Review by A1X_Jet

"How old is Zack again?"

Gaia Year 2007: Cloud Strife, self-proclaimed former SOLDIER First Class and current mercenary is recruited by childhood friend Tifa Lockheart and companion Barret Wallace into the terrorist group AVALANCHE, a rebel alliance dedicated to "saving the planet" by destroying Shin-Ra Electric Power Company's main source of income: Mako Reactors. Rewind seven years prior to these events to uncover the answers to the questions: What is SOLDIER? What is Shin-Ra? Save the planet from what? These answers and others are thoroughly answered in the prequel to a consumer voted Best Game Ever in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.

As we all know, Cloud Strife was no SOLDIER First Class. Infact, he wasn't even SOLDIER. But he WAS infact present in the calamity of Nibelheim five years prior to the events of the original game. However, he was in no way the hero of this tragedy. Not only was he not the hero, he didn't even show his face! But one particular SOLDIER Operative did: Zack Fair. If you've played Final Fantasy VII, you caught glimpses of the spiky black haired Buster Sword wielding hero, and if you've seen the animated series Last Order or the CGI movie Advent Children, you know by now that Cloud looked up to Zack in a fashion that can be described as inspiration. In Crisis Core, the prequel game to FF7 for the PSP, you won't be playing as the melodramatic blonde in his quest to stop the One Winged Angel. You'll be playing as the mysterious figure of Nibelheim that Tifa remembers from Final Fantasy VII.

Zack Fair, Gaia Year 2000: Shin-Ra's war with Wutai has reached a turning point. SOLDIER dessertion has Shin-Ra calling in more troops: Enter Zack. Just a Second Class operative at this point, but joined by long time mentor and friend Angeal Hewley, his unrecognized but heroic actions in Wutai are the first of many assignments, missions, and plut unraveling adventures that will end with all the questions answered about "What ever happened to Zack, if he was such a hero?"

You'll start the game with a familiar melody playing and an all to eye pleasuring rendition of a assault on a train. Zack may be in a training mission, but this attack is serious! After the illustrious animation, you'll be in the first battle. This brings me to the controls: They're surprisingly easy, not at all too different from the other Final Fantasy VII spinoff, Dirge of Cerberus. I found no problems with the automatic targeting system and unleashing a flurry of up to four attacks in combo-verse. What I did find trouble with is the cycling system, having to use the L or R shoulder triggers to either choose Attack, Magic Materia, Command Materia or Items. An even bigger flaw to this is the Item Bar Menu. When you select Items during combat, the Command Bar changes to the Item Bar Menu, where you will once again have to use the L or R triggers to cycle from Potion, Ether, or Remedy. Although not too difficult considering this menu is always in order (Potion will always be the first selection, followed by others items such as Hi-Potion, X-Potion, Soma, Ether, Remedy - in that order), Crisis Core's battle system runs on an Action oriented base so enemies will always be able to attack while you're getting to your item of choice. What makes this easier to use is the fact that there are Dodge and Block commands (Square and Triangle respectively). You can always dodge away from opponents while getting to your ether. Altogether, the Command Bar isn't difficult to use, just always keep your hands ready to cycle or cancel(Cancel button: Circle, will take you back to the Attack command). Select actions with the X button.

After this initial confrontation with the Wutai Spies in ShinRa Garb, you'll find yourself heading towards a conflict with a purple Behemoth. After defeating this enemy, you'll be granted the view of another CGI Animation of Zack vs. Sephiroth. Needless to say, Zack isn't victorious, but he doesn't have to be, thanks to the assistance of Angeal. After this training mission is complete, it's time to actually begin the game of Crisis Core. Finally, we get to dive into the STORY of Zack Fair. We find out that previously mentioned SOLDIER Desertion included Angeal and Sephiroth's friend and fellow First Class Operative Genesis Rhapsodos. This leads to the deployment of Zack, Angeal and Sephiroth to Wutai to uncover why Genesis has suddenly dissapeared with several Second and Third Class SOLDIERs. Now, if you're like me, you sort've have expected and perhaps even hoped that in Crisis Core you would be able to form parties. Alas.. this is not the case. (Damn it! Who wouldn't wanted a party of Zack, Sephiroth and Cloud at Nibelheim Reactor?!) Ah well. Propel Zack into Wutai to fight against Wutai Combatants. Explore the Fort! Some of the best items obtainable in CC are by going past expectations with Zack as a SOLDIER! Always be prepared to battle, battle, and then battle some more. Battling earns you Gil to purchase materia, and also gives more time for the DMW to spin. Wait, what's the DMW? Digital Mind Wave is the answer. This is Zack's personal way of gaining Experience for Leveling Up and Materia Growth.

