Review by Roy_de_Lamort

"The finest hour of FF VII"

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core

Introduction

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is fourth and, as for now, last installment to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project. It revolves around Zack Fair, previous wielder of the Buster Sword, friend to Cloud Strife, and member of SOLDIER in a story that serves as a prequel to the original game. Previous installments to the Compilation include nice, yet more-flash-than substance Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (a CG movie elaborating on what happened after the final clash of FF VII), little known Before Crisis (a cell-phone game, released in Japan in chapters on regular basis, concentrating on the Turks in times of Shinra's domination) and controversial Dirge of Cerberus, a sequel to Advent Children, which tells a story of Vincent Valentine and his struggle against new threat to the world, Deepground Soldiers. Almost all of them met with more or less mixed reception, which certainly made many fans fear that Crisis Core may be simply a mediocre spin-off, smearing the original with dirt. How is that, now that we finally can play the game? Read on, and you will find out!

Story

As mentioned before, the game elaborates on life of Zack Fair, who played an important, yet very short and cryptic part in the original storyline. The story follows his life as a member of SOLDIER, elite unit of Shinra's military forces, and step by step leads to events which ultimately resulted in the original crisis from FF VII (thus the name, 'Crisis Core'), also explaining few matters from Dirge of Cerberus in the process. The plot is a very strong point of the game. While players who couldn't stand any alteration or addition to the original storyline can and will be put off by CC plot, it is both very interesting and coherent. At the beginning of the game, Zack is a member of SOLDIER, and thus, an employee of Shinra, which creates a possibility to experience the world of FF VII from a different perspective - while in the original game we fought Shinra Company, now we get to work for them. Status of member of SOLDIER allows Zack to wander freely around Shinra building, Midgar Upper Plate, and later on, the Slums, and more than that, we get to experience many events that made the world of FF VII what we can see in the original storyline. Along the way, Zack also gets to meet a new set of characters, which are nicely tied to the in-game universe, and the old friends and foes we already know from the original game.

What should be commented on is that the story, while, of course, concentrating on a struggle to shape the world (but which FF doesn't?) it doesn't try to completely change the original storyline by adding a cliche 'all-new-and-even-more-dangerous-than-Sephiroth-enemy', but is simply a masterfully crafted prequel that really doesn't try to take over the tale we came to know so well, and, as such, makes an admirable job. What seems almost contradictory to that is that the tale we experience in the game doesn't only rely only on fond memories of the original FF VII, but stands pretty strong on it's own, so it may be played and understood (though some elements would not be noticed or would be looked at from a different perspective) also by gamers who never experienced the original storyline. What should they be aware of, though, is that the entire story of Zack and Cloud, so cryptic and unclear in FF VII, would be blown wide open and ruin some intentionally unexpected plot twists from the original. That said, the choice is yours, which game to play as the first, if you haven't played FF VII yet.

The story is also emotionally powerful. I am willing to bet that the plot of CC may easily rival every mainstream Final Fantasy when it comes to manipulating player's emotions and feelings. There is a ton of scenes that may either make you anxious, touched, happy... or just plain sad. Needless to say, CC is something you won't soon forget.

That said, the game does not only tells a tale which keeps you bound while it lasts, but makes a lasting impression on you, which is a mark of a quality storytelling.

Story: 9/10

Pros:
- Atmosphere of the original game present and accounted for
- Some nice little secrets to discover for fans of the original game
- The story is powerful and unforgettable

Cons:
- Somewhat too short, considering number of bonus missions

Gameplay

The combat system in CC seems like a merger of the ones known from FF XII and Kingdom Hearts. During battle, Zack can freely move on the battlefield, slicing foes, casting magic and using various battle techniques, but combat has also a more strategic feel, known from FF XII, not being only a button mashing mayhem.

A battle is initiated by walking into a wider area, which is seemingly bigger than rest of a zone Zack currently is exploring, which makes enemies appear, and limits the area he is allowed to move in, and, as such, is reminiscent of a classic random encounter system (though it is not so random, since you already know that walking into that large, arena-like place will initiate battle, and initiate it for sure) which may be considered both strength and weakness - on one hand, you can predict every regular battle, on the other, it is so easy to avoid them, simply by walking close to a wall or a cliff, which may seem somewhat weird. Overall, though, it gets the job done, as the combat itself is an interesting combination of dynamic real-time movement and beforehand-planning.

That is due to a few interesting elements. Fans of FF VII will be delighted that Materia plays a major role in Crisis Core, being pretty much a basic source of Zack's strength. The basic Materia are divided by elements or types, such as attack/magic/action/buff. Each equipped Materia allows either for performing of a certain action (casting magic, stealing from an enemy, performing a critical hit, and so on), and Zack initially can have up to 4 equipped, with gaining two slots more later on. The system is pretty deep due to immense number of Materias available in the game and a lot of possibilities they offer. More than that, Zack is also able of equipping up to two Accessories, which boost a particular statistic.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as combined slots, known from the original game, but it doesn't take away any of the game's value due to another addition, Materia Mix. What's that about? Exactly as the name implies, it allows you to mix two Materias to create a new one, with possibility of gaining an option of including an Item to additionally increase a new Materia's quality. The MM allows you to create a number of helpful additions, such as 'breeding' a Materia which adds 300% to maximum HP while allowing casting of a particular spell at the same time, or a major boost to Zack's statistics, such as Strength +30. It is also very clear about what you are going to get - unlike the terrible Bazaar system from FF XII, where you never knew what are you going to get and for selling what number of which loot, now, before the process of synthesis is completed, the game shows you what kind of Materia are you going to receive. That said, you can browse your inventory as long as you are able to create what you desire. Playing with synthesis is also pretty fun, especially when you receive a particularly powerful Materia after long experiments with the system.

