Review by brochattey
"Does this prequel to FF7 live up to its namesake?"
Going into Crisis Core, I only knew that it was a prequel to Final Fantasy VII on the PS One, and honestly, that alone was enough to pique my interest. Luckily, I was treated to a pretty impressive game that adds new depth to the classic world. By the end, my playtime was roughly 70 hours for a 100% complete game -- I am a fervent completionist in my RPGs -- and found that I had enjoyed nearly every minute of it.
Aided by your mentor Angeal, you play as Zack Fair, SOLDIER 2nd Class, in the events ending the Wutai War. Suddenly, Angeal's rival, Genesis, disappears without warning. Your mission throughout the rest of the game is to determine Genesis' motive for abandoning Shinra and stop him at all costs. This leads you to many exotic and familiar places including Nibelheim, known by FFVII fans as the site of the infamous confrontation with Sephiroth. Even if none of that grabs you, the game's powerful ending is worth the journey -- a must see for any fan of the classic.
The gameplay is a mixture of action and RPG. As you move through environments, you engage in random battles which essentially places an invisible barrier around you and the enemies. You have normal control of your character within this barrier, but now you can perform actions by selecting them with the L and R buttons. Actions include performing a standard attack, casting spells, or using an item. The square and triangle buttons also give you the option to dodge and block, respectively. The control scheme works pretty well, although sometimes I had difficulty navigating my character away from an attacking enemy while trying to select the proper action. Multitasking is a big part of battles.
Camera controls are only available outside of battle because they make use of the shoulder buttons; furthermore, it can only pan around Zack from ground level. The biggest problem is that the camera often gets "caught" on the walls around you, and the only way to continue rotating is to step far enough away from the wall. It wasn't a game breaker, but it is definitely frustrating.
You have three primary vitals in battle: HP, MP, and AP. Mana Points (MP) are used to perform spells granted by your equipped materia -- Cure, Blizzaga, Ultima, etc.. Some materia, however, grants you the ability to perform special moves that make use of Action Points (AP); dodging and blocking also depletes your AP. You are also given Soldier Points (SP) for defeating foes, which is used to keep the DMW spinning.
The DMW, short for Digital Mind Wave, is the system by which your character and materia levels, limit breaks and summons occur, and status buffs are granted. Think of the DMW as a crazy slot machine running on the sidelines of battle. The DMW employs two sets of three slots. The first set displays pictures of the main characters and the second set displays the numbers 1-7. The various number combinations grant you temporary status buffs in battle, and if the two outer character portraits match at any point, you are taken into Modulating Phase. Here, the middle picture spins, and provided you get a match, you will trigger a limit break or summon. Also during modulation, the spinning numbers determine whether or not you level up. A matching set of any number will level the materia equipped in the corresponding slot while a set of sevens will level up your character.
The DMW is really a system that needs to be experienced in order to fully understand. Even after having read the manual, it didn't start coming together until a few hours in. It's cumbersome at first, but eventually you begin to enjoy the small gambles. One complaint is that while you can skip the summon cutscenes, you cannot skip the limit breaks, and it is frustrating to have to sit through them every time. Also, a somewhat random element is given to leveling up. There is no visible experience bar, so for people who enjoy level grinding, this can be a hindrance. As a whole, the system works well despite its unique quarks.
Materia has two purposes: first, the primary effect -- spells, special attacks, and stat buffs -- and second, a stat boost granted by equipping the materia. The stat boost inherent on most materia can be raised via leveling, but more substantial gains are achieved through fusion with other materia and items. Fusing is also used to upgrade your spells and obtain rare materia. I had a lot of fun with the fusion system by using it to max out my characters stats. (Yes, I am this dedicated to my RPGs.) If you enjoy experimenting with different combinations of materia, you are going to find a very rewarding system here.
With the crazy gameplay mechanics out of the way, let's discuss how pretty this game is. The character models look great, and display a lot of flexibility in their movements. I don't understand the game's overuse of Zack's squat animation, but that's a minor gripe. Environments are bright and vibrant, albeit a little sparse, but the variety of locations in the main story makes up for any shortcomings. A lot of the classic locations from FFVII also look great in 3D, and it's a lot of fun to recognize familiar landmarks. However, this game really shines during the CG cutscenes; they are simply breathtaking and offer some of the best visuals I've ever seen on the PSP.
The game also touts some very talented voice acting. While I wish the game featured the original Japanese voice tracks, the English actors still do a great job at conveying emotion, specifically Zack. The score is very well done and highly eclectic, and among my favorites is the wistful piano track that plays in Aerith's church.
I'd estimate roughly 20-25 hours if you play straight through the story, but why stop there? The game offers literally hundreds of side missions, though largely supplemental, they offer many more hours of gameplay and net you some pretty sweet rewards. Essentially, you are plopped into a sectioned area of a large map with the objective of finding and killing the mission's boss. The missions are perfect for bite-sized playtimes, and can generally be completed within 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, the mission environments are extremely repetitive and limited to only a handful of maps. The real fun, however, is in the challenge of defeating the bosses. The game also features a Hard Mode for those who have completed the game, maintaining all of the equipment and materia you have found on normal difficulty.
This game is a love letter for fans of the original Final Fantasy VII, and you'll have a lot of fun recognizing familiar faces and locations. There are some shortcomings with the camera system, and the DMW can be confusing in the early hours, but these are easily overlooked by the addictive gameplay. Crisis Core features a great story and packs a lot of hours for those who choose to complete the side missions. True fans of the FFVII universe should definitely get their hands on this game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/16/10
Game Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (US, 03/24/08)
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