Review by shabulia

"...a smart beginning of the Final Fantasy VII world that is perfectly suited for the PSP."

***WARNING! May contain a few slight spoilers of the Final Fantasy VII Saga. Please beware if you have not played these games before.***

As many of you know, Final Fantasy VII is largely heralded as the greatest Role Playing Game, if not one of the best overall games, of all time. It's masterful storytelling and poignant characters were only matched by the awe-inspired visuals and groundbreaking game play of its time. While the original game is very dated by today's standards, the story and characters are still beloved above any other RPG that comes to mind. This is why Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis, and Dirge of Cererus: Final Fantasy VII were all released. Now it is time for us to explore the latest chapter in the ever spanning universe of Final Fantasy VII; Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.

If you've been paying attention to this series since it debuted on the Playstation, then you know this is the story of how it all began. If you are new to the universe of Final Fantasy VII and are wondering what the hell this Final Fantasy VII craziness is all about, Crisis Core might be a good place to start. This is the game where you find out who characters like Sephiroth and Aerith are, how Cloud came to be the badass that we know him to be, and who the mysterious Zack character is from Cloud's memories. This is the first chapter of the story and it leaves off right where Final Fantasy VII picks up.

What will first strike you about the game is how absolutely gorgeous it is. The introductory movie is done in typical jaw dropping Square Enix detail; so much that you'll want to watch Advent Children again just to compare the two. When the actual game begins you'll still have to pick your jaw up off the floor as the in-game graphics are also incredibly detailed and stunning. The frame rate stays at a solid 60 frames per second all throughout. The characters are large and look amazing. Everything in the game is eye catching, from the monsters and action sequences to the menus and the tiny details in exploring towns. The colors are what you might have come to expect if you have been playing the Final Fantasy VII series for a while. Dark blues and grey tones are used to reflect the moodiness of Midgar and the Slums. The detail keeps up later in the game and you'll be surprised to find places you recognize from Final Fantasy VII that are fully rendered in 3D. While this game is on the PSP, you'll find yourself questioning if your PSP accidentally turned into a PS2 when you weren't paying attention. The game looks that good.

Crisis Core has a distinct Final Fantasy VII feel which is largely due to the graphics and the music. Many of the same tunes you are familiar with have been remixed and updated with real instruments, yet some new music finds its way into the game and fits just as nicely. Other touches add to the Final Fantasy VII feel beyond just visuals and music. The sounds in the menus are lifted directly from the original game. Voice acting is included and is top notch. Many voices are those of the original actors from Advent Children and the Kingdom Hearts games. While some of the voices needed to be filled by other actors, the new ones do an outstanding job as well. Summons and Materia also make a triumphant return and characters you know and love also show their faces here; from the Turks to a little Wu Tai girl named Yuffie. It all adds to a wonderful nostalgia that makes this game such a treat

Another thing worth noting is Square Enix's attention to detail for this game. The cut scenes where the characters are talking have been reworked completely so that the lips match the voices of the actors as you hear them. When you hear Zack or Sephiroth speak English, if you watch their lips, you see that the lips are moving just as they should with the English dialogue. It's this detail oriented attitude that Square took with Crisis Core that make it such a high quality product. When playing, you can tell that this game was one of the company's top priorities. It's nice to see such a polished game, especially when so fans many out there take the Final Fantasy VII games so seriously.

This game follows Zack; a member of the elite military class for the Shinra Company, Soldier. When the game begins, he is very eager and brash with a slightly immature personality but with exceptional potential. His mentor, Angeal, is helping to train him so he can further his skills and become a Soldier 1st class. On the first mission he's assigned, Zack finds out many things he once thought were not to be true. People he once admired turn out to be not what he expected. This may not seem like an aspect worth talking about in a review but it is quite relevant in this game. Crisis Core takes place over the course of several years and we witness Zack's shift from an eager and brash young Soldier to a serious and slightly jaded warrior. He finds love, betrayal, and pain in his journey; all of which affect his attitude and demeanor throughout the game.

