Monday, April 14, 2008

Crisis Core - Dreck and Schlock are best buds until...

I recently finished FFVII Crisis Core, Square Enix's latest (and hopefully last) attempt to squeeze money out of thirteen-year old kids who still think Final Fantasy VII is the coolest game ever. That's kind of mean, because I remember thinking that Final Fantasy VII was the coolest game ever too, back when it came out. I still kind of do! It's got a lot of guts, that game.

Crisis Core, though. Man. In FFVII, there's a fairly infamous hour-long cutscene near the beginning of the game. In it, the protagonist, Professor emeritus Cloud Strife of MIT, tells his fellow party members about what happened four fateful years ago in his hometown of Nibelheim...

Cloud's hero, Sephiroth, went crazy, burned Nibelheim to the ground and killed everybody. Later in the game, it turns out that Cloud is actually pretty nuts, too, and that he was comatose for most of the incident. The guy he really looked up to, a man named Zack, went and fought Sephiroth. Of course, this is all presented in extremely confusing flashbacks in FFVII.
The game's battle system: "DING DING DING THREE SEPHIROTHS"
Crisis Core, then, is Square's attempt to fill in the blanks. It's a high-budget PSP game that tells Zack's story up until his inevitable death, and it makes an already confusing story that I thought I already kinda knew into a borderline incomprehensible new one! I guess I have scenario writer Kazushige Nojima to thank for that.

Nojima was also the douchebag responsible for the story mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and that sure was stupid. Playing Crisis Core, I think I've figured out what makes his work so consistently awful: in all the games for which he's been responsible for the story, I always feel like there's some other game I was supposed to have played which filled in the backstory. In FFVII, that was part of the charm.

The problem with Crisis Core's narrative is that, as the game I was supposed to have played before playing FFVII, it doesn't make much sense on its own. Hell, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Crisis Core has one of the dumbest video game stories I've seen in a long time. It's not just dumb because the plot events are contrived, ridiculous and poorly explained - the game itself often sullies or outright breaks the narrative.

There are numerous moments when the game presents you with a pressing situation, and immediately cheapens it with a "mini-game moment." Missiles are heading straight towards the hometown of Zack's mentor, Angeal! The one person left in town is Angeal's elderly mother! Quick, Zack, you gotta do something!

"Like play this stupid minigame!" the game says. "Press the X button with the right timing to cut the missiles out of the sky! If you miss, it's not a big deal, but shouldn't a member of SOLDIER be able to handle this kind of thing?" I'm paraphrasing here, but just barely. Each time you press the X button at the right time, Zack performs a stilted canned attack animation as pixelated explosions erupt around him. It's supposed to look like he's destroying the missiles with his sword, but it looks a little too cheap and clumsy for that. The game keeps track of your "combo," too, and tells you that you're "awesome!!", "superb!!" and "amazing!!"

After you press the X button twelve times, the game gives you an item you don't need based on how many missiles you intercepted successfully. I imagine that there are guys out there who replayed this segment over and over again, making sure to intercept all the missiles in order to get the best item and satisfy their complex OCD.

Immediately after this missile-downing segment comes a cutscene: "Angeal's mother is still in the village! Hurry and save her!"

"But be sure to run around and pick up all the items in the area before time runs out!" the game interrupts, stupidly. You then run around the deserted village square, hastily picking up items before the time limit runs out. Eventually, if you let the time limit run out, even though there's supposed to be an airstrike on the way, the game reveals that it doesn't matter. The items just disappear. It's like nothing even happened.

Every time the story tries to convince you of its gravitas, the game lurches in from offscreen, drunk as hell, and shoots both itself and the story in the foot while juggling colorful and distracting balls, dropping most of them on the floor. Not that it matters, really. If the game is drunk, then the story is retarded.
"I don't make allowances for old men!"
There is a moment near the end of the story when Zack and Cloud are escaping from Nibelheim on motorbike. The game's villain, Genesis, appears suddenly. His motivation for most of the game has been that... whoops! I actually have no idea! He's never given tangible motivation, outside of "revenge" and "Gackt really wanted to voice a character in the game." He spends a lot of time reading lines from his favorite play, LOVELESS, and asking Zack if he understands what he's talking about ("No."). He's also "degrading," because like Sephiroth, he's a mutant supersoldier, too!

Genesis tells Zack, after stopping his bike on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, that Zack's greasy black hair is the secret to preventing him from "degrading," and he proves this by having one of his clone cronies eat his hair. Genesis then flies off as the clone shrieks, is enveloped in a multicolored geyser of light, and transforms into a giant Tetsuya Nomura zipper-beast. This plot development is never mentioned again. As far as I can tell, it's only there to make sure that a boss can appear at that very moment.

One last thing: the game has an optional mission (one of several hundred, all nearly identical) where you fight god, who has 10 million hit points. The only way to win is by maxing Zack's stats out to 255, getting 99,999 HP etc. The ending of the game, even if Zack is totally iller than god, is that Zack gets killed by helicopters and the same stock soldiers that have proven no threat to him for the entire game, in a sequence that Gamespot's Kevin VanOrd says "brilliantly mingles gameplay with narrative in one of the most incredible and moving moments in role-playing history."

Man, I bet.


Swimmy Lionni said...

This game looks like comedy gold. To be honest, your entry kinda made me want to play it more than anyone who took it seriously did.

Jason Moses said...

Yeah, let me be clear: this game is totally worth playing if you enjoy kitsch in any of its many forms. It is terrible in over-the-top, extremely entertaining ways, as opposed to something like Brave Story, which several selectbutton people said was worth playing but has just bored me in the few hours I've played of it.

subatomic brainfreeze said...

Of course! The worst videogame I played all year(disclaimer: brawl is wonderful, subspace emissary is a shitpile) and the worst game I've watched other people play all year! THE SAME MAN!

If I had a PSP I'd pirate this game just to find out if you could actually beat it by standing in place and healing repeatedly.