Review by Kwing

"Gameplay is Full of Kinks, but the Final Product is Enjoyable"

Nearly flawless. I would have said these were perfect a few months ago, but after playing MGS: Peace Walker, my horizons were slightly expanded. Still incredible, though. The menu layout is nice and fancy, while maintaining a certain simplicity to it, as well as stylistic similarities to the original Final Fantasy VII. The faces are pretty good too, although, the certain animations some characters have are overused. The main character Zack has a few that are done way too often. For instance, when he's upset, he has this exaggerated animation in which he hangs his head, and when he's surprised, he has this (also exaggerated) flinching animation. Plus, the different qualities of cutscenes had my head spinning in circles for a very long time. The lowest quality have only preset animations and text with no voices. The next highest on the list has voice acting, but still the same low quality animations. The next highest up from that has graphics that are the same as the others, only rendered differently so the edges on any given shape look a little smoother, while the highest quality graphics are completely from scratch and look incredible (though there are very few of them throughout the game). However, even the 'worst' graphics still look great, and the animations likewise. Although, like other Final Fantasy releases, some enemies are just recolored versions of others, or worse, differentiated only by stats (Cockatrice+ or Cockatrice++). The overdrives, or special attacks, look excellent, and there's a cool spinning sword trail that appears every time you hit an enemy. Oh, and before I close this, I have to mention the summons, which look absolutely amazing. And if you're lucky, you'll be seeing plenty of them throughout the game.

The sound effects are crisp, realistic, fitting, and don't get repetitive at all, while the voice acting is top-notch and sounds just like you would imagine. Zack, Cloud, and Sephiroth have particularly good voicing, although Aerith's voice actress wasn't quite the same quality. The music is pretty good, but some themes get repetitive. As a whole, though, all of the battle themes and remixed FFVII songs sound great, and while many songs sound worse when redone, I can confidently say that Crisis Core was not subject to this particular pitfall.

Second-class SOLDIER Zack works under the worldwide and immensely powerful Shinra Power Electric Company, protecting its base in Midgar. He aspires to be a first-class and is being mentored by the first-class SOLDIER Angeal. After several SOLDIER operatives go missing, Zack and SOLDIER first-class Sephiroth are sent out to find them, and as they do, the dark secrets of Shinra will slowly dawn on Zack, who, while loyal to Shinra, has an iron-strong loyalty to his friends. Players of the original FFVII will know some of what happens, but as powerful and emotional as it was meant to be, I couldn't feel for the characters, mostly because none of them had any unique traits or personality quirks. To make someone feel for a character, something unique and irreplaceable has to be evident in them, and Square Enix failed to do this.

The battle system in Crisis Core is totally unique, and with it comes a lot of good news and a lot of bad news. You run around freely using the analog stick or D-pad, and you cycle through your actions (Attack, Items, and any actions granted by materia) with the [L] and [R] shoulder buttons. Pressing X allows you to immediately perform that action. Attacking makes Zack run toward whichever enemy is targeted (chosen by which direction he's facing) and perform a physical attack with his sword. Consecutive slashes will build up a combo, increasing in power for four hits. Other enemies caught in the slash will also take damage. Selecting items will bring you to a submenu with all of your usable items, which are cycled with the shoulder buttons as well, or canceled with O. Using an item requires Zack to stand still for a minute to consume the item, after which he can continue fighting. Spells are cast similarly with MP, although some materia enables slower, faster, or simply different physical attacks at the cost of AP. The Square button allows Zack to perform a roll to dodge attacks at the cost of 1 AP, and the Triangle button allows Zack to hold up his sword in defend mode. Each time he's hit, he'll take minimal HP damage and some AP damage as well. When fighting multiple enemies, though, the defense mechanism is pretty useless, as enemies will attack him from behind and land critical hits. Similarly, though, when an enemy isn't actively facing your direction, Zack can run around and land critical hits on them from behind as well.

The two main problems with the gameplay are the camera and the boss behaviors, as well as the small but annoying factor of Status Ailments, and the Flee function, which is coked out. The game controls implemented no combo buttons, thus the controls lack the buttons for camera control at all, and it's extremely hard to see enemies when fighting multiple ones at a time. At least the camera could have been by default a little more vertical, but you're denied even that. Thus, battles that would normally have been easy, due to being able to dodge 90% of attacks, are brutally hard due to the fact that you can't see an enemy and don't know when they're attacking.

And the boss battles are also a joke, especially when your arena has INVISIBLE WALLS. Some blurring, discoloration, or maybe graphically represented walls would be a nice if you could at least know why you suddenly can't move in this direction. Bosses also love to knock you down AS YOU'RE GETTING UP. Plus they can deal pretty insane damage if you're not prepared, so you have to just not take damage. How? In one battle you have to attack three or four times and then wait for the boss to decide to attack you repeatedly until it decides to stop. How do you know it's done? When it stands stupidly, not doing anything. The DMW also disrupts the flow of gameplay, especially in these hard battles. Their Limit Breaks are also implemented horribly. You watch, unable to do anything, as they unleash an attack that does tons of damage. Sure, when it's done you can heal, but this does nothing except require you to maintain a quotient of health above a certain amount just in case the boss decides to use it.

