Crisis Core: The Pros and Cons

The biggest strength and weakness of Crisis Core on the PSP is that your enjoyment might depend to a large degree on your relationship with the original Final Fantasy VII. That being said, I'm really having a great time with Crisis Core, largely because I like seeing some events that happened prior to FFVII. It is my firm belief that without the FFVII brand and mythos, Crisis Core would have been a mediocre, repetitive game.

Just so I don't sound like I'm knocking it too much, Crisis Core is a very fun game, and does a lot of things right. First, it feels very much like a Final Fantasy game, from the spells, to the images, to the music, it's all there. Even underneath the action exterior lies the heart of a turn-based RPG. Even though you run around battles at will and attack when you have an opening, every button press does not equate to an action on screen. If you make Zack (the protagonist) attack, there is a slight but noticeable pause before you can input another command. Similarly, magic spells take a proportionately longer time to charge before casting. These pauses lend a bit more strategy to the game, since you must balance when you can attack, and when you need to dodge, guard, or heal.

Another thing Crisis Core does an incredible job of is the story. Granted, I haven't finished the game yet, I'm maybe 70-75% done. But your primary mission, and the central mystery of the game, is extremely compelling. Sure, Zack starts out as something of a typical whiny, annoying, young male emo with spiky hair. But as this tale of friendship, honor, and most importantly trust begins to unfold, Zack undergoes a distinctive and powerful change. He matures. I know, that's rare in a game. There's even a simple scene where Zack mourns the loss of a friend, simply crying on the floor. It's surprisingly touching to see such a genuine feeling of loss and sadness in a game character. I'm eagerly pushing ahead with the story missions, anxious to find out what happens, but also dreading the end of the ride.

However, as I said before, the FFVII brand recognition causes me to overlook some of the game's flaws. First of all, battles get very repetitive. At least in the early stages, and even up to where I am now, probably 90% of battles can be finished by simply attacking with the X button. But that's not so bad, considering that the ease of battle gives you an opportunity to mess around with the numerous spells you have at your disposal, with little worry about losing a fight. Still, it would have been nice to fight enemies that were more resistant to physical attacks and took different strategies to conquer.

A more glaring weakness, in my opinion, is the pace of the game if you are A) a completionist or B) just want to find some upgrades and powerful spells. While the main story line is, I think, comparatively short, there are 300 optional missions you can complete. As a nice move, these can be accessed from any save point in the entire game. They make perfect sense from a narrative perspective. Since you are a member of an elite military unit, you can undertake these assignments from your government, or other organizations.

But I found they really disrupt the flow of the game. You might do the first few chapters of the story, then when checking out the mission screen, find that you have several dozen missions ranked as "Easy" or "Normal" for you to complete. If you do all the missions you are able to, hours will pass by, and it really draws you out of the story. Plus, the majority of the missions provide you with items or spells that you don't really need. The payoff for most of them is minuscule.

Most of the 300 missions are in the 5-10 minute range, so they're perfect for pick-up-and-play on a portable system like the PSP. Personally, I would rather have had a smaller number of missions that were more integrated into the storyline, so I didn't feel as if I was being dragged out of the game every time I attempted one.

Crisis Core, while not perfect, is definitely an excellent action-RPG for the PSP, with one of the best stories I've encountered in a while. FFVII novices will miss out on some subtle nuances in the story, given that the rest of us know what will inevitably happen in a few years in the game world. However, I think the story would still be engrossing and intriguing regardless of your familiarity (or lack thereof) with the source material. Crisis Core is a worthy addition to any PSP owner's library.

Well, I've still got a lot of missions to work through.


Violence In No More Heroes - Blood-Free Japan

I finished No More Heroes a couple weeks ago, only a few months later than the rest of the world. It was really fun, enjoyable, albeit flawed experience. It was by no means perfect, but I really loved most of the time I spent in that world. Plenty has been written about No More Heroes already. What I think I can add to the rich dialogue is a look at the differences between the Japanese and U.S. version. See that screen shot at the top. I never could see anything like that while playing my version of the game. Since I live in Japan, I purchased the Japanese version, largely because the cut scenes still have English dialogue, just subtitled in Japanese.

More specifically, I wanted to briefly examine the differences in the portrayal of violence in these 2 versions. They are extremely different. The Japanese version of NMH is completely bloodless. Instead of defeated enemies exploding in a shower of coins and blood, in Japan enemies explode in a shower of coins and...some kind of weird black goo. I didn't think it looked that strange until I was reminded that the U.S. version was different. Then after watching a few YouTube videos, I believe that these 2 versions provide vastly different play experiences.

That being said, I think the key difference is in the boss battles, and the differences are apparent on 2 levels. On the first, most superficial level, your successful assassination of a boss in the Japanese version lacks the gravity of the U.S. version. And I know the presentation in this game is way over the top, but the deaths of most of the bosses carry a certain weight to them nonetheless. Take a look at this comparison of the first boss in the game, Death Metal.

