Square Enix has come under continued criticism for raiding its vaults in order to make a quick buck recently. They've been at it for years, and while sometimes it works out for gamers (Final Fantasy Tactics on PSP and Final Fantasy III on DS never made it to Europe originally), it often smacks of cynical cashing in, such as Final Fantasy I and II being released separately for the PSP. So a new title based on the much loved Final Fantasy VII should appeal to everyone, right? Well, yes and no.
Crisis Core is one of the titles that marks the celebration of Final Fantasy VII's tenth anniversary, the others being PS2's sub standard shooter Dirge of Cerberus and the pretty but shallow Advent Children movie. The good news is it's the best of the three. Set before the events of VII, you're placed in the boots of Zack Fair, SOLDIER member and walking commercial for V05 hair gel. Working beside legendary operatives Sephiroth and Angeal, you have to carry out orders for the company by: a) beating the crap out of things, and b) using magic and summons to beat the crap out of things. It sounds like a dumb idea for a prequel to one of the biggest, most deeply involving games ever, but Square Enix should be given a pat on the back for at least trying something different.
That's not to say Crisis Core features nothing from VII's combat- materia, limit breaks and summons (well, some of them) all make a reappearance, but in a cut down form. Materia isn't assigned to weapon or armour slots here, just to the character. The limit breaks and summons both work through a new device called the Digital Mind Wave – a slot machine style system which randomly assigns abilities in battle (a little like that of the one in Grasshopper's No More Heroes).
After meeting certain characters or monsters, they are added to the DMW. If all three slots display that character, a limit or summon is triggered. Also, different combinations can aid you with invincibility, no MP cost and so on. It's a system that could well annoy some, but one I found to be fairly competent- more so than NMH's slot/dessert hybrid. Rarely did a limit trigger at a pointless moment in battle, but sometimes you feel as if the DMW has given you a cheap win, allowing you to deliver a huge ass kicking with little regard for attack patterns or skill.
It's not really a difficult game on the standard setting, and only becomes a challenge very close to the end. Only when playing on hard mode do you realise that paying attention to attack patterns and knowing when to dodge are important, as you have Ability Points which account for these manoeuvres. Dodging and special attacks will slowly empty the bar, and finding yourself unable to roll away from danger will likely result in death.
When you aren't avoiding death or dealing out beatings, you will be prey to the cut scenes. They are many and range from bland in game subtitled conversations to beautifully rendered CGI. While these moments don't quite reach the heights of Metal Gear's 'story' moments, they can sometimes feel intrusive and unnecessary. One in particular does raise an important question, however. What is Sephiroth using on his eyelashes?
Crisis Core is an enjoyable title in small doses. Extended sessions result in boredom through repetition, and the 300 or so side missions on offer give little diversion from the main story- mostly existing only to extend the play time rather than enjoyment. The main focus here is on the characters. Zack becomes a very likable protagonist, and as the game moves on you get to experience some quality time with Aerith, meet Yuffie and hang out with Cloud. These are all things any fan would expect, and I must admit, it was exciting to go back to Nibelheim as Zack and experience Cloud's story as it originally played out. Yet that just sums the whole experience up- at the end of the day, Crisis Core is nothing more than fan service wrapped in a competent game.
Written by Dan Gill