By Jeriaska . April 8, 2008 . 11:09pm
These are some initial impressions of the PSP iteration of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. They include spoiler-free details on the first couple hours of the game from the vantage point of someone having just picked up the localized title.
Choosing not to dwell on the nostalgic touches–the significance of the way the characters’ heads are turned on the concept art or the use of Final Fantasy VII remixes by Ishimoto –you get a better feel for the Playstation source material this time out than was the case with Dirge of Cerberus. The game starts off with the tenth anniversary of Final Fantasy VII logo, Midgar at night, a hijacked train, and the ubiquitous Shinra Electric Power Company signs. Since most players will have built up layers of knowledge by now about how the game world operates, Crisis Core has the luxury of getting straight to the point.
As Zack, who only appeared in flashbacks during the original game, you start out on a train platform, assaulted by hostile Wutai troops. The random encounters are initiated not by a trippy fade out, but by an electronically distorted female voice intoning, “Activating Combat Mode!” Enemies fade in directly on the screen, and running up against the outer perimeter will let you to escape a fight, though you might be barraged by projectiles as you attempt to flee.
After dispatching the attackers on the train platform, you make your way up the stairs that lead to Shinra headquarters. You pass employees of the company in high heels and power suits who are running for their lives. At the top of the platform you discover one of the veteran beasts of the series, a lumbering purple-skinned behemoth with a spiked tale. Seeing as you are still in tutorial mode, you have a little help. You can use advanced spells like firaga to send a ball of flame floating across the screen. Still, the attack power of the enemy means it will be game over unless you have figured out how to toggle over to your items using the shoulder buttons to access a potion.
Zack automatically targets the closest enemy he faces. While you can run toward the boss in action RPG style, once you have chosen to attack the character will automatically make a beeline toward the enemy. If you get too close to the boss, then try to it him with a fireball, the monster will maul you with its paw or execute a Gyro tale attack. When you are hit, the spell is canceled, making it vital to clear some room by rolling out of harm’s way with the square button. If you are knocked down while your HP is low, the sidebar will start emitting yellow warning lights. No actions can be performed while you are on your ass, so either you can get to your items in time to heal yourself or the next hit will take you out.
The behemoth’s attack patterns are easy enough to learn, and soon it collapses. But as the cut-scene begins, we find that someone has drawn a sword on Zack’s back. It turns out to be Sephiroth, and the two inexplicably begin dueling. Sephiroth is considered a legendary hero of Shinra in the setting of Crisis Core, and the main character idolizes him, making the circumstances puzzling. Once Zack has been knocked to the ground, his superior intercedes, and the nighttime landscape of Midgar disintegrates into pixilated blocks. We discover that the entire mission was a training simulation in VR.
After exiting the simulation, we learn a little more about Zack’s circumstances. He seems to have it pretty well off. He can dodge bullets, is handy with a sword, and is on a fast track toward earning the coveted 1st Class title of Shinra’s armed militia. However, there seems to be some turmoil surrounding the internal affairs of the company as of late. Both a power company in that it supplies the megalopolis of Midgar with its electricity, and also in that it controls all political and military might through its extensive standing army, Shinra is showing some signs of distress. Making your way to the briefing room you learn from Lazard, the tactical director of SOLDIER, that an elite 1st has just deserted, taking with him cadres of 2nds and 3rds. Named Genesis, the near-invincible fighter is a longtime comrade of both Sephiroth and your supervisor Angeal.
At this point, you are taken on your first mission to Wutai, where Genesis was last seen before going AWOL. Before you embark, you are given the option to do some training missions to gain levels and find items. New missions are assigned via an electronic training board in Shinra headquarters, and upon stopping at any save point you will be whisked away to various simulated locales to fight enemies. Unlike FFVII, there is no overworld map or airships to guide. You go from location to location as if teleported. Periodically you will receive messages sent on your cell phone that will update you on battle tactics and provide some story explication. Virtual travel and communication has to some extent taken the place of wandering around and chatting with NPCs.
Once you are through with VR training, the Wutai mission becomes available. Lazard and Angeal join you on the road to Fort Tamblin, where you are ambushed by camouflaged Wutai privates and sergeants. After taking a few hits in battle, a new approach to the limit break called a Digital Mind Wave limit automatically occurs. The action pauses, a roulette wheel takes over the screen with characters and summons you have encountered making up the faces of each tile. When three are lined up, a special attack or cure spell is performed. Since you have no control over the results, the DMW is difficult to form strategies around. Sometimes they are activated when you least need them.
Occasionally positive status boosts will occur within battle when DMW reels are aligned. Null MP or AP use, for instance, signals you to let loose with the spells or special attacks until the status boost wears off. The addition makes for greater variety to the battle sequences, which is where a lot of the game’s attention is focused. There is a lot less concern with fine-tuning your selection of materia and equipment, for instance. In fact, you can only equip one accessory, while weapons and armor are a non-issue.
On the way to Fort Tamblin you learn more about Angeal’s steadfast concern for preserving honor, which is reflected by the way he keeps his Buster sword pristine and untarnished. The pagoda-styled fort appears on the horizon. An explosion set off near the entrance acts as a diversion, allowing Zack to penetrate the perimeter. You make your way to the gate, where Wutai privates are perches overhead, out of reach of your sword. To pick them off, you have to launch fireballs up into the air while dodging the swarms of enemies scurrying around outside. Once you have cleared the enemies, you progress to inside Fort Tamblin and meet their most famous ninja, a pint-sized Yuffie Kisaragi.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.