On the downside, the decision to focus on one character and make Crisis Core an action RPG has made this a simpler game than some FF veterans will like. Combat is very much the meat and drink here, with character interaction and other diversions limited to only a handful of missions. Zack fights multiple foes in real time, using the left and right shoulder buttons to select attacks, spells or items, the X button to trigger the selected action, and the square and triangle buttons to block and dodge. It sounds simple – and it is – but there is a little more to the fighting than mere button-mashing. The trick is in the timing, particularly as a well-timed evasion is the only way to limit the damage from heavier attacks on Zack’s good self.
What’s more, while you’re hard at work on the attack, a system Square-Enix calls the Digital Mind Wave is constantly running in the background. This works a bit like a slot machine, the reels spinning with three faces and three numbers. When three faces line up, the DMW calls in a special attack or ‘limit break’ dishing out mucho, mucho damage to your current foe or foes. When three sevens line up, meanwhile, Zack levels up, boosting his key stats in classic RPG style.
The faces in the DMW are those of comrades you’ll meet while the story progresses, and when they line up it’s a bit like you’ve phoned a friend in “Who wants to be a millionaire?”; your friend is suddenly there giving you the boost or backup that you need. And on top of the melee attacks and DMW limit breaks, there’s also magic to consider. Magic is controlled – as in FFVII itself – by elemental materials known as Materia. Not only will you collect and harness Materia through the game to unlock particular spells, but you’ll also unlock the ability to combine them later on, adding what’s effectively a limited amount of crafting to the game.
All of this may still come as a disappointment to hardened FF fanatics. While the DMW isn’t as random as it first appears, there’s not an awful lot of skill or strategy in the combat, and your main task is to juggle attacks while keeping your one character in good health. While the real-time action makes the game accessible and keeps it moving at a decent lick, the group-based AI fighting system in FFXII arguably hit a better balance between simplicity and depth. Nor does it help that opportunities to really explore are limited, and that the majority of levels are extremely linear. If you play RPGs in order to get lost in an expansive world, interact with other characters or challenge your brain with puzzles, then Crisis Core is at risk of feeling superficial.