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farcical review bullshit: final fantasy VII: crisis core is……… October 8, 2007

Posted by eatnorthamerica in farcical review bullshit, things that are not quite things we know.
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1.5/5 if you don’t already feel involved in the FF7 universe, 3.5 if you do.

Are you and the Final Fantasy VII universe involved? Do you like cutscenes? Really? You’ll probably like this game. Be warned; this is not a happy game.

The looping track on the official website is a wistful mix of yearning strings and pop beat that perfectly encapsulates the overall mood of Crisis Core. Here’s a shocker. Our hero Zack is actually likeable. He does his best to remain upbeat and positive despite all the nastynasty that’s about to happen to him. It’s like a big countdown to a whole lotta angst, except for a change our alter ego isn’t being a whiny bitch.

The game looks great. Kind of Kingdom Hearts-ish, actually. The pacing is mostly good, although the story’s hokey at times and most of the new characters feel rather mashed-in, including an utterly loopy antagonist named Genesis, who has a penchant for reciting lines from his favourite play and throwing apples at people. Still, it drags you along to the next stunning cutscene, to the next plot point, to find out what was going on behind the scenes. Then things get really weird and Zack starts to wish things would just start making sense. Maybe, like me, you’ll become Zack for a while, hoping a positive attitude will make everything all right, knowing deep down you’ll never succeed.

It’s kind of refreshing, unlike the gameplay. 

Maybe you like playing safe, simple games; maybe your idea of the perfect game is one where you just have to hit attack and occasionally heal, or cast a magic spell. Mine isn’t. I like the concept of an action remix of VII.  See, Crisis Core kind of pretends it’s an action game, but maybe you won’t like because it’s not safe enough; maybe you won’t like it because it’s not dangerous enough.

The game doesn’t break free from the mould VII cast; you run around, fight battles, get story. It’s different in the details. They polished the edge off the slick but shapeless mass that’s the ubiquitous combat system. What we get is VII‘s active time battle system playing groupie to Devil May Cry, popping out this hybrid horror on her back in a ditch.

In combat, you cycle through attack, materia and items with L and R. Circle activates the command you pick; press it in standard attack mode and Zack will run forward and hit the nearest opponent. It’s not the most rewarding of moves. Sometimes you’ll dodge, mostly you’ll be hitting circle over and over again, limited by the timing of the slash animation, broken by the automation of the system. That’s your action button right there. No jumping, no combos. No more linking materia together like you could in VII, just tonnes and tonnes of limit breaks.

In previous FF incarnations, we were rewarded with special attacks for powering up our limit break bars, maybe by taking hits, or going into low health mode. Something reasonable, anyway.

The limit break mode in Crisis Core is completely random.

On the top left of the screen, three dials spin constantly. Occasionally they expand, fill the screen, and eventually come to a stop, all on their own. The game rolls up special moves and summons for you; some are cute, a pat on the back for following the FF franchise.

You’ve got cutscenes in your combat.

Crisis Core dismisses your input as a player of games; doesn’t trust you to hit a button or let you pretend you’re calling a bunch of slots. Shouldn’t videogames be an interactive experience? Is this really what people want?

I run through endlessly bland missions, limit breaks interrupting me every quarter-minute. I find a curse ring. It deactivates the slots. Jackpot! Then I remember. The only way to level up is via the limit BS. I consider cursing myself anyway.

I start wall-hugging to avoid the random combat. A box bumps Zack out into dangerous ground, into a chain of irritating random encounters that buffet him around. We end up further back than we were. The dials spin.

Onward ho.

Sometimes the camera rotates 360 degrees, mostly it won’t. It’s like what they must have done to the designers; blinkered their vision. You have to wonder; why risk making these spin-offs different at all, if what they really wanted was to play it safe?

Zack is waiting. I soldier on. 

You can access missions from any save point, short missions that are quite perfect for the portable nature of the PSP. Not a bad idea. Squeenix could have created a variety of mission types that would have been interesting and different and maybe even fun to play through, but no; you’ll be doing the same thing repeatedly — run around, be harassed by random enemies, find treasure, kill the boss.

For over two years, their designers had to have been doing something while their hi-res art team was knocking out slick hyperpoly renders. It’s as though they aspired to be different and got scared halfway. By what? By whom? Who were they trying to please? Ain’t nobody getting offa this train.

VII‘s lovingly pre-rendered Midgar, now there was a city with soul, a Dickensian sprawl of misery and squalor. With a lot of cleverly-lit doors you could investigate if you chose to. Hell, if you wanted you could steal 5 gil from a child’s set of drawers as he slept, and come back later to watch him crying, and damned if it didn’t make you feel a little bit like a prick.

In comparison Core feels kind of dead. Yeah, VII‘s cutscenes look downright shonky in comparison, but VII‘s a richer experience by far. It’s rough around the edges, but the roughness makes it pretty sharp in spots. Ten years down the line, we’re at the opposite situation; we’ve got all this power and we’re not using it right. Time to disembark.

You, you doubt me, you who have yet to run through a bunch of square rooms that look exactly the same. You who have yet to run through these rooms seven million times.

Very inspired level design. And yet: I actually like the game despite all the bullshit you have endure to get through it.

Bursting through blandness, moments of beauty surface; Zack runs past the Junon nuclear sunrise, down the gleaming Shinra Building stairs, through the eerie Nibelheim gloom and it’s nostalgic, a throwforward to times that get only darker. It’s a nod to you who played VII when you see familiar faces, old but young. Still, there’s always this ominous sense of dread, this looming certainty that everything’s going to go up shit creek.

It’s the fascinating thing about this game; there’s no hope, it doesn’t matter what you do, yet Zack’s still trying. He doesn’t know. We’re drawn to tragedy, and stuck in a game like this, Zack’s tale is replete with it. His story is a black hole of misery, and he beckoned to me; fell to his knees and begged keep playing.

So I did.

Square had pretty grand ambitions, tossing up the formula of Final Fantasy VII and trying to shake out something new. It’s hard not to think they should either have played it completely safe, or gone all out. It’s a little sad, thinking about what could have been.

It’s quite possible you’ll like Crisis Core. It’s a cakewalk down memory lane, ends quite tidily, if depressingly, comes full circle and wraps beautifully into the original game. Just as you knew it would. Play it for Zack’s sake, play it for him; like the gameplay, he never had a chance.

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