Final Fantasy’s PSP Legacy
The Final Fantasy series rocked the PSP with fresh titles and classic re-releases, but they’re getting harder to play
While the Playstation Portable may not be remembered as fondly as its competitor, the Nintendo DS, if you were a Final Fantasy fan, the PSP was a must-have. The PSP gave us the Final Fantasy VII prequel Crisis Core, the fighting game Dissidia, and many remakes of older titles. These releases reintroduced and redefined Final Fantasy for a new generation. These games are worth appreciating, especially when you consider how rare some of these games have become.
The PSP, released in Japan in 2004, was itself an important step forward for portable consoles. It boasted graphics far superior to the DS, it could play movies on UMD discs, you could surf the Internet, and you could even download games from the PlayStation Network.
This is not to say that the system was without flaws. It was very easy for UMD discs to skip if scratched, most PSP titles were just smaller PS2 games, and it lacked the exciting touch screen found on the DS. To many, the PSP could sometimes feel like a weaker gaming experience.
What Final Fantasy did for the PSP, however, was ensure that a system that could have easily been forgotten earn a respectable place in gaming history.
SPOILER ALERT: Plot details for Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII follow.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Given Square Enix’s obsession with milking Final Fantasy VII for every penny it’s worth, it was only natural that they would use the PSP for another FFVII game.
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, the official title for these spin-offs, was largely a disappointment. The film sequel, Advent Children (2005), had some impressive fights, but the dour storyline undercut much of the character growth from the original game. Next came Dirge of Cerberus (2006), starring fan-favorite Vincent Valentine, but the first-person shooter mechanics were underwhelming.
The only saving grace during this time was the short anime OVA, Last Order (2005), which took place during the Nibelheim Incident. However, could a prequel starring Zack Fair translate into a decent video game?
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007) took a minor cameo from an optional flashback and made Zack into a fully realized character. In this way, and in others, it improves upon many elements from the original FFVII.
Crisis Core is a coming-of-age story, where the player watches Zack grow from a naïve idealist into a mature leader. The supporting cast is also very well-handled. There’s the trio of Jenova experiments: Zack’s mentor Angeal, the original wielder of the Buster Sword, the poetic Genesis, based on the rockstar Gackt, and Sephiroth, the legendary hero.
In FFVII, we are told that Sephiroth was a great warrior, but in Crisis Core, they make us believe it. Sephiroth begins the game as charismatic and amiable, which makes his downfall even more tragic. We also get a chance to see Zack’s budding romance with Aerith and his fateful meetings with an aspiring Cloud.
Crisis Core adopted a toned-down version of the hack-and-slash action of Kingdom Hearts. Zack can attack, run, and guard at will, but his abilities depend upon which Materia you have equipped. There are also limit breaks that can be accessed when the Digital Mind Wave (DMV) slot machine gets three of the same faces in a row.
This balanced approach definitely paved the way for the battle systems of FFXV and FFVII Remake. The boss fights are also enjoyable, especially with Sephiroth. There are, also, plenty of side-missions to do if you need a break from the main plot and the “New Game Plus” feature adds some much-needed replay value.
Why This Game Is A Must Have
Crisis Core gave players the chance to walk through the familiar levels of FFVII, like Costa Del Sol and the Sector 7 Slums, with more realistic graphics. Crisis Core was a preview of what FFVII Remake would feel like. It also led the way in tone. Crisis Core, unlike Advent Children or Dirge of Cerberus, kept with the lighter and more balanced tone of the original game. Crisis Core showed you could keep some of the silliness of FFVII for a modern age while still carrying over its gravitas.
The cutscenes are also richly animated. There’s the epic three-way battle between Sephiroth, Angeal, and Genesis, which feels right out of Advent Children. There are tender moments, too, like the scene where Zack is weeping over Angeal’s death in Aerith’s Church. After realizing that trying to talk with him isn’t working, Aerith silently embraces him from behind. The game’s music not only redoes many classic FFVII themes but also introduces new ones, like Takeharu Ishimoto’s The Price of Freedom.
Crisis Core is best known for its tragic ending. Anyone who has played through the original FFVII knows where the story is headed. This foreknowledge, however, is to the narrative’s advantage. Through Zack, the player had forged relationships with many characters. While the player knows that none of this will last, they become so wrapped up in the story that they want it to last. Then, one by one, as they watch these relationships either fall apart or the characters die, the inevitability of the plot hits them.
Crisis Core’s success comes from its reliance on emotion rather than shock. We all know that Zack will die at the end, but after playing through his story, we are all the more broken by it.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Square’s next PSP game, Dissidia: Final Fantasy (2008), would be the first FF fighting game. Before this, there were the FFVII cameos in the PS2 game Ehrgeiz, but it was not an FF-focused game. Crossover fighting games have a mixed record of success. Some are great, like Super Smash Bros and Marvel vs Capcom, while others fall flat, like Castlevania Judgment and Jump Force. How would Dissidia stand out?
Dissidia boasted an impressive roster of heroes and villains from FFI to FFXII, with characters such as Squall, Golbez, and Kefka. These characters were all re-designed by Tetsuya Nomura, but based on Yoshitaka Amano art, so it felt as though it brought together the best of the old and the new. Many of the familiar lands from the FF series are fighting areas, such as FFIX’s Crystal World, FFIII’s World of Darkness, and FFX’s Dreams End. The game’s soundtrack features remixes of the best hits from Nobuo Uematsu’s wide oeuvre of FF scores.
