Welcome to a review of the supreme mother – the Jenova – of all RPG games on the PSP; the one single game that caused more quake in the PSP gaming arena than probably all other games combined. Yes, you would have guessed by now; we are talking about Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII here.
Logically, this game shouldn’t need an introduction but for the benefit of the uninitiated, Crisis Core is, for now, the final part of the Compilation of FFVII project that also includes a movie (Advent Children), a cellphone game (Before Crisis) as well as a PS2 title (Dirge of Cerberus). With mega-budget and 2 years in the making, it goes without saying that Crisis Core comes with unprecedented expectation from both fans and newbies alike. Did it fulfil that expectation? Let’s keep that a mystery for now…
Prelude to the Crisis
To fully appreciate Crisis Core, I’d strongly recommend that you play FFVII at least once. For those who have yet to play that original classic, the story resolves around Cloud Strife and Sephiroth. The former is an ex-soldier from Shinra (a company that effectively rules the world), while the latter is a legendary first-class soldier who mysteriously turns into a villain during a particular mission. Needless to say, the hero eventually triumphs over all odds and demolishes the bad guy, but not before uncovering some shocking truths about the world and about himself, as well as experiencing the death of a close one. To be frank, this feeble single-paragraph attempt at a synopsis does not do justice to the game at all. If you still own a PSOne, go experience it for yourself. You won’t regret it…
Now to Crisis Core. The story of this title takes place a couple of years before FFVII. This is a time when Sephiroth is still a good guy, and Cloud is just some dude in the background. The protagonist of Crisis Core is Zack – a character who played a minor role in the original FFVII specifically during the flashback sequences. In this game, Zack is second-class soldier with an eye to become a first-class. But despite his fighting prowess, Zack is a pretty naïve character and is often oblivious to the politics going behind-the-scene.
The game starts off right into the heats of things. A war between Shinra and Wutai is ongoing, and Shinra itself is facing internal struggles when one of its most powerful first-class, Genesis, goes AWOL along with a number of soldiers. The situation is worsened when Zack’s mentor, Angeal, too disappears – quite possibly joining Genesis’ cause. When the war is over, Zack and Sephiroth are immediately assigned to seek and terminate the defectors, which lead them through a series of events and circumstances that eventually turns Sephiroth into the most powerful enemy the world has ever known in FFVII.
To be quite frank, the plot of Crisis Core can be quite bitter-sweet, well-done, or just plain confusing depending on your knowledge of FFVII. The former is most probably experienced by avid fans like myself, who have played the original classic and the spin-offs more than a dozen times, and can see the plot twists of Crisis Core from a thousand miles away. An average RPG gamer who has little or no collection of FFVII may find Crisis Core nicely-done as a straight-forward story of a soldier hero. Meanwhile, an RPG newbie may find Crisis Core totally puzzling because there are so many terms and background stuff to remember (for example: Soldier, the Turks, Shinra, Mako Energy, Avalanche, Type G, Jenova, Ancients, I could go on and on and on…).
Personally, I thought this game should be named “Prelude to the Crisis” because the incidence in Crisis Core is really nothing compared to what’s going to happen in FFVII. Those who still remember FFVII will probably understand where I am coming from. Also, the developer has intentionally created scenes almost identical to those from FFVII, I suppose, as some sort of fan service. This could be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, I love the feeling of nostalgia but on the other, I was sort of hoping for something totally different. I have mixed feelings here.
RPG and Beat ‘Em Up Crossover
As in the case for many other contemporary RPGs, categorizing Crisis Core as an actual RPG can be misleading. If anything else, the game feels more like a beat ‘em up which allows you to use items and spells.
For one thing, you control only one character (Zack) in Crisis Core as oppose to a whole party and you don’t get to issue commands like other RPGs. Instead, you have one button for action, one for dodging and one for blocking. Most of the time, fighting consists of running about and smashing the action button until either Zack or the enemies are dead. When you are down on HP or need some additional help against the bad guys, you can also scroll through various items and spells with the L and R buttons, and press the action button to initiate them accordingly. Fights are pretty fast and furious, so if you are one of those that need times to decide what spells or items to use, you’re pretty much screwed especially for some of the tougher boss fights… or unless you’re just having a darn lucky day.
Speaking of luck, Crisis Core introduces a luck feature in battle that I dare say has never ever been tried in any other RPGs. This feature is called Digital Mind Wave, or DMW, and it resembles a slot machine that appears on the top left hand corner of your battle screen. As you fight, the DMW keeps on spinning until it hits three-of-a-kind, where you then trigger a reward which can be several things ranging from executing a limit break, healing automatically, improvement on status or summoning a beast to help you. There is no way that you can dictate the outcome of the DMW, so you pretty much just ignore it in battle until it self-activates.
But the element of luck goes deeper in Crisis Core than simply getting lucky breaks. In this game, the DMW also influence your levelling-up as well as material growth. When your DMW activates a lucky seven or triple-seven, Zack increases by one level; and when it hits two numbers of similar value, one of Zack’s equipped material will grow by one level. It all sounds pretty confusing and it can be for first-timers. My advice for gamers is to just engage a lot of enemies, hopefully strike a lot of jackpots, and eventually Zack will become a super kick-ass fighting machine. It can’t be any simpler than that.