Zack meets many people along the way, three of which hold the most significance in the later games of the series; Sephiroth, Shinra's top Soldier; a girl in a church named Aerith,the love of Zack's life; and a young and weak (Yes, WEAK) lowly Infantry man named Cloud. At this point in the story, Sephiroth is a good guy. We get a chance to see his fall from hero status to his dark moments of self discovery. Aerith is the love interest for our hero. Her story and past are revealed a bit more as well in this game. That leaves us with Cloud; the young man that Zack befriends and inspires to become the ultimate badass later in the series. The game's story is just as captivating as Final Fantasy VII's and the excitement of hitting the next plot point will keep you glued to your PSP for hours. It's powerful, gripping, and even emotionally charged enough to make a tear or two well up while basking in the knowledge of what will happen to these characters later on. You also get to find out where Cloud's huge Buster Sword comes from and how it was passed down to him for Final Fantasy VII.

While the story, music, presentation and graphics sure feel like Final Fantasy VII, the game's battle system is one that will take some getting used to. This is where Crisis Core deviates heavily from the Final Fantasy formula. The game is an action RPG that borrows from ideas and familiarities and mixes them with real time battles. Battles are totally random (accept for boss battles) to where you can't see the enemy on screen until you enter Battle Mode. Your main attack method will be to use the X button in order to swing your sword at your enemies. When you equip materia, you will be able to use its special abilities by scrolling through what is equipped using your L or R buttons and pressing X when you have selected the desired materia. Materia that uses magic points (MP) will not be available if you run out of MP. You will have to conserve MP for the Cures, Fira and Thundaga spells you'll need in boss battles. Another type of materia exists in the game that relies on ability points (AP). These include special attacks like Jump or Critical Hit attacks. These come in handy in heavy fights but usually aren't necessary for the average fights.

Another introduction to the fighting system is the Digital Mind Wave (DMW). It is a slot machine style system that is constantly scrolling while in battle. Sets of three numbers spin while sets of faces (characters you have met throughout the game) spin along with them. They seem to spin at random until the two reels on the ends match faces. For instance, say the two reels on the end stop because they both match Aerith's face, then the battle is interrupted so the DMW can fill the screen. You push the X button at the right time in order to get the middle reel to also stop on Aerith. If the faces match, then you will get an attack or a protective spell automatically placed while in battle. If the numbers all match 7, you automatically level up. This system is also how Limit Breaks are handled in fights. It may seem frustrating to think you have no control over leveling up of when you will use a Limit Break, but the computer seems to take care of this in that it gives plenty of chances to level up at the appropriate points in the game.

While a lot of this seems awkward for a Final Fantasy game, it works really well. This game is a perfect fit for the PSP. The simplified battles can be quite a challenge yet they aren't too drawn out. The DMW system works really well because you don't have to waste hours upon hours leveling up just so you can move onto the next boss fight. The game can be played in great length or enjoyed in short spurts if you are pressed for time. It is a great way to do an RPG on the PSP.

While the game's main story will take between 20 and 30 hours to beat there's a lot more to Crisis Core to explore. There are several side missions and areas to explore in the game. While they are not a necessary part of playing they are worth it to get more background on characters, story points, and other secrets along the course of the game. They are also a great way to level up, find rare and powerful items and materia, and build up Gil (money system for Final Fantasy games). The Missions are pretty repetitive, which is a let down. They are basically the same thing over and over again; find treasure boxes and fight monsters… find treasure boxes and fight monsters… repeat. The plus side is that the missions get quite challenging later on and the areas you explore each mission, while repetitive as well, are varied between about ten different locales. All in all, the side stuff is just there for those that want to complete more of the game and add a challenge to it.

Another plus is being able to go through the game again after you beat it with all of the items, materia, and abilities you have acquired the first time you played through. Rumor has it there is an additional ending bonus for those that complete 100% of the game on the second play through.
For many out there, this game is a no brainer. Scores of fans out there will plunk down the extra cash just to buy a PSP so they could play this game alone. For those of you on the fence, this game is a must have for any Final Fantasy VII fan and for any PSP owner. It is a graphical sight to behold that pushes the PSP to its limits; it brings warm feelings and sad memories to mind in its compelling story, it's battle system is one that makes use of the typical PSP players style of play; it has a focus on attention to detail that George Lucas should take notes from should he ever make any more prequels. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a smart beginning of the Final Fantasy VII universe that is perfectly suited for the PSP

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/28/08

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

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