Final Fantasy VII is a historically unique title in the gaming industry. While the Final Fantasy series had seen relative success in the west, and was already popular in Japan before the release of the seventh game, it wasn't until Cloud and friends appeared on the scene that the franchise took off worldwide.
To this day, Final Fantasy VII remains dear to many gamer's hearts. For many, it was their introduction to the world of Japanese RPGs. For others, it was a unique departure from the traditional fantasy settings of most other games of its genre. The gritty modern setting of Midgar, which can only be described as something akin to diesel-punk, is what sold me on the game as a child, purely by virtue of standing out among its contemporaries.
With the Final Fantasy VII remake now a reality, many people are returning to the universe to satiate their desire for more VII. The Final Fantasy VII universe has since expanded far beyond the original game with The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project, which includes a CG movie and several spinoff games. The Compilation is rather divisive among the fanbase. Personally, I've always had an appreciation for Square Enix's expansion of the universe.
Crisis Core is probably the biggest project in terms of importance to the overall VII story. Back in the day, when this was first announced as a action RPG prequel starring Zack, it seemed almost surreal. I had always wanted to learn more about the character Zack, as his role in the original game was quite limited compared to his importance in the overall story, so the announcement of this title had me sold on its premise alone. When the game finally came out and we got to revisit the FFVII universe, it was like a dream come true.
However, before you can fully understand the importance of Crisis Core and why it was such a worthwhile addition to the FFVII universe, we should take a look back at the expectations set by the preceding pieces of the Compilation.
'Advent Children' & 'Dirge of Cerberus'
Most Final Fantasy fans' knowledge of the expanded FFVII universe is paired down to the fully CGI film Advent Children. It was highly anticipated, but ended up being an adrenaline filled nostalgia trip without a lot of substance to the story. While some longtime fans of Final Fantasy enjoyed the movie, many did not. It retains an average user score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, and an abysmal critical score of 33%.
The next addition that was added to the Compilation was Dirge of Cerberus, a direct sequel to Advent Children starring fan favorite character Vincent Valentine. Reactions to this were mixed to negative. You can check out its Metacritic scores here. Spoilers: they're not very good.
Suffice to say, Dirge of Cerberus, and, to a lesser extent, Advent Children, soured fan expectations of what could come from the Compilation, and for a long time, fan expectations for revisiting Final Fantasy VII plummeted.
Crisis Core Comes To Save The Day
Of course, when Crisis Core was announced for PSP, it was met at first with cautious optimism and a groan. Would developers finally pull off a worthy successor to VII?
Initial impressions were positive: the game was shown in screenshots with graphics that pushed the PSP's power to the max, showing off just what the little console that could was capable of. The hype for the game built to a crescendo by the time it released.
Crisis Core promised to take a look back at the VII universe untainted by Cloud's distorted memory. This was what people had wanted in a new game ever since Advent Children let them down.
A Familiar World Revisited
On the surface, the story of Crisis Core is not very exciting or creative. The impetus for Zack's journey is that he wants to become a hero in a sort of done to death coming of age tale. Fortunately, while the game is busy stumbling about trying to be another "hero ascends" story, it does a much better job of telling another story entirely.
Along the way on Zack's journey to become a hero, we learn about SOLDIER's internal strife, we get to glimpse the upper plate of Midgar, and we see what SOLDIERS do both on and off the job, and we're able to see them given a face and a purpose. We also learn more about Midgar's urban life, and the contrast between the slums and rich corporate lifestyles. We even get to see firsthand how Shinra's evil managed to destroy entire families, such as the families of Shinra SOLDIERs Genesis and Angeal.
Perhaps most important to the main story of Final Fantasy VII, we finally learn more about what Cloud was like as a Shinra grunt, as well as the relationship between Aerith and Zack that was only touched upon in the original game.
Crisis Core did a really good job at showing us the human Sephiroth, too. He actually comes across as an empathetic protagonist, which makes his inevitable fall to darkness all the more tragic. When Sephiroth is joking around with Zack, we almost forget the monstrous abomination he eventually becomes.
And it's here that Crisis Core really shines. The interactions between Zack and Cloud, as well as Sephiroth's humanity on full display, are what make the game great. Zack and SOLDIER were such huge parts of the VII lore, and an essential part of Cloud Strife's history, but were never fully explored in the original game. Seeing it fully fleshed out was extremely satisfying.
Zack was portrayed in Final Fantasy VII as a headstrong, friendly, outgoing guy, and his Crisis Core self was the perfect reflection of that. Cloud was not always the cocky and arrogant man that he begins as in VII, originally being a meek and mild boy. Crisis Core shows us more of this side of him, his original (or you might say, true) personality, and you get to watch him gradually become attached to Zack as a sort of older brother or mentor figure.
Zack's coming-of-age story was basically fluff to show us a side of Final Fantasy VII that we really wanted to see—a side story meant to compliment the original game. The trite ascension of greatness was just a ruse to return us to Final Fantasy VII's world and characters, which the game did and did very well.
A New Interpretation
While most of the content that re-told VII's story was left untouched, the ending took a drastic turn from the original game.
Zack's death in the original VII flashback was short, quick, and violent, a testament to the brutality of Shinra and the world that the VII characters inhabit. Zack's death in Crisis Core is full of flair, and is really quite the opposite of its original rendition in terms of tone, even though it keeps the final segment where the three Shinra grunts overtake him. It was a bold decision for Square to change the ending the way they did, but I personally love both versions of it.
The soundtrack is amazing. The World's Enemy is the creepiest rendition of One-Winged Angel there is in a game. Dreams and Pride accurately represents the starry eyed, ambitious young version of Zack that we start the game as. Moonlit Wandering has that melancholy country vibe to it, perfect for Zack's escape from the Shinra mansion. Howl of the Gathered plays during battles in the final dungeon, reflecting Zack's desperation to return to Midgar. Even better is that renditions of some of these tracks were originally heard in the Last Order OVA, which, by the way, shows events that the game itself skips over, with the two pieces functioning in tandem with one another.
The Problem With Genesis
Perhaps the most highly divisive element of Crisis Core was the character Genesis, who shared the voice and likeness of Japanese pop star Gackt. The reason people took issue with Genesis wasn't because of his appearance or voice. No, the real problems were that he had a tendency to constantly recite poetry in place of actual dialogue, played an extremely integral role in a story where he didn't exist in prior VII lore, and even somehow shoehorned his way into cutscenes depicting events from the original game, such as the Nibelheim flashback.
My personal opinions on Genesis are divided. Conceptually, he makes sense as a friend of Sephiroth and fellow SOLDIER First Class. His nature as a genetic experiment might be a bit copy-paste from Sephiroth's own story, but I feel like it has a realistically believable in-universe explanation, as Shinra is wont to do these sorts of things since way back in the timeline (for an example, take a look at Vincent Valentine's flashback, over fifty years before the main story). Other than the fact he has no place in the Nibelheim scene, he functions well enough as the primary villain of the game.
Interestingly enough, Gackt's contract is rumored to be a likely reason that the game hasn't seen a digital re-release on the PlayStation Network, so Genesis's inclusion in the VII remake remains largely up in the air.
A Solid Return To Form
Overall, I very much enjoyed our portable return to the Final Fantasy VII world.
One last comment about the soundtrack and the ending: perhaps a divisive opinion, but The Price of Freedom is the best final battle music in any game, ever.
It remains to be seen how much of the Compilation will make it into the remake, but I'm hoping for a few nods and references, at the very least.
Have you played Crisis Core? How much do you think should make it into the Final Fantasy VII remake? Let us know in the comments.