LOS ANGELES--Square Enix might have saturated the Japanese market with its Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, but those of us outside that small island nation have had to satisfy ourselves with watching Advent Children over and over again. Fortunately, we're finally in line to see some of the spin-off FFVII titles, including Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII. A role-playing game for your mobile phone might not sound all that exciting, but we got to pick up and play Before Crisis on a really nice phone on the E3 show floor, and we were pleasantly surprised. The game looks very sharp, and the play seems perfectly suited to the platform and controls available--more on that in a bit.
We picked the game up at a point where a young Turk (surely any FFVII fan remembers Shin-ra's elite enforcement squad) named Crisis is walking the streets of the city of Midgar, when he comes under attack from some unknown goons. He defeats them handily, and they go down crying about revenge against Shin-ra. Crisis reports events to his superior, the sleek and expressionless Tseng, who in turn relates the situation to a man named Verdot. Verdot is concerned that thugs are turning on Turks in the street and sends Tseng and Crisis to investigate further.
Tseng asks Crisis to capture and question one of the unknown group, and the rookie Turk cuts through several of the men before coming to the gate of a mako reactor. It turns out that the group is plotting to set explosives at the reactor, which would destroy the entire city of Midgar. Crisis has to fight off a bunch of goons to get to the reactor and is almost overwhelmed before a friendly face shows up in the form of the fiery-haired, grinning Reno. Reno holds the group off while you prevent the explosives from being set, but upon reemerging it's clear to you that Reno has bitten off more than he can chew. A man named Sears has shown up and wiped the floor with Reno, and he then pounds Crisis into the ground until he gets called away by his comrades.
As you can probably gather, Before Crisis features a lot of storytelling and dialogue in addition to the action, true to Final Fantasy form. It's not a game that skimps on narrative, but the story bits come in small bursts in between action periods, so it's perfectly digestible in delivery. As for battle itself, you'll run into enemies in the world, and the game will cut to a separate battle screen. The fights are entirely action-based, though, so you won't be standing around, patiently waiting your turn to move. Using the navigation buttons on the phone, you can move freely all through the battle zone as you like and hit a button when you're near enemies to slice them with your sword. Actually, if you press the melee button, you'll automatically target the nearest enemy and move to attack him, which makes things pretty effortless. In addition to cutting people up, you can also use a button to select from a list of magical attacks, then target the friend or foe of your choice to cast it on. We had a choice of thunder and cure spells, which came in very handy.
A third option was called "materia aid," and when we fought with Reno, a tutorial explained that we could use this feature when a certain onscreen meter was full to summon a friend to our side to cast magic and help fight. Unfortunately, this particular feature was disabled in the demo version, so we weren't able to try it out. After we were victorious in battle, we earned experience points, not only for our character, but also for the thunder and cure spells, suggesting that you'll naturally level up your spells over time.
The game looked very sharp on the demo phone, with well-defined and detailed character portraits and lean, lanky character models running around the city and mako reactor, which had a simple layout but still looked nice. There were a number of signs up in the city, for example, and the reactor core had a mysterious liquid running all through it. Even the animation was smooth, and the controls were easy to learn and were responsive. The phone's vibrate function would kick in every time Crisis got a cell phone call from Tseng, which was a really nice touch.
Providing that you have a phone that can handle the game (US phone and carrier information for this game is not yet available), Before Crisis looks like an engaging little RPG that any Final Fantasy VII fan could easily get into. When we learn more, this gamespace will feature it prominently, so stay tuned for more information on this mobile-bound FFVII side story.