I haven't had a chest-constricting, toe-curling fangirl moment in a really long time. In fact, I'd pretty much figured that, save for the occasional pang of nostalgia or brief thrill at a new idea, true gut-cinching geekouts were a relic of the teen years, when all I really cared about was fantasy and before I grew up somewhat into a pragmatic and independently-functioning adult.
Ooh. You guys. Crisis Core. It's awesome. Go get it. I'm serious. OMG.
You know we've been irritated with the enduring FFVII mythos over the years. As I said, I think it's been heavily overexposed, leading most of the fanbase to eventual embarrassment with the way their emotionality over a few small moments were magnified. Reading one of my favorite message boards recently, I saw a "confessions" thread where the object was to disclose your shameful gaming secrets -- like never playing Metroid, like having hated Chrono Trigger. The most popular confession, delivered anonymously, was still being in love with Final Fantasy VII.
It's tempting to look at that behemoth of moe game development, Square Enix, and resent them for hanging on the same few properties for so long. Especially when Dirge of Cerberus was largely disappointing as an entry in the FFVII compendium. I don't think it (or Advent Children, for that matter) was as bad as everyone says it is -- something to be said there for high, high hopes -- but still, not excellent. Final Fantasy iconography profuses everywhere cloying fan communities congregate; Final Fantasy merchandise proliferates, overpriced. FFVII takes the hit for the popularity, for the behavior of its fans, for the failure to deliver a solid follow-up that treats the touchstone of our turbulent teen years with the dignity it deserves.
Detractors should go play Crisis Core and eat it.
Disenfranchised fans have, in Crisis Core, a worthy successor to the franchise's core spirit. Sure, that core spirit revolves around emo themes and pretty, pretty, pretty men. But there's something to be said for abiding, watertight thematic consistency. There are two things you can say about Square Enix -- each of their efforts is utterly unified, fluidly referential, lacking some of the sprawling, disjointed feel that you often get with American-developed epics. And second, their efforts are always fiercely, almost excessively polished. Crisis Core is no exception.
What's exceptional about it is that it proves the agility of both the developer and the franchise. I've personally never seen an epic RPG tailored so perfectly for the PSP. The cinematic story structure is well in line with the "media device" vibe of the system, while the hearty multitudes of brief missions that run alongside it are perfect for pick-up-and-play. The battle system is a stripped-down and more accessible brainchild of FFVII's original materia system (arguably the best battle system in a Final Fantasy game) and fighting is menu-based, but in dynamic realtime.
I'm being a little technical, I know -- but I must reinforce that independently of fangirlism Crisis Core is, at the very least, a solid and engaging RPG well-tooled to balance immersion and portability. It's hard enough to have an engaging and well-paced fantasy RPG on the console, least of all to adjust it for the unique demands of portable gameplay. To see one this polished begs a low whistle of admiration at the developer's achievement. As long as you don't loathe JRPGs, I must press on you to at at least rent it. If you tend to like them, buy it, carve yourself some time to get engrossed and thank me later.
Going to take a page from the Smash Bros. reviews and use the phrase "love letter to franchise fans," too, because that's such a large part of it, of course. For those who don't know this, Crisis Core acts as a prequel to FFVII. Even those new to the franchise will find it a pleasant introduction, and diehard fans will feel like they're coming home.
Many people theorize that the success of FFVII was largely due to its atmosphere and environment, being particularly solid, unique for its time and drawn with more depth than audiences were accustomed to. Although the game has had to reduce a little bit of the environmental complexity, probably in favor of richening things elsewhere, it still manages to recall vividly the places, emotions and intangibles we loved about FFVII.
There, I've just managed to review it without once saying "Sephiroth." But it needs to be said, and I want to examine all of the who, what, where, when and why of the FFVII mythos, its place, deserved or undeserved, in game culture, and the subjective and non-technical reasons why Crisis Core will sting the corners of your eyes.
In that vein, I'm declaring it official Final Fantasy VII week here at Sexy Videogameland, and each day I'll be looking at a different aspect and soliciting your thoughts. I'll still probably blog about other things as they strike me, but you can expect a theme focus here for the week -- especially because it gives me a reason to swap the banner every day. Rock.