"Faithful to the FFVII universe and a fun game on its own"

Ever since they opened pandora's box several years ago with the announcement of Advent Children, Square-Enix has been hard at work pumping out FFVII material. And to be honest, the results have been less than stellar. The plots, settings and characters have been created with only mild thought given to consistency with the original title. And even worse is that the array of different writers for the different material has led to the new titles themselves being horribly inconsistent (if not blatantly contradictive) with eachother. The unfortunate thing is that Crisis Core doesn't change much of that, many scenarios are just nonsense when compared to the original title or Dirge of Cerberus. Everything else Crisis Core does is quite solid, however.

This time around players are taking control of Zack, a rather obscure but integral character that didn't make sense unless you saw a well-hidden cutscene in FFVII. The main game deals with Zack taking on missions in Shinra's SOLDIER unit while trying to figure out the mystery behind several other top-ranking SOLDIER members. The pacing is generally straight-forward linear missions that can last an hour or longer, with a more open-ended decent-sized hub world in between.

Like SE's more recent RPG efforts, CC strays from the typical JRPG formula with more actioney gameplay. If the player gets in a random encounter no screen transition is made, monsters pop up and the battle takes place in an enclosed area where Zack was standing. The player is able to freely roam the battlefield and move out of the way of attacks, and they come equipped with the basic attack combo, block and dodge actions. Basic gameplay is pretty satisfying if not a little dull, there are plenty of enemy designs with different attacks the player will need to learn how to deal with. While single enemy encounters are usually pretty simple - dodge behind them and slash them to hell - when facing multiple enemies the action gets quite a bit more interesting as the player has to work harder to capitalize on openings.

While the basic combat is pretty good, the complexity and variety quickly ramps up with materia. There are literally dozens of actions Zack can add to his arsenal from standard magic spells to variations of his regular attack, not to mention even more materia that can boost stats or performance or link with other materia to add status effects or elements to Zack's attacks or defense. Then there are dozens of typical Final Fantasy accessories the player can equip to boost their power further. Zack's equipment slots are limited of course, so character building/tweaking nuts will have plenty to screw around with. And just when you're starting to get the materia selection under control the game hits you again with Materia Fusion, which lets you combine any materia and items together to create even more new and powerful materia - which'll keep most players playing for quite a while.

One aspect of the gameplay that is kind of controversial however is the DMW. The DMW is a slot reel with numbers and characters, which is how level-ups and super attacks are handled - somewhat randomly. It works a lot better than what one might imagine it would, and can be pretty fun at times. A bit too often it'll just be a pain, however, activating Limit Breaks in the middle of an easy battle. Overall it is a decent feature, just not one you'll particularly look forward to seeing again.

The gameplay is pretty even with the story as far as carrying the game forward, partly because the story is such a mixed bag. The overall plot is just disappointing. It deals with two new SOLDIER members, Genesis and Angeal, who progressively turn into just really unappealling characters. There is also the new "mastermind" bad guy Hollander, who is such an absolute rehash of Hojo (who himself is mostly just a generic "unfeeling scientist") that it is disgusting. The plot just isn't compelling and is poorly told, developer interviews have to be read to make sense out of it and even then it just feels so flimsily put together.

Where the story does shine, however, is it's development of Zack. He's an everybody's man much like Zidane in FFIX, so those tiring of the angsty "flawed" characters in FFVII will find plenty to like in him. One of the more touching parts of his character is his desire to be with his comrades as he finds himself too busy to hardly ever see them. It is a bit more subtle theme throughout the story but handled very impressively, such as a phone conversation Zack has with Sephiroth. After discussing their current duty and Sephiroth is about to hang up, Zack stops him - leading Sephiroth to assure him they'll see eachother again soon. Much like how Cloud was developed in FFVII, it is impressive development that foregoes stereotypical "cool" good guy characterization always seen in videogames.

And one last praise to the story, it does a great job catching the charm the original FFVII had. Throughout the story there are numerous light-hearted joke scenes that'll crack players up and keep the plot from feeling so deathly serious. I was glad Crisis Core took this direction, since the Compilation has been heading more and more towards feeling like a melodrama with reliance on the occasional crappy slapstick scene (whoever thought it was funny to have Yuffie repeatedly fall down in Dirge of Cerberus for no reason should be shot.) There are also tons of references to FFVII, and reliving the Nibelheim event is just beyond cool if you're a fan.

Like the story, the voice acting is really a mixed bag. The first half of the game it is absolutely some of the best dub work I've heard in a JRPG period. The dialogue feels so natural and well-done, leagues beyond the stiff, ear-grating work done with AC and DoC. Then near the end it seems like they just stopped trying and the lines became horribly riddled with the awkward pauses and bad line delivery typical with SE's work, not to mention they begin adopting the goofy-ass over-exaggerated gestures reminiscent of anime. On the plus side the soundtrack is amazing throughout, with catchy tunes that are the perfect mixture between FFVII's classic tracks and Ishimoto's newer work.

Visually, Crisis Core is stunning on the PSP. The in-game character models are easily on par with SE's top titles on the PS2, and the cinematic Advent Children-style scenes are absolutely breathtaking. When Zack activates a Summon monster the game seamlessly switches to a CG scene for their attack, which are just mindblowing and easily the best created in a Final Fantasy title yet. Some of the environments feel a little drab, but this is a minor complaint that only applies to certain areas.

The main story in Crisis Core will probably take around 16 hours or less to complete, but there is quite a bit to do besides that. The hub world in-between missions offers plenty of sidequests, some of which will lead to seeing hidden scenes or new mail, but most of which unlock side missions. Missions can be chosen out of the main menu from any save point, where you'll get a short briefing on what you're doing and then thrown in the battlefield. It is a great way to power up and collect tons of treasure, the only problem is it is pretty much nothing but dungeon crawling. There are 300 missions in total, and there is pretty much no variety at all between them. More than 290 of them involve moving through an area (of which there are only a handful of, they keep getting recycled) and fighting monsters before reaching the target monster. Really only fun to play because of the multitude of treasures waiting to be collected.

It should be noted Crisis Core comes with a New Game+ feature and Hard mode though, great features that every RPG should have.

Gameplay - 8/10

A good mixture of the action and RPG genres. Not too much difficulty in the combat but it is fairly satisfying by tasking players to use basic reflexes and judgment skills to emerge victorious.

Story - 7.5/10
Zack's personal development is very well done while the main plot feels like a poorly put-together rip-off of Sephiroth's and Hojo's backstory.

Visuals - 9.5/10
Some of the best on the PSP. Character models are beautiful and the CG scenes are mindblowing.

Audio - 8.5/10
Amazing soundtrack with plenty of classic FFVII tracks beautifully reworked. Voice acting goes from amazing to crap.

Controls - 8/10
Everything works fine aside from the camera, which gives up whenever it hits a wall. Annoying but not a big deal.

Longevity- 8.5/10
Enough content to keep playing for 60+ hours, many won't like the dungeon crawling-esque missions though. New Game+ rocks for whenever players want to relive the story.

Final - 8.3/10
Crisis Core succeeds with everything it sets out to do, and even with its high production values it feels right at home on the handheld PSP. The combat is simple but satisfying, the story is ultimately enjoyable, and overall it just feels extraordinarily like FFVII. The atmosphere and charm are sure to appeal to the fans, along with the multitude of references to characters/events in the original title. And while it is apparent the title isn't as large-scale as the Final Fantasy series typically is, Crisis Core still offers plenty for your gaming dollars.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/08/08

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

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