In my version, I could barely even tell that Travis had cut off both his hands. The altered visuals made it difficult to tell what exactly had happened. Death Metal's death also loses some of its impact in that all that's left of him is an unidentifiable black pile of...something.

The second level of differences in the death scenes is on a more thematic level. During the final cut scene of that level in my version, Death Metal is gone. He's basically evaporated just like any other enemy in the game, except for a tiny black patch on the ground. But in the U.S. version, Death Metal's hand-less, head-less corpse is left in full view during the cut scene, as Sylvia's men clean up the mess. While Travis cares little for what he's doing in the beginning of the game, the effects of the carnage do change his attitude later in the game. The bodies of the departed are a reminder, to the player first and Travis later, that the assassin game is a messy business.

But the Japanese version completely loses these important ideas. As the bosses and their deaths grow more outlandish and complex, the Japanese version remains uncertain and, well, a little awkward. If the deaths of the bosses in NMH carry emotional weight and importance, what is their significance if they are altered nearly to the point of being unrecognizable? I'd say it makes for a vastly different, and inferior, game.

But it was still a blast to play through. I know just making the blood black and eliminating some of the more elaborate death animations was the quickest, cheapest way to alter the game for the Japanese market. But it would have been pretty cool, in my humble opinion, if Suda51 had kept with the retro themes in the game, and made the enemy deaths harken back to the games of yesterday. Enemies could explode into balls of light like Mega-Man, get squashed like goombas, or just explode into pixels and be reabsorbed into the game world from whence they came.

Even though No More Heroes is a somewhat different experience in Japan, there are still plenty of strange sexually-themed games here that would cause the U.S. to have a national heart attack. After all, I doubt U.S. gamers will ever get, or want, to massage metrosexualized high school boys a la Duel Love. Japan is a strange place sometimes. But then again, so is everywhere else.


The PSP - My Thoughts

After extensive testing, I find the PSP to be quite a good gaming machine. Although it is, of course, not without its faults, too. So I'd like to present some of my thoughts on my newest acquisition, especially in comparison to the DS.

The Good

  • Downloadable Content - So far, this is perhaps my favorite feature of the PSP. Logging on to the PSN Store and downloading demos, trailers, backgrounds, and themes to my PSP is something I haven't really experienced yet with gaming. I don't have a PS3 or XBox 360, and while the Wii has numerous Virtual Console games available, Nintendo's still exploring. And the DS, well, without any memory, demos are only as good as long as the system stays on.

  • Sexy Design - The PSP is a really beautiful piece of hardware, although the DS caught up a little with the DS Lite redesign. The bright, wide screen in particular is really nice, for both games and videos. And overall, the PSP feels really comfortable in my hands.

  • Great Games, Especially RPGs - Finally, after a few years, I feel like the PSP has enough games that I'm interested. I'm currently deep into Crisis Core, have Patapon waiting, and want to get many more games. The PSP seems to have an especially large number of great RPGs. I can't wait to get a few more.
The Bad

  • Load Times - My DS made me forget how nice it is not to have to wait for games to load. Since they're cartridge-based, load times are practically non-existent. But the PSP, as basically somewhere between a PS1 and a Dreamcast, is disc-based, and therefore features load times of various lengths, depending on the game. Crisis Core features constant loading, although each one is relatively quick. I forgot how annoying that can be.

  • Fingerprints - Man, the PSP is a magnet for fingerprints, both on the case and on the screen itself. Annoying, but not a big deal.

  • Shortest Battery Ever - Depending on the game, I've found I can only get around 5 hours of game time in before the battery needs to be recharged. After the beauty of the DS Lite's 10 hour battery, it seems like I'm constantly having to stop playing a game to charge the PSP. 5 hours is theoretically plenty of time, but it does make me want to get the bigger battery. Although at $50, I'd wait and keep my eye out for a sale.
The Untested

  • Online Play - I've noticed that the PSP allows both ad-hoc and online multiplayer, but I have yet to test these features. This is largely because I have no games that have an online mode.

  • Ease of Traveling - The DS is especially convenient for traveling. It's easy to carry in either my pocket or a bag, and it's been no problem to whip it out on a train ride or when I'm waiting for something. The PSP has thus far been under house arrest. But soon I will probably let it venture outside and make its way in the world.

  • Future Games - Although I bought the PSP because there were at least 5 or 6 "must-buy" games for me, the future looks a little less certain. There are a few RPGs of which I would be interested in a U.S. release (Star Ocean), and the demo of Secret Agent Clank was pretty fun, but there's not a whole lot on the horizon that I'm interested in. Maybe some more games will be announced at E3

So in conclusion, I love the PSP, but it's certainly not without it's flaws. It's certainly amazing that the technology is available to allow me to play games with near-PS2 graphics on a portable system. But that comes at the price of ever-present loading screens, and a battery with an insatiable hunger for loads of electricity. But overall, the system is very much worth a purchase, especially at the current price $170 in the U.S., I think. If you don't have a PSP, now's a great time to get one.


