Review by Res_Novae

"Through the Eyes of Zack Fair"

Crisis Core is the real post-Final Fantasy VII sequel videogame we have been waiting for. It's exceptionally accurate to the events that happen in Final Fantasy VII, and it contains various hidden easter eggs and foreshadowing of what's to come. The storyline doesn't go overboard like Dirge of Cerberus did either, so that's a good thing. It's a proper prequel. I was personally blown away. After the mediocrity of the other Final Fantasy VII sequels, you really wouldn't expect this game to be so good. But it is. Zack's story is executed exceptionally well, touching on the pinnacle of his success to his lowest moments in life. I'll also be so bold to state that Zack and Aerith's relationship is adorable. The script is excellent, witty, and very real. I won't give way to any spoilers, but the final chapters of the game are emotional and uplifting, and I'm sure that any fan of Final Fantasy VII will be touched by it.

Story
Crisis Core takes place back in the day before Sephiroth learned of his background and went insane, so therefore he's a good guy in the game. And Zack's cheerful personality is much like you remember from 1997. The game starts during the war with Wutai (yes, you know the one), and Zack is front-lining the infiltration operation with his mentor Angeal. You learn of a 1st-SOLDIER classman named Genesis whom defected and took a ton of SOLDIER troops with him, and you find out that he is in league with a scientist named Hollander who can genetically create "copies" of certain DNA types in other human beings. From there you'll experience all the trials and tribulations which Zack experiences while making his way up the Shinra ranks.

The game obviously focuses on Zack Fair, so most of the character development is centered toward him, and his personal relationships with other characters. The radical changes that Zack goes through as a character is very gratifying, and by the end, you really feel for his character. The dialogue is excellent, and the new characters introduced fit in really well and tie together with the overall storyline. Nothing seems out of place, and the puzzle pieces join together smoothly.

Graphics
The graphics are amazing. Absolutely stunning. I'm pretty sure this must be the pinnacle of the PSP's power. The in-game character models are very high resolution and display a wide variety of emotions and movements. The character model quality is on par with Kingdom Hearts. The landscapes and backgrounds are pretty detailed and everything works together fluidly. Locations from Final Fantasy VII are quite accurate too, if I may add. Also, there are tons of cinematic cutscenes that are Advent Children caliber, and every summon has its own CGI cutscene (skippable, don't worry) which is pretty darn cool.

Music/Sound
The original music is actually pretty admirable, especially the melodic tracks, and the battle theme is nice once you let it play through. A lot of the tracks during the second half of the game are very memorable, and there is a certain medley that plays near the end which is amazing. There are a few original compositions that are simple ambient-esque melodies, fitting to the mood or area that it plays in, usually containing some distorted electric guitar. A lot of the beats are pretty catchy, and fit really well. Remixes of previous tracks from Final Fantasy VII are pretty cool too. The old ‘Fighting' theme has been transformed into a fast-paced blood-pumping “chase scene” type song, and I thought that was pretty neat. ‘Those Who Fight Further' and some others are pretty cool as well. I'll let you play the game to catch all of them. Also, hearing the FFVII victory fanfare in its purity was heartwarming. A few extremely awesome tracks of note are: 'The Price of Freedom', 'An Ancient Hymn Sung By The Water', and almost every Last Order remix.

The voice actors for the characters that aren't newly introduced (ie: Zack, Cloud, Sephiroth, etc..) are the exact same actors which presented their voices for their characters in Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts II, and Dirge of Cerberus. So you can expect talent. With the exception of Aerith, who is voiced by Andrea Bowen, and in my opinion is the best portrayal of Aerith's character to date. The new recruits for the brand new characters are just as good. They found actors who've had not only voice acting experience, but television and film experience too. It's well done.

