There's a game in here
somewhere, I just know it.
The last time I uttered those words, I was
playing another PSP title - the absolutely abysmal
Valhalla Knights, which amazingly managed to combine a rich item and
character customization system with one of the most boring, grinding,
repetitive gameplay mechanics I've ever seen. When I washed my hands of the
title, I thought I'd never be stuck in another like it. I briefly tried out
Capcom's franchise version, called
Monster Hunter, which was better but still unfortunate; that game
had better missions, but still the repetitive sense of going through the
same areas over and over, just grinding away.
And then I picked up Crisis Core.
Wary as always of the "OMG another Squaresoft game we loves Squaresoft"
factor for many reviews, I still picked it up - after all, this was the
storyline prequel to Final Fantasy 7. This was supposed to be the
story of how Sephiroth went bad, of Aerith's first love, of the events
leading up to Nibelheim, to answer all those hinted and unanswered questions
from the Final Fantasy 7 storyline.
To be fair, the game does that, and does it
pretty well. New characters, new twists on old items and materia, and the
storyline definitely holds up. The problem is, the storyline is parceled out
in tiny bites, surrounded by an incredible amount of grinding and almost
Let's start with the good, because
Squaresoft did a lot of good things. This isn't just going to be a
review-rant "I hate this" review; this is me giving Square a fair shake.
When they're focusing on storyline, the game's top-notch. When the missions
are involved in the game's story, the world looks rich and vibrant and
awesome. The musical score, despite being mostly techno remixes of the FF7
musical themes, is still awesome. Character design - for Sephiroth, for
Zack, for Aerith, for every new and every old character, and even for the
random people elsewhere in the game, is solid and actually looks pretty darn
real. The idea behind the storyline - that the various Jenova-related
projects are showing degradation, and Jenova-infected Soldier operatives
having all sorts of trouble - is solid and gives a good reason for Sephiroth
to eventually go off the deep end.
If that were the focus of the game, I too
would be really happy with Squaresoft.
The problem? That's maybe 1/10th of the
game, and I'm being generous with that number. The vast majority of the "gameplay"
happens in two ways; either "fusing" items (and yes, the materia fusion
bizarre), or running around a set of mini-missions beating on enemies.
The "Missions" screen in the menu, available from any save point, is how
these are accessed, and they will be the focus for 99% of the leveling of
materia and character in any play-through of the game. Unfortunately,
they're uniformly the same; a "mission backstory" will pop up, with goals
like "defeat the monsters" or "retrieve item x", but the mission itself will
place Zack on one of 6 pre-rendered maps, with random "off limit" areas to
try to make it look a bit different, and running through beating up on
monsters until the "goal" monster has been killed. The only other mission
type has Zack on a map fighting a summon one-on-one, which pretty much
amounts to the same thing.
When in combat, theoretically there are a
few actions - up to 6 equippable materia, plus dodge-rolling, blocking, and
attacking. In practice, all that's really needed to defeat every monster in
the game is to mash the attack button, perhaps taking a break every so often
to dodge or block a particularly nasty enemy attack or to use some HP
restoring materia. "Limit breaks" and leveling up happen, not upon building
up damage or time, but simply when an in-game random number generator
happens to generate 2-3 numbers that match each other. Despite this, when a
limit break does happen, it often ends the battle. The battlefield isn't
very big, either; much like Valhalla Knights, Square spends a great
deal of time keeping the camera close and penning the character to a defined
area in order to spend more polygons on Zack and his enemies. To top it off,
there isn't even really a penalty for mission failure - Zack returns to the
save point, healed fully, and the mission's there to be tried again. Only
items used will vanish.
Bottom line: I wanted to like this game. I
can understand how game reviewers handed it and told to finish a review
based on 5-6 hours of gameplay, tops, would love it. I can understand how
they might love it having only run through the story, rather than trying to
explore the various "replay value" bits that were supposed to make it last
past a few hours. But at the end of the day, playing it has become a chore,
not a fun activity. And that's the last thing a game should be.