad forms.

The chocobo’s first appearance came not in the 1987 original but its divisive sequel, a game where you could only build defense stats by letting a goblin punch you in the face for hours. While Final Fantasy 2’s bizarre battle system flummoxed players, they were also delighted by the appearance of a yellow bird with an enormous head that you could ride in the overworld. This is also the origin of Nobuo Uematsu’s “Waltz de Chocobo,” a theme song with legs.

What’s better than a pleasant yellow bird? How about a morbidly obese demigod version of the bird that graciously stores items for you? The Fat Chocobo became a series regular after Final Fantasy 3, and even a summoned monster used for trampling enemies in later games. He’s pleasant and jolly, like a cross between Bird Santa and the manager at Bird Bank where you keep your Bird Safety Deposit Box.

Like the ostriches and emu that it looks like a grotesque clone of, the chocobo is a flightless bird. At least the yellow variety are flightless. Final Fantasy 4 actually introduced the first color variation chocobos, including the high-flying black chocobo. This righteous ebony warker can take to the air when he pops up late in the game.

Before 1992, all the chocobos you met in Final Fantasy were just generic critters. Hitch a ride on one for a while, but don’t expect it to stick around. Final Fantasy 5 introduced the first chocobo who was an actual character. Boko, loyal friend to lead character Bartz, hangs out with you through the beginning of the game. While he gets tragically left behind, he comes back later in the story a married bird. His wife Koko is even taking care of some eggs. Boko, you charmer, you.

The chocobo didn’t change much in Final Fantasy 6. Stables that rented chocobo rides appeared in towns, but the birds themselves were the same as ever. Final Fantasy 7 changed that but good. Not only did chocobos become the fulcrum of a massive gambling industry based on racing the ridiculous beasts, you could spend hours upon hours breeding them. Blue and green chocobos can cross shallow bodies of water, black chocobos can scale mountains, and mythical gold chocobos can traverse any terrain they damn well please. Golden birds can only be discovered after killing mystical god machines, stealing a rose from their guts, and getting really lucky in the mating process. This whole chocobo thing may have gotten out of hand here.

Shortly after Final Fantasy 7 went hog wild with bird romance, the chocobo got his own game for the very first time. Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon was a variation on a long running Japanese series of rogue-like RPGs. You played as the adorably stubby chocobo Poulet and explored randomly generated dungeons, searching for treasure and wearing costumes so charming and sweet they could cause diabetes.

Then an inventor gave a chocobo some jet-propelled rollerblades. That chocobo started a racing league where she faced off against an NYPD detective with mitochondria-based superpowers, an angry cactus that can run like Steve Prefontaine, and Cloud Strife on a motorcycle. This is a real thing that happened.

Following 2001, the chocobo stopped changing too much. Final Fantasy 10 marked the first time that the birds showed up next to characters who were also realistically proportioned--well, semi-realistically, as Waka’s hair is a physical impossibility--and they grew in scale and realism as well. The elongated, tall chocobos weren’t as cute but they did look like thing human beings could actually ride. There have been slight visual tweaks since, like a more muscular, dinosaur-like physique in Final Fantasy 13 and the lean, graceful variation in Final Fantasy 14, but they’ve stayed pretty much the same. Most recently they’ve popped up in preview versions of Final Fantasy 15, where they happily brodown with Noctis’ crew of fantasy broduskis.

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