Review by DDJ

"Fails to fulfill the reason we wanted it in the first place."

(Warning: this review contains spoilers from the original Final Fantasy VII, mostly for the 'flashback' sequence)

Don't take the word "fail" too universally in this review's title: this is a great game. The graphics are phenomenal, the gameplay is entertaining, and the plotline is intriguing. Really, this is a game to be thoroughly enjoyed by the FF fan and non-fan alike.

But the game suffers from one absolutely epic shortcoming. What Square-Enix failed to understand (or, perhaps, understood but couldn't capitalize on) is exactly why we were so thirsty for a Final Fantasy VII prequel. It wasn't to revisit the world of materia and Midgar. It wasn't to engross ourselves in another perfect Square-Enix battle system. It wasn't to gaze in awe at the greatest FMV designers' creations on the greatest portable medium ever.

We wanted this game so we could truly see the origins of Cloud's memories; to explore the mysterious character previously only seen in cutscenes that we know as Zack; to walk with Sephiroth through the discoveries that transformed him from a loyal SOLDIER operative to an impossibly powerful villain with delusions of grandeur (and maybe an Oedipus complex); and perhaps, if time allows, to see the early versions of other characters, of Cid and Barret and Red XIII and all the other characters that drew us to Final Fantasy VII in the first place.

Instead, though, Sephiroth is a mere footnote and Cloud is little more than a contrived subplot. The game does an expert job of giving a multi-dimensional view of Zack, and we get to witness his courtship with Aeris in beautiful detail. But little attention is paid to either Cloud or Sephiroth, and the characters shared between Crisis Core and the original can be counted on two hands.

That's not to say that Cloud and Sephiroth hardly appear - they're fairly pervasive throughout the game. But the key detail is that they are never truly the focal point of any aspect of the plot except what was necessitated by the flashback from Final Fantasy VII. They could be completely lifted out of the game and the plotline would remain largely intact.

How is that possible, considering the original plot event that inspired the game entirely revolves around Sephiroth and Cloud? That event - the flashback to Nibelheim seen in Kalm in the original FF7 - seems almost out of place in Crisis Core. The game proceeds as normal, following a new and separate plotline, and then suddenly without warning is jerked away to Nibelheim. After the events and the four-year interlude during which our main character is trapped in the mansion's basement, the plot continues so smoothly from pre-Nibelheim that Zack himself is shocked to learn that 4 years have passed.

After that, Crisis Core experiences its own climax, featuring an enemy never referenced in the original Final Fantasy VII. The battle is indeed epic, and would have provided a satisfactory end - but the game then returns to touching on what the original FF7 dictates it must and follows Zack after the battle. The entire post-climax portion of the game, while beautiful, still feels contrived and included only for continuity. What's more, Crisis Core only shows as much of this as it must - we never truly get to see Cloud's assimilation of Zack's memories. A newcomer playing Crisis Core before playing Final Fantasy VII would be utterly confused by Cloud's sudden assumption of Zack's identity.

Crisis Core is a game that can almost stand completely separately from the original Final Fantasy VII; the second and third most crucial characters - named Angeal and Genesis - are never referenced (that I know of) anywhere else in the FF7 compilation. Supporting cast members are only shared where necessary for continuity - such as Tifa in the flashback. And don't take my criticisms of Square-Enix's continuity devices the wrong way - when I say the continuity feels contrived, I don't mean that they should've left it out altogether; I mean that they should have focused even more on it from the beginning.

Aside from these criticisms, Crisis Core is a magnificent game. The graphics are truly astounding - they rival anything I've seen on the PlayStation 2. The battle system is fun and light, and the typical repetition actually remains entertaining. And the plotline, separate and apart from its Final Fantasy VII roots, is incredible. But any other review can tell you these things.

Standing separate and apart as an independent game, I'd give Crisis Core an 7/10. But I don't feel it's fair to judge Crisis Core separate and apart; this is a game that was made solely due to fans' thirst for more of the Final Fantasy VII plotline, and this game didn't provide it. For that, I give Crisis Core a 5/10.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 06/27/08, Updated 03/29/10

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

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