Review by corran450
"Corran450's Review Series Vol.2: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII"
Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last ten years is familiar with the game Final Fantasy VII. A ground-breaking title for the fledgling Playstation 1, this RPG ushered in a whole new era of storytelling, graphical advancements, and RPG development. While the Final Fantasy series was popular before amongst hardcore RPG players, this title brought RPG's in general, and the Final Fantasy brand in particular, to mainstream audiences in a way that forever changed the face of gaming.
A couple years ago, Square-Enix began an undertaking aimed at expanding the universe of FFVII with the intention of filling in the blanks left in the story. Called The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, this new series included a full length feature film and three new games (so far) utilizing the FFVII universe. These efforts have ranged from visually stunning, but shallow (the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children), to mildly entertaining, with equally shallow gameplay (Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII), to incomprehensible and inaccessible to American audiences (the mobile phone game Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII). But with the new PSP game, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Square-Enix makes up for its earlier missteps by delivering an engaging and graphically beautiful game.
You control SOLDIER 2nd class Zack Fair as you explore the world of Final Fantasy VII. You spend most of your time in Midgar, the sprawling megalopolis from the first game, but will visit many other locales you will recognize from FFVII.
The battle system is slightly reminiscent of Star Ocean 3's battle system, but much more refined, and offering better control. You run around on a flat playing field attacking enemies and casting spells. It all feels very intuitive and natural.
The Materia system from FFVII returns, with several refinements. As before, equipping different materia will enable different abilities in battle. Most materia also provide a stat boost to one of your stats (ATK, MAG, etc.) New to CC:FFVII is the ability to fuse two materia to create new, better materia. This adds an element of experimentation to the game, allowing you to find newer, better materia with different stat boosts. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Also new to CC:FFVII is the Digital Mind Wave, or DMW. The DMW resembles nothing more than a slot machine in the top left corner of the screen during battle. The slots are represented by faces of important characters in the game. The DMW is responsible for achieving limit breaks, leveling up your character and materia, and providing temporary status boosts during battle. The slots stop at random, so it is kind of annoying sometimes. You really can't power-level in this game as the random slots control when you level up. It never really becomes an issue though, as the slots seem to know when you need to level up to match the enemy level you face (I think I read on the board that the game has an invisible EXP counter that increases the likelihood of leveling up during battle, but I can't speak to that really).
The events of Crisis Core take place starting 7 years before the events of FFVII. Zack is a member of SOLDIER, Shin-Ra's elite fighting corps. He begins at 2nd class rank and dreams of becoming a 1st class, like his heroes Sephiroth and Genesis, and his best friend and mentor Angeal. As the game begins, the war in Wutai is in full-swing. Zack and Angeal are dispatched to investigate the disappearance of Genesis in Wutai. Events occur that lead to the fateful visit to Nibelheim, during which Sephiroth becomes aware of his origins, as chronicled in the first game. Along the way, you see many familiar faces. Naturally, this game also chronicles Zack's relationship with Aerith, as well as his friendship with Cloud. Also appearing are Yuffie and Tifa (much younger of course).
The story is deep and involving, with many twists and turns. I have to give this game credit for its emotional depth, and the presentation of events. Ultimately though, players of the first game know how this tragic story ends.
Probably the most interesting thing is seeing Sephiroth before he went insane, as we've only ever experienced him through his sinister appearances in FFVII and Advent Children. In this game we see him interact with people he calls friends, and acting in a sympathetic, even compassionate way towards his best friends Genesis and Angeal. It adds a whole new depth to the character that was sorely lacking, as he tends to come off as a cartoonish super-villain in later incarnations.
The visuals in CC:FFVII are stunning to say the least. When you consider the graphical limitations of the PSP versus the PS2, this game compares more than favorably. I'd say the in-game graphics are on par with Kingdom Hearts 2, as far as realism goes. The cinematics are lush, beautiful, and incredibly detailed. You'd think you were watching Advent Children again.
About the only complaint I have with the graphics are that the environments are a little bland, especially after the crowded, highly detailed, pre-rendered environments of the first game. It struck me as odd that there was so much wide open space in Midgar when it seemed so crowded before. I guess there are limits to what the PSP can do, as increased detail in the environments could cause massive slowdown (especially during battles), as well as requiring more frequent loading times. Overall, though, the graphics are very well-done.
The music of Crisis Core is mostly heavy-metal based, with crunchy guitar riffs punctuating the battles. But I think the soundtrack really shines during the quieter, piano-based arrangements. Several themes return from FFVII, notably the theme from Nibelheim (remixed) and Aerith's theme (arranged for acoustic guitar). One-Winged Angel (Sephiroth's theme) also makes an appearance. But as a rule, Takeharu Ishimoto's score doesn't rest too heavily on Nobuo Uematsu's laurels.
The closing theme by Ayaku doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the score, but it's over quickly, and you're treated to new orchestral arrangements of familiar themes from FFVII over the closing credits. On the whole, the soundtrack is passable, with few exceptions, but it gets the job done. I wasn't too into the whole heavy metal thing, but it did provide appropriate tension for the major battles.
Sound effects are appropriate and fit well. One of the things I noticed right away was that they used the same sound for confirmation in the menu as they did in the first game. It was a nice touch, and added a bit of nostalgia to the game as you remember playing through the first one.
Where the game really shines is the Hollywood-quality voice-acting. There are a few missteps, but other than that, the voice acting is superb. The actors deliver the important scenes with just the right amount of tension, instilling the characters with emotional depth and humanity. Gone is the atrocious voice acting of Mena Suvari for Aerith. Instead, we have Andrea Bowen, who provides charm and humor to the character. And Steve Burton finally seems to get it right as Cloud. I got sick of hearing Genesis talk though, simply because he always punctuated his tirades with tiresome recitations from the epic poem LOVELESS. Overall, though, very nice.
Play Time/Replayability: 7
This game is pretty short, especially if you only play the main story. But to add replayablilty, there are 300 side missions of various difficulty that you can partake in. Most of these are completely optional, but you miss out on lots of experience and cool items/materia if you don't do them. If you're a completist like me, you'll do them anyway, and they easily extend CC's campaign from 10 hours to at least 30.
The game has two play modes: Normal and Hard. They should really be called Pretty Easy and Pretty Hard, as the Normal mode doesn't present much of a challenge. Also, upon completing the game, you can begin again with New Game +, where you retain all your items, stats, and materia from your previous play through. Mission completion begins again at 0%.
Would I play it again? Definitely.
Final Score: 9
Crisis Core is a worthy addition to The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, maybe the only worthy addition. A lot of people are asking if this game is worth buying a PSP for. Let me say that, as a self-professed FF Fanboy (one day at a time), I, in fact, DID buy my PSP for this game, in a way. When I learned this game would be coming out for PSP only, I knew that I had to get one. That's not to say it hasn't been a good investment. The PSP is a decent platform, with a lot of fun games.
Should YOU buy a PSP for this game? I wouldn't necessarily go that far. I wouldn't recommend buying any system for just one game. But if you already have a PSP, you owe it to yourself to at least give this game a try, especially if you loved FFVII. You won't regret it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/28/08
Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (US, 03/24/08)
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