Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise is arguably the best series in the JRPG genre. The series is known for its long and deep stories, unforgettable characters, and breathtaking graphics. The side stories and spin-offs are fun, from Crystal Chronicles to Tactics, but most fans would agree that the main, numbered series are the ones worth the most attention. It might be fun to strategize with Ramza and Luso, but the real action is with Cecil and Zidane. Usually.
I’m here to say that the spin-offs can be better! Personally, I would say that I enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and A-2 better than the entire numbered series, but that’s just me. This is my subjective analysis of the series. However, it can be “proven” by looking at the game mechanics of a particular game that a spin-off is superior than a numbered game. As such, I would like to direct your attention to Final Fantasy XIII, and the prequel to Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core.
The absolute most important aspect of any RPG is the story. With Final Fantasy XIII, the basic premise of the games is a tale of 6 “l’Cie,” mind slaves of pseudo gods called “fal’Cie,” attempting to save the world from not only said fal’Cie, but themselves as well. Should they fail, they will be turned into zombie like creatures called Cie’th, and the world will get screwed. Should they succeed, they get frozen into crystals, and there’s no guarantee that the world will be saved. My reaction to this? What. The. Hell. The story makes almost no sense whatsoever unless you make a very strenuous attempt to attempt to try to understand it. Also, unless you’re one of those poor souls who actually enjoys the standard “we’re gonna win because we’re friends” speech in games, every 20 minutes or so, you will hate this game merely out of principle. There is, dare I say it, too much character development (pushing into stereotypes). Even with that development, it still feels like the same game throughout the miserable 60 hours of torturous pseudo gameplay. It’s really that bad.
Crisis Core is more straightforward. It follows the tale of would be SOLDIER 1st Class Zack Fair as he goes on missions, gains the respect of his superiors, and ultimately becomes a mentor himself. Even without tying Crisis Core to Final Fantasy VII, the story is excellent in its own right. There is an excellent amount of character development, very powerful themes, and the story itself is reasonably paced. The only better description you’ll get of Crisis Core’s story is the one you’ll come up with yourself after playing it.
I wouldn’t have a problem with Lightning’s overdone badassery, Snow’s annoying “heroics,” Hope’s, well, hopefulness, Vanille’s cheer, Sazh’s pessimism, and Fang’s…being herself if it weren’t for the god awful voice acting in FFXIII.
That aside, Lightning is presented as a badass soldier chick out for revenge. She’s a pretty cool girl, until she takes on an emo streak and loses all her appeal. Snow is kinda the same way. He seems to be the indomitable optimistic, wannabe hero type character who is standard in most games, but he loses the little cool points he had to begin with when he starts to question his motives. Hope, for the first half of the game, makes you want to punch him repeatedly as you yell “OMGWTFSNOWDIDNTMEANIT” in his face. (Play the game to know why). The second half, he makes you want to punch him repeatedly as you yell “OMGWTHSTOPBEINGSODAMNOPTIMISTIC” in his face. Yup. That’s about right. Vanille..Vanille… Surely, if you’ve any knowledge at all of FFXIII, you already know how annoying she is and why. Sazh has a kickass baby chocobo and seems to be the only one with a truly legitimate reason to be doing anything in this game. Fang..wtf?
Like I said before, one of Crisis Core’s major themes is the way Zack develops. He starts out as a rash kid, and ultimately becomes a respectable leader. If you’ve played FFVII or have seen Advent Children, then you already know all about Cloud and Sephiroth. However, their respective back-stories are made infinitely more interesting in Crisis Core. In addition, the addition of Angeal, and more importantly, Genesis (can be identified, technically, as the main villain) serve as Zack’s role models, but aren’t quite the saintly type. If I mentioned any part of Crisis Core’s story, it would be a huge, game breaking spoiler. Please, just play it.
Final Fantasy games are known for their quality of graphics. Both Final Fantasy XIII and Crisis Core are no exceptions. On their respective platforms, both games have arguably the best visuals to date. But wait, Crisis Core is a portable, while FFXIII is for HD consoles..how can Crisis Core hope to compete?
