Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Before I get into this review. I feel like I should explain a little bit about the Final Fantasy franchise and I. I do love the series. I think that some of the games, such as IV, VI and XII are absolutely stunning games in pretty much every single way, though I admit that random battles tend to get on my nerves eventually. That being said, Final Fantasy VII is not one of my personal favorites. By no means do I hate the game, but, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why so many people love it so much. I never thought it was all that great. To me, it is a decent RPG. There are worse ways that I can waste 60 hours, and there are better ways. It is something that I probably would have seen, gone "That's cool." and forgotten about if the rest of the gaming world hadn't spent the past 10 years reminding me that it exists and if it wasn't part of a series that I love. With that in mind, lets jump into the review proper.

Gameplay - 8.5

The first thing you will notice is that this is not like it's predecessor. It is not a turn based RPG with multiple playable characters. It is an action RPG, and you control only one character for the entire game, Zack Fair. Random encounters, however, are still present. You will be running along the path to get to your destination, and you will run into a random encounter. The battle screen will load, and you will have complete control over Zack's movements as you hack the enemies and cast spells on them and yourself. In the battle screen, there is a menu on the bottom right that you move your cursor back and forth in to select different actions during battle. You can select from the attack command, the items menu and whatever materia you have Zack equiped with. Hitting X will execute the action. The game is not pure action, however. You cannot just mash wildly on the X button like you can with the Kingdom Hearts series. There will be a brief pause between each action being carried out. The pause is not long enough to call it turn based, but you will be glad it is there against some of the games tougher enemies because it gives you more time to select various commands as well as allow you to execute them in a more timely and less wild and rapid manner.

In the top right corner of the battle screen is something that the game calls the Digital Mind Wave. This has two sets of spinning slot machine type things. The larger of the two contain portraits of characters you have run across in the game (or silhouettes of characters you haven't met yet). The smaller is a series of spinning numbers.If a certain two numbers match, you will get a positive status effect, such as temporarily invulnarability to magic or temporary invincibility. A good portion of the time, it will be spinning and doing these things to your character or doing nothing to your character if nothing matches. If two characters match, however, it puts the action on hold and brings the DMW to the forefront. If you get the middle character to match the other two, you get a limit break. This is, also, your opportunity to gain levels. If t he DMW comes to the forefront, and it spins triple 7's, Zack will gain a level.

The DMW does other things as well. It, also, controls your summoning. Much like the limit breaks mentioned above, the DMW has to come to the forefront for summons to happen. When it does come to the forefront, it will, at times, switch to 'summon mode' which changes all the portraits to summons you have gotten or silhouettes of summons that you haven't gotten yet. If you line up all three portraits in a row, you summon the creature. Much like every other 3D Final Fantasy, it comes complete with a cool animation. Fortunately, you can skip it the second time around, which really speeds up battle where the DMW slows it down. The game has something else that it calls Chocobo Mode, which comes with a variety of different characters and enemies as the portraits, such as the Cactuar, Cait Sith and Tonneberries. Some of these, such as Cait Sith, will give you positive status effects, while others, such as Tonneberries, will deal significant damage to the enemies.

The DMW is a double edged sword. Sometimes it is a great help. You will summon Bahamut against a boss, and it does a lot more damage than your sword will. Other times, it seems like a waste. You get invinicibility when you are fighting cannon fodder guards who take one to two slashes before they fall. It will, also, do things that will make you scratch your head in confusion, but it only does these when it brings it to the forefront. Sometimes Genesis will take over the DMW. The two matching pictures will dissolve and reform as pictures of Genesis. This doesn't mean that the middle picture will land on Genesis. Other times, it will settle on the middle character and start spinning even faster. Additionally, it settles on a character and will start slowly spinning backwards through the characters.It will leave you wondering just what is going on. Every time you think you finally figured out the DMW, it does something strange that throws you off again. You have no control over it, either. You cannot control anything that it does.

The last aspect of the gameplay is that outside of battle. It is the standard RPG fair of exploration. You will wonder from one place to another and talk to NCPs. Some will advance the story. Some will give you side quests. Some seem like nothing more than filler. It is the standard JRPG fair in this regard, though. I am sure that fans of the original Final Fantasy VII will get a kick out of exploring a much better looking version of Midgar in this game. Side quests can be accessed through save points, and shops can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This will probably save you at some point, though this game is never incredibly difficult. Some of the side missions, however, range from difficult to just plain cheap. I will get more into that later, though.Crisis Core is a fun game with an action battle system that has a lot more control than other Square Enix action RPGs such as Kingdom Hearts, and you should really enjoy most of the time that you will spend with the game.

