Snow. Snow everywhere. Hey all! Last week, I looked at a cult PC shooter.
This week, I'm replaying a prequel to one of the all-time greats.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is, of course, the prequel to, um, Final Fantasy VII, released on PSP in 2008. I'm going to assume most of you played FFVII. You can still kinda sorta play Crisis Core having not played FFVII, but I wouldn't. The game is strictly for FFVII fans, so the rest of the article will assume your familiarity with the franchise.
Anyway, Crisis Core follows the story of Zack Fair, the man who Cloud basically thought he was throughout much of FFVII. Zack begins the game as a member of SOLDIER, the military branch of Shinra Corp., and he undertakes various missions under the supervision of his superior and mentor, Angeal Hewley. They take part in the Wutai-Shinra war that was just barely touched on in FFVII. Angeal vanishes during the fighting, and Zack discovers that Angeal has deserted SOLDIER with his childhood friend, Genesis. Zack then works with a certain character named Sephiroth to track them down.
Crisis Core throws you into the game right after a beautiful cinematic, in the style of Advent Children. It's here you'll learn how this (sometimes abstract) game works. It plays as an action-RPG, and Kingdom Hearts fans will see at least some similarity here. It basically boils down to using the L/R buttons to choose an action, such as Attack, or one of your equipped Materia, and pressing X to execute. You move Zack in real time and dodge with the press of the Square button. It's largely because of the way you lock-on to enemies, combined with swapping between actions, that the resemblance to Kingdom Hearts becomes apparent, though this game isn't without a couple of its own wrinkles.
One such wrinkle is the Digital Mind Wave, or DMW, and it's how Crisis Core handles its random events, such as Limit Breaks and level ups. (Yes, I know those things aren't usually random, but they sure are here.) The DMW is a constantly spinning slot machine, spinning a row of character portraits and numbers so long as you have "soldier points" which you get by defeating enemies.
Should three of the character pictures line up, Zack performs a Limit Break for massive damage against his enemies. There's a surprising amount of these; portraits are present for every character you meet, so you have a healthy amount of Limit Breaks. These Limit Breaks are actually quasi-random, in a way, because the likelihood of the portraits lining up increases as Zack takes damage, in addition to increasing during certain story events. They do, however, decrease as you win battles, so it's kept in balance.
The numbers lining up grant bonuses like Zero MP cost or temporary invulnerability, depending on which numbers show up in which position. Should "777" line up, Zack increases in level. It's unusual at first, especially if you're an old-school RPG fan, but give it a chance. It's an interesting way to handle leveling and character growth, and adds a neat, random, "x factor" to the game.
The game overall isn't terribly challenging, though you may run into a rough spot here and there. Particularly if you take on the insane amount of side missions, accessible through any save point. The game is bursting with content, and sometimes it's hard to believe they could fit it all on one of those silly UMD Discs. Although I'm happy they did.
Crisis Core is a fantastic looking game, mostly. The story is told through a mix of pre-rendered and in-game cutscenes, and both look great. It's almost a shame you're forced to watch the cinematics on such a small screen, but alas. The only problem is the environments, which I found to be a little stiff and lifeless. It's cool to walk around the Shinra lobby again, and Midgar, this time in 3D, but you'll be alarmed at how small and...arranged they look. It's that kind of strange design where there's too many right angles, like something you'd see in a Playstation 1 or early PS2 game, and it's strange to see a Square Enix game with such drab environments. But it's really nitpicking, because they could look much worse. It's still one of the best looking PSP games you can play.
Audio is a big standout, though. There's a heavy amount of voice acting, and all of it is superb. Zack is a fantastic character, one who seems always optimistic despite all that goes on around him, and his voice actor communicates this expertly. (Apologies, as I cannot remember who voices him.) The rest of the cast is excellent as well, George Newbern and Steve Burton reprising their Advent Children roles of Sephiroth and Cloud, respectively. Musically, Crisis Core stands as high as the rest of the Final Fantasy series, featuring some fantastic remixes of tunes from FFVII, which tickle the old nostalgia bone.
If you're an FFVII fan, chances are you've played Crisis Core already. But if you haven't, definitely go check it out. Bizarre leveling system and dull environments aside, the game has so much content to keep you busy. And it's just great seeing all of your favorite characters again, like Sephiroth, Cloud, and Tifa. (Sorry, Barrett fans.) Even though you know how Zack's story ends, it's still a hell of a ride.
Questions, comments, Aeris revival cheats, or future Game of The Week suggestions? Leave 'em in the comments section!
Also, I wrote this last week, but I'm thinking of devoting all of February's GOTW articles to one series of games, all of which are playable on PSP. I'm not totally sure if I want to do it, so I'd appreciate some feedback!
Next week, we'll engage in a deep discussion over whether high-heeled gun shoes would even work.