Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII [Special Limited Edition] [European Release]
Game: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Platform: Sony PSP
Crisis Core, the prequel to groundbreaking 1997 RPG Final Fantasy VII, has been a long time coming. It was originally announced for the PSP in 2004, endured numerous delays, and after a playable demo was made available in 2006, the game was released last September in Japan. After all the waiting, Crisis Core made its way to the U.S. two weeks ago, finishing the story eleven years in the making. It was worth the wait.
Crisis Core’s story isn’t merely some tacked-on plot that Square Enix threw together in order to milk the Final Fantasy franchise, as some people may believe. The origins of this story were established over a decade ago, and the rest of Zack’s tale is unraveled beautifully throughout this game. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the game’s storyline, and it featured plenty of memorable cinematic moments both heartfelt and heartbreaking.
Crisis Core stars Zack Fair, a member of the elite SOLDIER who longs to become a hero. For those unfamiliar with the storyline of Final Fantasy VII, Zack appeared in flashbacks and was known to be a former friend of Cloud’s and ex-boyfriend of the lovely Aerith. However, there was still a lot about Zack that was unknown before Crisis Core, and the game fills in the blanks wonderfully.
Instead of being just a Cloud clone, Zack is his own person, and a fitting hero for the Final Fantasy series. Crisis Core has a fantastic blend of new and returning characters. There are a few familiar faces, most notably Cloud, Sephiroth, and Aerith, but they definitely belong there; their appearances are not an attempt by Squenix to win some nostalgia points. Overall, the cast of characters is very likeable, and just makes it easier to love this game.
Graphically, it looks like Crisis Core is pushing the PSP to its absolute limits. The numerous cinematic cut scenes are absolutely gorgeous, and accompanied by fantastic voice-acting. There are a few moments when the voice doesn’t quite match up to the character’s moving lips, but overall the game was translated for U.S. audiences very well. The only problem with these sequences is that they cannot be skipped, which is an issue if you get killed after five or ten minutes of scenes and have to watch them all over again. Still, that gripe is a small one, and Crisis Core has made a fantastic cinematic achievement with this game.
The in-game graphics are obviously not as good, but still look nice when held up against other PSP games. Certain locations from Final Fantasy VII, like Nibelheim, Shinra Headquarters, and the Midgar church where Aerith grows her flowers have been beautifully recreated. There are times, however, when the environments seem a little scarce, which seems to happen most often on side missions, during which the same locations are visited over and over again.
While the soundtrack isn’t as extraordinary as Final Fantasy VII’s score (arguably the best original game soundtrack of all time), it does feature a pleasant blend of new music and remixes of old classics. Aerith’s theme and the intense Boss Fight music are just a few familiar sounds you will hear in this game. Pair this with the great voice work, and Crisis Core is definitely an audio treat.
The battle system in Crisis Core is a far cry from FFVII’s turned-based fighting. Like many action/RPGs, Zack fights alone, and the battles take place in real time, though they are still random. Much like Kingdom Hearts, Crisis Core has a whole lot of hack-and-slash action, although switching to materia (that’s magic in the FFVII world) or using items is a piece of cake using the trigger buttons. Instead of selecting a target, the enemy nearest to you is automatically targeted, although nearby foes will also take damage if they’re too close to the targeted enemy.
The game’s biggest problem is the DMW system, which could have been great, but instead falls short. The DMW (short for “Digital Mind Wave”) is a constantly-running series of reels that appears in the corner of the screen while you fight. Different characters or events that affect Zack’s emotions can also have an influence the DMW, leading to different special and super-powerful moves, similar to Limit Breaks. The DMW also determines how and when both Zack and his materia level up. Both characters and numbers need to line up to make things happen, although not necessarily at the same time.
The problem with the DMW is that the player has zero control over it; it’s all a matter of luck, not skill. The different moves that Zack can pull off are neat, and since this is also how he uses summons in this game, it’s always cool to see animations for Bahamut or Ifrit. However, there’s no reason to have an important battle element that the player cannot control. Because of this, Zack may level up twice in one battle, or he might not level up for ten battles. It just doesn’t feel quite right.
One of the cooler aspects of Crisis Core is the ability to fuse different types of materia and items to make entirely new types of spells. Through materia fusion, the player can create super-powered magic, like an intense Fire spell that also causes status ailments while raising Zack’s MP 30 percent. Materia fusion is a lot of fun, but it takes a little bit of time to figure out the best combinations.
The story mode for Crisis Core is about 15-20 hours long, which is perfect for a handheld game. In addition, the game features literally hundreds of quick, optional missions that can be accessed at any save point. Advancing the game’s storyline or completing the earlier missions unlocks more, and they’re perfect for gaming on the go. When you only have twenty minutes to play, you don’t want to worry about having to find a save point, a common RPG problem.
Though these missions are not required to complete the game, they are where you can find some of the best magic and items in Crisis Core. In addition to helping Zack level up, this makes these missions worth the effort, not just a time-waster. The only problem is that they can get repetitive in large doses, as many of the same locations are used over and over again. Trying to make a dent in mission mode is a great task; like I said, there are hundreds, and almost every time you finish one, another one pops up in its place.
Overall, the positive content in Crisis Core far outweighs any negative, and it can be considered a terrific achievement in gaming. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best games on the PSP and possibly the best-looking. For any fans of Final Fantasy VII, you will not be disappointed, as this game (unlike Dirge of Cerberus) actually is deserving of the Final Fantasy name. If you’ve never played the original but want to try a good action RPG, there’s enough original content here that newcomers won’t feel lost. With a lot of action, a fantastic storyline, and breath-taking cut scenes, Crisis Core may just be an early contender for Game of the Year.