Review: Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (Sony PSP)

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 03/24/08

Before we begin with this review, I’d like to issue a disclaimer of sorts. If you’re a diehard, hardcore fan of Final Fantasy VII, do yourself a favor: stop reading. Close the window, back up the browser, save yourself of the trouble of reading through this.

This is not for you.

That’s not because I’m negatively predisposed to anything named after FFVII (I’m not), or even anything named Final Fantasy at all (I’m definitely not). It’s not because I’m worried about offending someone (I’m not). And it’s not even because I expect this to change your opinion of the title in any way, because I don’t.

And that’s the point: you already have your opinion of this title, and anything I have to say will be a waste of your time. You might agree with what I have to say, but if you disagree, it won’t make much of a difference: this isn’t for you.

This is for everyone else.“ – quoted from the Dirge of Cerberus review.

I felt the need to quote the above because, frankly, it needs to be understood. Final Fantasy VII, while a commercially successful product that has moved almost 10 million copies worldwide (if Wikipedia is to be believed), is not something everyone has played, is not something everyone cares about, and is not something everyone feels they need to experience. Of the ten million-ish PSP owners in the US market, I’d be surprised if half of them have played the original game, and of that half, I’d be surprised if half of THAT was so enamored with the original that they feel the need to run right out and buy a sequel. So, then, what you’re left with is a group of 2.5 million people buying a game because they know it’s for them and another 7.5 million people wondering if they should invest their hard earned dollars in a game they know nothing about from a franchise they’ve not experienced, all because a bunch of people who write things like “Cloud Strife is one of the most iconic video game characters of all time, rivaling Mario for instant recognition” and pretend that this is even flirting with reality got together and gave the game the literary equivalent of bukkake.

The short answer is “probably not, though renting’s not entirely out of the question.” For the long answer, keep reading.

The story of CC sees you playing the role of Zack Fair, he of occasional flashback appearance (in FFVII) and spiritual guidance (in Advent Children) in his very own storyline detailing his time in SOLDIER and the events leading up to Final Fantasy VII. The story proper essentially deals with Zack as he grows from a brash and cocky 2nd Rank Soldier to a more adult 1st rank Soldier, as well as the various experiences he goes through as a result. Assuming you’re a fan of the prior titles, the story does what is expected of it: it connects the lines from this game to Final Fantasy VII, crams itself full of fan-service, and gives the player plenty of time with their favorite FFVII characters, as nearly everyone from that game is in this game.

The core reasons the story of the game exists, really, are so that

1.) Final Fantasy VII can have its very own Episode 1 moments (and if you can’t mentally compare Sephiroth to a pretty (or prettier, now) Darth Vader, then you either haven’t played FVII or you haven’t seen Star Wars),
2.) Gackt Genesis can be (at times, poorly) retconned into the story so that when he shows up in the next FFVII spin-off we can appropriately understand who he is and where he comes from (and rest assured, he will), and
3.) So we can see the relationship between dorky Zack and autistic Aeris Aerith develop first-hand (since Advent Children made it obvious they were together in whatever passed for Heaven in this series, the Lifestream or what have you),

and in those respects it more or less succeeds. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll absolutely love it and it’s absolutely for you.

There are, however, four rather large problems with the story that raise their heads throughout:
1.) Generally poor resolutions/developments across the board: Cissnei’s existence is given decent weight throughout the game, but she appears in no American games beyond Crisis Core, thus diminishing her importance somewhat; the retcon of the Nibelheim Incident contradicts both FFVII and the Last Order OAV based on it; the endgame is unsatisfying simply because the actions taken therein are not any more dramatic and heroic here than they were in “The Devil’s Rejects”, they’re just an unsatisfying means to an end; there’s a whole section where “Heaven” and “Angels” are mentioned that STRONGLY implies Judeo-Christian religion in a world THAT IS NOT EARTH, thus marking the second time in as many FFVII titles where Earth culture has been stuffed into FFVII because God forbid someone come up with a religion for the series on their own; Hollander, despite using a different method for creating his abominations, has more or less identical motivations to Hojo, thus meaning Shinra hired TWO scientific sociopaths, put them into positions of power, and watched them create projects that almost destroyed their company/ended the world just to bloody well prove that they were godly enough to do it (not to mention the whole “identical characters” issue); and so on.
2.) A plot that is more exclusionary than a David Lynch film: if you haven’t played FFVII (at the minimum), more of the plot goes flying over your head than Peanut’s hand has over the course of Jeff Dunham’s career.
3.) A plot that is more convoluted than a David Lynch film, for no adequately explained reason: multiple face/heel turns, the dead repeatedly coming back or cloning themselves, wasteful and meaningless self-sacrifice that serves no purpose but advancing the story, tons of pseudo-science meant to explain the existence of two different villains, and a whole ton of overly wordy dialogue that sounds a whole lot more complex than it really is, because apparently the head writer assumed the phrase “less is more” was a ratio equating “sense” to “dollars”, not at all incorrectly.
4.) Entirely TOO MUCH fanservice: Yuffie pops up a whole bunch and does little of consequence, Aerith’s trademark hair bow is explained, Cloud’s life before becoming a science experiment is put into focus here, and none of it really resonates unless you’ve played the original game in the first place.