The worst part about the DMW: You cannot control it. Like Cait Sith's Limit Break Reels in FF7, the DMW spins and selects characteristics as the game progresses. By this, I mean there are two things to watch-- The Picture Matches of the DMW and the Number Matches of the DMW. When a Picture Match occurs, (The Left most picture and the right most picture are the same), Zack enters Limit Verge mode. This will conclude if the middle picture matches the other two, and if the number matches are the same. If the three pictures are identical, you achieve a Limit Break matching with the character in the pictures. If the numbers match, you can receive an assortment of Status Changes or a Level Up. Triple 7's earns Zack a level and can only be achieved in the Limit Verge Screen. Matching numbers can be achieved in Regular Battle Mode and Limit Verge Mode. Two numbers of the same kind in Limit Verge mode will result in a Materia Growth of one level. In the beginning of the game this feature is limited to numbers 1-4 but eventually is grown to 1-6.

The best part about the DMW: It is not entirely random. Once in Limit Verge screen, continuously pressing buttons may result (be cautious, because one press too many will cause you to miss the feature.) in a special Memory feature with the selected characters in verge. The screen will turn a deep blue and eventually shift to another screen with an in-game animation, non CGI that includes Zack and the verged character. This increases the chances of the Limit Break being achieved. Also, it is not necessary to mash buttons to initiate this feature, as eventually, the game will randomly select when the memory verge is applicable.

The good, the bad, and the ugly -- The DMW: Aside from Limit Verges and Number Matching in the regular screen with characters like Sephiroth, Angeal, and Aerith, there is also a Summon Limit Verge screen and Special Summon Limit Verge Screen. These include classic FF7 summons like Ifrit and Phoenix, and well known characters like the Chocobo, Tonberry, Moogle and Cait Sith respectively.

The DMW and Limit Break Verges, although for the most part non controllable and random, are not MY favorite features of the gameplay in Crisis Core. You may find that you will have to go on many Missions aside from normal gameplay to achieve high levels as the Triple 7 Verge doesn't occur all too frequently. Missions are also how you will acquire Summons in Crisis Core, aside from Phoenix, after facing them in normal gameplay, certain missions allow you to duel the summons again to acquire them as Materia Items. One of the best things about calling Summons forward in CC is that, although Ifrit is Fire Elemental, in THIS game he is non-elemental, as all summons are. Also, they no longer require MP to be used, but again, selecting which Summon to use is not in your choice, as they too are Verges that must be image-matched.

Now, you may be wondering... "Phoenix has got too be more powerful than Ifrit, plus the feature of Raise (allowing you to reach KO Status once and be brought back at full HP for another round), so I don't want to use Ifrit. I want Phoenix! Also, I bet Sephiroth's Limit Break is more powerful than Cloud's, so I want to use his!" Well, in Crisis Core, strength of Limit Breaks and Summons are determined by the random selection of their level, 1-5. Unlike the Memory Verge feature, you have ABSOLUTELY no control over this, however: The longer you've had a DMW Character(Your oldest will be Sephiroth and Angeal((score! ... My opinion, the best two Limit Breaks)), and perhaps Ifrit), the more often they will score a high level attack. Considering you achieve Phoenix relatively later in the game(boooo!), he will need time to be Verged and selected more often, therefore increasing your chances of having a high level attack. This means, since Ifrit is the first Summon you can achieve(You don't necessarily have to achieve him, though I recommend you do considering he hits all targets on field) chances of him achieving a Level 5 attack are greater than say the last summon you obtain. FURTHERMORE, and I know you'll be happy to hear this is you appreciate in game CGI, Graphics and Music as I do, Summons come with their very own in-game CGI Animated Attack, plus, it can be skipped with a press of the X button. You'll appreciate them for their artistic value, well illustration, and vivid colors. The summons of FF7 are now Advent Children visually incremented, and that in itself is a complete bonus.