Graphics - 7.5

What's this? There is a review that doesn't praise it's graphics infinitely? Yes. This game does not quite deserve all of the praise that many other websites have given it. That isn't saying that the game looks bad. On the contrary, this game does some very nice things graphically. It has some flaws that are not present in some other higher end PSP games, however. It seems as if many reviews have simply ignored these flaws in face of what it does well and the fact that it is in the Playstation Portable. Rest assured that there are better looking games on Sony's handheld system than this one. There are, also, worse looking games. This game looks good, but it doesn't look mind blowingly good.

The first thing you will see when you put up Crisis Core into your PSP and boot it up is a cut scene that will look very familiar to fans of the original. It does start off with fan service, but it is a beautiful piece of fan service. It is the first of a few CG cut scenes, and these are the best looking parts of the game, by far. By simply watching these scenes, one can tell that Square Enix put a lot of time and effort into crafting them, and, as a result, they make for some of the more memorable scenes in the game. That being said, Crisis Core uses these fairly sparingly. You will not be seeing them often, and there may be 10 to 15 minutes of them within Crisis Core, all together. It is a shame that there are so few of them, because they really do look fantastic. You will want to see more of them because they are pretty well done, and they tend to be a joy to watch.

Once you get past the CG cut scene, the game starts proper, and you get your first look at in game cut scenes. The first thing you will notice is Zack and how well rendered he is. Forget the clunky and disproportionate lego man look of the original Final Fantasy VII (And, to be fair, Square fixed this with FFVIII and onward). Zack is properly proportioned this time and has a very detailed and realistic look for him. Every character in the game is like this, as well. They are all very well rendered and extremely detailed. Square Enix's effort didn't stop there, however. Backgrounds and environments all feature the same high level of detail as the main game, and fans of the original are sure to love revisiting these locations in much higher detail with a lot better 3D rendering than the original had. Everything that is here looks very nice.

That has to make you wonder, then, why the graphics get a score of 7.5? If everything looks good, why is the score not at least an 8.5? Well, it is because of the environments that you travel through. While they are very detailed, there isn't much there. Backgrounds and different areas of the game seem kind of barren and lifeless. Everything that is there looks great, but it is hard to be impressed when there just isn't much there. When walking around the areas outside of the Shin Ra building, for example, you will see a few people wondering around, pathways and walls. That is it. That is all that is there, and that is a disappointment. It is even worse when on missions. Some missions are in featureless hallways while others are in featureless cave paths. There is nothing to see and only random encounters to fight, and it really drags the game down hard, especially when you know that the PSP can do better. Look at Metal Gear Acid 2, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker or either God of War game. These games have characters that are just as detailed without the barren environments. In light of what the PSP can do, it is hard to be impressed by what is done with it here.

Sound - 8.5

As you might imagine, this game features a lot of remixed and rerecorded songs from the original Final Fantasy VII. To no ones surprise, they still sound good. The music was good back in 1997. It is still good today. The remixes and rerecordings are very well done, and the addition of electic (and sometimes acustic) guitar is a very nice touch that gives the sound track a harder edge to it, which seems appropriate when you take into consideration that you will spend the entire game beating enemies up with a large sword. Many songs return in new and, sometimes, improved form, and it is sure to please fans of the original. This game, also, has a few original pieces for it that, apart from the battle theme which is a little generic, is all well done and fits right in with Uematsu's masterful score. all the new stuff is just as beautiful and just as memorable as.

Voice acting in this game, however, is a bit of a different story. It isn't bad, by any means. It, certainly, never dips to the lowest levels of Final Fantasy X and Dirge of Cerberus where it is so bad that it is actually unintentionally funny. It is just decent. It is not up to par with Square's finest (Final Fantasy XII). Some characters are better done than others, as is, usually, the case. Rick Gomez's performance as Zack is pretty well done, for example, but George Newbern's Sephiroth seemed a little underwhelming. It is not distracting, by any means. It just isn't as good as it could be, and that seems to be a staple of this series. You get decent voice work. You do not get Metal Gear Solid (Unless you are playinf Final Fantasy XII. Then you get voice acting on that level.).