Battle-wise, I quite liked the innovative beat ‘em up approach simply because of how smoothly it is executed. There is almost no loading time, which is the most irritating feature in all other RPGs; and even the appearance of the DMW screen (when it is activated) hardly causes any slowdown to the fight. However, the fast and furious nature of the battles means Crisis Core can be a tad difficult for casual or beginner gamers, even for experienced gamers who are not used to action genre. Imagine doing the following simultaneously: (a) control Zack and move him away from trouble; (b) attack the enemies; (c) keep track of HP, MP and AP; (d) glace at the DMW hoping for a lucky break and (e) scroll through 6 or 7 spell slots to activate the one you need. I think it’s safe to assume a lot of retries and game-overs are in order.
However, one thing that really irks me is the use of DMW to dictate levelling-up. In Crisis Core, your chances of scoring a lucky –seven in a fight with a low-levelled enemy is, in my experience, close to zero. That means you need to actively seek tougher enemies to have a remote chance of levelling up. However, sometimes I go through an entire dungeon of tough enemies without levelling up a single time; but other times I level up 2 times in a matter of seconds with the same enemy. Call me old fashion but I do prefer the traditional use of experience points to level up a hero. Relying on luck just doesn’t seem logical enough to cut it for me.
Mix and Match
In the tradition of FFVII, materias play a big part in beefing up Zack’s stats and skills during battles. The materias in Crisis Core consists of 3 main kinds: magic, skills and stats-enhancement. To activate a certain magic, you’ll need to equip it to make it work; likewise for stats-enhancement and unique skills. Initially, you will only be able to equip 4 materias, and later in the game, 6. The limitation in numbers effectively prevents Zack from becoming much too powerful, which is a good thing in my opinion. But since there is such a huge selection of materias to choose from, you are definitely going to have a headache deciding which to use.
Also, there is a feature much later into the game that allows you to fuse materias to create more powerful versions of themselves. The fusing system is pretty deep, allowing you to fuse materias of different types (ie. Magic with skill). In addition, you will even be allowed to throw in an item to boost the fusing process. If you love customization, you are going to love this but if you are not; fusing is not really a necessity as the materias you get from normal battles are sufficient to take you right to the end.
I Asked for Length, And Boy Do I Get It
Many people complained about the relatively short length of Crisis Core and it’s pretty understandable as this title only lasts a good 20 hours or so. But like all other Final Fantasies, Crisis Core has a pretty wide selection of side quests to exponentially increase its playing time. These side quests take place in the form of missions, which you can access from any save points. From my understanding, there are some 350 missions altogether so you’re looking at another 40 plus hours of game time. It’s definitely value for money.
However, I have to be honest and point out that the side quests of Crisis Core are not really well planned nor executed. Ninety-nine percent of the time, your side quest includes Zack moving through a linear path from point A to B, killing enemies along the way, and finally engaging a slightly tougher enemy at the end. When you beat the mission, you will be rewarded by items ranging from the kick-ass (unique materia) to the totally lame (potion). Usually, beating an easy mission will also open up a slightly harder mission where you then repeat the cycle all over again.
I don’t think I need to spell it out but yes, the side quests of Crisis Core are mind-numbingly repetitive and boring. To me, Square-Enix was just winging it to increase the length of the title. A better approach would have been to create around 20 – 30 missions, each with different objectives and all hard as hell to complete but with super-powerful rewards to back up the difficulty level. Seriously, I don’t want to go through 10 hack-and-slash mundane missions just to finally meet a worthy challenge. It’s really painful and tedious. Square-Enix, you can do better than this and you know it.
Feast Your Eyes on the Best in the Business
There’s not a lot that has not been said about the graphics of Crisis Core. Stunning high definition cut-scenes? Checked. Fluid movements never before seen on the PSP? Checked. Realistic worldview and killer character designs? Checked. Makes you feel like watching a DVD? Checked. In short, you will love the eye feast Crisis Core has in stored for you, and you simply cannot find a more graphically stunning PSP game out there at this moment of time.
But what I really love about Crisis Core is the music, specifically, the pumped up themes from the original FFVII. Throughout the game, avid fans will instantly recognize the various theme musics used in FFVII and they have all undergone a facelift to give them more “umph” for the new generation of gamers. Yes, the haunting Aerith tune, the mysterious Midgar tune, the dynamic Sephiroth tune and a whole bunch of others have all made it back, and boy do they sound better than ever before! Voice, too, was outstandingly done and the characters all had great personality. Full thumbs up to Square-Enix for showing us what PSP is capable of in the graphic and sound departments!
Here Comes the Verdict
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is truly one of a kind amongst the existing PSP games. The title has outstanding graphics, great sounds, a pretty darn decent story, really innovative gameplay and likeable characters that all typify the classic that is FFVII. Compared to a lot of other RPGs, Crisis Core easily scores as the most complete in almost all departments.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is undoubtedly the most enjoyable RPG on the PSP at this moment of time. There are some downsides of course, but they are either attributed to the developer trying new stuff or attempting to make this game more complete. Though a hardcore fan may find some faults with this title, specifically with its storyline; it simply won’t be fair to judge this masterpiece that way as Crisis Core has an extremely hard job of pleasing both fans and newcomers to the series. Taking all this into consideration, PSPHyper is giving this game an unprecedented Perfect 5 out of 5 for the enjoyment it gave in the past weeks. Keep up the good work, Square-Enix!