It may seem remarkable, but it’s been 10 years since the release of seminal PlayStation RPG Final Fantasy VII. To commemorate this, Square Enix has released Crisis Core, a prequel to the original RPG, that fills in several plot holes and expands the back-stories of several key characters.
Set seven years before the events of Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core concentrates on the Shinra Electric Power Company and its increasing influence over supplies of mako and the local military. There’s a selection of Final Fantasy legends in the game, too: Cloud, Sephiroth, Aerith and Tifa, for instance, all make appearances.
However, something soon goes awry: some of Shinra’s greatest warriors – who fight in the elite organisation known as SOLDIER – go missing, deserting from their noble cause to form a splinter group intent on seizing power.
It’s a bit of a typical plot but, in usual Final Fantasy fashion, it’s handled fantastically, which makes it all the more absorbing. Crisis Core is an eminently professional production: you don’t mind about the odd cheesy line of dialogue because the voice acting, music and graphics are so good – especially for the little PSP.
The gameplay is great, too. People familiar with the usual Final Fantasy titles may be a little disappointed, as there’s more of an action-orientated approach to the way you make your way through the game. That’s not to say there’s not a shed-load of RPG elements – there’s all the items, equipment and levelling that’s made the Final Fantasy games so popular – but there’s also a more singular approach that eschews much of the exploring that previous games in the series had.
This means that there’s a lot of concentration on the main story and, crucially, the combat. Thankfully, you don’t have to go to a different screen to engage enemies – they simply appear when you’re rampaging around the varied and well-rendered environments that make up the world.
The selection of enemies is pretty broad, and the combat is relatively involving too. While the basic combat – which just involves hitting ‘X’ – is simple, several options add depth. You can unleash a huge number of magical attacks, all of which are illustrated with gorgeous graphical effects. There’s also the DMW – which stands for Digital Mind Wave – which works in a similar way to a slot machine.
Hit enough attacks and you’ll launch into a special move determined by which characters you hit on the pinball machine. The only qualm we have in the combat is that it can feel – excuse the pun – a bit hit and miss, with everything going on so fast that it’s sometimes had to develop a strategy aside from frantic attacking.
Aside from the relatively structured main plot, there’s a variety of missions to take on – although they feel detached from the main game as they’re accessed through a menu that you can dial-up at the save points that are liberally sprinkled throughout the game. They mostly revolve around defeating groups of enemies in relatively generic locations and are good for levelling up – but they’re not particularly interesting and bring little else to Crisis Core aside from some more grinding.
Despite this, there’s a ludicrous amount of greatness within Crisis Core. The weak missions and lack of traditional RPG action may put off traditional role-players, but don’t be discouraged: this is a stunning effort for the PSP and the best action title on the console aside from, perhaps, the brilliant God of War: Chains of Olympus.
It’s an intoxicating combination: stunning production values, fantastic adventure gameplay and an absorbing story backed up by PS2-era graphics and brilliant voice acting. It’s a handheld revelation – so go pick it up as soon as possible.