Sunday, May 8, 2011

Game Review: Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core

Crisis Core

Epitaph for a Hero

PSP, 2008

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: Square Enix

Time to Complete: 15-25 hours

Crisis Core is the oft-maligned prequel to Final Fantasy VII, one of the most beloved games of all time. Released ten years after FF7 and transpiring several years before FF7, this game stars FF7 bit-player Zack Fair. A high ranking member of SOLDIER with a doomed destiny, Zack is a real hero here; he is a selfless and kind character who stands as a stark contrast to FF7's far less likable Cloud Strife. On that note - Why is "SOLDIER" all caps? Is it an acronym? Sadly, even after playing this game I don't have an answer.

FF7 has achieved legendary status in the history of video games. It was an epic story that followed an intrepid band as they set out to save the world, stopping only occasionally to milk Tifa.

Does this game measure up? Read on to find out.

Crisis Core covers the events that led up to FF7's beginning; it explains and fills in the blanks, all the while twisting on the heartstrings a bit. In this game, FF7 fans can see some of how Shinra Electric Company rose to prominence; how Cloud got to where he was at the beginning of FF7, the origins of the Buster Sword, Sephiroth as a "good guy" in better times, the inner workings of the elite SOLDIER group, and so on. Perhaps best of all for FF7 fans, the legendary Nibelheim scenario - seen previously in flashbacks - is a fully playable chapter of the game.

To put it mildly, Crisis Core is a divisive game. There are people who bought a PSP just for this game, people who fawn over it the way they typically only fawn over pictures of a Cloud/Sephiroth/Link/Mario/Toad yaoi orgy on DeviantArt. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who think the game is complete and utter trash, bashing the game designers in every public forum they can for having the nerve to create something they don't like. These are the same kinds of people who think that World of Warcraft is unfair because Blizzard put in a patch that made them do 0.4 less DPS a second, causing them to declare that the epic gear they spent 47 hours getting is now "obsolete" and threatening to quit unless their demands are met. Of course, since they only own two shirts ("For the Horde" and an ECW shirt from 1998) and sport both nerd rage and a huge sense of entitlement, they can't really go anywhere; so of course they're right back playing the game a few minutes after they "quit". ...wait, what is this review about? Oh yeah, Crisis Core.

The battles are chaotic

At its core (hyuck), this game is a plot-driven pseudo-RPG. Much like a Metal Gear Solid title, the emphasis is on the story throughout. Cutscenes abound, and the story in question is actually a damn good one. After all, isn't this why most people are playing the game, to see the events leading up to FF7? I'll get back to the story in a minute. The story needs to be good, because the gameplay... isn't. The combat system is odd and difficult to compare to any particular game genre; it mixes RPG elements like spell-casting and item usage with action game elements like being able to dodge and block. At first it seems like a pretty cool system, but it gets old fast. Very fast. There simply isn't much to it, and before long the repetitiveness becomes abundantly clear. For the most part, most of the enemies in the game can be defeated by waling on the attack button over and over; lots of them don't even get a chance to hit back if pummeled fast enough. The problem is that by the halfway point of the game, if not well before, battles become a complete chore. There is no challenge to speak of most of the time; just lots of repetition and resulting boredom. At least there's some variety in the sense that there is materia to equip and spells/abilities to use. None of these are particularly needed, though.

Another problem with the battle system is the limit break system. Rather than charge the way breaks did in FF7, there is a slot machine that constantly runs during battles. Whenever the slots start to line up, the battle pauses and the slots take up the whole screen. If you get three of a kind, a limit break will be administered, accompanied by some imagery of one of the characters in the game. Each limit is connected to a different character, and Zack's relationship with that character determines the frequency and power of the limit. It's a weird and extremely unintuitive system; you are basically at the mercy of the game to give you the limit you want when you want it. The limits themselves are pretty cool at least; Sephiroth lends Zack his Octoslash, while Aerith heals him in full, and so forth. Even Genesis, the game's main villain (and it isn't like this is much of a spoiler, given how obvious it is from early on) lends a limit break to fellow SOLDIER Zack in the form of Apocalypse, which is accompanied by creepy red lights rising across the screen as Genesis takes over the slot reels.

The Big Bad

The combat system is easily the weak point of the game; it would have been better had it adopted the same combat system as FF7. This would have also allowed for control of more than one character at a time - great for those times when characters like Sephiroth and Tseng are on your side but you don't get to control them or even see them in action.