In short: the story is overly and needlessly complex, stretches about half an hour or so of thought into a twenty hour game, crams itself chock full of storyline elements and references that won’t matter if you haven’t played one game that came out ten years ago, and ultimately sees you face off against a main villain who is rather reminiscent of FFVII’s villain (down to the pretty face, unique clothing, and big wing protruding from his back). If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll love it, of course, but anyone who hasn’t played the first game won’t get anything entertaining from this one.

Visually, the game is mostly spectacular. The character models are among some of the best the PSP can churn out, and the backgrounds are often nice (if nondescript and repetitive in some cases). Oh, and of course the cinematics are mind-blowing, but that’s not a surprise. Aurally, the voice-acting is actually spot-on throughout and done quite well, though the game does this really, really, REALLY irritating thing where characters will voice act a few lines, then not voice act a few lines, then voice act a few lines, FOR NO GODDAMN REASON. Seriously, there’s no weight or importance to the non-acted lines over the acted lines, there’s no adequately explained reason for it, it just happens and you are literally left with no explanation as to why. The music is top-notch, as expected, and many of the tracks are cute remixes of old FFVII tracks, and thus match the tone of the product (fanservice) perfectly. The sound effects are also quite nice and well done overall.

Which brings us to the gameplay, which can essentially be described as “minimalist”. Much like in a normal RPG, most of the gameplay amounts to you wandering about the locations either talking to people/investigating the environment or engaging in random encounters (depending on the type of location you’re in). Investigating the environments and maneuvering around the game world is pretty simple and works perfectly fine, but this being an RPG, that’s not terribly surprising. In most cases, you can also bring up your menu to goof around in as needed at the press of a button, though in CC the menu offers a lot more functionality than in most titles. Basically, you’re offered the options from the word go to investigate your inventory, equip stuff, sort your inventory and so on, but from the menu you can also go to shops (yes, you can shop at any time you’re not in battle, essentially) and, if standing on a save point, undertake missions (side-quests not directly related to the main plot). In short, the game essentially offers you the option to do almost everything you need to do right from Zack’s cell phone, which is certainly convenient, as it means you don’t really need to concern yourself with doing things like “wandering around looking for a shop”. This is, I have to say, pretty cool on an ease of use scale, even if it’s not wholly believable (and the moment we had a guy sprouting a single wing and using it to fly, believability went out the window, so just deal with it). Mind you, there are still “town” locations to wander about, though they’re mostly associated to the Shinra building and the surrounding locations (LOVELESS Street, the slums from FFVII, Aerith’s church full of flowers, etc), and aside from wandering about in them for quest purposes, you’ll only need to look around in the locations to find more side missions to take on, so there’s not a whole lot stopping you from getting down to killing things for experience and profit.

Combat is handled in CC in an action-oriented fashion; one bumbles into an enemy spawn point and gets attacked by a group of foes (as, despite appearances, battles aren’t really random here; they can only happen in certain locations on the map and unless you run around the outside edge of the location, you will always encounter them if you pass through the set areas), and has to kill them by spamming the X button. Now, X doesn’t specifically “attack” so much as it uses whatever you’ve highlighted on your action bar at the bottom of the screen; aside from your normal attack, the bar will also have your various Materia (magic spells) that you’ve equipped (how many depends on how far along in the game you are) and your Items bag, from which you may use curatives and such. You cycle the items with the left and right bumpers, while the D-pad and analog stick are used to move Zack around in battle. Also, if you’re interested in evading damage instead of healing it, you can also dodge and block with the Square and Circle buttons, respectively, so as to reduce damage or avoid it entirely, though this doesn’t work against some attacks so well.

