Review by Mochito26
"Crisis Core - The spin-off we've been waiting for"
When Square-Enix announced the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, many fans were skeptic and fearful that the numerous new titles will only tarnish the reputation of the 1997 masterpiece. For many fans, these fears took on a body with Advent Children, which, while visually stunning, felt a little shallow and lacked the feel of the original game. Then came two other projects: the half-baked Dirge of Cerberus and the untouched, almost unheard-of Before Crisis, which only intensified the consensus that the true purpose behind this so-called "Compilation" was to use the reputation of Final Fantasy VII as a money magnet, fooling the loyal fans in the process.
However, there was one hope left Crisis Core, the prequel for the Playstation Portable handheld system. This, too, faced some concerns the traditional and much-loved battle system has been replaced with a slot machine, the main (and only playable) character is Zack, who was barely seen in the original FFVII, and the game was made for a handheld system, which doesn't seem quite as grand as a home console, no matter how you spin it.
With that, I am more than glad to announce that, for once, the greatness of the original Final Fantasy VII has finally been matched. Crisis Core is a fantastic game.
Shortly after viewing the stunning, action-packed intro (whose true purpose is to show how much Square-Enix's CG skills have improved over the past ten years), you begin the game almost the exact same way you did the original game, in the exact same location fighting the exact same enemies. Only what's this? The battle system is completely different and, at first sight, horribly simplistic and stale. Not only are you unable to jump, but after every slash of your sword you have to come to a pause before you can strike your enemy again, unlike any other action game in which you can chain you strikes into combos. You can press R and L to toggle through 3 default spells, but seeing as simply mashing the attack button can kill the enemies in a matter of seconds, there doesn't seem to be much of a need for anything else. This introduction to the game is awfully misleading, and could easily create a negative first impression on most players.
But don't let it fool you the more you progress, the more exciting and complex the battles become, practically forcing you to use your entire arsenal of spells and physical commands in order to succeed in battle. In-fact, the battles in Crisis Core are anything but simplistic, thanks to a number of innovative game mechanics.
The most prominent of these new features is the large slot machine on the upper left corner of the screen. This slot machine is called the Digital Mind Wave, or DMW. What it does is basically spin continuously, granting special attacks (Limit Breaks) upon lining up the three reels of the same character. For example, if 3 pictures of Aerith line up in the DMW, a special Limit Break will be initiated, healing Zack completely and granting temporary immunity to enemies' attacks, and if 3 pictures of Tseng line up, Zack picks up his cell-phone and shouts at Tseng, who in-turn sends a helicopter to shoot down the troublemakers. In total, there are 6 characters in the regular DMW spin which you obtain during the main storyline, each granting a different Limit Break. Additionally, every character is accompanied by a number, which, when lined up with 2 other numbers of the same value, grants certain effects and increases certain stats and Materia, or your own level if you get 3 sevens. This game mechanic may seem gimmicky and overly-complex at first, but after a while it grows on you and provides an amazing surprise factor to the otherwise repetitive battle system.
Of course, Crisis Core wouldn't be a Final Fantasy VII spin-off without Materia. Like the original game, each color of Materia represents a different type green Materia represents MP-using magic spells, yellow Materia represents AP-using physical attacks and purple Materia increases your stats. You get more Materia slots as you go, which proves useful as there's a good amount of Materia in the game, ranging from spells like Cure and Thunder, to various command Materia, such as a Jump command (similar to Kimahri's from FFX or Kain's from FFIV) or a spinning attack which damages several enemies. Each Materia is an exciting tool in battle and can change the way you fight completely. You can also convert your spare Materia to SP, which affects the frequency of Limit Breaks.
Later on in the game, you get the option to combine two Materia into a new one. Additionally, you can combine purple Materia with green or yellow Materia, so, for instance, you can create a Deathblow-like skill which will also grant you +HP 20%. With the proper Materia combination, you can reach a bonus as high as +HP 500%, and more. This new implementation to the otherwise familiar Materia system is a brilliant one, adding a whole new level of depth to the game.
If you ever feel like you're rushing through the game too quickly, you can use your fighting abilities to go through missions. You get more missions as you progress through the main storyline, but in general, there are more than 350 missions to do, each varying in difficulty and granting a different reward. Some of the most sought-after rewards are the summons. If "red Materia" comes to mind, you'll be disappointed to hear that such a thing does not exist in Crisis Core instead, summons are added as special DMW characters, and are used randomly depending on the level of your limit break, which ranges from the lowest "Normal" to the highest "Heavenly". Fortunately, you'll be treated to a stunning CG sequence for every Summon that you happen to line up in the DMW, which also comes with a stupendous amount of damage. All in all, there are 12 secret DMW Summons and characters to obtain from the missions. The process of getting them, however, can often be nerve-racking as the stages mostly consist of the same four types of environments. Nonetheless, the missions are still an enjoyable and worthy addition to the already-fulfilling game-play.
