After ten years of waiting, American gamers will finally be able to experience the events that kick-started Final Fantasy VII's sprawling mythology. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII marks the fourth game in Square Enix's Compilation of Final Fantasy VII series, a collection of movies and video games expanding upon the world of technology in conflict with humanity. Previous entries in the series include Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, and Dirge of Cerberus Lost Episode: Final Fantasy VII as well as the feature-length film, Final Fantasy VII Advent Children.
"Despite his artfully teased hair and devil-may-care grin, Zack has the full, soulful carriage of a Final Fantasy hero; revolutions and monsters are nothing compared to the internal conflicts that he must confront."
The prequel begins seven years before Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife embarks on his globe-spanning crusade against the Shinra Power Company. It centers on Zack Fair, an elite SOLDIER in Shinra's employ. Over the course of his journey, Zack encounters other Final Fantasy VII fan-favorites including a young Cloud, Sephiroth, the Turks, and Yuffie Kisaragi. Players guide Zack through Shinra's rise to power as well as his own journey to attain the legendary SOLDIER 1st Class status, while staying true to his ideals.
Zack grows in skill by hacking down opponents for Shinra and by participating in numerous, optional side missions. His first mission finds him serving as a stand-in for Genesis, a red-haired 1st Class SOLDIER who rivals the famed Sephiroth in skill. Hot on his superior officer's trail, Zack ends up investigating a ninja rebellion in Wutai Village. In the process he learns more about Shinra's questionable goals and means. Despite his artfully teased hair and devil-may-care grin, Zack has the full, soulful carriage of a Final Fantasy hero; revolutions and monsters are nothing compared to the internal conflicts that he must confront.
That isn't to say that monsters and impressive-looking robots will not pose a challenge. Besting them will require no small amount of real-time blocking and dodging in addition to precisely timed sword strokes. The primary innovation within Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII's typical action-RPG combat interface is the Digital Mind Wave system. While Zack fights, a slot machine in the screen's upper-left corner cycles through faces of people he has met, each marked with a number. When three of the same numbers align, Zack is able to unleash a powerful special attack. Matching faces unlocks screen-clearing limit breaks. Different combinations power up Zack's equipment or increase his level. Other special abilities in his bag of tricks are accessible through a series of icons in the screen's lower-left corner. Pressing the L and R buttons can cycle through the icons; each one represents an item, attack, or materia-based ability that can be activated by pressing the X button.
Much of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII's music will be familiar to longtime Final Fantasy VII fans. Takeharu Ishimoto, synthesizer programmer for Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy X, produced roughly half of the game's audio by remixing Nobou Uematsu's original Final Fantasy VII score. The remainder of the songs are Ishimoto originals. Japanese singer Ayaka provides the game's theme song, Why.
Fans of all things feathered and slashy have the rest of the month to obtain a PSP, if they don't yet have one. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII will be released March 25, 2008 in North America with a European release following later in the spring. To compensate, Square Enix reports that the PAL release will contain additional content "not included in the original Japanese release."
No matter what extras will be included in the European release, Japanese gamers have already registered their satisfaction. Square Enix reports that Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was their best selling game between April and September 2007; the game sold 350,000 copies on its September release date, including the entire run of limited edition bundles.