Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is everything an FFVII fan could hope for, and everything a PSP owner needs in a portable action-RPG. From its fast-paced gameplay to the stunning graphics, even non-VII fans can get caught up in the game’s plot to the point where you can’t put it down. And even if you have no idea who this guy is, you’d have to be made of stone to not enjoy this scene:
That particular cutscene sums up the entire Crisis Core experience: it’s action-packed, well acted, ridiculously pretty… and total fan service. You’d think 10 years after a game came out on a now-dead system, people would be ready to move on in their gaming lives, but no - Final Fantasy VII’s fanbase is huge enough to make this game and every other VII spin-off not just possible, but imperative for Square’s marketing team. But while Advent Children left you scratching your head and Dirge of Cerberus gets overlooked for starring second-tier characters, Crisis Core delivers the three things all FFVII fans crave: More Cloud, more Sephiroth, and a semi-coherent explanation of the plot.
The story begins five years before the events of Final Fantasy VII and fast-forwards almost all the way up until Cloud meets Aerith. Zack Fair, a junior ranking SOLDIER, is dispatched to track down his missing mentor, Angeal. Instead, he runs afoul of Genesis - a red-haired clone of Dante from Devil May Cry - who has gone AWOL and apparently has taken Angeal with him. Zack teams up with Sephiroth, Tseng, Aerith, Cloud and a whole bunch of other FFVII characters in his quest to bring Genesis down and unravel the mystery behind Angeal’s sudden switch in loyalty. We won’t ruin all the important cameos for you, but we will tell you that your inner fanboy will exploded with joy about halfway through the 30-hour storyline.
Above: Don't get attached
Those of us who aren’t fans might get left behind when it comes to the plot but if you've already built up a tolerance for not knowing what’s going on in JRPGs, it’s not that big of a deal - especially when there's so much good stuff to distract you from the “WTF” moments. That stuff is what makes any game good - gameplay, graphics, music, etc. - and we’re pleased to report that Crisis Core delivers on all fronts. Graphics and music can speak for themselves (seriously, did you see that cutscene?), but gameplay is where Crisis Core distinguishes itself from other RPGs.
You'll play solely as Zack in Crisis Core, with no party to back you up, but unless you don’t like button-mashing or are one of those true believers who think RPGs must always be turn-based, the action-RPG approach will suit you well. Encounters are still random, with enemies appearing onscreen and a helpful computer voice announcing “Activating Combat Mode.” The X button is your primary attack, while Triangle and Square function as guard and dodge maneuvers. The RPG-style menu comes in on the right-hand side of the screen, enabling you to cycle through commands, attacks, magic and items with the shoulder buttons. Pressing X will activate whatever you’ve clicked - so even though it’s tempting to hammer on X until the computer voice says “Conflict Resolved,” beware that you might be wasting potions instead of doling out sword slashes.
The interesting thing here is the Digital Mind Wave (DMW) - a roulette wheel on the left side of the screen that's almost always moving, stops randomly and displays the faces of characters that Zack meets throughout the game. Getting three of the same character will trigger a memory sequence for Zack (which you can skip) and then a Limit Break super-attack will activate. Besides the characters in the DMW, there are also numbers. Certain combinations of numbers will trigger status effects; getting three sevens, for example, will level Zack up, two threes will nullify physical damage, etc. The DMW relies on SOLDIER Points (SP) which you earn in battle. Run out, and your roulette wheel goes nowhere.
The simplicity and the gambling factor of the DMW are what make the gameplay so appealing. It’s fast, easy, addictive and perfectly suited to a portable experience. Even the hardcore boss battles don’t last longer than half an hour and the side missions can be gone through like a knife through butter. The rare gamer here and there might wish that the combat were more challenging (*cough* turn-based *cough*) or that they could manually manipulate the DMW, but the format works and you can always trash yourself on Hard Mode if you’re feeling bored during Normal Mode.
The ultimate payoff for Crisis Core is that you know - you know, beyond that shadow of a doubt - how it ends even before you sit down and play it. That’s Cloud’s sword Zack is holding, and he sure as hell ain’t holding it when VII’s main storyline starts. But how the game gets from point A to point Cloud-Gets-The-Sword, and how they pull off the spectacular ending that we won’t ruin but totally want to, is what makes Crisis Core a great game instead of just a good one. And it’s what will keep you playing even if little RPG pet-peeves get to you (come on, how many people do you have to talk to in this town before you can get on with the story?!). So knock a point off our score if you absolutely hate FFVII, but rest assured that Crisis Core is a game well worth owning.
Mar 19, 2008
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