Review by Arkrex
Still More Fanservice
Final Fantasy VII. The RPG that took the gaming world by storm. And in recent times, the most milked role-playing saga ever. The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII has been mildly amusing, to put it nicely: Advent Children was an eye-popping, brainless fight-a-thon; Dirge of Cerberus was a similarly mindless, albeit somewhat entertaining blast-a-thon; and Before Crisis will forever remain a mystery to non-Japanese folk (which is a good thing). Despite the grandeur of what is arguably one of the finest RPGs in existence, Final Fantasy VII has only inspired mediocrity.
Until now . . .
Enter Crisis Core: the direct prequel to Final Fantasy VII and an action-RPG more than worthy of its mountainous heritage.
Crisis Core revolves around Zack Fair, a member of the elite special forces known as SOLDIER. He aspires to achieve 1st Class status, with the long-term goal of being a recognised "hero". His mentor and close friend, Angeal, is always by his side . . . until one day he vanishes without a trace, arousing much suspicion given the recent emergence of monstrous beings resembling his best friend, Genesis - who is also missing in action. Thus begins Zack's quest for the truth - a journey that will take him across the sprawling world of Final Fantasy VII, meeting many familiar faces along the way.
If you are unaware of the events that transpired in the original Final Fantasy VII, it may be difficult to follow Crisis Core's narrative which contains many references to its sequel that don't make an ounce of sense otherwise. However, despite this, Crisis Core is still very much noob-friendly with a extremely simple, yet exciting and fast-paced battle system which forms the core of the crisis at hand.
Battles in Crisis Core resemble a fusion of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XII. Zack (your one and only playable character throughout the entire game) is an agile chap who can manoeuvre himself around the battle field with ease and attack at any angle. All commands are given on-the-fly and each action can be linked smoothly to one another which makes for a fighting engine that requires your active participation at all times. It isn't as masher-friendly as Kingdom Hearts was (it plays very much like a solo Final Fantasy XII outing except it requires you to actively press buttons when fighting), but the depth of its mechanics are still rather shallow.
Crisis Core offers players a wide range of ways to deal damage, so much so that it is almost too easy to win. You can customise Zack with a large selection of Materia - magic-imbued stones which grant him the power to perform spinning slashes and staggering blows, and cast typical Final Fantasy elemental and support spells (and yes, he can steal, too). All actions consume either AP or MP, both of which are always topped up (see later) making Crisis Core a ridiculous spam-fest most of the time, with some skilful dodge-rolling all that is required to avoid enemy attacks that would otherwise interrupt your flow of carnage.
To make things even more easy-going, a roulette runs behind the scenes continuously activating temporary bonuses such as reduced damage or no MP use, and every few seconds or so random limit breaks will be triggered that can deal massive splash damage to all enemies, restore you to full health (and beyond) or allow you to deal a critical hit with every strike. And with every successful result, your MP, AP and health are replenished, often-times breaking the limit so that your stats read something along the lines of 1985/1337 . . . which is mathematically impossible, right? Crisis Core is a game intended to allow players to do whatever they want, whenever they like, without having to worry about conservation - which admittedly makes playing it a blast, despite the lack of challenge.
Of course, there's always the brand-new Hard Mode, accessible right from the get-go, which requires a more strategic train of thought with enemies hitting harder and much more frequently (they don't stand around like Devil May Cry "training dummies", that's for sure). Unfortunately, the learning curve is pretty steep if you tackle this mode without prior experience which may deter the younger generation of gamers who are obviously this game's target audience (alongside the numerous fanboys).
Either way, Crisis Core is still an ability-abusing, battle-orientated game. The main quest itself clocks in at 8-12 hours, but there are several HUNDREDS of side-missions to complete which extends Crisis Core's longevity substantially. These missions take place in various locales that you travel through during your expedition, nearly all of them have very simple objectives (e.g. eliminate all enemies, rematch against a souped-up boss), and they take only a few minutes (or less) to accomplish. This is a perfect example of how incorporate portable content into what I would otherwise consider to be a home console game. Got a minute to spare? Why don't you head over to the Midgar Slums and clear some pests - earning some experience, special items or accessories along the way?
It's all about the fighting. And if you play Crisis Core the way it's meant to be played (that is, without resorting to mashing X the entire time), it's a hell of a lot of fun. Especially if you are a Final Fantasy fanatic.
Crisis Core is pure fanservice no matter which way you look at it. Zack (re)treads the same steps that Cloud walked in Final Fantasy VII (which should be obvious as to why, for those who have played the RPG) and encounters a large chunk of its supporting cast members. Some of them, like the affectionate flower-girl Aerith, a pre-badass Sephiroth, and of course everyone's favourite spiky-haired blonde, Cloud Strife, are sufficiently developed, but others, such as the Turks and the Wutai ninja girl, Yuffie, play somewhat cameo-tic roles.
About half of music from Crisis Core are remixes of original Final Fantasy VII tracks: Aerith's Theme, One-WInged Angel, Fighting, Still More Fighting, and so on. They are now as far removed from MIDI-quality as possible, drawing inspiration from the progressive rock style of The Black Mages - the band helmed by Nobuo Uematsu (the genius behind Final Fantasy VII's original score). The new tracks fit in with this modern style very well and serve as a perfect accompaniment to the special-effects laden action.
And must I mention the graphics? We all know that Square-Enix take pride of their high presentation values, and Crisis Core is no slacker. Some of the finest real-time graphics for the PSP are blended almost seamlessly with Advent Children-quality FMV, especially during the massive summon sequences. This is one of the best-looking portable games Ive ever played.
PSP fans, rejoice. This is the killer-app that you have been waiting for; the game which will send PSP units worldwide flying off the shelves - just like what Final Fantasy VII did for the original PlayStation. Granted, it has more fanboy than mainstream appeal, but the former group is a large demographic in its own right. Crisis Core may not finely strike a balance between easy and hard, and it may be difficult for newcomers to fully appreciate the world of Final Fantasy VII from this episode alone, but with a metric tonne of exciting battles geared towards both short and long-term play, Crisis Core is clearly a winner. *Victory Fanfare*
VERDICT - 9.0/10 Simple and clean fun
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (FFVII 10th Anniversary Edition) (JP, 09/13/07)
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