Graphics. CGI. Music. The Folks on over at Square-Enix are HIGHLY praised for their ability to create top notch quality in game graphical features, and Crisis Core measures up nicely. Battle music is no longer that push over repetitive happy go lucky tune, but for Zack has been pushed into a heavy guitar influenced bass and percussion and electronic accompanied aural assault that'll appease and tease the ears. The negative of that? With battle after battle in hopes of getting those coveted Triple 7's, the rockcore battle music will get boring and repetitive. Thankfully, for certain boss battles the music will alter. For instance, every boss is infact unique and therefore their music is as well. Still, when on missions and fighting your round a bout combatants, the music may become boring after ten minutes or so of hearing the same riff. Thankfully, non-CGI graphics are remarkable. Toned down from Dirge of Cerberus to fit the PSP, and therefore somewhat out of focus, you can still clearly make out the fact that Zack is a 6'3 character with spiky black hair in long flowing pants while carrying a sword far too big for him. Magic Materia spells aren't lacking in graphical animation. Thunder and Fire look great for simple spells, unfortunately magic like Ultima takes a back seat and you'll only be treated with a white screen flash and then damage points over your enemies heads. Then again, the PSP is a portable console, so you shouldn't be expecting Diamonds from a Gold Mine.

This brings me back to the story. All things pushed aside - as that is to say - your PSP is on mute, you hardly use spells and always skip In-Game Summon CGI, you'll be fascinated by the action-oriented, fast paced chapter-by-chapter Storyline. The player follows Zack Fair from his days as a young, exuberant Second Class SOLDIER to his days as the more conservative, grown up, and heroic loving character by the time you reach Nibelheim. Now, the Nibelheim Events occured 5 years prior to the original FF7 game, but like forementioned, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII begins 7 years prior to Cloud's induction into AVALANCHE. Crisis Core also ENDS immediately before Cloud ventures back into Midgar and is found by Tifa. That means Crisis Core spans the course of the better half of half a decade. Seven years of gameplay? How did Square-Enix accomplish that? Well, simple. In the beginning of the game, if you played FF7, you'll notice Zack the pixelated character from Cloud's memory has long spiky hair with one bang and a scar on his left cheek. In the beginning of Crisis Core however, his hair isn't so long, isn't so spiky, he has several bangs and there's no scar. Well.. That must mean you really will be playing Zack Fair's story. A quarter into the game, Zack will be promoted from Second Class to First, and meet his girlfriend Aerith. Halfway through the game, Mr. Fair will grow more as a person and become more reserved, now with long hair and the Buster Sword. However, you won't be playing the entire 7 year course. You'll be playing two years worth of gameplay, from the beginning of the game as a Second Class with the mentors of Angeal and Sephiroth, to the First Class after the death of Angeal and sudden enemy being found in the One Winged Angel.

So, if that's how things are going, then who exactly is the antagonist? Well, like Dirge of Cerberus, with DEEPGround as the primary source of evil ravaging the life of Vincent Valentine, Genesis Rhapsodos and his quest for "The Gift of the Goddess" will propel this storyline. ...Not to give anything away, let's just say... "Who knew all THAT occured at the Shin-Ra building." You'll watch Shin-Ra degress from a global business trying to peacefully end war with Wutai to a behind the scenes benefactor of top secret scientific experiments, corporate espionage, and murder. Shin-Ra, always the bad guy in the World of FF7, however, isn't ALL too terrible in the eyes of our hero Zack Fair. I may make it sound confusing in my words, but it's hardly so: Play the game, watch the progression, defeat Genesis, and send the mercenary Cloud home to Tifa so the real heroics may begin.

One of the best things about CC is after defeating all the antagonists, combatants and opponents, and facing a very emotionally driven ending segment, you get to restart the game in a Plus feature, saving all Levels, Materia, Items, Verge Percentages and Equipment, so no longer will you have to face battle after battle with difficulty! Easy sailing.... unfortunately, there's a downside to this. You may have read me mention Missions. Right. There's... plenty of them. These are not carried over in New Game Plus, so you WILL have to beat all missions in a single playthrough. I suggest it on a second play through, since you'll be more experienced with the game, you'll know when to achieve this and how, and you'll be a higher level with Zack not to mentioned accumulated materia and equipment at your disposal.

So, we've discussed the telling of the tale of Zack Fair, perhaps the original protagonist of the Final Fantasy VII universe. How did you like it? I know I thought it was enjoyable. Not perfect, as no things are, but a definite purchase to keep for atleast several play throughs. Not to mention, there's an entire bundle of things to purchase to complete your Compilation of Final Fantasy VII merchandise, and this is a solid entry in the series.

Altogether, Crisis Core is every bit as good as the 1997 Classic, The CGI Animated Film, the Mobile Phone game featuring the Turks, and the following story featuring everyone's favorite Vampire. (Just so you know, Dirge of Cerberus fans, Vincent makes a minuscule cameo in CC, so be on the lookout.) Like said, Crisis Core is a solid entry in the Compilation, and I highly suggest its purchase to complete your Compilation merchandise.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/05/08

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

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