All the characters had unique fighting styles. FFIV’s Cecil switched between ground combos as a Dark Knight and air assaults as a Paladin. FFV’s Bartz was a copycat who used attacks from all the different characters available. FFII’s Emperor Maetus could set up traps for his opponents to fall into. With such a variety, there were many styles to master.
The battle system itself was an entirely new invention.
Players have Brave Points (BRV) and Health Points (HP), with different attacks which can lower either stat. While you could focus your attacks on lowering your opponent’s HP, you’ll hardly do any damage if your BRV is low. You can gain more BRV by stealing it from your opponent with BRV attacks. When your opponent’s BRV goes below 0, they go into “Break”, where they cannot do any damage and are completely vulnerable. Some combos mix BRV and HP attacks, such as Cloud’s Omnislash ver. 5 or Terra’s Ultima. Summons, on the other hand, is a wild card that can mess around with the BRV calculus. Ifrit, for instance, can increase your BRV by 50%.
If all that wasn’t enough, Dissidia tops everything off with Ex-Mode, an empowered state with new abilities. It is available when the character’s Ex-Gauge is filled.
For instance, once Cloud goes into Ex-Mode, none of his attacks can be blocked. Characters can also use special moves known as Ex-Bursts. Some are reminiscent of past Limit Breaks, such as Squall’s Renzoukuken or Tidus’ Blitz Ace. Others are pure nostalgia, like Gabranth chaining his Quickenings or the Onion Knight selecting Meteor from a literal battle menu.
Why This Game Is A Must Have
The original Dissidia was an incredibly fun game, especially if you were an FF fan. It was almost as if Square Enix looked at Advent Children and decided to give gamers the thrill of playing through that level of high-octane action. Characters were free to run up walls and fly at incredible heights. Even the arenas were an active part of gameplay. The ceiling of the Chaos Shrine could collapse into pieces while spikes can spring out from below on the floors of Pandemonium.
Dissidia received a competent sequel in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, which introduced new characters, like Lightning, Tifa, and Gilgamesh. The player could also briefly bring in characters to assist them against their opponents.
Dissidia’s latest sequel is Dissidia NT, which has pretty graphics and a wider character roster but has completely overhauled the earlier battle system for three-on-three team combat. The game has its fans, but it’s a completely unique experience from the original PSP entry.
The Old Made New
The PSP also saw several re-releases of classic Final Fantasy games. For some younger gamers, this was their introduction to many retro-titles. The first two FF games, FFI and FFII, both saw PSP remasters in 2007, with updated graphics, PSX cutscenes, unlockable music, and new bosses. While these games can still be a rough playthrough, even with the PSP polish, they remain a great way to experience the origins of FF.
The PSP also saw a remake of the acclaimed PSX game Final Fantasy Tactics (1997), which was renamed Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (2007). Tactics is significant to FF history for two reasons:
The first reason being it was the inaugural FF game to be set in Yasumi Matsuo’s medieval world of Ivalice, which was later used in Vagrant Story and FFXII. It is in Ivalice where we follow Ramza, through a complex, though engrossing tale, of war and class.
The second reason is that Tactics utilized a unique, tactical turn-based system on an isometric grid, somewhat similar to the Fire Emblem series. The player could also choose from 20 different job classes, like Wizards, Lancers, and Thieves. For many, The War of the Lions is the definitive way to experience Tactics. The new cell-shaded cutscenes are beautiful additions to the plot, the translation was cleaned up for accuracy, new job classes like Onion Knight and Dark Knight were included, and FFXII’s Balthier shows up in a cameo role.
It was also around this time that many of the FF games from the PSX were re-released for digital download on the PSN Store. With FFVII, FFVIII, and Tactics re-released in 2009 and FFIX re-released in 2010.
I must emphasize that until this re-release occurred, the only way to play these games was through the original PSX and PC copies, which could get to be quite rare and expensive. These digital re-releases allowed many younger gamers, myself included, to experience the PSX era of FF for the first time.
While one could theoretically download these games for the PS3, many chose the PSP for convenience. It was much easier to carry these games along with you, instead of being tied to the TV screen.
My PSP is old and no longer works, so I can’t replay any of these games.
I suppose I could always get a new one, but for how long would that last? We now know that Sony is closing its PSN store for PSP and Vita, so digital copies of these games will vanish until such a time when Square decides to re-release them. Over a decade has passed since a lot of these games came out, and yet Square seems uninterested in bringing them to the PC, PS5, or Xbox One.
What should players of FFVII Remake do when they want to learn more about Zack? What about Dissidia NT fans who want to explore the origins of the series? Isn’t it strange that the original version of Tactics is easier for new gamers to play than its later PSP remake?
It isn’t as though this cannot be done.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, originally for the PSP, was re-released alongside MGS2 and MGS3 for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. Square itself has done three HD re-releases of the PSP game, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, for the PS3, PS4, and Xbox One, as a part of their Kingdom Hearts compilations. They also did an HD re-release of the PSP’s Final Fantasy Type-0 in 2015, though the original version never saw an international release.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy has a rich and wonderful legacy on PSP, and I hope Square doesn’t neglect it for too long.