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July 8 2008
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - PSP Review
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Character design is very impressive.
1997 was a fantastic year for video games. The Nintendo 64 was released in Europe and Australia, Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was released on PC, Goldeneye was released on N64, and the first Grand Theft Auto was released on PC. Eclipsing all of these though was the release of Final Fantasy VII on the PSOne. This game alone brought the Japanese RPG to millions of gamers in the Western World (3.09 million units in America, 2.70 million units in Europe) at a time when similar Japanese RPG titles would be lucky to shift a few hundred thousand copies.

It's little wonder then that a prequel on the PSP would garner so much interest. The only unfortunate aspect of this release is that European and Australian gamers have had to wait almost 9 months to see Crisis Core released. It's here now, so let's see what we've got...

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is set seven years prior to the events of Final Fantasy VII. The Shinra Company is rapidly increasing its influence through its monopoly on mako energy and military might. With the burgeoning city of Midgar as its base and symbol of prosperity, Shinra is on the verge of establishing absolute dominance over the world.

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Another impressive screenshot from Crisis Core.
SOLDIER is a group of skilled combat operatives within Shinra. The elite within the group those strong enough to be deemed SOLDIER 1st Class are respected and idolized by the citizenry. Zack is a young SOLDIER 2nd Class who aspires to become a 1st. He spends his days carrying out assignments under the guidance of his 1st Class mentor, Angeal.

During an operation in Wutai, a large number of SOLDIER member, led by 1st Class operative Genesis, go missing. The severity of the situation prompts Shinra executives to deploy even more SOLDIER operatives in hopes of bringing an end to the war with Wutaiand conducting an investigation into the mass desertion. The ones assigned to the mission are Zack, Angeal, and the 1st Class hero who is known the world over as Sephiroth... What truths lie behind Genesis's disappearance? What secrets bind the three SOLDIER 1st Class operatives? For Zack, a cruel and fateful struggle awaits...

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Looks good, doesn't play as well.
Crisis Core is an action RPG similar to, well, pretty much any other Square-Enix RPG. Played from a third person perspective the game sees you travelling from location to location in order to battle numerous foes, and unravel the storyline. The game does include random battles - they being battles with foes that don't appear on screen - but rather you are simply thrust into battles while travelling around. Disappointing, but we have to remember we're not using next-gen hardware here of course. As with any RPG you can customise the character with different items to enhance certain abilities. Rather neatly the game will even automatically configure your character for Offence, Magic or Defense. It's pretty neat, but nothing new to any seasoned RPG gamer.

One of the new features in Crisis Core is the ability to use Fusion to combine various materia together. Materia, as you may remember, may include spells such as Fire, Ice, Cure etc. When fused these may then form new types of materia, or a more powerful form of the ones merged together. This really is a neat system, and while you'll be unaware what you'll end up with fused together, you could spend hours playing around with this.

In the remote chance you get tired of the main story based missions in Crisis Core you can take some time out and compete in 300 or so side missions. These are available from the Save Points, and primarily consist of a series of battles. These will often reward the player with some items or money. You could easily spend dozens of hours just working though these battles alone. Then again, you can skip them all if you wish.

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This is the 'Poker Machine' DMW system.
Certainly my biggest gripe with Crisis Core has to do with the battles, and in particular the all-new Digital Mind Wave (DMW) system. Battles now take place in real-time. You can move Zack around the battlefield, and dodge enemy attack. The DMW though is the biggest change from the older title. Sadly this "Poker Machine" type system means you have absolutely no control over the outcomes. You can be battling the biggest 'n00b' soldiers on the planet, hacking them down in a matter of seconds when a super-powerful attack will be launched as you've hit your 'jackpot' on the DMW wheels. Rather then saving this powerful attack for a bigger enemy, or even using it on the most powerful on the battlefield it will be wasted on the currently targeted enemy.

Besides the issue with the DMW there are some other disappointments with this game. I did feel that the missions were a little too linear. Go to this location, fight a series of random battles, watch cut scene. Rinse, Wash, Repeat. I was also a bit disappointed that you only get to control a single character, Zack, in the game. A little variety, with characters with different abilities would have been welcome and could have changed to pace of the game a little. Finally getting into this game may be a little hard for newcomers to the series, or certainly those that never played the original PSOne game. There are a lot of semi-complex (but not Metal Gear Solid type complex!) themes and elements that may be hard to pick up from this game alone.

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Another fantastic cut-scene image from Crisis Core.
Finally, the complete lack of any multi-player modes, while not unusual for an RPG, is nonetheless disappointing. Even battling between some characters in an Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure setup would have been welcome. While these are issues that we would have loved to see overcome in the game, there is no denying that Crisis Core remains a vastly superior product to almost everything else on the market.

Graphics in this game really are stunning. While the locations on the original PS2 version of Final Fantasy VII were pre-rendered, the backgrounds in this game are generated in real-time allowing for dynamic camera movements throughout the city of Midgar and surrounding lands and locationson the planet Gaia. Animation on the characters, friend and foe, is impressive - it's very fluid while the character design, especially enemies, is stunning to say the least.

In terms of problems with the graphics, well, they're pretty scarce. Cameras could be a little better in some places, and there is the very occasional clipping issue. Textures could be a little livelier but given the scale of the world it deserves to be cut some slack here.

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Enemy design in Crisis Core is impressive.
As with the visuals the audio in this game is second to none. In fact hearing those familiar Final Fantasy musical themes is so wonderful, it brings out the nostalgia value immediately. Indeed all music in the game is superb with plenty of orchestral numbers booming out of the PSP's tiny speakers. Not to be outdone the game includes quite a bit of speech from the main characters and during the cut-scenes, and it all sounds great. Still, I really did hope that there would be a bit more speech rather then text throughout the game, but there is only so much you can do with a single UMD I guess.

Whoever things that the Playstation Portable is struggling to sell due to a lack of quality titles need only open their eyes and look around. Already this year we have seen gems such as God of War: Chains of Olympus, SOCOM: Tactical Strike and Patapon hit the shelves, and now we have one of the best RPG's in years. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is an essential purchase and a superb prequel to one of the most cherished video games of all time.

One final note... Playing this game only made my desire for a remake of Final Fantasy VII on PS3 even stronger. If Square-Enix ever get around to making that game I'll be first in line to buy it. Better still, add Crisis Core to the remake for added value. Get to it Square-Enix, we all want it...

Review By: Dave Warner

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GRAPHICSSome of the best graphics we have ever seen on the PSP. The game has numerous, stunning, cut-scenes.
SOUNDI would have liked some more speech. Still, the music and effects are second to none.
GAMEPLAYThis is an action RPG through and through, the DMW is somewhat disappointing as is only being able to control Zack.
VALUEThis is one of the longest games on the PSP. No multi-player but still great value.
OVERALLCrisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a stunning prequel to one of the most loved RPG's of all time. Stunning visuals and audio only enhance what is a fantastic game overall.

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