Story - 8.5

When you are playing a Final Fantasy, it is fairly typical that story is one of the best, if not the best, aspects of the game. For many people, myself included, the story ws what keeps us playing when we get annoyed with random battles. The story is why we finish long RPGs such as this one.Crisis Core is no exception for this. If it weren't for the story, I might not have finished it. As I mentioned above, I am not a huge fan of Final Fantasy VII, and it's story had a lot to do with it. I felt like it was convoluted, overly complicated and poorly told. Why, then, does this prequel to a game I wasn't a huge fan of have a story that I like so much?

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a prequel to Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation One. If you have played that game, then you know where this story is going to wind up, but it may surprise you anyway. In Crisis Core, you play as Zack Fair, who was a former friend of Cloud in the original game. He is a member of Shin Ra's elite fighting force SOLDIER, and he has achieved the status of Second Class. He has hopes and dreams of becoming a hero and obtaining first class. There are three First Class soldiers above Zack named Sephiroth, Genesis and Angeal. Zack sees Angeal as a mentor and as one of his best friends, and all seems well within the company when Genesis disappears, and a bunch of members of SOLDIER follow him, basically defecting from the unit and from the Shin Ra company. It is up to Zack, under the guidance of Angeal, to discover why Genesis left, what happened to him and what he is planning.

As you might imagine, with any Final Fantasy story, there is some melodrama and a lot of twists and turns as you play through this games narrative. The structuring feels much stronger than the original Final Fantasy VII, opting for a chaptered set up, and it just feels more well told. The biggest diffference between this an the original is the main character. Cloud never felt like he had much of a personality at all. He wasn't quite the place holder that Crono was in Chrono Trigger, but he never made me care about him. He was just there to fill in a role in the story. Zack, on the other hand, is happy and optimistic, but not to the point that it is annoying. He has a full range of emotions, but he never lets something drag him down for too long. He feels so much more real and alive than Cloud in the original game, and it really helps a lot. After all, you spend the entire game playing soley as him. Being able to care about the main character just makes it a lot easier to get into the main story.

Replay Value - 8.0

Crisis Core has a lot that will keep you coming back to it outside of it's main story. Like most RPGs of this kind, it has side missions. You will pick up missions from various characters you meet in the game or be given them by Shin Ra, and you access side missions at any and all save points. When you do go int othe side missions menu, you will notice that there is quite a list of mission types and quite a list of sub types, each of which will have their own set of missions. There are a lot of side missions in this game. I did well over one hundred of them when I played this game, and I only got thorugh about half of how many there actually are. That gives you plenty of reason to keep coming back and to level up Zack. That being said, there are cheap enemies in a lot of the side missions. It was these that drove me away from finishing them. Still, I had quite a bit of fun with most of the side stuff I did, and there are so many missions that it can tack on a good fourty more hours of gameplay past the main story missions. That's a lot of replay value.

Final Thoughts -

I am just going to come right out and say it. This is a better game than the original Final Fantasy VII. I got quite a bit more enjoyment out of this game than I did Final Fantasy VII. Crisis Core is a great game and a great prequel to Final Fantasy VII. It has well developed characters, fun gameplay and a good musical score. It has a few kinks and hitches that hold it back from being a masterpiece. The voice acting could have been better. The Digital Mind Wave is just confusing, and there are some cheap enemies, but it is still well worth your time and money, especially if you are a big fan of the original Final Fantasy VII. It is those people that will get more out of this game. They are all bound to like it a lot more than I did. Even if you aren't a big fan of it, however, you should still give this game a try. It is a very good action RPG that should not be missed by those that own a Playstation Portable.

Gameplay - 8.5
The game features a fun action combat system, but the Digital Mind Wave is just confusing

Graphics - 7.5
Beautiful CGI and great character models hampered by empty enviromnents

Sound - 8.5
Great remixes of classic themes from the original. New songs are good, as well. Voice acting is decent.

Story - 8.5
A very involving story that is made stronger by Zack being a great character

Replay value - 8.0
Tons of side missions. Some of them get cheap.