Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is the latest and hopefully last installment of Square’s disastrous Compilation of Final Fantasy VII intermedia project. There was a movie, an anime OAV, a cellphone game, a Devil May Cry-type shooting game and finally a PSP game, each more disappointing and ulcer-inducing than the last. Apparently. I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t go anywhere near Dirge of Cerberus and the cellphone game isn’t available outside of Japan. It looks awful anyway. That leaves the anime, which was only 30 minutes or so and I struggle to remember anything that happened in it – I do remember hating it – and the movie, Advent Children, which now stands as the only thing in the whole compilation to come to any level of quality. That’s an incredibly unpopular opinion, but one that’s easy to defend. All Square cares about now is cutscenes and nonsensical stories anyway and at shy over 100 minutes there are much worse ways than Advent Children to spend your time and money on – like on the 15 hours and 40 bucks it takes to get through Crisis Core‘s campaign.
The story, which is about as deep as a pudding cup, centers on Zack, a minor character from FF7, and his rise and fall in the SOLDIER mercenary group employed by the Shin-Ra (Shinra?) Electric Company. After ending the war with Wutai, an East Asian-inspired nation resisting Shin-Ra’s building of “progressive” power reactors on their soil, Zack’s superiors Angeal and Genesis rebel from the company/army/Backgammon club. To complicate matters, clones of Genesis run amok thanks to the mad science of Hollander, an ex-Shinra researcher. Zack, and sometimes legendary SOLDIER/fangirl pin-up Sephiroth (in a benign role for a nice change), must deal with all these issues. Since Zack dies before the events of FF7, Crisis Core is the most dreaded of franchise cash-ins, the prequel. Some prequels are nice and illuminating, even better than the originals – The Hobbit and Metal Gear Solid 3, for example. Others are full of midichlorians and Gungans. Guess which category Crisis Core falls into.
The new characters, conveniently killed or dragged off to who-knows-where before the tattered curtain closes, are the worst part of the story. They’re just alternate versions of already existing FF7 characters. Genesis is by far the worst. He’s the proto-Sephiroth, which would make him the main villain though I guess he isn’t supposed to be seen as a villain because he used to hang with Angeal and Sephiroth. They were like the Snap, Crackle and Pop of Shinra before Genesis went nuts, commanding an army of clones and killing people and doing whatever. He’s, like, tragic or something. Or he would be if he didn’t suck and wasn’t annoying. Every time he shows he spouts horrendous quotes from Loveless, a fake play in the world of FF7.
Loveless started out in FF7 as a simple graphic, an advertisement somewhere in the environment of the game’s first major location, Midgar. To my knowledge it is never seen or mentioned in the game again. To take that little speck of mise en scene and develop it into something more isn’t a bad idea. Sadly, it’s a wasted one and very little is to be expected from Crisis Core‘s writers anyway. Each time Genesis shows up he’s got three or four more Loveless quotes to punish players with. Juicy examples include “The monster has been harvested” and “Legend shall speak of sacrifice at world’s end. The wind sails over the water’s surface quietly, but surely.” That last one gets repeated at least 12 times, sometimes in a row. It’s difficult to communicate the full scale of awfulness in those lines without the slow, fake lyrical tones the voice actor woefully employs. Apparently, the embarrassing high school goth poetry that passes as Genesis’ Loveless quotes is supposed to parallel the actions and events of Crisis Core, but the feeling is lost since it’s unclear what the hell anyone is doing anyway. Wouldn’t it have been fruitful if the player could attend Loveless in a FF6-style Opera sequence? Or if Loveless was available to read or watch, or if it was SOME part of the story besides vague, meaningless quotes used in the game’s primary dialogue? How did Square even let this garbage into the script? Well, they named a character Genesis so I guess that answers that. At least he didn’t quote the Bible.
Angeal is the other “important” new character, the Qui-Gon Jinn to Zack’s Obi-Wan. He’s a Robert Z’Dar look-alike who spouts simple maxims about bravery and honor, which rings hollow and gets really boring hearing over and over. No wonder he and Genesis were such good pals. Angeal’s all about courage and honor yet he does nothing to inspire courage and honor except say “Remember folks, dreams and honor, always” and “Remember Zack, dreams and honor.” “Dreams and honor, dreams and honor, dreams and honor.”
