Review by LordShibas

"Final Fantasy VII Fans Need To Play This Game"

Final Fantasy VII is Square/Enix's flagship Final Fantasy game. It's quite popular with the masses, and has even received a side story follow up movie called Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The game's popularity has also spurred the release of another PS2 side story called Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, which explores the back story of Vincent Valentine. I've never played Dirge of Cerberus, but I hear it's not very good. Come to think of it, I wasn't all that impressed with Advent Children either. I thought it was too “over the top” and flashy for its own good, and ended up being an incompetent movie due to the lack of any real story. Come to think of it, the only thing about Final Fantasy VII that has impressed me so far was the original Playstation offering, which I've been through 3 times.

Enter Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. An unlikely PSP spinoff that delves into the cryptic past of Zack Fair, who was nothing but a character mentioned in passing in Final Fantasy VII. Even though Zack was a small part of the story in Final Fantasy VII, anyone who has played the game would agree that his short time in the spotlight was jaw-dropping and unforgettable. Crisis Core is an entire game that focuses on the events leading up to Final Fantasy VII from Zack's point of view.

I'll admit that I was skeptical about this game at first, and even after a few hours of playing it I was still unsure about it, but after completing the game, I can honestly say that Crisis Core is not only a fantastic prequel to Final Fantasy VII, but it's also one of the best PSP games I have ever played, and one of the best Square/Enix games I've played in years. In fact, Crisis Core should be the paradigm that all future side story/prequel games follow. It strikes the perfect balance between fresh content and existing Final Fantasy VII lore. This allows anyone to enjoy the game since it has enough original content to make the game stand on its own, yet there are also many references and conduits that join the games together in a seamless fashion.

Some Final Fantasy VII purists may cry foul at some of the events being a bit disjointed, but the few inconsistencies didn't bother me, and I was just happy to see more, quality development to the existing Final Fantasy VII lore.

Now for a bit about the gameplay. Crisis Core is not your average Final Fantasy RPG. It's an action RPG that takes a bit of time to get used to, thanks to some quirky little gameplay inclusions by Square/Enix. First off, each of your attacks and actions during battles are done in real time, and you will have a targeting cursor which auto-targets enemies for you. Once you have an enemy targeted, you can scroll through the menu on the bottom right screen via your L and R buttons to select an action. You then press X to perform the action. You can also use this method to use Materia (Magic), skills, or items.

You will have the ability to run around the combat area as much as you want to between each action, but you will not be wandering off too far, since the combat areas are pretty limited. Random battles either crop up frequently, or not at all in Crisis Core. The game is set up in a strange manor where you only encounter enemies in certain parts of the environments, namely, the wide open areas. These flagrant areas are connected by narrow paths that yield no random encounters at all. So exploring in Crisis Core is kind of predictable as far as encounters go. They are technically “random encounters”, but you can see them coming a mile away and can prepare accordingly. A lot of the encounters can also be avoided all together if you stick close to the walls, which is nice if you are in a hurry to get somewhere and don't want to deal with the battles.

One of the more interesting aspects of the gameplay is the newly introduced DMW, or (Digital Mind Wave). The DMW is a slot machine type device that is constantly spinning in the upper-left corner of the screen during the battles. From what I've gathered, the DMW is a palpable interpretation of Zack's thought process, and the characters that influence him. Revolving on the DMW are character portraits of people you have met in the game and summons that you are able to summon. When the two character portraits on the left and right match up, the action temporarily stops and lets you see the outcome of the spinning. When all of the character portraits line up, you will get a limit break-type attack that involves that character on the DMW. New characters can be added to the DMW as you befriend them, and there are even a bunch of hidden possibilities as well.

The DMW also governs leveling up Zack and his Materia. Aside from the character portraits spinning on the DMW, there are also spinning numbers. If these numbers land on all 7s, then Zack will level up. If they match in a certain way, his Materia will level up.

The DMW seems like a handful at first, but once you realize that there is little you can do about it, you will accept it as an inevitability and just deal with what it dishes out. From what I've read it's not completely random either. There are invisible stat counters behind the scenes that affect the outcome of the DMW, but there is a slight bit of randomization involved.

Crisis Core is really an interesting game, and I could talk about the game for a long time, but I'm going to stop and get on with the review.

Graphics 9/10

Crisis Core is without a doubt the best looking PSP game I have yet to come across. Previously, God of War and Brave Story were the two best looking PSP games I had played, but Crisis Core just takes it to another level. Everything in this game looks great, from the battles, to the jaw-dropping cut scenes.

Not only does the game look great, but the art style is incredibly beautiful, and certain characters have been conveyed to perfection. The main villain, Genesis, is a somewhat androgynous, laid back character, but he is presented is such an elegant way that he seems more like an animated painting than a real person.

There are in-game cut scenes that use spruced up character models, and then there are the actual cut scenes. The real cut scenes in Crisis Core look like they were ripped right from Advent Children, and will make you squeal with delight as they blaze across the screen of your PSP. I can't remember the last time I turned a game off with the sole purpose of re-watching a cut scene, but that happened to me numerous times while playing Crisis Core.

Battles all take place in real time, so the backgrounds that you are exploring in will also be the backgrounds for the fights. Crisis Core seamlessly meshes the environments together, and while some of the backgrounds may seem a bit drab, they get the job done fine.

Even though Crisis Core looks incredible, there is one down side, loading times. Yes there are some long loading times between scenes. It can get kind of annoying at times, but I don't think it really ruins the experience at all.

Crisis Core is the most visually stunning PSP game I've ever played. It could easily pass for a PS2 game.