A similar deterrent is the system of statuses. The status ailments inflicted and received are very nasty, and worst of all they never miss! That includes Death status as well. Poison, Stop, and Stun can all cause you to lose a battle, even if it's just because Poison is making you flinch when you're trying to attack, rather than the HP loss being a problem. But Stop and Stun especially make you completely helpless, and while you can get equipment that wards off these statuses, the game doesn't ask 'how well can you cope with these?' but rather 'how many slots do you have to sacrifice for this particular battle?'.

The Limit Break system is different as well, implementing a DMW system (Digital Mind Wave). Basically it's a 6-slotted slot machine that spins and stops as the battle endures, consuming SP gained from previous battles and sacrificed materia. There are three slots for numbers and three for faces of main characters Zack has met. When the numbers line up in certain ways, Zack gains certain buffs such as Null Physical Damage, All Attacks Critical, No MP Cost, etc. When the left and right faces match up, your phase is modulated. Or rather, the battle is paused, and you wait for the middle slot to stop. If during a Modulating Phase, two numbers are aligned, the materia assigned to the slot of the same number will level up. If three are, the materia levels up twice. And if the numbers are all 7s, Zack himself levels up. Gaining invisible experience from battles increases the chances of a level up. And if during a Modulating Phase, the middle face lines up with the other two, your power is surged and you perform a Limit Break and recover some HP, MP, and AP. Each limit is different, but most generally just damage enemies (though some bestow special statuses upon Zack). In addition to the characters on Zack's DMW, there are also summons and other attacks from 'Chocobo Mode' that behave somewhat differently. Most notable are the summons Odin (which instantly kills enemies), Phoenix (which damages all enemies and gives Zack Raise, aka Reraise), and the Moogle from Chocobo Mode, which levels up ALL of Zack's equipped materia by the number of the level used. All in all, the DMW system is extremely balanced for being a slot machine, but unfortunately, it's still completely out of your control, and not being able to choose when you perform a Limit Break takes a lot of strategy and planning out of the game.

When out of battle, the Square button brings up a map of the area Zack is in (when his 'signal' is working), and Triangle brings up your menu, where you can use items, equip things, use and fuse materia, shop online, read mail, and go on missions (if you're at a Save Point). The shoulder buttons are also switched to camera control. My biggest gripe about the equipment is that you can automatically set your equipment to the strongest for attack or defense, but you can't see what the equipment will look like until you change it. Normally you see a screen showing what you'll be equipping, along with an confirmation button, but not so in this game. When it comes to materia, though, I really like the way it works. Certain materia grant certain abilities, but also stat boosts. As it levels up, the stat boost increases along with the power of the materia's casting strength. Through materia fusion, you can create new and powerful materia at the cost of SP, and fusing high level materia will yield even greater results (Fire + Poison = Dark Fire), but even neater, certain stat boosts will be retained under certain conditions while others will not. Still others may maintain the same boost, but have its effects amplified. And fusing mastered materia into a level 1 materia will allow you to level it up again to crank its stat boost up even higher. The customization that comes out of this is simply fantastic, though later on when your equipment becomes more and more powerful, certain materia will become indispensable and you'll find yourself using the same combinations as everyone else.

Moving on, by far my favorite feature of the main menu are missions. When at a Save Point, you can go on a mission that usually requires you to run through an area and defeat the boss battle at the end, which can either be one enemy or several. Each mission has a reward, and missions are unlocked by talking to people around Midgar, or by progressing the story. There are 300 missions in total, and half of them are harder than the final boss itself. Since missions can be repeated and only put you back to your Save Point when you lose, they make it impossible for you to get stuck at a certain area, because you can just keep grinding on missions if need be. Some even have storylines that progress slowly through each mission category. Combined with the online shopping feature, you really can't get stuck. The extensiveness of this feature is great and provides sidequests and opportunity for work and reward.

I played this game on Hard Mode only and have yet to experience it on Normal Mode, but it took me around 50 hours to beat it the first time. After that, you can start a New Game+, and a New Game++ after that. The next times around, you'll be stronger and will be able to tackle tougher missions, and it'll probably take a long time before you can conquer all 300.

There is one problem I have to mention though. When you start a New Game+, many things are reset. For one, all of your key items (summons, Chocobo DMWs, extra equipment and materia slots) are reset, and even worse, your shops and mission progress are reset too! Your shops allow for a LOT of freedom, and you really need it to fight at the top of your game. As for missions... While this allows you to obtain the unique rewards from missions again (including one mission that has a 20 Elixir payout), you'll have to redo dozens of missions, and worse yet, you'll still have to follow a walkthrough to unlock all of your missions again, since missions are the only missable things in the game. I was hoping when I restarted, I could go on a leisurely killing rampage and not worry about talking to every single person in Midgar, but it looks like I have to do all of the mundane tasks over and over every playthrough! Not only that, but missions with status-inflicting enemies require you to dress very specifically. That's another mundane task you'll have to do over and over, just to build back up to where you were before! Sure, there's replay value, but finding out I had to redo over 150 missions made me so disheartened I quit altogether and went back to playing Castlevania.

This game is not an action-RPG as you know it. It's a button masher that somehow ends up seeming almost turn-based, with some appeal and clever features, but also tons of tedious quests, even if it is lathered in beautiful graphics, amazing music, and a great storyline. I enjoyed this game, but it has plenty of dark sides that cannot be ignored. It is extremely tedious at times, and some battles are hard in a bad way rather than a fun way. Overall I enjoyed it, but as an action-RPG goes, I would recommend a handful of other games before this one.

Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/11

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

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