The truth of the matter is that the controls just work, to the point where you will be able to take on huge enemies that should be way outside of your experience level with relative ease. That's not to say that the game is easy, but once you've mastered the controls and menu you'll start to discover just how exciting these battles can be. That doesn't mean that taking on the low level enemies will be any more entertaining, but you're going to have a blast dodging the boss attacks with this easy to use control scheme.
Along with this strange new control scheme is something called the DMW, the Digital Mind Wave. This slot machine-style leveling up system is not only bizarre (and maybe a little out of place in a role-playing game), but also bound to rub a few Final Fantasy purists the wrong way. It's out there, that's for sure. Ignore the silly name; the DMW is nothing more than a traditional slot machine. But this is no ordinary slot machine, it has pictures of characters found in the game (Sephiroth, Cloud, Aerith, etc.) and allows you to pull of special moves (and maybe a few summons, if you're lucky enough).
As a gamer you have no control over the DMW machine, it just sits at the top left of your screen spinning independently from your battle. For the most part you can completely ignore it, however, once the DMW has made two matches your battle will be interrupted by a larger version of the wheel and the chance to connect three characters in a row (and thus pull off that person's special move). But wait, there's more. If you match two or more numbers you will also upgrade you various magic spells and special attacks. And if you are able to connect three 7's in a row your character, Zack, will level up. It's that simple.
Okay, I'll admit, all that sounds kind of confusing. And the fact that you don't gain experience, but rather level up through what seems to be a random pull of the slot machine sounds bad. But I assure you, all of this quickly comes together and it ultimately makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable. In fact, because you never know when you're going to level up, I actually found myself really excited about getting into random battles. When was the last time you could admit to being happy about random encounters?
Regardless of whether you like these changes or not, Crisis Core proves that Square Enix isn't afraid to take chances when making their games. Of course, one could certainly argue that a lot of those chances haven't paid off for them (Dirge of Cerberus springs to mind), but from time to time they strike gold and come up with something that is original, functional and a lot of fun to play with. And that's the combat in Crisis Core, it takes the Final Fantasy gameplay in a whole new direction ... and I like it.
Along with a lengthy quest, Crisis Core features dozens of optional missions that are completely separate from the main story. The brilliance of these missions is that you can only do them at save points, so they are always accessible and ready to go. Best of all, if you only have a few minutes to spend playing Crisis Core, all you need to do is turn the system on and go into a mission, you never have to hunt around for them or spend time going through needless dialog. These missions are quick (often no more than three to five minutes) and full of cool loot (extra spells, new summons, etc.). They are the perfect time waster; it's just one mindless mission after another.
As I was preparing this review I started to think back at my time in the wonderful/horrible world of Midgar. While it's easy to pick apart some of the minor gripes (why can't we skip cinemas?), the truth is that there's a lot to love about the approach Square Enix took with this release. It's not the big things that impress (though, the changes to the combat system are both bizarre and impressive all at the same time), it's all of the small touches that make this feel like the polished product that it is. It's the small things, like the complete lack of backtracking you do in the title. If the story wants you to return to some place across the world map it will instantly teleport you there, you rarely have to spend time running through familiar locales.
I also love how quick and easy it is to do everything, from customizing your character to buying brand new items. In this game you don't have to worry about finding a town with an item shop, you can just buy your potions and magic spells from just about anywhere in the world. This, like the lack of backtracking and availability of option missions, makes Crisis Core feel like the perfect portable adventure game. The game is always accessible and always fun, even if you're stuck on a tough boss.
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