Another important part is so-called Digital Mind Wave, which I found to be one of the most intriguing elements ever found in an RPG. I would say it is close to real-time flashbacks, which occur to Zack during battle. Basically, in the upper left part of the screen you can see a slot machine, with portraits of various characters met in the game, which stops randomly. If you get three identical portraits, Zack will recall that particular character, which will cause him to perform various actions; for instance, memory of powerful Sephiroth will inspire Zack to execute a devastating sword combo, while recalling Aerith will soothe his pain and fatigue by replenishing his HP, MP and AP and granting him temporary invincibility. More than that, occasionally you will witness a brief flashback including that character.

There is also yet another nice feature in the battle system, which makes great sense logic-wise - as Zack moves around, he can attack enemies from various angles. That influences the actual
damage an enemy receives - for instance, if we fight an enemy with a lance and shield, attacking the shield deals minimal damage, while attacking sword-wielding part creates a threat of counterattack, and attacking from the back always deals critical damage and often stun a foe. Such realism has never before been seen in a FF game, and adds some depth to the combat.

Yet, despite these innovative, well-designed features, gameplay suffers from a one major flaw.
First of all, there is 350 (yes, three hundred fifty) bonus missions, which, unfortunately, are incredibly, amazingly repetitive.

They are all 'Locate & Destroy' type, and after completing around 20-30 of them they tend to get incredibly repetitive and tedious. What's more, they pretty much contradict the game's universe. For instance, in a certain mission we encounter a bunch of elite Wutai soldiers, and some of them are capable of killing Zack with a single blow (instant KO attack) - something even Sephiroth is not capable of. More than that, they contradict game's storyline - it is not a mystery any longer that in the end Zack was a fugitive, having Shinra against him, but even during final chapters, when it is indeed so, Zack can accomplish missions for Shinra... while being pursued by Shinra at the same time.

Don't get me wrong - I know this is pure gameplay which is not even compulsory in the first place, but the superboss Minerva completely loses her impact after fighting though hundreds of boring, repetitive missions - after finally getting to fight her, we feel more like we had enough. Compare it to the original game, when we could initiate battle against a Weapon boss any time, without having to go through lots of increasingly difficult, yet also monotonous missions.

On the other hand, bonus missions have some redeeming qualities - such as beforementioned Minerva (arguably the hardest boss in FF VII universe) and opportunity to claim some powerful Materia and unique equipment, which has some to a lot of appeal, depending on player. However, this part could and should have been handled better.

Gameplay: 8/10

Pros:
- Intriguing Digital Mind Wave system
- Complex Materia Mix system
- Feels much like the original Final Fantasy VII
- A pretty high level of strategic depth
- Missions are fun to a limited degree, but...

Cons:
- ...they are too repetitive and too universe-contradictory

Graphics

Square Enix pretty much created the most beautiful game on PSP. The graphics are very detailed, from character models to locations and magic and techniques effects. The game makes full use of PSP's technical capabilities... and goes even one step further, by adding the most stunning summon animations ever seen in the series. How they created something that actually exceed PSP's capabilities? Summon animations are actually a pre-rendered cutscenes, which are smoothly integrated into a battle. With this pretty creative trick, Crisis Core has summon animations superior to those in FF XII. Even if it is you who get hit by them, you are more stunned than mad the first time you see them.

More than that, there is nothing to complain about. CG cutscenes show the best SE has to offer, and overall location and character design leave nothing to be desired.

Graphics: 10/10

Pros:
- Overall quality
- Great summon animations

Cons:
- Nothing in particular

Music

Yet another strong point of the game. The soundtrack consists of remixes of the old tracks from Final Fantasy VII, and altogether new tracks. The remixes bring even more of a Final Fantasy VII spirit to an already great game, while the new tracks make Crisis Core soundtrack stand strong on it's own. Every one of them fits the situation, from remix of the 'Bombing Mission' to the 'Price of Freedom', which are the first and last tracks we hear in the game.

Music: 10/10

Pros:

- Good balance between old and new music
- Wonderful, new tracks
- Memories-inducing remixes

Cons:
- Nothing in particular

Conclusion

I can recommend the game pretty much for everyone who wants to play substantial, unforgettable RPG. Crisis Core is pretty much the best RPG released on PSP, and is also a valuable addition to Final Fantasy franchise, both as a standalone title and as a part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Despite minor flaws, we get a game worthy of the Final Fantasy logo.
Final Score

8,5/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/08, Updated 03/05/08

Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (JP, 09/13/07)


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