By dankempster 10 Comments
The latest game I've seen the closing credits roll in is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, which I finished on Sunday night. I bought the game almost as soon as it launched here in the UK, back in the summer of 2008. I was lucky enough to pick up the collector's edition, which comes with an exclusive book of official artwork as shown above. I wanted to get into it straight away, but elected to leave it as I had a lot of other titles on the go at the time. I finally picked it up over the Christmas holiday, marking the start of my plan to play through the whole Compilation of Final Fantasy VII this year. As a gamer whose tastes and influences were shaped by the experiences I had with the original Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation several years ago, I have a lot to say about Crisis Core, both as a stand-alone game and as part of the aforementioned Compilation. So without any further preamble, let's get this episode of Discovering Gaming Greatness underway.
The main reason I picked up Crisis Core (beyond the presence of the words Final and Fantasy in the title) was to experience its story, and in that respect I definitely wasn't disappointed. While I don't think that Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series, it is a game that had a profound effect on me when I first experienced it over the winter of 2000/2001. One of the main reasons for this was the game's storytelling. Final Fantasy VII came into my life at a time when I was struggling to find enjoyment in reading, and managed to reignite that passion for me. It also showed me that story had an important role to play in video games, and in that respect it's probably had more influence on my tastes as a gamer than any other game I've played before or since.
I loved Crisis Core's story because it did everything that I expected it to. It allowed me to revisit a universe that I hold incredibly dear, and it answered all the questions left by Final Fantasy VII. Perhaps best of all, it gave me a real insight into the previously unexplored character of Zack Fair. In all honesty, I think Zack might just be the best protagonist in a Final Fantasy game to date. Experiencing his story in the form of the events leading up to Final Fantasy VII and seeing how those events affect him, shaping him from a carefree adolescent into a more serious and responsible young man, is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. It also makes for a story full of emotion. One of the key themes of Crisis Core is relationships, and there are a lot of them. Zack's relationship with his mentor Angeal Hewley, and in turn his role as mentor to a young Cloud Strife, is very well executed. There's also, of course, the relationship between Zack and Aerith Gainsborough, which makes for some of the game's most beautiful and poignant moments. All this stuff was handled so well that even though I pretty much knew how everything was going to pan out, it didn't stop me welling up when the game reached its brilliant conclusion. The storytelling and character development in Crisis Core is some of the best I've witnessed in any game to date, and was without doubt the most rewarding aspect of the game for me.
One of my biggest concerns was that the gameplay of Crisis Core might not match up to the storytelling. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. As with pretty much all action RPGs, I spent most of my time either in combat, in story-focused cut-scenes, or exploring the game's gorgeous 3D environments. The game's combat system reminded me a lot of the one in the Kingdom Hearts series of games - battles are fought in real time, and the player has the ability to quickly switch between using physical attacks, special abilities, magic and items, and dodging and blocking attacks. As you might expect from a game in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, it's possible to equip various Materia and accessories to augment Zack's combat abilities. While I did check out the new kinds of Materia that I earned in missions, I found myself sticking to a set few tried-and-tested Materia types most of the time. I personally found the combat most rewarding when engaged in the game's harder missions, when skilled use of dodging and blocking and appropriate selection of accessories is crucial. Fights against weaker enemies often verge on being tedious by comparison. it may not be as mind-bendingly deep as some other JRPG combat systems, but it offers everything you'd expect from an action-oriented game of this type.
Another element of the game that I feel deserves praise is the game's graphical prowess. In the two years that I've owned a PSP, I don't think I've ever seen a handheld game that looks as good as Crisis Core, and that sentiment is coming from somebody who's played games like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Every aspect of Crisis Core looks absolutely stunning. The character models are all incredibly detailed, with some great facial animation on show in the in-game cut-scenes. The storyline-relevant environments are just as well-rendered, although the ones on show in the game's missions are pretty uniform and nondescript in their design. Part of the game's aesthetic appeal to me may be due to its faithfulness to its inspiration. All the locations and enemies I encountered in Crisis Core retained the same conceptual layout and design that they had in the original Final Fantasy VII, which resulted in some incredible moments of nostalgia for me. As we've all come to expect from a Final Fantasy, Crisis Core also boasts a number of gorgeous FMV sequences, all of which are of the same outstanding quality as the animated film, Advent Children. One notable change in Crisis Core is the use of FMV for the game's Summon sequences, something that I find surprising the series hadn't attempted until now.
While I loved Crisis Core, there were a couple of little things about it that didn't sit right with me. One of these was the game's Digital Mind Wave system, essentially a slot machine in the top left corner of the screen which governs several of Zack's abilities in combat. In principle, I like the idea of the DMW being in control of Limit Breaks and Summons. It adds a sense of randomness and luck to the battles, and makes receiving a Limit Break or Summon a hell of a lot more meaningful than it would normally be. What I dislike is the fact that it also governs the levelling up of Zack and his Materia. Leaving such things to luck made it difficult for me to gauge my progress at times, and I would have much rather preferred that these aspects of character development were handled in a more traditional, experience-based kind of way. Another quibble I have is with regards to the game's side-missions. While it's a great idea for a handheld game, it started to wear a little thin when I realised that all of these missions were combat-based. If there had been a little more variety in the missions (a more even mix of combat, exploration, puzzle-solving and mini-games, perhaps) then I might have enjoyed the mission-based side-quests a lot more.
I think that pretty much covers my opinion of Crisis Core. Minor issues aside, I had an absolute blast with it. Based on the sum of its story and gameplay, it's a great game in its own right. When placed in the context of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, it's probably the best game within the collection (certainly better than Dirge of Cerberus, at any rate), and the most fitting addition to Final Fantasy VII's story arc to date. It's also put me in a prime position to finally return to Final Fantasy VII proper for the first time in three years. Now that I have it on my PSP thanks to the PlayStation Store, Anyway, thanks very much for reading, guys. I'm not sure what you can expect from my next blog, or even when you can expect it. I'm currently playing two Rare games on my 360 (specifically Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Viva Pinata), but I'm nowhere near finished with either of them, and I have no other games-related issues to get off my chest right now. I guess all that remains to be said at this point, then, is that I'll see you when I see you.
Currently playing - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (X360)