Review by CrimsonGear80
"Heroes aren't born, they're created...and have giant swords and spiky hair!"
*ACTIVATING REVIEW MODE*
Final Fantasy VII. Did you hear that? That's the sound of millions of gamers around the world going bat**** insane just by reading those words. Square Enix capitalized on this mass swooning and announced more games taking place in the FFVII universe: Before Crisis (a Japan-only cell phone game *facepalm*), Advent Children (a CGI movie that's a direct sequel to FFVII), and Dirge Of Cerberus (a third-person shooter starring fan favorite Vincent Valentine that proved that Square shouldn't give up their day jobs). Now we have Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the latest (final?) installment of the FFVII compilation. Crisis Core is a prequel to the entire sha-bang, and may be the only game in the compilation that achieves the same amount of success as the original FFVII.
In CC, you take control of Zack Fair, a character who had a minor (or perhaps major) role in Final Fantasy VII. Zack is a SOLDIER 2nd Class belonging to the Shinra Power Company, the biggest monopoly of mako energy and military might in Midgar. Zack goes on various assignments for Shinra with his mentor Angeal, a SOLDIER 1st Class, and hopes one day to become a 1st Class himself. One day, Zack and Angeal get a mission to the village of Wutai, where SOLDIER 1st Class Genesis (wonder if he's got that Invisible Touch?) has apparently led a mass desertion of Shinra troops. This mission sets in motion the destiny that Zack will ultimately face. The friends Zack makes during his adventure, including SOLDIER 1st Class Sephiroth, a slums girl named Aerith, and a fellow country boy named Cloud, all see the start of their ultimate destinies as well.
Crisis Core tells a fantastic story, and it definitely has one of the most emotional endings since Metal Gear Solid 3 (despite the fact that most FFVII veterans already know how it's going to end). This mostly works in part to Zack being such a likable guy. Every other major characters in the game also play out their roles surprisingly well. Add in the fact that, this being a prequel, it's a great place for newcomers to the FFVII world to start. Fans will still most likely get the most out of the story, but I seriously believe that everyone will enjoy it.
Crisis Core's main story is split into chapters. To advance the story, you traverse various different fields getting from point A to point B or finding information by talking to NPCs that may be scattered around. You move Zack out on the field with the analogue nub, and you can rotate the camera with the left and right triggers. The environments are fairly easy to navigate, but pressing square will bring up a map in the area if you require it. The areas are also filled with chests to find that can be filled with useful items. Pressing triangle will bring up your main menu, and from here you can use items, check you stats, equip accessories and (the returning) materia, and check the various E-mails that get sent to Zack's cell phone. Materia (for those who don't know) is basically how you cast magic spells and perform other actions during battle. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock the materia fusion option, which allows you to use SP (I'll get to that later) to fuse two materia and items together to hopefully make more powerful materia that can also give Zack various stat boosts.
CC uses a real-time battle system for it's random battles out on the fields. All battles take place right on the same area of the map your on, similar to Kingdom Hearts. Zack and his foes are enclosed in a makeshift arena, and you can move Zack around freely with the analogue nub to dodge attacks and such. At the bottom left of the screen, Zack's hit points, magic points, and action points are displayed. At the bottom right, Zack's commands are displayed, and these commands can be scrolled through during battle with the left and right triggers and chosen with the X button. Zack's two main commands are the attack and item commands, while the other slots can be filled with materia that can give Zack magic attacks like fire and thunder, or actions like steal and assault twister (a spinning area attack). Zack can also perform a roll by hitting the square button, holding the triangle button will cause him to guard, and pressing circle will default back to the attack command. Each time you choose attack, Zack swings his sword at enemies and will create combos the more attacks you do in a row. I wouldn't say it's like the Kingdom Hearts battle system, more like Final Fantasy XII's, except there's no gambits and you constantly have to input commands. Some may say: You just hit X to get through the game, what fun is that? Well, guess what other game's battle system required multiple hits of X: Final Fantasy VII. Bet that shut you up, eh?
