Square-Enix used this past weekend’s Jump Fiesta event in Tokyo to confirm the actual existence of the PSP entry in the Final Fantasy VII Compilation project; entitled, Final Fantasy: Crisis Core. Vaporware? What vaporware?
To accompany this big news, the company provided a playable demo at the show, and reports popping up all over the Internet have detailed the experience. As it turns out, much like the other Sony platforms, there may be a bit more of the so-called "hidden power" within the PSP. Leave it up to Square-Enix to find it. Apparently, we’re looking at one of the prettiest – if not the prettiest – PSP games in existence, and we’re still only talking about an early demo. More visual goodness may infuse the final version with some truly stunning handheld graphics...but first, the basics-
As some of you FF fans may already know, Square-Enix has provided information on the game in the past, long before the debut of this demo. You will play as Zack, an elite soldier in the Shinra Corporation, and those with even halfway decent memories and a hardcore completionist mentality will recall Zack from Final Fantasy VII; he popped up briefly in a hidden cut-scene. He’s an old friend of Cloud’s from when Cloud was also with Soldier, and now, Crisis Core will chronicle Zack’s adventures right up until the beginning of VII’s story. Okay, so we don’t get a sequel, but a prequel is almost as good, right?
The demo in question allowed you to test out a couple scenarios. The first placed Zack at his home base, and his commander orders him to undertake a "missing persons" mission. It seems another Shinra Soldier had earlier rejected the order, thus causing the mission to fall to Zack...this free-thinking Soldier who refused the order? His name is legendary in the game world: Sephiroth. From what we can tell, you don’t actually see Sephiroth in the opening sequence, but his name is certainly mentioned. And so, you head out with a Turk (unnamed at this point; could be Reno, Rude, or Elena), and you complete the brief scenario by tackling some quick fights and a boss encounter with Ifreet.
The other scenario available starts in the middle of a mission, and you’re forced to face down around a dozen foes at once. If you can manage to defeat them, Zack enters a castle, where he’s immediately attacked by two huge creatures. Sounds like there’s a ton of action in Crisis Core, doesn’t it? As for the gameplay, this title features the traditional menu-oriented system, although you do have full control over Zack and can rotate the camera at will. Random battles are back, but in contrast to Final Fantasy VII, Zack will begin battle on the adventuring screen with no transition or loading. It sounds like Square-Enix has managed to maintain the classic FF VII style and atmosphere, while at the same time offering a few new enhancements and alterations.
The command bar will dictate your actions, from attack through magic and items, and simply by using the X button, you’ll be able to execute any and all commands. Zack will be able to use spells like fire, lightning, and cure, and they’re located on the command bar along with the standard attack option. With that attack, however, the designers have included a very action-esque feel by allowing Zack to roll and block throughout the battle. Those battles can include many enemies, and rumor has placed the number as high as 12 or even 15. Lastly, and perhaps most interesting, is that the enemy’s location plays a large role in combat; some foes can be dispatched with Zack’s trusty blade, but others are located on higher ground and must be taken down with spells.
Those who have had a chance to play the demo believe the game simply auto-targets the closer enemy, as manual switching doesn’t seem to be available yet. There is also the mystery "roulette wheel," which we’ve heard about but never actually believed it existed. Well, it does, and it appears in the upper left corner of the screen during combat, randomly giving Zack some kind of power-up, and if you get really lucky, that wheel just might destroy everything on the screen. We just don’t know if it’s entirely random, or if some things might affect it somehow (i.e., environment, type of enemy, Zack’s equipment, etc.)
Now, although the PSP screen isn’t all that big, it has managed to provide us with several amazing-looking titles in the past, and Crisis Core might just trump them all. Everyone is already raving about what they’ve seen in that brief demo, and perhaps most impressive is the report that all character models are full animated during every cut-scene. Overall, this one might even be able to compete with some PS2 titles, and that would be a huge accomplishment for any handheld console. With battles kicking off sans loading time, numerous enemies, full voiceovers, and great action, Crisis Core should be technologically superior.
The presentation at Jump Fiesta, before the demo became available for play, featured gorgeous cinemas and movies sporting old favorites like Cloud and Aerith. The sheer quality of the CG sequences have everyone praising Square-Enix for producing such an impressive title, and in the end, this game could be the first real PSP-pusher. Of course, the company still has to make up for the terribly mediocre Dirge of Cerberus PS2 game, but everything seems so promising at this point, we’ll have to assume Square-Enix is on the right track with Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.
12/19/2006 Ben Dutka