The main thing that the masterminds over at Square-Enix are perhaps best known for are their graphical skills. Even knowing that, the obsessive level of graphical detail in Crisis Core is simply staggering, and has raised the bar for what the PSP is capable of. It certainly is an enormous difference from the polygonal mess that is Final Fantasy VII (and for the record: yes, I know the visuals were fantastic ten years ago), and one cannot help but be filled with glee at the sight of his favorite characters looking like proper humans, and damn cool ones, at that. The typical Final Fantasy VII fan will want to spend hours running around the Shinra HQ, or Sector 7, or Aerith's church, and see those areas from different angles, something that couldn't be done in the original game. Additionally, the characters' faces show an impressive level of emotion, ranging from pain, to angst (it's not a Final Fantasy without angst!) to laughter. Sadly, some of the areas -- especially from the missions-- are often rather bland and repetitive, though the large majority of the game's environments are remarkably well-made.
Anyone who's watched Advent Children will notice a clear similarity between the two, as Crisis Core has the exact same art style as Advent Children, which includes the flamboyant body movements, the sinister facial expressions and the bizarre way characters can jump to seemingly endless heights and can cut through pretty much anything. This may seem over-the-top to some people, but those who enjoyed the style of Advent Children are in for a real treat, especially during the CG sequences, which are absolutely beautiful.
Surprisingly, perhaps the strongest aspect of Crisis Core is its sound. Composed by Takeharu Ishimoto, one of the composers of Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy X, the soundtrack consists of loud, heart-pumping electric guitar tracks for the battles and remarkably touching, soft tunes for the more emotional scenes. With this soundtrack, Takeharu Ishimoto went back to the old Uematsu days, back when video game music was more than just "background music" whose role was to simply set the mood, back when music helped define a game. One would often found oneself stopping, putting down the PSP and simply listening to the music, especially in the last quarter of the game. Also, much to the fans' delight, numerous themes from the original game such as "Those Who Fight Further" and "Anxious Heart" have been remixed and extended.
Many of the voice actors for Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts II have lent their voices to Crisis Core, which is a great thing as they're completely believable and instill some life into the previously mute characters. The only major addition is the inclusion of J-Rock legend Gackt, the voice and face behind Genesis. Gackt does an admirable job, especially considering the fact that it's not even his field.
Predictably, Crisis Core isn't especially purist-friendly. Indeed, there have been a number of additions and bold changes to familiar scenes. Without giving too much away, it's worth noting that, although there have been numerous significant alterations to the original Final Fantasy VII events, the story never contradicts itself. It is, however, slightly bizarre for characters who have never once been mentioned in the original game to have such major roles which directly affect the actions of the "original" characters. The addition of characters was inevitable, of course. Nonetheless, they sometimes feel a bit tacked on.
Overview of Crisis Core
Graphics: Probably the best-looking game on the PSP, the graphics are absolutely phenomenal, bringing the previously Lego-like characters to life and rivaling even some of Advent Children's most remarkable scenes. 10/10
Gameplay: Although the battle system is difficult to get used to at first, once you get the hang of it and use it to its full potential, it can lead to some of the most fulfilling action in recent action RPGs. 8/10
Sound: Perfectly timed, brilliantly-composed music and top-notch voice acting renders the sound of Crisis Core flawless. 10/10
Length & Replayability: The main storyline can be completed in merely 10 to 15 hours, and although the extra missions can add a few dozen hours, a few more lengthy side-quests wouldn't hurt. 7/10
Story: Although the addition of several important characters could possibly damage the authenticity of the original game to some fans, Crisis Core would've been rather predictable without them. The events that occurred in Final Fantasy VII have been extended and elaborated upon, and can be very nostalgic and enthralling to fans of the original game. 8/10
Crisis Core is the title that put Final Fantasy VII back on its feet, and made it soar. It succeeds on so many levels, and could be enjoyed (although slightly less understood) even by gamers who've never played the original game. It's also surprisingly import-friendly, and, with the help of a few guides and a Katakana chart, can be completed without speaking a word of Japanese, although the most important part of the gamethe plotwill be missed out. For anyone who wants to enjoy a mature, exciting and moving video game, do yourself a favor and get your hands on the masterpiece that is Crisis Core.
Final score: 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/17/07, Updated 10/18/07
Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (JP, 09/13/07)
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