Review by TheSpyhunter

"A must for FF VII fans - not necessarily so much for others"

After 10 years of waiting, Final Fantasy VII has finally gotten some TLC from Square, and their opus has finally gotten the proper encore... well, sort of...

Crisis Core is the prequel to the events that took place in Final Fantasy VII - which for all intents and purposes is not necessarily something that this reviewer really needed, but considering that Advent Children was the sequel there was really no choice to be had. With that said, it is a quite pleasant surprise that this title does do its job to some capacity - for those that have not played FF VII, this game will prove to be a reason to look for the PSOne title.

You play as Zack, the classic Square protagonist that is looking to simply be a SOLDIER 1st Class and be a hero to the masses. He is under the tutelage of Angeal, whom is a 1st Class and an equal to heroes such as Sephiroth and Genesis. Giving out any more information than this would be dealing some massive spoilers to fans whom have yet to experience the game, but suffice to say that the story is certainly well fleshed out, albeit somewhat short compared to the original title.

Popping the disc into the machine, you will first notice that the graphics of the game are quite impressive even for a console like the PS2, which would be the contemporary of the PSP. The CGI is pretty standard fare from what we have been seeing from ALL Japanese developers to this point, however, the fact that it is on a PSP should raise the eyebrows of even the biggest PSP doubters.

The game starts in nearly the exact same manner as the original, which will be a loaded nostalgic moment for fans of the original - right up until you begin to have to engage in combat...

... anywhere where this game has been labeled as an Action RPG, they have done a great injustice to the game, as the fact is that the game is as much an Action RPG as Knights of the Old Republic was; it is NOT an Action RPG. Square has created a battle system that mimics the feel of an Action RPG, but you still have the delays between attacks that are inherent to a turn based RPG. This doesn't destroy the system at all, but it does create a confusion to the gamer early on, as you are presented the system as if it is going to be hack and slash.

Mixed into this modified-turn-based-system, you have a "Modulation Phase" which is essentially a Limit Break system done via a slot machine mechanism. However, the system is befuddled what with the randomness of the outcome. Limit Breaks can yield everything from an actual Limit Break attack to a Level Up of your magic or character, OR you can have a Limit Break that yields not a thing.

This is the true failure of the system - while certainly a fresh way to incorporate Limit Breaks, too much is left to random chance, whereby you can not actually gauge the progression of your character in either a singular battle, or your progression in the game as a whole. It would be one thing if you could actually control the spinning of the reels in some way (the only "control" that can be seen outwardly in the gameplay is you get far more Modulation Phases during heavy combat sequences where you fight several enemies at a time, or higher level enemies) but you are basically left up to the mercy of the game in terms of when you will get those reels to spin in your favor...

...as an example, I recall playing the original, and in the last fight sequence being able to count on getting Limit Breaks to help finish the fight. You can, in no way, count on them in Crisis Core.

Additionally, because level ups are also dependent on this system, you can not grind your character in any way. Some will argue that this is OK because grinding is not the way to play - and they are certainly right. However, when you have a system that can theoretically hinder your progress through the game because you have no ability to influence your level and therefore the overall difficulty of the game, you have removed a little too much from the gamer and the experience becomes nothing more than how lucky you are in a given session with the game.

And this is somewhat puzzling. Had they actually made the game a true Action RPG, this issue with the Modulation Phase would be a non-issue, as real time controls would certainly allow for more skilled players to make up the difference that being underpowered for a battle creates. Instead, boss battles (i.e. battles versus Summons) end up being stick, move and heal affairs that get tired and routine after the first few stages.

In the midst of this you have Materia shoe-horned into the gameplay. It never quite feels like it did in FFVII, and in addition to that it never seems to worthwhile with the exception of the Cure spell, as the "down-time" prior to and after casting the spell always leaves you open to counter attacks, which while not always fatal, are certainly annoying.

Pro Tip, Square: If you find your battle system moves slower than the system in the genuine ARPG that you produce (Crystal Chronicles), you might as well stick with a turn-based gameplay design.

While a significant gripe, it doesn't destroy the game entirely. There is still a robust story to play through that has some of the best music anywhere The overall sound quality of the game is actually quite a marvel considering, again, that this is a handheld game. It is a testament to what can be done with the platform, and makes any rational thinking gamer wonder why there are not more games on the PSP of this technical quality.

At the end of the day, this is the story of the game as a whole: on a technical level, you have arguably the best graphical and audio presentations ever put forth on the PSP - and all things being equal perhaps one of the best technical games on any system. However, there is an over-riding disappointment in the battle system that the plot can only do so much to save. Most fans of FFVII will disregard the system and press on through the plot as they are wont to do. For those that are not fans, per se, this game will be enjoyable ONLY if you can get past the Modulation Phase and the fact that the progression is going to rely on a great deal of randomness that is simply not present in this form on any other game, sans the casino games out there...

Overall the game is going to be a 5 for non-fans and a 9 for fans, and thus the choice of 7 in the final score...

GRAPHICS

Far and away in the top tier of the PSP offerings- period. 10/10

AUDIO

RIvals games on home console units boasting far more power and Dolby Surround. 10/10

GAMEPLAY

Not so much... While certainly interesting, the fact of the matter is that they gimped the gameplay when they created delays between attacks versus an actual ARPG set up. The Modulation Phase is a clever idea to keep the gamer interested, but at the same time it is an ironic move as it is a gamble that could lead a gamer to tossing the game to the side - particularly when considering how much relies on the Mod. Phase. 5/10

STORY

Strong enough to warrant playing the game despite the glaring issues in the interface - which speaks volumes. 9/10

LASTING APPEAL/FUN FACTOR

As with any RPG, the lasting appeal is relevant to the type of gamer you are. This reviewer tends to run through an RPG one time, and then neatly stores the title in a collection unless it is of the highest caliber, as time is better spent on the next experience (particularly when talking about 60-100 hour games). With that said, this game will be completed by 90% of gamers out there in 20 hours. It is a serious plot, and is certainly a must play for fans of the series, and a worthwhile play otherwise - provided you are not hindered by the interface... 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/02/08

Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (US, 03/24/08)


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