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.

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