Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

While Square-Enix has recently developed an obsession with producing spinoffs for the Final Fantasy series, they are nothing new for the franchise. The original Seiken Densetsu was, in Japan, subtitled "Final Fantasy Gaiden" and retitled Final Fantasy Adventure overseas, despite having nothing to do plot-wise with any of the games in the series, and the PlayStation title Final Fantasy Tactics served as a later spinoff. Spinoffs with actual plot connections, however, would become more common years later, with the likes of Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and the spinoffs for Final Fantasy VII, including Dirge of Cerberus on the PlayStation 2 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation Portable. While these spinoffs have typically been of mixed quality, Crisis Core proves to be one of the stronger ones.

Story-wise, Crisis Core is a prequel to the original Final Fantasy VII, following the adventures of Zack Fair, a member of SOLDIER, who investigates the desertion of several SOLDIERs, among them being Genesis, after an operation in Wutai. Throughout the game, Zack teams up with some old and new faces, including Sephiroth and the Turks, to discover the reasons for the desertion and uncover some other mysteries along the way.

Encounters with enemies occur in fixed locations throughout the game's dungeons and fields, with Zack drawing his sword and engaging in real-time combat with a number of foes. The gameplay is sort of a cross between the Kingdom Hearts games and Final Fantasy VII, with menu-based combat in a real-time setting, and Materia playing a sizeable role in battle. Outside combat, Zack can equip accessories and Materia, which include green, yellow, and pink Materia. Green Materia allows him to use MP-consuming magic, yellow Materia allows him to perform AP-consuming physical skills, and pink Materia grants increases to certain stats like attack power.

It is also possible to obtain summon Materia, though these work in conjunction with another significant game mechanic, the Digital Mind Wave (DMW), a slot machine-esque mechanism that randomly activates as Zack fights. Sometimes the DMW will temporarily stop the action of battle to show players a spin, in which case a certain event may occur, such as a limit break, a summon spell, a Materia leveling, or even Zack himself leveling (although this actually isn't random, with experience necessary to level acquired from killing enemies surprisingly invisible). A nice feature of the DMW is that it can sometimes push up Zack's HP, MP, and AP beyond their normal maximum levels.

Real-time combat itself is somewhat similar to that in the Kingdom Hearts games, with a battle menu dictating which actions Zack can perform, including attacking normally, using Materia, and using items, where using the L and R buttons scrolls through these commands, with the action of combat not pausing as the player does so. Zack can also block or use a dodge-roll, which can be incredibly handy, alongside the fact that the game indicates when enemies are about to use special skills. Killing enemies nets Zack invisible experience used for occasional leveling, SOLDIER points for DMW spins and Materia fusion, and money for buying items at shops.

There are also plenty of optional missions accessible at save points that can net Zack some additional goodies, not to mention experience, with the fact that death in these missions doesn't result in a Game Over (as it does for normal battles), making them perfect for grinding if necessary. All in all, the battle system is quick and enjoyable, in spite of the randomization of the DMW and lack of manual enemy targeting, although it provides plenty of excitement throughout the game.

Interaction is just as solid, with easy menus and controls, alongside the PlayStation Portable's built-in quicksave and pause, although the camera can sometimes get stuck during exploration, and a scene-skip option would have been handy, especially for those who will likely experience repetition after deaths. Still, control is solid overall.

Crisis Core mainly borrows from Final Fantasy VII and the Kingdom Hearts games, but has plenty of features, like the DMW, to keep it fresh. As for the story, it's more or less fan service, and doesn't stand very well on its own, given the disjointed, unnatural flow of the story common to most Japanese RPGs, but ties in decent with FF7, despite occasional retcons. The localization is functional as well, despite some odd battle dialogue such as "The power of SOLDIER," and Japanese signs seeming out of place in a game with a totally white cast. The plot isn't bad, but could have definitely been better.

Aside from some nice remixes of tracks from Final Fantasy VII, the soundtrack isn't anything special, consisting mostly of generic techno themes. The voice acting, though, is definitely above average, and Crisis Core is overall a decent-sounding game.

The game looks better, though, with realistic character models and even better looking FMVs, although the texturing of many environments often looks bland and pixelated. Even so, the game looks superior to the original Final Fantasy VII with its Lego men, with the graphics likely to age better, as well.

Finally, the spinoff is about twenty to forty hours long, with a New Game+ allowing for additional playthroughs (and, if the player initially plays on Normal Mode, can make Hard Mode far more bearable). Ultimately, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, is unarguably one of the much better spinoffs for Final Fantasy VII, not to mention the entire Final Fantasy franchise, for once being just as enjoyable as the game upon which it is based. It definitely has its flaws, though solid gameplay, controls, and graphics make it a must-own for true fans of Final Fantasy VII, with the game itself providing a solid foundation upon which to build should Square-Enix one day grow a pair and finally remake FF7.

The Good:
+Fun battle system with tons of optional missions.
+Solid control.
+Nice voice acting and visuals.

The Bad:
-Randomization of DMW is baffling.
-Plot is more fan service than anything else.
-Original music is somewhat forgettable.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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