Zack, the poor trusting schmo, falls for Angeal’s simplistic rhetoric. Angeal also carries a big phallic sword around as the symbol of courage, or so he says, and the sword eventually becomes Zack’s. He also kills his mother apparently, for some reason. Who knows. He also gets cloned eventually, or is a clone, or a monster, or turns into a monster, and apparently other people can turn into him and that’s supposed to be surprising down the line. It was completely lost on me. Oh and he hails from a town famous for its “dumbapples”, which are … blue apples!
It makes me angry just thinking about this guy and his baseball glove-shaped face. What’s his motivation? Why does he do anything?! WHY DOES ANYONE DO ANYTHING?! DUMBAPPLES? ANGEAL? GENESIS? Who at Square is responsible the names in this game?!
NONE of the characters have a clear motivation. There’s little reason to care for any of them and I dreaded, and then yawned, each time they appeared. With the exception of maybe hentai target Cissnei, a female member of the Turks (Shinra’s special clean-up squad) who is a dead ringer for Hermione from Harry Potter. She was the only character I looked forward to seeing again. I have no reasonable explanation as to why except she was nice she, had a neat pinwheel weapon and wasn’t another airheaded RPG female. Or maybe she is?! Who knows! Perhaps I liked the simple fact her dialogue wasn’t bad and her background wasn’t revealed. Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing, something prequels inherently shatter.
Familiar faces do show up, like Cloud, Aeris (now Aerith – kind of lispy in my opinion) and Tseng, who do little else but reassure fans “yeah, way to go, you’re playing another FF7 spin-off.” They’re also reassuring characters in the way they’re always a relief to see because the rest of the lousy cast. The smartest decision in the whole game is the Tifa Lockhart cameo, who’s decked out in a souped-up version of the midriff-baring cowgirl get-up she wears in the FF7 flashback sequence. Vroom vroom!
Aerith – I still don’t see her appeal. Well, that’s not true, I do. She’s an ideal more than a character – she’s the simplistic waifu who Zack wants to return home to during his near-the-end-of-the-game Odyssey impression, and I suppose that’s worthy fighting monsters and Shinra soldeirs for. But as a character she’s sweet as candy and about as interesting. Good for Zack for being able to carry a conversation with her even if it consists mostly to pandering to her neurotic cuteness. Would anyone really trust someone so … cute?
Zack, the main character, isn’t even that developed. He can be summed up thusly: he’s a nice guy. Why does he help Cloud when they meet? Cuz he’s a nice guy! That’s about it. Their interactions feel about as honest and real as the buddy-buddy scenes between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Star Wars Episode III, though perhaps a tiny bit artistically superior. This is treading spoiler territory now even though it’s known lore to fans anyway, but the passing of the torch at the end feels awkward. He barely knows Cloud. But he’s such a nice guy y’know, he might as well entrust Cloud with the memory of his existence! Zack’s hokum philosophy that he cribs from Angeal pretty much fucks Cloud’s mind up big time. Despite that the transfer of the Main Character License winds up the best moment in the story. The cutscene direction goes beyond mediocre into something quite nice although it has its share of eye-rolling problems too. Just as the game finally does something worthwhile (which, uh, was done already in FF7) a pop song and cliche anime imagery sets in. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen angel wings (Genesis, and eventually Angeal sport single wings, a clear reference to Sephiroth’s theme tune “One Winged Angel”) and angel feathers and apples in a product from Japan. Even Zack is ret-conned to get a “cross scar” like Rurouni Kenshin. Cloud might as well be another, blonder version of the guilt-ridden Kenshin. In the end he’s covered in blood, traumatized, and making a promise. As a series that endlessly cribs Dragon Ball Z, Berserk, Evangelion and various other anime mainstays it shouldn’t surprise that FF7 adds one more to its stable of inspirations.
