I’d just like to get this out of the way; I like Final Fantasy VII. No, it’s not my favorite game in the series by a long shot, but even without taking into account its massive role in gaming history as the game that not only changed RPGs forever but also brought the genre into mainstream consciousness, Final Fantasy VII is a game that has what every higher-echelon Final Fantasy game should have. It doesn’t have any of the questionable design decisions or critical flaws of entries such as VIII and XIII, but rather stands alongside IV, VI, IX, and X as one of the best games in the series. But this isn’t about Final Fantasy VII; this is a review of Crisis Core, part of a series of spinoffs known as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. A prequel to the original game, does Crisis Core add a worthy new chapter to the Midgar mythos, or is it another mediocre side story?
STORYMen Cry Not For Themselves, but For Their Comrades
As mentioned earlier, Crisis Core is a prequel, taking place in the years immediately preceding Final Fantasy VII, and stars Zack Fair, one of the more important characters in the original game’s backstory. Zack is a member of SOLDIER, the elite military group in service to the Shinra Electric Power Company. Zack promoted to SOLDIER 1’st Class to help combat the aggressions of Genesis, a rogue SOLDIER who is creating an army to take down Shinra. Along the way, Zack will stumble across terrible experiments and hidden agendas, witness firsthand the downfall of SOLDIER’S greatest hero, and ultimately be forced to confront the true nature of SOLDIER and the motives of his employers.
|This villain is kind of lame.|
As a story leading up to the events of Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core functions exactly as a prequel should- properly set up the original work, while shedding new light on prior events. Returning characters such as Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth are all introduced and receive further character development, and the events that are later referenced in the original game are very well-done. Aside from some slightly hokey dialogue, the only major problem with the story is that some of the new characters are pretty lame. Since iconic Final Fantasy villain Sephiroth goes through the process of becoming a villain in this game, newcomer Genesis serves to create the primary conflict in Crisis Core. Unfortunately, Genesis is a bland and unoriginal villain, to the point of borrowing some of Sephiroth’s most famous traits such as a longcoat, angelic wing, and even part of his backstory. Still, Crisis Core is probably the first Compilation installment to properly flesh out one of Square’s most fully-realized settings, and overall, Crisis Core manages to tell a good story.
Despite its prequel status, Crisis Core’s gameplay is vastly different than that of its classic turn-based predecessor. Rather than having a massive overworld to explore at the player’s leisure, crisis Core is split into several chapters, with each chapter taking place in a central hub where the next story points can be reached. The main story can be completed in about fifteen hours, but much like a later Square Enix game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, crisis Core features a bevy of optional missions that can be accessed from any save point, adding dozens of hours to an otherwise average playtime.
Combat in Crisis Core is essentially the same hybrid of real-time action and menus found in the Kingdom hearts games. Zack navigates each battle in real-time, dodging and blocking enemy attacks, but each action is selected from a customizable menu. The combat is a tad on the simplistic side, but like Kingdom Hearts, it still manages to be quite fun. Crisis Core’s main original feature in combat is the Digital Mind Wave, a series of spinning reals in the top corner of the screen. As Zack progresses through the game, new characters he meets will expand the DMW and allow him to perform new limit breaks and summons. The DMW is constantly spinning in combat, bestowing buffs and triggering limit breaks whenever the need arises. One strange aspect of the DMW is that level ups are tied to it as well, but there appears to be some sort of hidden statistic that tells the slots when to land on what, so it is not as random as it initially appears.
Like in Final Fantasy VII, the Materia system is Crisis Core’s primary system for character development, although the system works very differently here. Materia are the colored orbs that serve as the Final Fantasy VII universe’s source of magic. Materia can be equipped to bestow new abilities and statistical bonuses on Zack, and like Zack level up on the DMW. There are dozens of different combinations of Materia, inviting experimentation to find what suits each player. Materia can also be fused to create more powerful Materia, or entirely new ones, based on the properties of the fused Materia.
Crisis Core may be a slightly simpler game than its predecessor, but it is still a highly entertaining RPG with a lot of available optional content. It’s a game that each player can play at their own pace, and while it offers a more streamlined experience, Crisis Core still offers a great Final Fantasy experience.
|Hey, look! A villain that doesn't suck!|
Square has been able to use the PSP platform to create some stunning games, and despite some uneven load times, Crisis Core is no exception. The game’s visuals are on par with some PS2 titles, and it isn’t on the same levels that Birth by Sleep or Dissidia Duedecim would reach, Crisis Core is still a great looking, polished game that runs very smoothly. The unique aesthetic of Square’s famous dystopian setting, and liberal CG cutscenes, help round out an excellent visual presentation. Musically, Crisis Core was composed by Takeharu Ishimoto, one of Square Enix’s more talented composers. Ishimoto does a great job with Uematsu’s famed original compositions, and manages to deliver some standout tunes of his own using the strange mix of hard rock, piano, and orchestra that makes up Final Fantasy VII’s soundscape. The voice acting is also very good, even if the dialogue occasionally misses its mark.
Not only is Crisis Core easily the best part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, it is also one of the best Final Fantasy games Square Enix had made in years. An engaging story with a tragic end, entertaining gameplay, a great deal of optional content, and great visuals make Crisis Core one of the best RPGS available for the PSP, and a must-play for all Final Fantasy fans.
STORY: 8. Occasional odd dialogue and some lame original characters barely tarnish an otherwise excellent chapter in the Final Fantasy VII universe.
GAMEPLAY: 9. Excellent action-RPG combat and lots of optional missions for those who want them.
PRESENTATION: 9. Great visuals, music, and voice acting, with occasional long load times.