If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, it is probably a foregone conclusion that your favorite title from the series is Final Fantasy VII, released all the way back in 1997 for the original PlayStation. The game is classically remembered for its rich story-telling, imaginable locations, and unforgettable characters. The game has spawned a number of spin-off creations such as the PlayStation 2 title Dirge of Cerberus and DVD/Blu-ray movie, Advent Children. Square-Enix is looking to finish the whole compilation of the Final Fantasy VII series with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, no doubt one of the more anticipated titles in the PSP’s lifespan.
To start things off, you would need to know the basic story. Crisis Core is a title that takes place in the familiar world of Midgar, exactly seven years prior to the events of FFVII. This time around, you will take the role of character Zack Fair, SOLDIER 2nd Class, who inspires to become a 1st Class.
I do not want to spoil the opening sequence of the game for you; however it will create a very nostalgic feeling for those who have played Final Fantasy VII. After the initial intro sequence is concluded, you are thrown into the Shinra Company HQ which serves as the central hub throughout the entire game, as described by the PR representative standing right next to me. It is here where I spent a great core of my play through. Get used to this location because unlike past Final Fantasy games where you rarely revisit past locations as you continuously progress through the game to newer locations, in Crisis Core, the game is more mission-based and after each completed mission, you will return to the HQ for debriefing and intel about what is next for young Zack. This is where the baseline plot for the rest of the story is first introduced. It is explained that Zack is more-so of an apprentice under mentor, Angel, whom is a SOLDIER 1st Class. Under his guidance, Zack is sent to track down a SOLDIER 1st Class Genesis whom goes missing along with his squad on a mission in Wutai. This is where the real beef lies, what happened out in Wutai? Where did Genesis go? And how does this tie into what lies ahead in Final Fantasy VII?
Protagonist Zack Fair has a long road ahead of him….
Finally, it was my turn to play and it took place in the main HQ where Zack and Angeal engage in a prompt conversation about Zack’s future, what is expected of him, and the mission to track down Genesis. This portion of the game serves primarily as a tutorial, introducing the character to some of the basic functions such as navigation through the menu and how to enter into missions. I must take this time right now to explain that from what I saw from the play through, the game does a poor job introducing players to the overall scheme of the Final Fantasy VII realm. It is almost as if it is assumed that you have played the original FFVII and that you know about all of the smaller details. If you have played FFVII, then you will be able to jump right on in and enjoy the game and understand the grand scheme of things perfectly. To the contrary, if Crisis Core serves as your introduction to the Final Fantasy sphere then expect to be thrown into a place where you will be constantly saying “What is that supposed to mean?” That in itself could create some major comprehension problems for many gamers. No matter how much Square-Enix believes how popular FFVII is, not everyone has played or completed the original.
Expect to see the return of past FFVII characters such as Cloud, Aeris, and even nemesis, Sephiroth
After the core tutorial process is finished (as you progress, more tutorials will pop up), the game opens up to you and you have the opportunity to either pursue the core story which is to investigate Genesis or you can take part in many of the games 300 side missions, which is what I chose to do. The “battle simulations” as it is described in the game, serves as extra content for the gamer to pursue outside of the core story. What happens in the side missions has no effect on the main story at all, so the player will not benefit plot wise by completing these missions. Instead, the side missions presents the player with various methods for leveling up, practicing your fighting skills, and finding new unique items.
After a few lengthy conversations with characters in the HQ, I am finally able to enter a few side missions and take my first foray into Crisis Core. The way to enter a side mission is presented through a very simple task. All you must do is find and activate a save point, where you are taken to the main menu, which you will find the option to take part in missions, which are actually VR Battle simulations in the story. Once inside one of these missions, you are taken on certain paths in which you will be randomly surprised with scattered fights around the area. These fights are all real-time, taking place in the actual environment. So you do not have to worry about the screen blurring and transforming into a “battle field” like previous FF titles such as FFX. The fights themselves are very similar to that of .hack// and Kingdom Hearts in terms of camera movement and overall controls. The battle system is really simple and should not create headaches, even for the casual player. Furthermore, there is a new slot machine system called the DMW (Digital Mind Wave), which is very difficult to understand initially. It serves as an assistant during battles. After battles, the character will gain SP which I’m assuming stands for “Spin Points." The more you gain, the more the slot machine icon in the top left corner of the screen will spin during battles and depending on how the spin lands, depends on how you may be benefited in battle such as special attacks, ability to use Magic without exhausting your MP, and even invincibility. It may sound like a nice perk, but it will actually become useful later on down the road.
The music from what I could hear is probably among the best in the Final Fantasy series, which serves greatly for the PSP. Everything from the non-battle situation ambience to the battle sequence tunes, and cut scene original score. All is top notch and would make any FF fan feel right at home. The voice over during the cut scenes is also among the best ever, possibly better than that seen in FFX for the PS2. However, you will still find yourself reading through long lines of text as not everything has a voice over. Also from what I saw, the player and even background textures are done really well, which is impressive for the small sized PSP.
Zack’s mentor, Angel will play a huge role in the story development
Exclusively for the North American market, Square-Enix has also added a “Hard Mode” which the hardcore fans would enjoy going through. Talking to the Square PR representative, he told me how Crisis Core is definitely for the hardcore gamer not only because of the hard mode, but the story alone is 20+ hours with an extra 60+ hours for the 300 side missions. So it is possible that you could find yourself playing nearly 100 hours for a PSP game!
In all, I believe Crisis Core is an easy early candidate for PSP Game of the Year. The game will present a great story with promised twist and turns, impressive soundtrack, great visuals, and easy to learn gameplay. The only early knock that I have against the game is that it seems like it assumes you already played FFVII which is not going to be true for many of the Crisis Core owners, but that was just from the early parts of the game. I am pretty sure the world of Gaia will become more presentable as the game progresses. If you are a PSP owner, I highly suggest that you at least begin to give this game some attention as it is surely going to be a classic. The game is scheduled to release March 25th and we will surely give you a full review once that happens.