Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is one more game in a long, long, line of games cashing in on the continued success of, most people say, the greatest RPG of all time. Featuring all of Final Fantasy VII’s main characters, Crisis Core is actually a prequel.
It's set seven years prior to the events of Final Fantasy VII, and thereby filling in much of the back-story. Without doubt you’ll recognise the characters and many of the settings, even though everything looks 100% better than anything Final Fantasy VII had to offer.
First things first, Crisis Core is without doubt the best looking game available on the PSP to date - God of War: Chains of Olympus included. The character’s faces and clothing are sharp and beautifully detailed and the settings, although not as rich in texture or detail, are better than anything else you’ll see on the PSP.
The cutscenes look as good as anything in the movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. They’re fluid, filled with stunning detail and all-round are absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. And you’ll see quite a few of them too, as the story moves along beautifully with these lavish cutscenes. There are few loading screens, but there are, however, many - too many in fact - instances of a totally blank screen. It would have been better to admit exactly what they are: a loading screen.
Crisis Core’s soundtrack is without doubt one of the best. Many tracks have been taken from Final Fantasy VII and revamped, but there are just as many new melodies too. And they’re all superb. The voice acting is fabulous, with Cloud Strife voiced by Steven Burton (who also voiced Cloud in Kingdom Hearts and its sequel, Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus).
One of the reasons Crisis Core took so long to be translated from Japanese to English was that the character’s lip syncing was redone to match the English voices. But the attention to detail has certainly paid off in seamless character performances.
Crisis Core follows the story of Zack, an over-eager fighter who longs to be a hero, as he moves up through the ranks of SOLDIER, one of the armies of the Shinra Electric Power Company. The questionable ethics of Shinra provides the background for the characters as they question their motives and their loyalties.
Zack is the character around which the others orbit, and provides the spring-board for the other character’s back-storys. How Cloud, Aerith, Sepheroth, Reno, Rude, Tseng and Zack initially meet is covered in detail, as is the Nibelheim incident and several other major events that take place in Final Fantasy VII. It’s all extremely interesting and shown in glorious cutscenes.
Unlike Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core’s combat takes place in real-time, and unfortunately the combat is where an otherwise spectacular games falls flat on its proverbial. And it’s not just one or two things wrong; it’s the entire combat set-up.
Basically, the X button is mashed from "go" to "woah", but the occasional square (dodge) or triangle (block) button can be jabbed now and again just to break up the monotony. There is, however, a second or two delay after a button is pressed which creates a real problem when you need to block immediately.
As if that wasn’t enough Zack’s enemies are targeted automatically and moving him around the battle area is the only way change it. On the other hand, if you’re ok with Zack targeting whichever enemy the game picks you won’t need to use the directional pad at all.
In the top left corner of the screen are three ‘reels’ – the ‘Digital Mind Wave’ or ‘DMW’ – which operate and indeed look exactly like a rolling fruit machine. When the two character portraits at either end match, the DMW is moved to centre screen. If the centre reel comes to a stop with three portraits matching Zack will receive a power surge and perform a special attack.
A power surge will increase your health, mana and attributes beyond their usual limit, sometimes even doubling them. In addition to the portraits, there are three spinning number ‘reels’, and the matching of these numbers is how Zack levels up and his stats and materia levels increase.
Matching numbers can also grant you immunity to magic or physical attacks or even make every strike a critical. In addition to character portraits there are summon pictures where a line up of three will initiate a magic attack. These additions are all very well and good, but as the player you have no control at all over what’s happening.
In addition, the combat menu is a nightmare. Your equipped materia, potions and remedies menu are in a line at the bottom right of the screen, and using the left and right buttons you manoeuvre through them. This is okay until you need to use a potion, because you then move into a sub-menu where you, again, use the left or right buttons to move along the line to the potion or remedy you need.
This set-up is terribly sloppy because not only are you unable to attack or defend while you’re cycling through your menu looking for the correct potion to use, but if you’re not paying close attention you’re liable to use up all your potions thinking you’ve cycled back through the menu to the attack button.
As if all that isn’t bad enough a female narrator totally lacking tonal inflections will inform you that you’re "activating combat mode" when you’re suddenly stopped in your exploration of an area and the camera swings around. She also pipes up in the same monotone with "combat resolved" as if you’re IQ is smaller than your shoe size and you’re unable to work it out for yourself with all the bodies lying around.
Despite these complaints Crisis Core has an addictive quality about it because you really need to know what happens next, and you’ll most certainly want to see the next glorious cutscene.