Game: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
Released: 2007

I consider myself a Final Fantasy VII fan, and while the game itself moved me, the subsequent movie 'Advent Children' left me very disappointed. The treatment of the characters and the general story were, in my opinion, not in line with their original representation, and much poorer for it. Therefore, I was hesitant to try out the Sony PSP-only prequel game 'Crisis Core' - uninterested enough to ignore it completely for the six years that have passed since its release.

My fears were unfounded - Crisis Core is a worthy prequel to FFVII. The gameplay may have changed quite drastically to a more action-RPG style (even more jarring to me, in 'true' 3D style), but the characters and story are treated well. While knowing how this game was going to end from the very start (by way of a fairly easily missed, but well-known cutscene in FFVII), that knowledge added to much of the weight of many story elements, especially nearer the end. I imagine you could play this game before FFVII and it would still hold up, but playing Crisis Core afterwards certainly seems the right way to go.

Now, I should mention that this game took me 6 months to complete. The save point system is somewhat infuriating, in that they are generally a several minute-long unskippable cutscene away from a boss battle, meaning if you fail, you have to sit through the cutscene again before you can retry. One particular boss gave me some difficulty, and I simply couldn't bring myself to sit through the cutscene again more than once in a game playing session - and the mere thought of doing so put me off playing entirely for several months. Also, the combat engine itself isn't entirely persuasive - most of the time I was simply mashing the attack button and occasionally dodging. Changing your attack to magic spells, or even worse, selecting an item, involves scrolling through lists with your trigger buttons while your opponents attack you. Your most special attacks occur randomly, and are uncontrollable. Even your character levelling up is random. Most of the time during combat I was simply wishing to get back to the non-combat parts of the game, which may sound like a bad thing, but I really did want to continue the story.

The main plotline itself is fairly silly, with lots of poorly explained genetic experimentation mumbo jumbo going on, never quite feeling like it's properly explored or dealt with. Not to mention hair eating. But the pacing, character interactions, and re-tellings of FFVII's back-story are fine, and enticing enough, even to the point of being legitimately emotionally engaging.

Speaking of characters, this game introduced a few new members (well, to me, at least). I found none of them particularly appealing. One of them is a fairly bland mentor, and another is so absorbed in one particular in-game 'epic poem' that fully three quarters of his dialogue must be quotations from it. Fortunately, the main character, Zack, while having a lot of the 'silly puppy' style to him, is endearing enough to not be annoying, and by the end is actually a pretty decent character. The returning cast are all treated well, although Tifa looks ridiculous, and really has far less bearing on the plot than she deserves. Zack must have run out of cellphone data credit at some point though, since he constantly receives mail messages, but never appears to reply to any of them.

Finally, the presentation is superb. I've heard this has some of the best graphics of any PSP games, and I can certainly believe it - environments, UI, and cutscenes are impressive, even all these years later. Character models and textures are generally great too, except some of the NPCs look very generic and I had trouble figuring out which kid was the current kid I needed to care about on a couple of quests. The music is equally impressive, with the new tracks fitting the game requirements well, and the old favourites have been given a lick of new... sonic paint... but not ruining them at all. Many have become some of my favourite Final Fantasy series music - and that's saying a lot! Having this package on a handheld system feels very special indeed.

I may have picked out a lot of negatives here, but truth be told I was overall quite happy with Crisis Core. It's a prequel done well - even with the change of game style. The series has been treated with care, and the new additions aren't too galling. As a returning fan, you'll likely come to appreciate familiar characters even more, and probably be left with a desire to replay FFVII afterwards. I'm confident a newcomer to the series would find this a compelling play, also - and then feel inspired to continue on with the game which started the JRPG revolution in the west. What more could you want, really?

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