Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Zack Fair's Death in Crisis Core

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last week's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future. I hope you enjoy traveling down my memory lane as much as I do!

 #10 - Zack's Death (Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII)

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was released in the US in 2008 for the Playstation Portable (PSP). It is the youngest game on my list of greatest memories. It is part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII which is an ongoing project to pump out more products related to one of the greatest games Squaresoft (now Square Enix) ever made. Sadly, I find the Compilation only diluting an otherwise marvelous game experience with superfluous nonsense that doesn’t add anything substantial to the main product, Final Fantasy VII. This particular game is the sixth product to come out in the Final Fantasy VII universe and attempts to provide back story to a character who is dead shortly before the events of the main attraction. My personal vote on adding to the Final Fantasy VII universe would have been to leave well enough alone, but if pressed I would have told you I was most interested in a prequel.

Unfortunately, all the things we know happened before the start of Final Fantasy VII are all more or less settings for missions without much plot or consequence. For example, we know Midgar (Shinra) was at war with Wutai where the villain of VII, Sephiroth was a triumphant war hero, but that still seems to go on in the background of Crisis Core rather than being fully developed. At every aspect where we could learn more about the history of this world from Final Fantasy VII this game just uses as a setting from which they launch new ideas, new plots, new antagonists; it's all junk I honestly don’t care about because when Final Fantasy VII starts all of these things are never mentioned – almost like they didn’t happen and have no consequence on the future story!

I consider all this stuff to distract from the powerful story of Final Fantasy VII rather than add to it or make it easier to understand. Though you get some interesting glimpses of Sephiroth before he becomes the tragic villain, the main draw of the game’s story is the one that actually impacts the events in Final Fantasy VII. That is Zack’s relationship with Aerith. It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t have made Wutai a villain and divulge all this information about the Wutai War that we know next to nothing about. Despite all these downfalls of the writing choices and the plot direction, the developers really packaged a surprisingly fun game to play. 

You control Zack Fair as he hacks and slashes his way through this action role-playing game by taking missions from Shinra and getting to know his SOLDIER (Shinra’s elite) companions. As he forges stronger relations with his friends and coworkers he gains access to new abilities which activate whenever his "Digital Mind Wave" slot-machine lines up their portraits. This seemingly random way to trigger abilities represents Zack’s memory of past events and people. Trust me when I say it seems kind of silly at first, but this device’s role in the ending is what makes the game all come together to an amazing moment. This all amounted to a really fun battle system and I found myself excited to take on more and more missions and hoping they would test my skills and my memory-slot-machine luck. I put the story aside and got into this character and his ability to tear through a battlefield. Zack is a very unusual protagonist in video games because he’s a prepackaged badass and that was quite fun and refreshing. He is, of course, unsure of himself due to being surrounded by greatness like Sephiroth. Nevertheless, Zack holds his own in combat and is amazingly fun to play.

The Game Needed More of This

 What this all comes down to, though, is how do they handle the ending? Will it all tie together with Final Fantasy VII? How will this game handle Zack’s death? I assumed it would be a cutscene filled with over-emotional dialogue, but the more I played the game the more I was wishing and hoping I’d get to fight it out. I wanted to stand on my feet before the countless waves of Shinra soldiers and make my final heroic stand against insurmountable odds. I feared I would not be allowed to do so, because most games don't use battles to convey strong emotional moments. This isn't true in Crisis Core and what I got defied all expectations.

Not only does the game allow you to stand off against innumerable enemies which you can fight until you’re blue in the face (or your PSP runs out of batteries) if you have the tenacity and the healing items. It also finally makes sense why they wanted to use this random slot-machine to trigger Zack’s memories. As he battles to his last breath, his life begins to flash before his eyes via this slot machine. He remembers people and places and events that give him strength. As the fight goes on the memories of his comrades begin to fade (stop showing up on the slots) and as his struggle to survive continues he remembers his mentor, Angeal, and his protégé, Cloud. When he’s unable to concentrate on anything else the entire slot machine appears to break, some panels stuck outright and others flickering the same image over and over – Aerith. Right before Zack succumbs to darkness of death’s sleep, his only thoughts are of his love, Aerith.

As I played through this battle, most of my mental energy was focused on trying to last as long as I can on this battlefield. It was surprising and amazing for me to see how much emotion they jammed into this (predominantly) action scene. I remember tearing up when I glanced at my slots and saw only Aerith appearing. I was so touched while playing Zack’s last stand. I expected (like every other moment of plot in the game) I’d be eye rolling and wondering what the writers were thinking, but instead I was treated to this innovative way to portray Zack's life flashing before his eyes all while I fight off these swarming soldiers. I was completely blown away. I feel the entire game exists for that moment. It uses the battle system (and terrible plot) to get me to feel something for Zack as a character, and then snatches him away while allowing the player to go out in a blaze of glory. It’s just an incredible experience and I wish the rest of the game had matched that amount of expression.

Zack and Aerith
It’s hard to recommend people play a game I’m not terribly fond of just to get to one of the most amazing scenes that I've experienced gaming. Though I was disappointed with most of the game's plot, the ends did justify the means. I was happy to have slogged through the terrible dialogue and unnecessary drama just to make it to this final battle. Though I wish the entire game could have maintained this level of intense emotional exploration and tied in with more of Final Fantasy VII, I'm also content to just throw it all away and hone in on that final moment of struggling to live and watching life slip away from a true hero. It was truly an epic ending.


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  1. It's amazing that you can like the ending so much and yet fail to comprehend the importance of what you call the game's "drama", which is all the great relationships Zack builds up with other characters. I've only seen the cutscenes, haven't had a chance to play the game, yet I was deeply moved by every single character.

    1. Even Genesis and LOVELESS? Everything about the two stink of melodrama that distract from telling a really wonderful story, and fail at every opportunity to flesh out the original game with background info about relevant topics like Shinra, The Turks, Wutai, Sephiroth. The only thing it even remotely tackles is Zack/Aerith (which I applaud) and to some extent SOLDIER.

    2. You must not like anime then. To me, what you call relevant topics is boring overarching drama. I'm more concerned with specific characters' stories because they're the ones people can relate to. And I don't hate Genesis. He is a little weird and at first does come off as slightly annoying, but as it turns out, even he in his own weird way has reasons for the things he does. As for Sephiroth, he was mentioned in some important scenes and actually made to seem human, which is a big difference from his appearances in the original game, Advent Children and Last Order. So far, at least, Zack is my favorite character from FF7 as a whole, and as far as female characters go, I wasn't particularly impressed with either Tifa or Aerith, but Cissnei was certainly interesting.