My personal game of the year might come as a surprise to you. It certainly came as a surprise to me. You see, I'm not the biggest Final Fantasy VII fan around. I think it's a good game, but I also think it's immensely overrated -- too many people claim it's the best Final Fantasy simply because it was the first one they played. With that in mind, I was definitely surprised to find that the game I enjoyed the most in 2008 was Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation Portable. While it certainly had some issues, I really enjoyed the gameplay, graphics, storytelling, and music.
As a portable game, Crisis Core succeeds by offering longer sessions in story mode and shorter sessions in the optional missions. I really appreciated this versatility. I did a lot of international traveling in 2008, so this worked for me during my trans-Pacific flights to Tokyo as well as waiting around at a gate for boarding to start. If I wanted something heavy, I could get it. If I just wanted to beat the crap out of monsters for four minutes, I could do that too. More importantly, the hacking and slashing in the missions offered great payoffs in the form of rare items and materia.
The hack-and-slash gameplay seemed really dumb at first, but it can get really interesting later on in the game if you take advantage of the materia system. I had lots of fun experimenting with different types of materia and fusing them together to make more powerful objects. Using materia to customize Zack for different combat situations adds some depth that isn't present in the earlier portions of the game. You could really take time to prep Zack for big boss fights or you could just use the goblin punch materia and cheap your way out of any situation.
The soundtrack is one of my favorites in years. It features some Takeharu Ishimoto originals, some of his work from Last Order: Final Fantasy VII, and revamped versions of Nobuo Uematsu's tracks from the original Final Fantasy VII. I highly recommend the soundtrack, which is easily available on iTunes.
If there was ever a reason to pick up component cables for your PlayStation Portable, Crisis Core is it. The cutscenes in this game are breathtaking. The first treat is an awesome sparring session between Angeal, Genesis, and Sephiroth atop the Junon Cannon. It's an outstanding scene that will blow you away and prepare you for things to come. The ending cutscene is just...wow.... It's really one of the best things I've ever seen in a video game.
Finally, I loved the storytelling and characterization in Crisis Core. It really flushed out the original narrative, expanding on the stories of Zack, Aerith, and Cloud, while adding to the tragedy of Sephiroth. Fans also get to see Tifa, Yuffie, and Cait Sith in smaller roles. The newcomers are great too, with Angeal being a fantastic character. I'll probably get some heat for this, but I really liked Genesis too (you should all try randomly spouting lines from Loveless to your gamer friends -- it will infuriate them and entertain you).
There are certainly flaws in the game and I'm totally aware of them, but despite these flaws, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII totally worked for me on all fronts. I loved playing it. I loved looking at it. I loved listening to it. And again, that final cutscene was just...wow!
"Even if the morrow is barren of promises...nothing shall forestall my return."