Jenova... got hot

The music in the game is pretty good, but often repetitive since there simply aren't a whole lot of tracks in the game. What there is, though? Not bad at all. The graphics are also good for the system, if often lacking in detail. All in all, it's a respectable prequel, but it can't hold much of a candle to the game it is leading up to. Those who go into it expecting FF7 will be disappointed (and it seems like that was Everyone), but those who go in without expecting much other than a good story will find this a worthwhile play. FF7 fans who are story buffs, in particular, will dig the scenes that have direct connections to FF7. This game has a far superior translation to FF7, as well, which makes the dialogue a lot easier to follow. No joke, this game made me feel more emotion for Aerith and Cloud than FF7 ever did. Aerith is particularly lovable in this game with her "Hellooooo"s and general kindness, but it is another female who steals the show: Cissnei. It's a wonder Zack doesn't end up with her, and I hope we see more of Cissnei in any future installments of the FF7 saga.

Playable character in FF7-2 plz?

There is an extensive and completely optional mission system in the game that basically doubles the amount of gameplay; the main story takes about ten to fifteen hours but one could very easily spend the same amount of time running missions. These missions are accessed from save points and deposit the player into various pocket areas where they must fulfill a requirement. This is almost always a matter of taking out an enemy that is conveniently lurking in close proximity. At first, these missions are a fun diversion to the main game; they quickly become repetitive and boring, however, given that they consist only of fights - the weak point of the game - and little else. There isn't really any story to flesh out from these missions, and they're only there for the completists. The average player will barely want to bother with too many of these.

The storyline here is the strong point, as I said, and I kinda feel that the game would have been better off as an Advent Children style movie. The plot similarities with Metal Gear Solid are apparent, with genetically altered super soldiers running amuck; the moral of the story being that corporations playing God with their soldiers can create a Pandora's Box situation where they lose control of their own monstrous creations.

The title Crisis Core is a curious one. I wasn't sure what it actually meant or referred to at first. Core could be a reference to "corps", with the elite troops of Shinra being their crisis management. It could also be a reference to the numerous apples strewn throughout the game; these apples have some significance beyond their surface appearance. Genesis carries around a mako-infused apple for a large part of the game, one that he collected from his once-peaceful homeland of Banora. This almost seems like a reference to the Garden of Eden, a place spoiled by human greed.

In the end, this game is the story of a soldier and little else. Zack Fair is a strong and noble character who cares about the people around him, takes care not to hurt the innocent, and yet somehow manages to follow orders dilligently. In working for the Shinra corporation, he is inherently on the side of evil in the world... yet as a person, Zack is anything but evil. Over the course of the game he grows from an idealistic, naive young man to a powerful soldier whose confidence in his leaders is shaken, and his journey to find answers culminates in one of the saddest denouements ever seen in a game.

Taken for its story, Crisis Core is great, and a spectacular addition to FF7's universe. It tells a touching story, fleshes out FF7, and introduces a formidable new adversary in the form of Genesis. However, there is also a game here, and the gameplay of that game (outside of the story and cutscenes) is unfortunately subpar, redundant, and boring. Still, for anyone who felt a connection to FF7's story or wanted to, this game is a worthwhile play. The story has a truly powerful impact by the time it's all said and done.

Rating: 7.4 out of 10

Similar posts from around the site:

The Legend of Zelda Retrospective
Final Fantasy XIII (Review)
Mass Effect 3 (Review)


  1. I can't remember, did you ever play Dirge of Cerebus? This game seems pretty similar in that the actual gameplay part is no good.

    Is it so important to do something new to the point where making it worse is considered "better" than stagnating?

    1. Yeah, I finished Dirge of Cerberus. The gameplay in that game is a lot worse than this one. The story is worse too. DoC basically has nothing redeeming about it outside of the music. Gotta say, Square hasn't really done too much with the FF7 world, which is amazing since games taking place in that world should be a license to print money.

  2. Prior to playing CC, the only FF game I'd ever played was.... none, actually. So I went in with blank expectations. I knew it was a prequel to that one popular game, but was taken aback by just how freaking awesome the story was. I loved Zack especially... He was really awesome... and the ending was just epic...

    As you said, the gameplay is a little monotonous, but you get used to it. Since it was categorized as an action-RPG, I would've preferred the gameplay be more along the lines of Ys Seven, where the action is all in real-time and there are no random encounters...

    Anyway, I'm playing the original FF7 on my PS Vita now... I'm not a big fan of turn based RPGs, but I made an exception here because I wanted to know what I'd see of Zack, and what happens to Cloud Strife.