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Critical Reception: Square Enix's  Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Critical Reception: Square Enix's Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

March 26, 2008 | By Danny Cowan

March 26, 2008 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix's anticipated RPG prequel that critics call "the finest role-playing experience available on the PSP."

Originally released in 1997, Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII established itself as a worldwide hit, introducing many to the Final Fantasy series and the role-playing genre as a whole. Years later, the original PSOne version of Final Fantasy VII remains a highly sought-after title, and fans continue to regard it as a personal favorite.

Square Enix's recent attempts to extend the title's continuity and lifespan have met with mixed results, however. The CG movie sequel Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was well-received among FFVII fans, but failed to resonate with many critics. Final Fantasy VII's PlayStation 2 followup, the third-person shooter Dirge of Cerberus, earned largely mediocre and below-average review scores upon its release in 2006.

Final Fantasy VII's most recent outing, the PlayStation Portable action-RPG prequel Crisis Core, has thus far seen a much warmer critical reception than its predecessors. The title currently ranks as one of the PSP's highest-rated titles with a Metacritic-averaged score of 85 out of 100.

Kevin VanOrd at GameSpot rates Crisis Core at 9 out of 10. "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII achieves a striking balance of old and new, and juggles fan service with pure role-playing satisfaction," he praises. "Crisis Core [is] not just the finest role-playing experience available on the PSP, but also one of the best Japanese RPGs in years."

VanOrd acknowledges that Crisis Core's protagonist -- the Final Fantasy VII flashback character Zack -- might initially seem like an odd choice. However: "He's as interesting as any Square Enix star," he asserts, "and transcends the usual spiky-haired heroism and teenage angst with an uncommon maturity that only develops as the game continues."

Crisis Core's cutscenes and voice work are also top-notch, according to VanOrd. "There is a harmonious mix of prerendered cinematics and in-engine cutscenes, and both were created with precision," he writes. "The quality is further enhanced by incredible voice acting. Past Final Fantasies have sometimes suffered from awkward English voice-overs, but each actor here delivers the right degree of emotion at the right time, which in turn gives weight to the story."

Final Fantasy VII fans may be surprised at the gameplay shift present in Crisis Core. "Crisis Core is an action RPG," VanOrd explains. "Granted, it does have many of the same elements as FFVII: materia, limit breaks, and so on. However, it plays nothing like its inspiration, which may irritate some fans."

VanOrd finds that this new style of play works to Crisis Core's advantage, though, and makes for a more interesting experience as a result. "The combat is fun, and it will get Final Fantasy fans talking," he notes.

"Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a game you must play if you own a PSP, if you like RPGs, or if you want to get lost in a gripping story," VanOrd concludes. "Like most Final Fantasy games that came before it, it has its quirks. However, this is one of those cases where you should embrace them for their originality and charm because they add something uniquely compelling to the game."

GameTap's Thierry Nguyen pens a Crisis Core review scored at 8 out of 10, explaining that the game remains a solid RPG even for those who are unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII. "If you shudder in horror when hearing the phrase 'Nibelheim incident,' then Crisis Core is a fantastic and emotional companion piece to FFVII," he says. "If you shrugged at that phrase, well, you'll probably just see Crisis Core as a well-made PSP action role-playing game."

Nguyen credits Crisis Core's battle system for being more complex than it initially seems. "Combat is straightforward but has a fair bit of depth once you get into it," he describes. "Ultimately, you do one thing: Hit X over and over and over...and over."

"However, if you simply try to spam the X button to swing your sword, you'll find yourself losing a fair bit," Nguyen continues. "You select a command (attack, spell, ability, item) with the triggers, and X to execute; this streamlined interface plus the real-time pacing makes combat feel much faster than in previous Final Fantasy titles."

Nguyen finds that the slot machine-like "Digital Mind Wave" combat mechanic is alternately satisfying and problematic, however. "Interestingly, the luck-driven nature of combat simultaneous refreshes and frustrates me," he notes. "While it's certainly gratifying to see the DMW wheel continually grant you bonuses that make you nearly invincible, it's also annoying that sometimes you depend so heavily on those bonuses that you simply can't win some fights until the slots spin in your favor."

Ultimately, though, Nguyen feels that this combat style is well-suited to the portable format. "This simple but efficient combat system plus its side-mission structure help make Crisis Core extremely friendly to a portable platform," he asserts. "The FFVII diehard should snag this post-haste (this really does make up for Dirge's mediocrity, honest), and even if you don't recognize the significance of playing Zack as opposed to Cloud, this is a worthy Japanese action-RPG."

Though many of Crisis Core's scores at Metacritic weigh in at around 80 to 90 percent, D.F. Smith at G4 TV contributes a 40 percent-equivalent rating of 2 out of 5 stars.

"Crisis Core as a project is probably more than four years old now," Smith begins. "Playing the finished product, one wonders what took the time."

Smith admits that Crisis Core has its strengths. "The FMV cut scenes, of course, are up to Final Fantasy’s typically high standard. Square Visual Works obviously put plenty of man-hours into their end of things," he praises.

"The script, on the other hand, seems like it was cranked out in a caffeine-assisted day-and-a-half or so," Smith continues. "The rest of the game, well...it’s somewhere in between."

Smith finds Crisis Core's combat to be overly simplistic. "The combat system does an awful lot without being asked," he criticizes. "Zack automatically locks onto a target, and he’ll automatically move in range if he’s too far away to hit it. It’s easy to clear many regular encounters by tap-tap-tapping the 'attack' button with one thumb. No other effort required."

"As for the challenges that make up the central quest, they’re mostly standard fare with a couple of unforgivable lapses into cliché," Smith continues. "One area has a find-the-valve-handle fetch-quest, which should give you an idea of the level of invention on display. Another has one of those awkward obligatory stealth sections that every action game seems to have these days."

"The graphics are gorgeous, that’s for sure, and there are flashes of compelling design," Smith summarizes. "Unless you’re of the school that reveres Final Fantasy VII as a sacred text and views this follow-up as a sort of latter-day revelation, you can probably give it a miss."

Like Final Fantasy VII itself, Crisis Core is likely to create a divide in critical opinion. Many praise its streamlined combat system and interesting storyline, while others find that its simplistic gameplay and short length make for an experience that only FFVII diehards could fully enjoy. The majority of current review scores are high, however, and many critics describe Crisis Core as one of the PSP's best RPGs to date.


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