Sounds and Music 9/10

I was going to give this game an 8 for sounds and music, but then I remembered how much I enjoyed the voice acting and decided to give it a 9. I'll talk about the voice acting first, since I thought it was very well done.

In-game cut scenes are all fully voiced in Crisis Core, and all of the characters sounded perfect IMO. Zack is full of angst at first, but becomes more mature during his journey, and it's even apparent in his voice acting. Aerith sounds almost too adorable for words, and Genesis speaks in poetic verses that often leave Zack without repartee. I really thought Genesis sounded great, and it's quite a feat for a villain to outshine Sephiroth in the world of Final Fantasy VII, but Square/Enix has managed to do it with Genesis.

As for the music, it's mixed with some brand new tracks, and has some remixed tracks from Final Fantasy VII. While I was not impressed with some of the new tracks in the game, the remixed tracks were well done. Crisis Core's rendition of “One Winged Angel” may not surpass the original, but it sounds damn good. On the down side of the music, the main battle theme was not really to my liking and almost sounded like it belonged in a Dynasty Warriors game more than a Final Fantasy game, but that's just a small gripe of mine.

Very few games are able to ensconce me with their audio presentations alone, but Crisis Core has done just that. The voice acting is some of the best out there, and the music was hit or miss, but I mostly found myself enjoying it.

Story 9/10

If there is one area of Crisis Core that stands out above the rest, it would be the incredibly engaging story. Getting to the next major story development was always a treat, and it was the main driving force that kept me playing the game. I don't want to ruin anything, but I'll say that during the last five hours of the game, I was unable to put my PSP down. I just couldn't wait to see how it all ended. Speaking of the ending, I'll just say the ending of Crisis Core is so emotional and powerful. It's without a doubt one of the best game endings I've ever seen in my life, and I've been gaming for over 20 years.

The story starts out with a bang. Zack is a member of Soldier, and one of the 1st Class members named Genesis has gone missing. His disappearance is completely puzzling to everyone, and it becomes Zack's goal to find out what happened to him. Zack is sometimes accompanied by his longtime friend Angeal, who is another first class operative in Soldier. Sephiroth will also pop in and out of the story, and it's quite interesting to see the humanization of Sephiroth as he allies himself with equals, instead of being some omnipotent force.

Later on in the game, you will run across a few friends from Final Fantasy VII, including a rather callow Cloud Strife. Seeing the events the lead up to Final Fantasy VII truly is a fan's dream come true. After playing this game, it's really hard to fight the urge to play through Final Fantasy VII again. By the time the game was through, I realized that I had far more respect and admiration for Zack that I ever did for Cloud, and that's saying quite a bit.

If you are looking for a PSP RPG with an incredible story and are familiar with Final Fantasy VII, I cannot recommend this game enough. I would go as far as saying that without playing Crisis Core, you are missing a key part to the Final Fantasy VII legacy.

Gameplay 7/10

In spite of the gripping story, excellent music, and eye popping graphics, the gameplay in Crisis Core doesn't hold up as well. It's by no means bad, but I just thought it could have been better.

For starters, the game is very easy, and most battles can be won by simply spamming your X button and letting Zack mop all of the enemies up with his sword. You will need to use your Cure and Barrier Materia from time to time, but that's about it.

The DMW can also be annoying at times. There are short little sequences and flashbacks that play during certain limit verges, and these cannot be skipped, so it often breaks up the action when you least expect it. Leveling also seems kind of sketchy. Sometimes you will go out and fight a bunch of battles, but you will not level at all. Then you will level twice in two consecutive battles. It's just a sloppy system, but if you are looking for something other than your standard leveling practices, then the DMW will be to your liking.

Crisis Core also gives you the ability to Fuse Materia, which allows for tons of Materia combinations. You really aren't given any hints about which Materia to try to fuse, but the game tells you beforehand what the outcome will be, so you can abort the fusion if you so desire.

There is also a cool email feature within the game. NPCs will often stay in contact with you via email. These messages can easily be accessed via your main menu. There's nothing really vital about the emails, but it's just a fun little thing that helps to immerse you in the Crisis Core universe a bit more. The mail system strikes a bit of realism in the timing of the emails too. It seems like you will just randomly get them. Nothing like heading off to fight a boss, being two steps away, then getting an email from the Sephiroth Fanclub.

The main gameplay isn't really bad, it just needs some more work. Everything is very linear in the main quest, and aside from the Shinra building, none of the areas are very inspiring.

Longevity and Re-Playability 7/10

The main game in Crisis Core is not very long. I was able to complete the game in 18 hours with a small bit of leveling. For those looking to extend their time with Crisis Core, there are over 300 missions that can be accessed from any save point in the game. The extra missions will net you some additional items, summons, and Materia. The missions will take you a long time to get through, but they are not necessary by any means. As I said before, the game is on the easy side.

Even though there are a lot of missions, they do get pretty repetitive, and most of them consist of linear objectives that require little thinking. You just have to have your levels high enough to take out the enemies.

Conclusion

If you are a fan of Final Fantasy VII in any way, shape, or form, I can't recommend Crisis Core enough. This game really brought me back to my days of playing Final Fantasy VII for 13 hour stretches. It can be picked up for less than $20 now, so there really is no excuse to pass on such a stellar game. The early parts of the game are somewhat deceiving and slow, but I implore you to stick with it. The story gets so good later on that I can't even describe it without spoiling it.

It's not a perfect game though. The gameplay is kind of unilateral, and it's not very long if you just intend to complete the main quest. Despite the game's faults, I really think Square/Enix did an excellent job with Crisis Core.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/09

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


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