However, just like FF7, the story and characters could be better than what the dumb, awkward translation would have you believe though it’s doubtful it’s any better in the original Japanese. A character named Lazard introduces himself as “It’s Lazard”, the literal translation of “Lazard desu” which is not just lazy, it’s downright confusing in the context of his appearance. It’s unbelievable. Japanese language textbooks aren’t even that stilted. The whole script is like this and it’s all slow-paced, mush-mouthed bullhockey.
To make matters even worse you can’t skip cutscenes and the longest ones always happen before the hardest bosses. The game’s pretty easy anyway but then suddenly DIFFICULT BOSS because you don’t have the right materia equipped. After a few more minutes of loading data from the title screen, going into the menu, optimizing equipment then running over to where the scene starts you gotta go through seven minutes of (“No way … you just ate my hair!”) the poorest writing. Seven minutes of cutscenes in a portable game? What. Were. They. Thinking?
There’s little to write about the game itself. It is tiresome, nap-inducing buttonmashing. The player just has to press the X button over and over, a lot like Kingdom Hearts, another of Square’s overrated output. Aside from some aesthetic differences in the interface it’s the exact same game. You can attack, cast magic or do special moves and you select them awkwardly via manic button presses in real-time. There is a random slot machine thing that occasionally casts powerful spells and beneficial status changes but without any direct input from the player the game is just playing itself. Randomly. You get a fantastic, time-consuming attack against an insignificant bug in any random battle, but you can go a whole boss fight with nothing helpful. Sometimes the slot thing will roll with no result at all! It’ll just interrupt your playing for a flashing display of faces and numbers! It’s as confounding as Blernsball from Futurama, without the fun.
The one time the game was almost fun and challenging was the boss fight against Hollander. You spend half the game chasing down the fucker, listening to his bullshit about clones and “S cells” and then you finally get to thrash his dumb ass. It’s the one time the game has fun with itself too. Hollander pours worms out of a bag and tosses gigantic missiles at you. It’s baffling. You have to use magic, items, dodge and pay close attention and it’s like the one time the game comes together into something decent.
Then the game refuses to end. It reaches a climax, or what sure as hell feels like one, then it’s artificially lengthened by dopey mini-game diversions and endless cutscenes. At one point Zack has to shoot at enemy robots with a sniper rifle. There’s no narrative reason why or anything, there just happen to be sniper rifles littered all over the ground and he – er, you, the player – has to run up to them, pick them up, aim and fire. It’s excruciating.
The last dungeon breaks the game’s mold by not only being a series of shoebox-like areas with boring design (another clear trace of its Kingdom Hearts heritage), it’s a momentum-obliterating fetch quest for keys to open the door to the dumb final boss, whose only challenge is his ungodly amount of HP, making for a very long fight. It’s insulting how long they pad this out. Doesn’t anyone at Square playtest their games? Don’t they realize games should be FUN? And stories should make SENSE?
The music isn’t that good either, unless you like to hear the same guitar tunes over and over – the best music is reprises from FF7. The graphics, as always, are Square’s strong suit. Surprisingly, Crisis Core is one of the very few games to have a New Game+ mode but I won’t make use of it. Why couldn’t a game I would actually like to replay like FF12 have this feature? There is also a large amount of extra missions outside of the main campaign. Hmm, no thanks.
The whole FF7 endeavor is unfortunate. The whole Square situation is unfortunate. After all the time spent in development this is the game and story we get? And what’s next? Endless Kingdom Hearts sequels on every platform, a Compilation of Final Fantasy 13 franchise (three new games!), and a Final Fantasy fighting game. Jeeeesus Christ, is it cynical to expect nothing from them?
Experience says “no.”
(No amount of Wikipedia searching or FF7 fan board browsing would shed light on the plot of Crisis Core. If anyone can offer an airtight explanation to me about what exactly Genesis was trying to accomplish or what Angeal’s or Hollander’s or anyone’s deal was, please, I’m all ears. All the luck in the world to you, though. Wikipedia and Final Fantasy-specific wikis failed me already.)