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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is One of the Most Emotional Experiences Gaming Has to Offer
In this series, I take a look at some of the most beloved gems spanning Sony’s (almost) two decades in the gaming industry. Potential spoilers ahead. (Click here for last week’s entry.)
Your first question might be, “Why not Final Fantasy VII?” For now, the objective of this series is to highlight personal favorites, but not necessarily fan favorites. While the nonpareil Final Fantasy VII is my favorite game ever (and may pop up here sometime down the road), it seems a little too obvious at this point. Besides, nothing can be said about Final Fantasy VII that hasn’t been said already. But entries in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII? There’s still much controversy regarding those.
Admittedly, there are plenty of criticisms I could level against Crisis Core, like every installment in the infamous Compilation. The plot was rife with inconsistencies with the original game, some creating overt continuity errors that forces one to question whether Crisis Core could actually be considered canon (it is, by the way). The gameplay, while decent, doesn’t stand out in my mind as terribly imaginative or prodigious. The graphics were standard for its day and admirable for a PlayStation Portable game, but again, nothing mind-bogglingly spectacular.
The one thing Crisis Core has that many other games, don’t, however, is emotion. I dare say its even more evocative than the original. Yes, Final Fantasy VII features the renowned Aerith death scene, but other than that, the poignancy does not hold a candle to the poetic sorrow found in Crisis Core. Heck, in a poll five years ago, Zack’s death in Crisis Core was voted as the most memorable scene in any Final Fantasy VII title.
To be sure, the heroic exploits of Zack Fair are packed with enough emotion to make a grown man stir within. From inheriting the iconic Buster Sword to being forced to kill his mentor Angeal, Zack’s tale is one made all the more lugubrious with his tragic fate being known from the get-go. Perhaps most heart-wrenching is how buoyant Zack behaves throughout the game, even if it is inspiring at times. The level of sadness prevalent in the game can make it a bit dismal at times, but no less beautiful. In fact, it’s that poignant atmosphere that kept my PSP in my hands up to the final confrontation against a regiment of Shinra troops in the wasteland beyond Midgar.
I could perorate about all the moving scenes in Crisis Core for hours, but you get the idea. Having cited most everything else as a weakness, I must acquiesce that some of those weaknesses aren’t all that bad. As stated earlier, the gameplay is nothing fantastic, but it serves its purpose, and the DMW, while gimmicky and at times exasperating, was at least something unseen in any other game. The fact that it tied into the plot, specifically at the end, earns it bonus points. A lot of the voice acting was top notch, particularly Rick Gomez’s portrayal of Zack. The rest of the returning cast shine, and the one major recast, Andrea Bowen as Aerith, was a vast improvement over the previous casting missteps of the character, so much so that I’d hoped they would have her supplant Mena Suvari in Advent Children Complete (that didn’t happen).
The story itself, while vexing due to its inconsistency with Final Fantasy VII, had some highlights. Again, most go back to the emotional scenes, but being able to play through Zack’s experiences in SOLDIER was great. Sadly, a lot of other negatives must be pointed out about the story. Events that should have been expounded, such as the Wutai War and the Nibelheim sequence, were brushed over for dubious reasons. While I found Genesis to be a formidable addition to the VII cast, his injection into every aspect of the plot (Nibelheim, for instance) was a terrible retcon. Given that in Dirge of Cerberus the ‘G’ Reports state hardly anything is known about the existence of the mysterious ‘G’—to the point where the question is raised whether he ever actually existed—having him featured as such a publicly known character is silly. The one contradiction the game made that I feel was actually an improvement over the original was Zack’s death. Seriously, was anyone buying that a SOLDIER 1st Class could be gunned down like a chump by two Shinra infantrymen? It may have been a bit over-the-top with the helicopters and the obscene number of troops, but it was still much better than VII’s depiction. It also allowed for the moving apparition Cloud has during the Sephiroth battle in Advent Children Complete, which is one of my favorite scenes in that film.
The last thing to note, which is easily one of the strongest aspects of Crisis Core, is the music. Composed by the talented Takeharu Ishimoto, every track impeccably conveys the emotion of each scene in the game. To this day, it stands as one of my favorite and one of the most underrated video game soundtracks ever. Its remixes and renditions of Nobuo Uematsu tracks from the original are handled with the delicacy they deserve and definitely don’t hurt the score.
I can safely say there have been very few games that have conjured such emotion in me as Crisis Core did. Even Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2, which relied on characterization and, consequently, emotion to carry it, did not succeed on the same level as Crisis Core. With Lightning Returns releasing soon and Final Fantasy XV on the horizon, perhaps Square Enix can take a lesson from this PSP title and evoke similar strains of emotion in gamers. If we’re lucky, other developers may even take a page from Crisis Core. Either way, its impact, while obscure and rarely acknowledged in the shadow of its timeless predecessor, remains.