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Reviewed: Crisis Core:Final Fantasy VII
Producer: Squaresoft
Required System: PSP
Overall Rating:

Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: April 29th, 2008


There's a game in here somewhere, I just know it.

The last time I uttered those words, I was playing another PSP title - the absolutely abysmal Valhalla Knights, which amazingly managed to combine a rich item and character customization system with one of the most boring, grinding, repetitive gameplay mechanics I've ever seen. When I washed my hands of the title, I thought I'd never be stuck in another like it. I briefly tried out Capcom's franchise version, called Monster Hunter, which was better but still unfortunate; that game had better missions, but still the repetitive sense of going through the same areas over and over, just grinding away.

And then I picked up Crisis Core. Wary as always of the "OMG another Squaresoft game we loves Squaresoft" factor for many reviews, I still picked it up - after all, this was the storyline prequel to Final Fantasy 7. This was supposed to be the story of how Sephiroth went bad, of Aerith's first love, of the events leading up to Nibelheim, to answer all those hinted and unanswered questions from the Final Fantasy 7 storyline.

To be fair, the game does that, and does it pretty well. New characters, new twists on old items and materia, and the storyline definitely holds up. The problem is, the storyline is parceled out in tiny bites, surrounded by an incredible amount of grinding and almost non-gameplay mechanics.

Let's start with the good, because Squaresoft did a lot of good things. This isn't just going to be a review-rant "I hate this" review; this is me giving Square a fair shake. When they're focusing on storyline, the game's top-notch. When the missions are involved in the game's story, the world looks rich and vibrant and awesome. The musical score, despite being mostly techno remixes of the FF7 musical themes, is still awesome. Character design - for Sephiroth, for Zack, for Aerith, for every new and every old character, and even for the random people elsewhere in the game, is solid and actually looks pretty darn real. The idea behind the storyline - that the various Jenova-related projects are showing degradation, and Jenova-infected Soldier operatives having all sorts of trouble - is solid and gives a good reason for Sephiroth to eventually go off the deep end.

If that were the focus of the game, I too would be really happy with Squaresoft.

The problem? That's maybe 1/10th of the game, and I'm being generous with that number. The vast majority of the "gameplay" happens in two ways; either "fusing" items (and yes, the materia fusion system is that bizarre), or running around a set of mini-missions beating on enemies. The "Missions" screen in the menu, available from any save point, is how these are accessed, and they will be the focus for 99% of the leveling of materia and character in any play-through of the game. Unfortunately, they're uniformly the same; a "mission backstory" will pop up, with goals like "defeat the monsters" or "retrieve item x", but the mission itself will place Zack on one of 6 pre-rendered maps, with random "off limit" areas to try to make it look a bit different, and running through beating up on monsters until the "goal" monster has been killed. The only other mission type has Zack on a map fighting a summon one-on-one, which pretty much amounts to the same thing.

When in combat, theoretically there are a few actions - up to 6 equippable materia, plus dodge-rolling, blocking, and attacking. In practice, all that's really needed to defeat every monster in the game is to mash the attack button, perhaps taking a break every so often to dodge or block a particularly nasty enemy attack or to use some HP restoring materia. "Limit breaks" and leveling up happen, not upon building up damage or time, but simply when an in-game random number generator happens to generate 2-3 numbers that match each other. Despite this, when a limit break does happen, it often ends the battle. The battlefield isn't very big, either; much like Valhalla Knights, Square spends a great deal of time keeping the camera close and penning the character to a defined area in order to spend more polygons on Zack and his enemies. To top it off, there isn't even really a penalty for mission failure - Zack returns to the save point, healed fully, and the mission's there to be tried again. Only items used will vanish.

Bottom line: I wanted to like this game. I can understand how game reviewers handed it and told to finish a review based on 5-6 hours of gameplay, tops, would love it. I can understand how they might love it having only run through the story, rather than trying to explore the various "replay value" bits that were supposed to make it last past a few hours. But at the end of the day, playing it has become a chore, not a fun activity. And that's the last thing a game should be.

Added:  Friday, May 02, 2008
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 1/2

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