In other words, it fundamentally plays like just about every action RPG you’ve ever played.

To distance the product a bit from that notion, CC also has something known as the Digital Mind Wave, AKA DMW, AKA Setzer’s special attack/Cait Sith’s Limit Break. Essentially, while you’re in combat, a slot machine will be running in the upper left hand corner. The slots are based on two separate things: numbers and character portraits. When three character portraits line up, Zack does a Limit Break (or, if the portraits are of Summons, he summons a creature), and when two or three numbers pop up at one time, any one of a number of different things can happen, including Zack leveling up (though this isn’t exactly RANDOM, as you’ll note that you go up in level more frequently while playing harder missions than you do easier ones; there appears to be SOME kind of experience tracker, but it’s simply not obvious). You have no direct influence over the DMW, as it makes its rolls as it feels it needs to, but whatever happens, you reap the benefits (the DMW doesn’t have any negative effect elements built into it). Each character face on the DMW wheels has a different Limit Break associated with it, and if you line up three of one character’s face in a row, you use that Limit Break, whatever it might be (some attack all enemies, some attack one enemy, some offer healing or status boosts, and so on). The level of your Limit Breaks is determined by how far along your relationship is with the character in question; thus, it pays to have conversations with characters and such, as the more friendly you are with the character (or, at least, those who you can directly influence, like Aerith), the better your LB’s will be for that person. Also, after some events in the story, the DMW will be influenced so that more of one character’s face will appear on it, thus further influencing what LB’s you get at any given time. To its credit, the DMW works well enough for a probably not as random as is believed system, and it could certainly be worse, as could, indeed, all of the gameplay.

The major problem with the gameplay is that it seems to incorrectly assume that it knows exactly what it is the gamer is looking to do, and feels it has provided that, when it really hasn’t. For instance: several times throughout the game, a cinematic will be shown of Zack killing something or another (the introductory cinematic is an absolutely perfect example, but there are others), which outright looks outstanding, but begs the question I asked while playing Dirge of Cerberus: “why am I watching what I could be playing?” Now, Final Fantasy VII had its fair share of flaws, but by and large it avoided inundating the player with cutscenes every five minutes and didn’t really make you watch playable activities all that often, something its later sequels are all too happy to do, because someone decided that what the players REALLY wanted was to play a movie, the failure of The Bouncer notwithstanding. On the opposite side of the spectrum, instead of simply showing us cutscenes of Zack and Aerith putzing around, we’re required to interact with these scenes to different extents, none of which could be deemed “exciting” by any stretch of the imagination, when simply representing them as cutscenes would have been wholly sufficient. In other words: we’re watching things we should be playing, then playing things we really only need to watch. It’s rather annoying the first time it happens, and when you stop and realize that it tends to happen about once a chapter, well, that just becomes tiresome in a hurry.

This is further compounded by the fact that the game is really, REALLY shallow. The core game, by itself, is really only about a fifteen to twenty hour affair, but it’s crammed to the gills with hundreds of side missions that you can undertake, thus increasing the overall play time… until you realize that you are, in essence, doing the exact same thing for the whole time you’re playing: wandering through the “dungeon” until you find the boss, killing the boss, collecting your reward, then repeating until you get bored. Generally speaking, most games of this type get around this problem by offering the character all sorts of nifty gifties for doing these things, but CC really CAN’T; aside from Materia and Accessories, THERE IS NO EQUIPMENT IN THE GAME. No swords, no armor, no shields, no NOTHING. Now, I’m all for the evolution of the medium, and anyone who can come up with an interesting way to evolve the RPG has my gratitude, but EXCISING EQUIPABLE ITEMS is probably not the way to go about things, largely because, deep down inside, everyone wants the badass Sword of Infinite Damage +1 on their main character. That this was deemed unnecessary just takes a shallow game and drains more of the life from it, making it into, for lack of a better term, a twenty hour action game… and, more importantly, one that has shown you all of its tricks in the first hour, since you don’t play as anyone but Zack.