Gameplay
Your home base, so to speak, is the Shinra Headquarters and Sector 8, and later, the slums of Sector 5. Shinra HQ consists of the entrance floor, the exhibit room, the SOLDIER floor (contains the training room, briefing, and materia rooms), and the director's office. Sector 8 consists of the main area, LOVELESS Avenue, and the train station. At first it all seems so big; the way the landscape is designed gives off that effect, but then you quickly realize that it's not so huge and complicated.

After the mandatory introductory mission and events, you're given the opportunity to do optional missions and sidequests. You can access the missions from any save point, and you're given a ton straight of the bat. Of course you need to complete missions or talk to the people around town for additional missions, but when you're on a mission streak, you can be going at it for hours without advancing the story. That's your call though. Optional missions mainly just involve you being thrown into a certain area and extinguishing an enemy threat. There are some special missions where you have to battle a summon for their materia, and you can occasionally encounter hidden secrets. For instance, you can find Tonberry just chilling out in a secluded area during a mission, battle it, and get Tonberry for your DMW (more on that later) and extra Tonberry missions. In any case, optional missions are extremely vital if you want to obtain rare materia, accessories, summons, or anything else. The size of the area depends on the difficulty of the mission.

Before venturing off on an optional mission it will display the difficulty. You can most likely handle everything up to ‘Hard' at your current level, but going in guns blazing on a ‘Very Hard' is risky. So, it pretty much lets you know where you're at. I find, however, that optional missions can get repetitive fast, so it's best to take it in small doses. Some of them are really interesting though, so it's worth it to try them out, if not just for all the awesome spoils. The difficulty of the actual game is pretty easy. Once you hit level 35 and you're in possession of some high level materia, you can beat the game with ease. There's no way you can achieve that without doing at least some of the optional missions though, but you certainly don't need to complete them all to finish the game. Of course there is an extremely super-powered optional boss hidden in the game, so maxing out your levels and getting everything would be pretty mandatory for that.

Battles are action oriented and you move around in real time. The top buttons scroll through your various attacks and materia that you have equipped, and ‘X' executes it. Square and Triangle are originally dodge and block, but you can change them up when you get the proper materia. The game wants you to think that battles are random, but really there are specific positions in the area where battles are fought. If you're in a linear area, you can tell where a battle will take place when you see the terrain become a little more open. So every time you stumble upon that hotspot, you'll enter a battle; not with the same enemies though. You cannot see the enemies (unless that's your specific target for a mission), but the battles are still fought on the spot. They'll appear from thin-air. So, it's a pretty quick and seamless transition in and out of battles.

Leveling up is probably the weirdest aspect about this game. Its semi luck based, but you'll also need to continuously battle enemies for “invisible” experience. So, once every battle begins, three slots start constantly rotating in the top-left section of the screen. They each consist of numbers from 1-7 and a small picture of every important character you've met so far (ones you haven't met are presented as silhouettes). Once the left and the right slots automatically match their pictures up, you'll get thrown into a new screen where you'll have to match up the middle slot with the other two pictures. This is called the ‘Limit Verge' screen. However, to actually level up Zack you need to get triple 7s in this screen. Doing so is totally beyond your control, but the more you battle the greater your chances are to obtain triple 7s (hence the “invisible” exp). Sometimes though, you'll get a luck streak and level up like three times in one battle, which will consequently send you on a major dry spell for a while.

Materia is leveled up in virtually the same fashion, except instead of getting triple 7s; you'll need to get doubles of whatever numbered slot your materia is equipped on. You have six materia slots (three at the beginning of the game) and if you, for instance, match up two fives, you'll level up the materia in the fifth slot. Again, this is totally ‘random'.

As I mentioned before, once you're in the Limit Verge screen, you'll need to match up three of the same picture of a character you have previous met. If you successfully pull it off you'll activate a limit break where each limit is different depending on the character you've matched up. If it's a triplet of silhouettes that you've matched, then you'll perform a weaker generic limit break. Occasionally you'll relive past experiences with whatever character you've matched up to create a more powerful version of that limit break, and it also depends on the status of your DMW. The DMW is pretty much all the characters that make up the slot reels. Sometimes while you're trying to match up three pictures, you'll get thrown into a different Limit Verge screen where you'll either have a summoned monster to match up or a special monster (ie: Tonberry). When the summon screen pops up, you‘ll have to match up the pictures of a summon you've acquired in order to use it. The same thing occurs for the special monster slots.

