Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to make a shocking revelation about myself, and perhaps you will think less of me for it. But it is the truth, and I must speak my mind on the matter. Are you sufficiently braced? Okay, here goes. I don’t like Sephiroth. I think that, as far as Final Fantasy VII goes, he is a pretty terrible villain. Stop! Just stop. I can feel you already heading for the comments, or making dark preparations to track me down and exact terrible vengeance on me. I put this at the start of the article, because it ties into the subject we’re talking about today. Sephiroth is a terrible villain, until such time as you play Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is the best received of the Final Fantasy VII Compilation, and when you’re set up against such luminaries as Dirge of Cerberus, then it really feels like I’m damning the game with faint praise, but nothing could really be further from the truth. Crisis Core is a prequel to Final Fantasy VII, and rather than attempt to fill us in on how events unfolded after the events of the game, goes back and expands upon some of the key elements of the backstory, specifically the adventures of Zack Fair, the SOLDIER who was actually a member of SOLDIER rather than Cloud, who only thought he was a member of SOLDIER. I guess this is once again, spoilers for a twenty year old game.
There are a whole lot of things that Crisis Core does really well, and a number of things it does terribly, so to make sure I remembered, I dug out my copy of the game and went through it again this week. And here is what I remembered. This game’s characters are fantastic.
Right from the very start of the game, you’re introduced to Zack, who is going to be the sole playable character for the rest of the game. You might imagine that you’re going to be playing as a sour faced cocky asshole, because remember, this is the guy that Cloud based his Disc One personality off. And how does the game choose to introduce him? Going through the train from the opening of FFVII, clearly having the absolute time of his life. Zack is, from the start, likeable, personable, and clearly just a fun guy to have as your viewpoint character. He’s a sharp contrast to Cloud and the archetype that he embodies, and despite the darker turns that the game will eventually embark on, Zack serves to keep the game’s story enjoyable from start to finish.
But the game also features a bunch of returning characters as well, and this is where the strength of characterization shows. It’s clear that someone actually played through Final Fantasy VII before embarking on writing this game, and as a result, characters such as Cloud and Aerith, who were heavily exaggerated into emo and goody two shoes territory respectively in later portrayals, are re-railed here into a closer approximation of their original personalities. Aerith also has a voice actress that I can stand, which is a definite plus in this game’s favour. The Turks make an appearance, having their personalities from Advent Children, which is a definite improvement over the quite frankly jarring shift they went through in FFVII. Which was, if you recall, going from mass murderers, to recurring comedy relief, to the group’s buddy buds. Tseng, who was basically ‘competent, plus the leader’ in FFVII, is expanded upon the most, having frequent missions with Zack which help to humanize a guy who was otherwise one note in the original game. And of course, the game has it’s dark horse in Cissnei, who was one of a number of nameless Turks in her debut game, Before Crisis. Don’t know Before Crisis? Shame on you, the fact that it was a mobile game that was Japanese only shouldn’t have stopped you. Even a one note character gets a fair shot at becoming well characterized and beloved in a game like this.
The game’s biggest success, at least for me though, is the treatment of Sephiroth. Sephiroth for the uninitiated is something of a big deal amongst the Final Fantasy crowd, being something of a popular villain for one reason or another. But if you sit back and play Final Fantasy VII again, a question arises. What the goddamn hell was Sephiroth’s deal? You’re told that Sephiroth was a hero, then he finds out about his origins as being created from a space virus (very condensed summary), then he gets killed, then he comes back, then he stabs Aerith, then he wants to become a God. And then he wants revenge on Cloud, or to annoy Cloud, or wonders why Cloud won’t go to prom with him, or wants to know why their love can never be. Refreshing my memories of FFVII through tumblr was a bad idea.
But Crisis Core takes this jumbled mess and makes an actual living, breathing human being who we can actually relate to. Sure, the game starts off by telling you that Sephiroth is winning the Great Backstory War all by himself, and he’s introduced saving you from Ifrit and being a total badass. But then you find out that Sephiroth has friends. Sephiroth has actual, honest to goodness friends, who he has arguments with and hangs out with, and is actual buddies with in his spare time. Sephiroth cracks jokes and befriends Zack over the course of his tenure with SOLDIER. Sephiroth feels remorse when he’s ordered to track down his friends, shows concern for Zack’s relationship with Aerith, and above all else, Sephiroth uses an entire bottle of specially made shampoo and conditioner for his hair every day. This is an honest to god thing that Crisis Core made canon forever. In short, the game makes you understand why it’s a tragedy when life breaks him and makes him the villain of the game. Fighting him, which is a thing you get to do later, is a tragedy because you’ve spent this long getting to know frikkin’ Sephiroth as a human being.
But it’s not all fun and games though, and for all the good, there is also the bad. Let’s talk about Genesis, because I know there’s at least one person looking forward to me talking about him. Genesis is the primary antagonist of Crisis Core, who originally appeared in a cutscene at the end of Dirge of Cerberus. He’s a never before mentioned SOLDIER 1st Class, who is a contemporary of Sephiroth, able to fight him on an equal footing, and is one of his two friends at the start of the game. Did I sound like I was describing a fanfiction character? I thought I was too, but nope, he’s totally canon. Genesis, and other newcomer character Angeal, were products of a different experiment with Jenova than Sephiroth, and as a result of degeneration because the scientist in charge of the project was a cut-price Doctor Hojo in universe and without, Genesis defects from Shinra and becomes the game’s antagonist. He’s inserted into scenes he has no business being in, he bemoans his fate constantly, he looks like Gackt, and he never really manages to overshadow Sephiroth, no matter how hard he tries. Oh and he never, ever, ever stops quoting pretentious poetry at you.
But even here, Crisis Core works a little magic. You see, while you hate this guy and wish he’d shut up about his poetry, everyone else in the game wants him to shut up too. Even his two best friends in the entire world think he’s full of it. Sephiroth can interrupt him and complete a quote from his favourite play LOVELESS purely because he’s drilled it into Sephiroth’s head so much that he’s sick of it. It’s clear he’s no match for Sephiroth, and his attempts to make an impact on the world are doomed from the start because he’s never mentioned in Final Fantasy VII. Yes, that’s right, Square Enix made a fanfiction character, and they spend the entire game ripping the shit out of him. At least that’s what I assume the plan was, because if I was supposed to take Genesis seriously at any point, then I missed that memo and the world’s a little sadder because of it.
Crisis Core has a lot of flaws that I’ve not talked about in this brief look over, because they’re apparent from the start. The mission system is a load of nonsense, because each of the game’s three hundred missions feels exactly the same and is played out in about nine different areas repeated unto infinity. Levelling up your materia is completely random and at the whim of a vengeful random number generator. Encounters are fixed and terrible. There’s a wide gulf between what the game says you’re capable of, and what you actually are capable of fighting. But there is a lot to love in this game, and as a quotable man once said, the Price of Freedom is high. If you’ve got the energy to hunt down this game and a PSP to play it on, you’ll have in your hands one of the better RPG’s for the system, and an actually significant expansion onto the story of Final Fantasy VII.
Just be careful, because that fight with the Chicken is absolute bullshit.