Cool to the Core
The wait is finally over! The prequel to one of the most beloved entries in the Final Fantasy series is here. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a fast-paced and beautiful RPG that takes players through the dangerous, intrigue-filled world that The Shinra Company dominates. This title is, without a doubt, the very best RPG released for the PSP to date. The story is fantastic, the graphics are truly amazing, and the speed of combat should win over both fans and newcomers alike. Crisis Core hits on almost every level with just a few problems that somewhat hinder the game. Despite its few shortcomings though, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a must-buy title and could mark a possible turning point in the lifecycle of the PSP.
Crisis Core follows the naïve yet talented SOLDIER 2nd class Zack Fair on his way to becoming SOLDIER 1st class for The Shinra Company. He has been mentored by some of the best warriors the electrical company has ever had, including Angeal and Sephiroth. Zack’s training is nearly complete, and this is where players will take over.
Zack’s first mission is to investigate the mass desertion by a number of SOLDIERs of various ranks to the company’s declared enemy, the Wu Tai. The story becomes even more twisted as the desertion becomes even wider spread. Zack’s immaturity and inexperience will soon give way as he begins to learn who he really is, what he’s fighting for, and just how important his honor is. To get any deeper into the story would spoil it for you, so I’ll leave it there. However, know that the quality of the narrative is paralleled by only a few games on any system, and that it does a nice job of filling in many of the holes and unexplained intrigues of Final Fantasy VII.
The main set of quests and missions will recount this story and unfold mysteries of The Shinra Company, but there are also myriad side missions that will help to occupy your time, beef up your character, and hone your battle skills. These missions are accessed at any save point. Upon acceptance, you will be swept away to take on the challenge; and once finished, you will be transported back to the save point to continue the main quest. This system of bouncing between the main quest and the side missions is an efficient way to extend gameplay without getting players too sidetracked.
You’ll be amazed at just how good the graphics are. The CG movies look like they could find a home on the PS3 and do an amazing job of helping to tell the story. The detailed characters, environments, and battle effects are both crisp and attractive. In fact, the graphics are so good that this is a game you can hook up to a larger display to share with friends and family without missing too much. There are a few jaggies to be seen, but the mild imperfections during gameplay are probably heightened due to the exquisite cutscenes that are oft mixed in throughout the title. Truly, if you have a problem with the quality of these graphics then there is just no pleasing you.
Other than the great visuals, the sound quality and original score are equally excellent. From the dreamlike Asian melodies to the hard riffs that spur you on into battle, Crisis Core is an absolute treat for the senses. The deep cast of voice actors is very solid, though some of the delivery of the dialogue can seem a bit stilted. However, the conversations and interactions between the characters should still satisfy all but the pickiest of critics. All in all, the presentation is utterly astounding. The hard work and craftsmanship that went into making this title is evident throughout. This game looks, sounds, and feels as if it could be a full console offering.
Combat is a mixed bag, however. It is both excellent and poor all at the same time. In order to clarify that statement I’ll have to explain some of the technical aspects of how the game plays. Combat employs a pitched battle system like many other Final Fantasy titles, but instead of being ploddingly turn-based and 2D, it allows players to move around in a 3D space in order to flank their enemies and button mash their way to glory. The quick pacing is phenomenal and should be engaging to even the most ardent Final Fantasy opponents. It really feels like an action RPG.
Despite the lightning-fast pacing, there are elements of the combat system that don’t quite work. The new DMW (Digital Mind Wave) system controls limit breaks (powerful animated attacks), status effects, and leveling. As you battle, three image and number wheels will spin randomly like a slot machine in the upper-left corner. If the images or numbers line-up in specific combinations, you will gain the effects of the DMW. These effects will help you in battle or to level up your character and/or Materia (magical elements). These wheels will line up more or less frequently depending on Zack’s emotional state, as his excitement is quantified and measured by his Limit Gauge. The gauge will go all the way from Low (tranquil blue waves) to Heavenly (intense red waves) depending on just how hopped up Zack is.
What this DMW system does is take a lot of the control out of the RPG experience. If you want a high-level character, you had better hope the game gifts you triple sevens. Moreover, leveling up your Materia is truly dumb luck. If the number wheels line up to display two threes, then the Materia in your third slot will be upgraded; if the wheel shows three fours then the Materia in the fourth slot will be upgraded by two levels. This makes things very easy, but it also means you’ll often be frustrated by the wheels leveling the wrong slot and you won’t have access to some higher level spells of a certain type for an excruciatingly long time. In essence, the game randomly decides how your character will grow and doesn’t allow you to leave your own mark on its development.
To make matters worse, achieving Limit Breaks by entering the Modulating Phase completely disrupts battles. You’ll be cruising along whooping up on a baddy’s backside when all of a sudden the action will stop while the slot machine of repetitious action animations takes over. If the three images line up then you will score a powerful Limit Break associated with that character. I can’t tell you how obnoxious this can be. Quite honestly, I would have preferred no Limit Breaks over the constant interruptions. Also, it can’t be left unsaid that every time you enter and exit pitched battles you will hear “Activating Combat Mode” and “Conflict Resolved.” This will start to grate on you sometime before the 200th battle, depending on the state of your nerves.
Thankfully, the overall pacing of combat is very fast and very fun. It is easy to switch between the various attacks and Materia you have equipped with the L and R shoulder buttons. To activate the selected skill you will simply press the X button to confirm. This makes for quick killing, but also breaks up the button mashing aspect by having you click through the line of combat options in order to make your selection. One could definitely describe combat as easy, but it is still rich and rewarding. The spell effects and ease with which you can best your opponents make every encounter an enjoyable one.
It may sound like I didn’t enjoy the title due to a few of its problems. That’s not the case; I just want you to know exactly what to expect. Overall, this is a tremendous game which anyone who is remotely interested should pick up. It will provide you with anywhere from 15 to 25 hours of enjoyment depending upon the degree to which you explore the side missions and secrets. This is one of the very best games for the PSP and even one of the best in the Final Fantasy series. It is a title that almost everyone, even those who traditionally abhor the series, will thoroughly enjoy despite its mild quirks.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
The visuals are as good as I’ve seen on the PSP system. 4.6 Control
Controls in and out of battle are a breeze! 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is outstanding. The occasionally stilted nature of the dialogue is the only drawback to the sound. 4.0 Play Value
The story is excellent and the combat is quick and fun. Unfortunately, specific systems within combat phases are not great and actually break up the otherwise seamless battles. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.