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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) artwork

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) review

"The mediocre lovechild of Square's flagship and a slot machine."

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) image

"What about Zack?"

Some late '90s teens, myself included, asked this question after completing Final Fantasy VII. However, the innocence of youth never questions whether such ideas are worth exploring. Seventeen-year-old me thought a prequel would be a magnificent way to revisit that modern tech-inspired world, not realizing that sometimes shoehorning additional content into a timeline leads to contrived plot points and situations that don't mesh well with the original story.

Enter Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, a portable action-RPG prequel that recounts Zack's pre-Nibelheim experiences. Many old faces and familiar places return, as expected. We see the dingy streets of Midgar's slums, the thriving city of Junon and Wutai prior to its economic ruin. Along the way, characters like Sephiroth, Cloud, the Turks, Tifa and Aerith interact with Zack, sometimes in unexpected ways. For instance, Zack and Cloud establish a genuine bond by the tale's conclusion. Zack and Aerith are also basically a couple. Their scenes together are sweet, and their relationship develops naturally. Their romance seldom comes off as forced, even though the bond they form is--let's face it--a rather convenient coincidence. When you bear that in mind, you realize that their blossoming love only exists as a means to include Aerith in Crisis Core.

In addition to returning favorites, new characters appear that play important roles. We meet two fresh antagonists in Genesis and Hollander, to name a couple. The former is a SOLDIER defector similar to Sephiroth, and leads an army of clones against Shinra. The latter is a scientist and rival of Shinra's Professor Hojo, as well as a past employee of the corporation. The two of them, along with Zack's mentor Angeal, stage assaults against Shinra and their reactors in an attempt to discover a cure for a disease plaguing Genesis.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) image

It couldn't be more obvious that these villains exist to fill a void. Square Enix couldn't craft a full-length RPG that revolves around the Nibelheim Incident alone, and thus needed enough material to form a whole new story arc. All the same, isn't it strange that no one mentions Genesis or Hollander in VII proper? I mean, there's a freakin' Genesis fan club in Midgar, and a whole army of Genesis look-alikes, so you'd think someone would've spoke about him.

Honestly, I wouldn't be so cynical towards Genesis and company if their story didn't hamper Crisis Core's campaign. Each of their plot points drags on, featuring drawn out cutscenes and stilted dialogue. Genesis especially annoys, as he waxes poetic so often that you can't help but cringe whenever he speaks. He's obsessed with a literary epic called LOVELESS, and constantly quotes it during corny exchanges with our heroes. I had a tough time giving a damn about his struggle because he's such a boring, cheesy, unoriginal villain.

Can you ignore the plot and enjoy the experience on a mechanical level? To an extent, sure. Crisis Core sports a fast-paced and addictive combat system, although even that bears its share of unwanted quirks. On one hand, it presents a neat fusion of the series' menu-based combat and real-time action, where you use the shoulder triggers to select commands. Meanwhile, you move around the battlefield without turn-based constraints. You dodge or block attacks, hack away at foes, cast spells and use items just as quickly as you can press a button, without waiting for an ATB meter to fill.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) image

As you can imagine, some battles prove to be hectic and require you to strategize. You'll need to look out for enemy tells that signify upcoming assaults, and either learn to mitigate damage or avoid it altogether. You can't win without making use of materia and accessories, both of which provide passive strengths and stat increases needed to survive. With proper planning and skill, you can even come out on top when you're the underdog in a conflict.

Unfortunately, Square Enix once again displays its affection for unnecessary gimmicks by including a constantly running slot machine that uses both numbers and character portraits. Certain number combos grant you temporary in-battle bonuses, including invincibility or free spell costs. Character portraits determine whether or not you summon monsters or pull off limit breaks, so as to prevent you from spamming either technique. This sounds like a terrific way to limit those over-powered abilities, except that their randomness basically means victory sometimes boils down to luck. In other words, you occasionally defeat a tough boss because you happened to land a lot of limit breaks in rapid succession, or because you received the right result at the right time. During one battle, I would've died had I not received three Aerith portraits. Not only did that restore my hit points, but pushed them well beyond their maximum, allowing me to survive a devastating nuke from the boss.

Worse than that, you only level up if you earn at least two of the same portrait and a triple seven. Yeah, even levels boil down to luck, although sources indicate that there is a hidden experience system that increases the likelihood of leveling up. Nonetheless, it's pesky and unnecessary.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) image

Crisis Core also offers exactly three hundred side missions you can access from the main menu, but those come with their own advantages and drawbacks, as well. For one thing, the game offers way too many of them, and getting through the entire list is a daunting process. Each mission is a simple romp through a basic map, with only a few different locations on offer. Your objective always revolves around seeking out and killing one or more bosses, and most such tasks require minimal effort to complete. In some cases, the dungeon boss lies just down the hall from the starting point.

Yet, a fair number of these side quests also present worthy challenges that push you even harder than storyline battles do. Unique equipment and hidden perks also sweeten the pot, such as earning the chance to conjure Cactuar or Master Tonberry during battle. By the time you polish off a significant chunk of these outings, you'll be powerful enough to steamroll most campaign encounters. Heck, I even took out the final boss without breaking a sweat thanks to this feature, and all I had to do was endure a ton of mind-numbing tasks.

Does Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII scratch the "What about Zack?" itch? More or less, yes. However, did that itch really need to be scratched? I will admit that this prequel fleshed out Zack and made him a more important character, but it accomplished this feat by taking you through a contrived adventure that's only slightly above average. It's a somewhat entertaining revisit, but one bogged down by plenty of unpleasant features, monotonous activities, needless gimmicks and tiresome cutscenes. You get the impression by the end that Zack's story would've made a worthwhile short animated film or tie-in novel, but it doesn't add up to an entirely compelling video game.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (September 13, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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