Still, CC throws in a unique way to use special attacks and level up during battles, know as the Digital Mind Wave. During every battle in the top left of the screen, a slot machine-like device constantly spins numbers and portraits of characters Zack meets during his quest. The device uses SOLDIER points, or SP, to keep running, and you earn SP by defeating enemies or converting materia to SP. Truth be told, I highly doubt anyone will ever run out of SP, because you'll be getting tons of it. Anyway, if the DMW comes up with any combinations of two or more of the same number during battle, Zack will get various status effects like invincible, no MP cost, endure, etc. If the DMW matches the same character portrait in the first and third slots, then it enters a modulating phase in which the battle pauses and the DMW fills the screen. If the same character portrait lands in the middle slot, then Zack will perform a special attack unique to that character, like Sephiroth's Octaslash or Aerith's Healing Wave. Zack can even add portraits of classic summons to the DMW, like Ifrit and Bahamut, and he can also add more unique characters as well, like the Chocobo and even Cait Sith. Matching portraits will even break Zack's status limits, so don't be surprised to see something like 5467/1987 for your hit points quite a bit. Even if you fail to match character portraits, matching two of the same numbers during the modulating phase can level up whatever materia is in that number's slot in the command menu. For example, if you have fire materia in the second slot in the command menu and you get a couple of 2s, then the fire materia will level up, becoming more powerful. All materia can go up a few levels before Zack masters them. That's not all though, because if 3 7s come up during the modulating phase, then Zack will level up. Some people may not like the idea of the game randomly choosing when you perform your special attacks and when you level up, but I found it to work quite well and made what could have been mundane battles more interesting. Thrown in all the customization you can do with materia and accessories, and you've got a very fun battle system to work with.
Besides the main quest, Crisis Core features hundreds of side missions that Zack can tackle. At any save point in the game, you can go into the main menu and choose the missions option to access them. Most of the missions involve Zack going through an area to find and defeat a boss. You'll get rewards for completing these missions that include rare materia and accessories, and some missions will give you new characters to add to the DMW. While all these are great, it can get pretty repetitive doing the same types of missions over and over again. Still, most of the time the rewards you'll earn are worth it.
Any other complaints I have about the game are pretty minor. While out on the field, the camera can sometimes be a chore to manipulate, especially if you're close to walls and such. CC also throws in some mini-games to break the exploration/combat cycle, but most of these range from terrible (stealth segments) to just below decent (using a sniper rifle to shoot robots). Seriously, one has you running around collecting materia in a very small circle around a shop in the slums. Exciting. There are also times when random battles seem to happen way to frequently. More that a couple times on a mission, I would move an inch random battle move another inch random battle. It can get annoying. There's also the fact that most regular battles can be quite easy as Zack becomes more and more powerful. Some of the boss battles (which are great) can give you a run for your money, but unless some regular enemies are spamming stop or stun attacks, and you don't have the proper equipment to counter them, then there's little chance that you'll ever die from them.
Dammit, if these PSP games keep writing graphical notices, I'm going to run out of notice paper! Just weeks after God of War took the PSP graphics crown, Crisis Core takes a dump right on that crown, yells out THIS IS CRISIS! and kicks God of War and it's crown down a bottomless pit, then proceeds to build a new, better crown for itself! Seriously, I would put CC's graphics somewhere between Kingdom Hearts one and two, and for a PSP game that's quite the achievement.
Backrounds and areas are oozing with colorful detail, and fans may squeal in delight seeing places like the Shinra front lobby and Nibelheim fully rendered in beautiful 3D. Character models are sharp and well animated, and while some people see Tetsuya Nomura's character designs as girly men with too many belt buckles and zippers, I see then as quite imaginative and awesome. Cut-scenes mostly use the in-game engine and are awesome, but even awesome-er may be the Advent Children quality CGI cut-scenes that further prove that Square can't be touched when it comes to these. Enemy and monster designs, as well as special effects need to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Still, some issues remain. For one, you can't skip cut-scenes, only pause them. Fine for a first playthrough, not so fine on the next. Also, the game can have some pretty lengthy loading times in-between cut-scenes. Not the worst I've ever seen on PSP, but still kind of annoying. Overall, Crisis Core is a PSP graphical masterpiece.
Crisis Core's mostly guitar-led score is quite awesome and fits into the FFVII universe quite well. Remixed versions of certain pieces of Nobuo Uematsu's original FFVII score find it's way here to great effect as well. Voice acting is also pretty superb, as the actors definitely covey character personalities, from the cheerful Zack to the serious Sephiroth.
No complaints really, although constantly hearing the computer voice saying the same lines for random battles can get kind of annoying.
Completing the main quest and doing about 40% of the missions took me about 25 hours, a pretty good length for a PSP RPG. Afterwards, you'll be able to save your data and start a new game+. While your mission status resets to 0%, Zack will retain his level and all his materia, items, and accessories from the previous game. Definitely makes it easier to complete every mission if you didn't already do so the first time through.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII lives up to it's name and is one of the best games for the PSP right now. The story, battle system, graphics, and sound should win over fans and newcomers alike. If this is the final game in the FFVII compilation, then it goes out with a huge bang. Thumbs way up.
+Fun battle system
+Phenomenal, bar raising graphics
+Abundance of side-missions to complete
+A great PSP achievement
-Un-skipable cut-scenes can be a problem on subsequent playthroughs
-A sometimes wonky camera
-Pretty lame mini-games
-A little on the easy side
-Missions can become repetitive
-Some long loading times
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/14/08
Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (US, 03/24/08)
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