My answer? Cutscenes.
FFXIII is gorgeous. I will never deny that fact. However, look at the cutscenes. FFXIII, on the PS3, runs at a full 1080p, and it is absolutely breathtaking. Crisis Core runs on a measly little SD screen, on a significantly weaker platform, and the cutscenes look –almost as good- as FFXIII’s.
Interpret that for yourself.
FFXIII’s battle system was meant to be an innovative, more easily adaptable version of FFXII’s battle setup. It replaces “gambits” with “paradigms.” Both allow you to predetermine the AI of your party. The difference between gambits and paradigms is quite simple. Gambits allow you to control your characters, while paradigms marginalize that control to little beyond merely changing said paradigms. Essentially on FFXIII, all you have to do is cast libra on a target, buff your characters/debuff the opponent(s), and simply verify the computer’s plan of action (which, I might add, is very rarely wrong). There aren’t even magic points! What a joke.
In Crisis Core, when a battle starts, you are given more options. You run around with total control over Zack. You can physically attack with your sword, dodge, block, use items, or materia (magical/special techniques, costing mp and ap, respectively). The most interesting part of the battle system is the “digital mind wave,” or DMW. The DMW is like a slot machine, and it governs when you can do special moves (limit breaks) or summon. It sounds crazy, but it’s implemented quite well in battle, and it often gives you little tidbits about the story through memories. Again, sounds crazy, but it works really well. Oh yes, and winning battles in Crisis Core also gets you money. Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t do that.
Lots of people criticize FFXIII for its lack of options in regards to gameplay/exploration. The game usually directs you down a narrow path into your next goal/boss battle. It isn’t until near the end of the game (disc 3 for 360 players, I believe) that you get a degree of exploration. You are dumped into an open world..with nothing but monsters who wish to eat your face off. Said monsters are, at first, ridiculously overpowered in relation to your characters. As if the boss before getting placed here wasn’t difficult enough, it’s almost as if the game actually starts again just before it ends, considering the steep curve in difficulty. There are no towns to speak of, also. Finally, the only real reason to be even given this new area is for the mission system. Basically, you find little statues all around the giant field, you kill the monster it tells you to kill, and then you find the next one. Zzzz
Crisis Core isn’t too dissimilar in this regard. However, the missions in Crisis Core actually have a place in the story. Being an operative in a “military” organization, its only natural that you get assignments. These missions aren’t randomly dumped on you like they are in FFXIII, either. They are given to you from the beginning. Some are unlocked by clearing missions, some are unlocked via story events. It, at the very least, makes the missions appear to be more than just an afterthought meant to tack on an extra 10 hours to a game.
Endings of the games, in ascii faces:
Wtf really? I mean REALLY? That wasn’t entirely predictable, but it was just stupid. Everyone turns to crystal, and then bam. A “miracle” happens and everyone’s okay..lolwut? (Looked awesome though, I’ll give them that much)
Crisis Core: T___T
They used the DMW’s story telling feature to take what would have been a really predictable ending (especially for people who’ve played FFVII, of course) and –made- you care about what happened. Even if you despised VII (which I have come to do, after playing other Final Fantasy’s) the way Zack’s death was presented will be one of the hallmark moments in the PSP’s and Final Fantasy’s lifetimes. I have yet to see a more moving moment in any video game.
Place in the series (conclusion):
FFXIII is crap. Enough said. The story makes little sense, the characters are annoying, and it is ultimately just an interactive movie. It befouls the entire franchise. I only hope that Versus XIII and Agito can redeem the Fabula crysta…whatever the hell it’s called.
As for Crisis Core, it’s definitely in my top 5 favorite games of all time. It looks, sounds, and plays well. I don’t have to try to understand it, and honestly, I think it’s better than FFXIII in all the ways that FFXIII tried to sell itself. In fact, I would go so far to say that Crisis Core is better than the original FFVII.
Okay, so most of it’s my opinion, but if you’ve played both games, you’ll probably agree.
Thanks for reading! read