My PSP Game Library Has Finally Tripled

As you can tell from the title, the PSP games I ordered from Play-Asia finally arrived, thus increasing my PSP game collection from 1 to 3. I would definitely use Play-Asia again, as shipping to Japan was free, and the games arrived only 9 days after I ordered them. Not too shabby.

I have only had a couple of hours to check out Patapon and Crisis Core, but they are both already amazing and fun, albeit in very different ways. In Patapon, I haven't even made it past the endpoint of the demo yet, and I can already see how addicting the mission-based structure can become. Crisis Core, I think, could eventually become equally addicting as the mission-based structure of the game opens up, but I'm still on the first story mission. The polish on that game is already incredible. If nothing else, Square-Enix pays a lot of attention to the visual polish and style of their games. Crisis Core is really quite beautiful.

After much deliberation, I think I'm going to focus most of my gaming efforts for the foreseeable future on Crisis Core. This isn't a knock against Patapon, because I wish I didn't have to choose. But during my wait for these games to arrive, I read an online summary of the story of Final Fantasy VII (which Crisis Core is a prequel to), and am very interested to delve back into that world.

Luckily, I finished No More Heroes yesterday, just in time for my new arrivals. So my next few posts should be a couple about NMH interspersed with some about the PSP and Crisis Core. Well, those Crisis Core missions aren't going to finish themselves...


I'm No Longer Exclusively Loyal to Nintendo

As foretold last time, I purchased a PSP. Yesterday, as a matter of fact. Although Japan has several exclusive colors, I just couldn't see myself sporting an Easter green, pink, or blue PSP. So I ended up choosing the classic 'Piano Black' version. Long story short, I love it. It's a really beautiful piece of gaming hardware, and I'm glad the games are finally there to support my purchase.

Speaking of games, at this point I have only one. I bought Locoroco here in Japan, and am very happy with it. I try to limit Japanese game purchases to those that don't rely on a high level of Japanese ability, and in that regard, Locoroco fits the bill perfectly. It's a very cute and charming game, and there's not much out there like it. Plus, after my time in Japan, I totally understand how very 'Japanese' this game is. It's very kawaii, as they say. You control this cute little gelatinous blob, the Locoroco, and use the L and R triggers to rotate the playing field, which then slides your Locoroco in the appropriate direction. And...that's it. Very simple, but fun in small doses.

Now, just because I only have 1 game, doesn't mean I don't have plans to get several more. After all, I've only had the PSP for 1 day. I just received an email that my order with Play-Asia has shipped. I ordered the U.S. versions of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and Patapon, and to be honest, I can't decide which I'm more excited about. I downloaded and tested a Patapon demo immediately after opening my PSP, and it's a wonderfully charming and addicting rhythm game. I'm really looking forward to investing some time in that game.

Other than playing Locoroco and ordering PSP games, I've also been exploring the PlayStation store, and have downloaded several game demos and trailers. Of the demos, God of War: Chains of Olympus and Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow were both incredibly fun and intense for the short amount of time I was allowed to spend with them. They're both on my must-buy list. I also enjoyed the puzzle-styled atmosphere of the Echochrome demo, and will probably purchase it from the store at some point.

I'm very pleased with my decision to purchase a PSP. It's very different from the DS Lite in many ways, some good and some bad. I'll post more about those two handhelds next time. In the meanwhile, does anyone have any experience with the PSP version of flOw. It seems like most of the pieces I've read have covered the PS3 version. I really like the look of it, and at just $8, will probably buy it. Any impressions?


I'm Finally Going to Buy a PSP

As promised last time, this post is about my soon-to-be-purchased hardware: a PSP.

I know that Sony's PSP has been out for over 3 years, but through the combination of owning and loving a DS, and having an ingrained bias against Sony, I had never even remotely considered buying a PSP until very recently. I'm not sure what changed my mind. I suppose it all boils down to the fact that there are finally several PSP games that I feel are worth owning. As is to be hoped, in my eyes, the value of a game system ultimately boils down to the quality of the games on said system. Plus, the PSP just looks really cool. As much as I love my DS, and that's a lot, the PSP is just a pretty sexy piece of hardware.

So, at some point in the coming days (or weeks) I will finally be putting down some hard-earned cash on a PSP. And I mean that literally. In Japan, people use cash for almost everything. The short list of games I want to eventually have includes the following, both new releases and older game:
  • Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
  • Patapon
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • Echochrome
  • Locoroco
  • Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
  • Daxter
If you have any other suggestions for great PSP games, I'd love to hear them. When I finally buy the system, I plan to pick up Locoroco here in Japan, and import the English versions of Crisis Core and Patapon. I'm also going to try and find any good Japanese exclusive games to pick up while I'm here.

And oh yeah, I'm a little annoyed that I also have to purchase a decent-sized Memory Stick Pro Duo, for game saves, demos, etc. I guess it's been a while since I've had to buy a memory card. I'm very excited about the PSP, and am glad I got over my reluctance to purchase one. For me, it finally looks to be a worthwhile investment.