Final Fantasy is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, with over fifteen mainline entries and dozens more spin-offs, sequels, and mobile games as well. The franchise is very popular, so it’s understandable that it also expands outside of its video game origins, from films to anime series, and even print media. But even within printed media there’s tons to discover; from novels that expand on one of the original games, new manga stories set within the universe, and now we have a children’s picture book. This isn’t so left-field, as making picture books of older media enjoyed by an older audience (who may have children now) is becoming more common, Sqaure Enix released one previously based upon their MMO entry Final Fantasy XIV. Besides, one of Final Fantasy’s spin-off series, featuring one of its cutest creatures Chocobo, has been aimed at a younger audience in the past, so what does this cute picture book have to offer?
The picture book stars a Chocobo, who’s determined to help Cid build an airship, in hopes of defeating the Djinn who has taken over their home town and has a fortress in the sky. But how can they make a ship fly? Only with a magical flying stone! So, Cid and Chocobo set off on a heroic quest to find the crystal and save their town!
The story is penned by Kazuhiko Aoki, a game designer who’s worked on multiple mainline Final Fantasy titles and spin-off titles like Crystal Chronicles and Chocobo Racing, but also non-Final Fantasy titles like Chrono Trigger. The art is provided by character designer Toshiyuki Itahana, who’s worked across Final Fantasy IX, Crystal Chronicles spin-off series, and multiple Chocobo games too. So, it’s safe to say that the Final Fantasy picture book, based off the cute bird mascot of the series, is in very good hands. Let’s first look at the art and design of the book; it’s a lovely hardback book with a beautifully colourful dust jacket too, and if you’re a long-time fan of the series, you’ll pick up many key visual references to other games as well. The Cave of Ice that Cid and Chocobo must enter to find the crystal looks very much like the Ice Cavern in Final Fantasy IX; the battle scene with the Djinn has the well-known character classes illustrated sideways, positioned how they are in the older games in combat, and the crystal design feels familiar to many crystals across the series. It’s all ‘hand painted’ style as well, which gives it a timeless, home-made feel to the story. The new characters made for the book (like the townsfolk) all look cute and distinct, and you have many familiar monster designs like Bombs in here as well.
The tale of the picture book has been marketed by Square Enix for ‘all ages’, and for the most part, it is. It’s a fun little adventure with RPG-esque elements (going on a quest, finding friends/allies on the way, saving the day from monsters, etc) but by ‘all ages’ I would say that the story is gentle enough for younger ages but it’s quite long (at 40 pages) for toddlers (my 3-year-old son, who loves to read, got bored midway through the book) and vocabulary-wise, with its bigger words like ‘teetering’ and ‘untimely’, it’s not recommend for kids to read by themselves until Key Stage 2 (8 years old+). I would suggest that adult Final Fantasy fans, hoping to get their kids into the series, read this to them until they’re able to read the tale themselves. Speaking as a Final Fantasy fan, as well as a parent who reads a lot of kids’ books, I would say that this book is mostly ‘fine’ on the enjoyment scale. The story is cute and simple, but it also assumes that the reader knows a lot of the Final Fantasy tropes and quirks already prior to reading. For example, Chocobo and Cid are saved by a Warrior, Red Mage, Black Mage and White Mage team, but the book never explains who they are or what they do individually, and Chocobo’s kick move is important for the finale of the book but his talent for this is never set up beforehand. It feels like a story made up by a fan, for a fan, later converted into a kid’s story, without realising that the younger audience might need more context (and perhaps some editing of the vocabulary) to make the book more accessible to the different audience. But Kazuhiko Aoki admits in the back cover that this is his first attempt at a picture book, so mistakes are expected and forgiven. He talks about wanting to write a light novel next, so hopefully this writing experience will help for next time.
Chocobo and the Airship: A Final Fantasy Picture Book is a beautifully drawn, cute little story for any Final Fantasy collector out there, for parents wanting to gently introduce this RPG favourite to their kids, it might be a good introduction if you help fill in some of the gaps and context the story lacks, but overall, it’s a well-made book. If more picture books were to come from this, there’s a lot more fun that we can have with Chocobo in the future.