The DMW, while it’s FUNCTIONAL, also loses some points for being something of an annoying pain in the ass. For one, you can’t choose your Limit Break because all of them are relegated to the DMW, and while this means Limit Breaks tend to pop up a decent amount of the time, the one you’re given is, in many cases, inevitably not as useful as the one you wanted. And since the DMW is essentially random, you can’t rely on it to ever be properly useful, and thus you can’t factor it into your plans for a battle. It’s also somewhat disruptive; when the DMW pops up to give you a LB, that’s fine, because you’re effectively given a breather (since, unless you’re summoning something, you can’t skip the LB scenes… or, for that matter, ANY SCENES but Summons, which is annoying all on its own), but when the DMW pops up to, say, level Zack or a Materia up… well, hey, that’s great, but if you were in the middle of something (say, shifting to Cure because you just took a bit of heavy damage) you’re then stuck re-situating yourself. And that’s assuming the DMW actually gave you ANYTHING; more than a few times, the DMW popped up on-screen, rolled its numbers, and gave me absolutely nothing… I understand the system is supposed to be random, but WHY IS THE GAME DISRUPTING ME IN THE MIDDLE OF BATTLE FOR NO REASON I MEAN REALLY NOW that’s just a waste.

Now, here’s the thing: if you ARE a fan of FFVII, then this doesn’t concern or apply to you. As noted, you’re not going to care, and you’re going to love the game, warts and all, as is your right. But if you aren’t, it’s going to be fairly apparent that you have seen everything this game is throwing at you and you’re not going to be terribly impressed. The only things the game does that could be considered novel are the DMW system (which is, as noted, a not entirely random slot machine with a fancy name) and the ability to shop for items through your cell phone; otherwise, everything here is, at best, a staple of the genre, and at worst, a cliché. The tons and tons of extra missions, with a few exceptions, don’t give you anything fantastic for completing them and are really only there for the purposes of leveling/gil farming. The “New Game +” option that beating the game unlocks is cute if you haven’t tired of spamming X by the end of the game, but other games (most notably, other SQUARE games, IE Parasite Eve) have done this better by offering the player all sorts of nifty extras for playing a second time. The core gameplay itself is simple enough that anyone can play the game without an issue, but if you’re the sort of person who loathes Dynasty Warriors you’re not going to jump for joy at what CC is doing with its combat, as for about 60% of the game it ends up being roughly the exact same thing. There’s little variety, not much depth, and short of the narrative and the visuals, not a whole lot of reason to play this over other, better RPG’s (both in the action and the traditional category) on the PSP.

Which is not to say that Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is bad; it’s simply mediocre. Okay. Run of the mill, even. It’s visually good, aurally great, and the gameplay isn’t bad, and if you’re a fan of the other games then you really have no reason to miss this. It’s a fanservice game, made by fans (of money), for fans (of FFVII), and when the next game comes out, complete with boxart of Cloud Strife wringing out a stone, it too will most likely be a fanservice game made by fans (of money), for fans (you get the point). But for everyone else, the story is cumbersome, ponderous, and filled with all sorts of confusing twists and odd character actions and elements of cultures that don’t exist, the gameplay, while okay, is really nothing special and nothing you haven’t played before, the cute novelties in the product ultimately neither help nor hinder the game, and the only “depth” to the experience comes from hundreds of side-missions that feature roughly the same objectives and identical gameplay from one to the next, and all of the pretty cutscenes and smattered mini-games in the world can’t change that fact.

The Scores:
Story: POOR
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR

Final Score: MEDIOCRE.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Did you like Final Fantasy VII? Like, a whole lot? Enough to buy Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus? And did you like them too?

Yes? Then you should already own this; it’s everything you could hope for.

Kinda? Then you might want to give this a rental as it might hold some appeal; it’s pretty and plays okay enough, and it’s not a bad diversion of time if the series holds any interest for you.

No? Then this will be a waste of time; you’ve played other games just like it (or you haven’t and wouldn’t want to), the story won’t hold your interest, and all of the pretty graphics and sounds won’t convince that you’re playing twenty-odd hours of mediocrity.



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3 responses to “Review: Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (Sony PSP)”

  1. […] and most realistic looking tactics game I’ve ever played. Is it going to be on par with say Crisis Core? Of course not. But for those that know this genre, I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t […]

  2. […] and most realistic looking tactics game I’ve ever played. Is it going to be on par with say Crisis Core? Of course not. But for those that know this genre, I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t […]

  3. […] and most realistic looking tactics game I’ve ever played. Is it going to be on par with say Crisis Core? Of course not. But for those that know this genre, I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t […]

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