When the slot reels are constantly spinning in battle, if you get certain combinations of ‘7's, you receive a stat bonus. For instance: getting two ‘7's from left to right merits you with zero AP and MP cost, or getting one ‘7' on the right slot will score you the ‘Endure' ability; which means that a final blow cannot KO you. Also, in the ‘Limit Verge' screen, if you roll three of the same number (which isn't 7) your materia in that numbered slot will level up twice.

SP (SOLDIER points) makes the Limit Verge slots spin around. As long as you have SP, the slots will keep spinning. You can gather SP by doing actions in battle and killing enemies. Don't worry, you'll never run out of SP. SP is used in other ways besides spinning the slots, such as for ‘materia fusion' (which I'll get to later.

Don't worry. It seems kind of crazy right now, but it actually happens very quick and seamlessly, and it certainly does not hinder the rapid pace to your battles. The Limit Verge screen doesn't pop in every five seconds, so it's not a problem, but when it does pop in frequently that usually means that you're about the level up soon.

All of the abilities, stat increasers, and magic spells take the form of materia. You start out with three slots, and you quickly realize that three slots are a painfully low amount of slots, since virtually everything you do needs a piece of materia equipped. You'll get six slots once you upgrade to SOLDIER 1st class. Magic materia consumes MP, and Ability materia consumes AP. Using and equipping materia is pretty straightforward, so let's jump over to materia fusion. You'll gain the option to do this once you upgrade to 1st class. You can fuse any two types of materia, and sometimes you'll get a totally different materia or a more powerful version of the same one. You can look at the after effect before you actually fuse, so you can determine if that's the choice you want to make. You'll find that some materia has stat bonus like Magic + 1 and etc. If you combine two materia with stat bonuses, you'll receive the combined bonus as well as the level of the highest materia you used. It's best to try out all combinations because you might end up with a brand new materia. Oh, and materia fusion can consume SP.

Mail is another neat little device that Crisis Core indulges. When you talk to certain people you can join a fanclub or newsletter service which periodically scores you some mail. You'll also receive mandatory mail from friends and SOLDIER operatives. Mostly it's just a fun service to read about the goings-on around Midgar and details about other character's lives, but you can also get mail that gives you information about a sidequest or some hidden items.

Shops are showcased differently than you would expect. All shops are now viewed from your menu screen, and each shop opens up when you visit their location in various areas. You can access the shop at any time, so you never need to worry about backtracking a mile to stock up on potions or whatever you need. Also, you have a number of accessory slots that you can equip various weapon and armour accessories for. It starts at two (which is also painfully low) and I believe it'll increase to four.

Crisis Core's only minor faults would be that it has a touchy rotating camera which will not spin all the way around if you are even remotely close to a wall, so you'll have to either face the opposite direction or get into an open area if you want to spin it behind you. It's not that bad, but trying to find some treasure chests without constantly running into a fight can be a bit frustrating. And lastly, the main story is relatively short. The main game (excluding sidequests) is probably only 10-15 hours long. It's a shame because the storyline is so beautiful that I wouldn't have minded if they threw in some filler.

Conclusion
That about sums it up. Crisis Core is a remarkable game and a welcome addition to the Final Fantasy VII universe. I'm glad that at the end of this compilation series we received such a wonderful work of art. Every PSP owner should definitely purchase this title, even if you haven't played Final Fantasy VII. I am honoured that I received the chance to play this masterpiece, and I'm sure that Zack will live on in all our hearts.

Story: 9.0
Graphics: 10.0
Music/Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8.5

Overall: 9.0 – Buy it.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/07/08

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


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