Crisis Core is a game from the Final Fantasy VII compilation. This compilation was a multimedia series brought about to flesh out the Final Fantasy VII universe. Fans of what was generally the most publically beloved entry in the Final Fantasy series were very excited about the prospect of going more in-depth into this universe. The initial entries in the series were only released in Japan. North American fans would have to wait until the sequel to Final Fantasy VII came in movie form, titled Advent Children. This movie displayed wonderful animation was generally praised. The first game, however, that North Americans were able to play from the series received mixed reviews. Dirge of Cerebrus was a sequel story taking place a year after Advent Children, about a rogue military group of genetically enhanced soldiers trying to summon Omega to destroy the world. The game was a third-person shooter, and thus not universally accepted by the Final Fantasy community. The community waited for the game they were hoping for. It finally came in the form of Crisis Core. Let's delve into it.
Crisis Core takes place five years before the events of Final Fantasy VII. Zack Fair is a mid-ranking member of SOLDIER, ShinRas Mako enhanced combatants, and is looking to become a hero. Zack is tasked with looking into the disappearance of Genesis, one of SOLDIERs three highest ranking members. Genesis has seemingly been recruiting an army, but upon further inspection, we find he has been creating genetic copies of himself with the help Dr. Hollander, one of the first scientists to experiment with implanting Jenova's cells into humans. Genesis, along with Angeal, Zack's closest friend and superior in SOLDIER, are found to be part of "Project G", a group of members who were injected with Jenova cells. It is found out during a training session between the two as well as Sephiroth that the members of "Project G" lack the ability to heal, and the Jenova cells eventually break down their bodies. Hollander has promised them the cure, explaining their disappearance.
Zack joins with Sephiroth to track down Hollander, Genesis, and Angeal, and their search eventually brings them to Nibelheim where the events from Final Fantasy VII take place. Sephiroth finds out he is actually part of "Project S" where he was actually made a genetic child of Jenova. Sephiroth of course decides to reclaim the planet and is defeated by Cloud, during the fight both he and Zack are wounded and experimented on by Hojo for 4 years. Zack wakes up and escapes along with Cloud who has severe Mako addiction and is completely incapacitated. Zack and Cloud are now hunted by Genesis and Hollander, who has injected himself with Jenova cells as well, as they believe Project S cells can cure their degredation. Zack discovers Genesis's base of operation in his childhood hometown of Banora, a location very close to the lifestream. Zack defeats Genesis, who was defeated purposefully so that he could be cleansed by the lifestream and his degredation cured by the goddess Minerva. Zack tries to return to Midgar with Cloud so he can reunite with his girlfriend Aeris, however he is tracked down by the ShinRa army and killed. Cloud finally emerges from his sickness to be bequeathed Zack's sword... however, his memories are still confused.
There are alot of sideplots which I've failed to mention above... Zack obviously meets and becomes close with Aerith and convinces her to sell flowers. Zack interacts heavily with the Turks and befriends one female member especially, named Cissnei, who helps Zack and Cloud elude capture on a couple of occasions. (What actually happens to Cissnei after this game is anyone's guess). There is the head of SOLDIER who tries to take revenge on ShinRa and eventually becomes a copy of Angeal... yeah, there's alot going on, its really the main story though linking the events in Nibelheim to the main story of Final Fantasy VII and if you strip it down to just that it is a pretty good story... with a FANTASTIC ending. Even though you KNOW what has to happen to be forced to play into it is incredibly saddening.
Now, onto the Gameplay. The gameplay at its core is of an Action RPG. You have free range of motion during combat which happens in fixed or random encounters and take place directly on the map though in kind of an enclosed arena so that you can run away. Being from the Final Fantasy VII universe, you can equip materia. Materia serves two purposes. Firstly, it gives you access to any and all abilities. Magic Spells, abilites such as steal, curing, you name it. Secondly, materia is also the main way you increase stats in the game. Aside from Materia, you also have accessories you can equip which can do many many things, increasing your stats, giving you static boosts, immunities, etc.
Combat in the game gives you 2 currencies. Gold is used in stores to purchase accessories and materia. SP is also gained. SP servers two purposes. One, it is used as a currency for Materia Fusion, which I'll get into next. It also allows you to spin the DMW or Digital Mind Wave. The DMW is the limit break system in the game. Kind of like a slot machine that spins during combat, it draws upon the memories of the people you've met in your journey. It can both perform Limit Breaks as well as level up your materia or your character. There is XP in the game though it is hidden to you, to give the appearance that your level ups are random. They are random, though not completely.
Materia in the game comes in different classes. There is Fire Materia, Ice Materia, Steal Materia, Punch materia, etc. Each class has 8 different ranks. To increase the rank of materia you fuse it. Figuring out all the intracacies of this system is incredibly tiring, and I won't go into it too much here. The short version is you can use this to make your Cure into Cura, Fira into Firaga, etc. You can also figure out formulas to change materia class, etc. Why this is necessary is that Materia carries stat boosts, and it is your main method of increasing your stats. Obviously, you would not want to waste all the work and SP you put into creating a large stat boost for your character but don't want to get stuck with it on a fairly useless skill. I do really wish this was a simpler mechanic, I don't feel it needed to be as complicated as it ended up being. Also worth mentioning, while there are over 20 classes of materia in the game. By the end of the game there aren't even enough useful spells to fill up your inventory... Seriously, you have Cure, Mug... umm SP Turbo if you really want... Ultima I guess... Dash maybe(though you can't stack a bonus on it)... and Costly Punch... that's it.
The actual plot of the game is very short, probably under 10 hours. To stretch the game out, they include what they call Missions. There are 300 missions in the game, each one basically a small map with a boss encounter somewhere in it. While there are some plot restrictions, generally beating 1 mission opens up the next one in the series and there are 10 series all together. Each map also houses many treasure chests which generally contain better materia and accessories than you'd be able to obtain at that time in the main story. I'd almost say these become the meat of the game. They continually increase in difficulty through many many tiers. Even with the best equipment in the game and maxed out stats the last few can be challenging to get through. They culminate with a Super-Boss, the god of the planet named Minerva. Honestly, she's a pretty disappointing super-boss. Its a long encounter where she will continually become faster the lower HP she has. Honestly though, the first time I faced her, I never really even felt like I was in danger of dying... and I doubt that anyone would played through all the missions leading up to her would either, she is very easy in comparison.
Onto the Graphics and Music. The graphics in this game are wonderful even by today's standards. The game features many many FMVs, and uses them heavily. I will say, I couldn't play the game on my Gen I PSP as the FMVs were just too memory intensive. There are some absolute standout FMVs. The best is certainly the training sequence between Genesis, Angeal, and Sephiroth. The FMV lasts over 4 minutes and is nothing but one of the best animated fights I've ever seen. Also, the ending FMV sequences are beautiful as well. Playing this AFTER Final Fantasy VII, I also have to remark that it is wonderful to see high-res versions of Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Sephiroth, Reno and Rude as well... Yes, I know alot of them appeared in Advent Children which came before this, but I'm talking about in game. The music is well done but is fairly unremarkable. I enjoy the music from the Midgar Slums area, but otherwise it is fairly generic metal-inspired tracks. The voice acting, however, is extremely well done.
All in all, I will say this is an extremely addicting game to play. Fans of the Final Fantasy VII universe can get some great insight into the beginnings of Cloud and Sephiroth. RPG fans can immerse themselves into some very challenging gameplay and some incredibly complex character building mechanics. If you're a casual fan of the series, I recommend playing the game, but just through the main story. If you're looking for a challenge, then play through the game to open up all the missions, and you won't be disappointed.