Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis is pretty good. More importantly, it might be the least obnoxious gacha game I’ve ever played.
Emphasis on might. At first glance – that is, via my time with last month’s closed beta – it feels like a full-fledged RPG first, mobile gacha second. Until the game’s been released, and folks have been given the requisite time with the optional real-world currency system, it’s impossible to say just how rough that stuff will be. What I can tell you is as follows. First, the gacha mechanics are tied entirely to weaponry. Second, Ever Crisis offers compelling content for those who, like me, don’t care much about having the best in-game trinkets at any given point, and just want to enjoy the story. Asterisk on that bit; I’ll explain later.
When it was announced, Square Enix’s master plan to retell the full original Final Fantasy VII in a fresh form, alongside everything from the old Compilation of FFVII, felt like one of those monkey’s paw situations. On the one hand, it’s cool that we’ll have modern takes on games that are otherwise unavailable in modern ways – Dirge of Cerberus isn’t a good video game, but it’s still worth checking out for Final Fantasy enthusiasts, and Before Crisis has never been officially localized. Checking out Crisis Core in this format so soon after the recent remaster is a little weird, but hey.
These are all good things… until the gacha thing enters the equation. Most of us have been practically trained at this point to tense up at the mention of that, and I can’t help wondering how much that automatic reaction has affected Square’s shrinking mobile gaming market.
So, yeah. Thank goodness Ever Crisis doesn’t show any immediate signs of being a quick cash-in, and it certainly shows no signs of being a low-rent one at that. This game’s gorgeous when it wants to be, with superb battle graphics. Even as you explore stages, Ever Crisis pops with exactly the kind of aesthetic I’d hoped for – a higher-definition spin on OG Final Fantasy VII’s layout.
That said, don’t expect the full-fat package to be playable the same way it once was; not every screen has been recreated, and not every segment lets you move around manually, resulting in a somewhat truncated spin. That’s a bummer, albeit not unexpected, and it’s partially made up for in a surprisingly novel approach. Chill little plot sequences with no gameplay save for a few dialogue options, where you get to know the gang a little better. That’s right, it’s truly new original-canon FFVII content. Cool.
As for Crisis Core and The First SOLDIER – both of which had their first chapters playable during the beta – the former follows suit with the approach to FFVII’s partial truncation, whilst the latter is basically an all-new thing, and not just because barely anybody played the briefly-lived battle royale.
The First SOLDIER’s inclusion is a treat, even if my initial encounter with its (previously cutscene-only) cast didn’t impress me much. The fact that Ever Crisis will, at least for however long it’s around, give fans a second attempt at that game’s setting means its premise won’t be lost to time… yet, anyway. Ugh, having to bear in mind that Ever Crisis itself may live on borrowed time is not fun – maybe given the way it’s designed, it can launch an offline version when that inevitable bell tolls.
Ever Crisis’ blend of original and Remake sensibilities means the fights are all shiny as heck, with a classic ATB gauge and automated normal attacks as the baseline, and several equippable manually-selected skills at the ready whenever the gauge is filled. It’s frankly the most impressive battle system execution I’ve seen that’s exclusively available on mobile devices.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes one of the hardest, too. Not that difficulty’s inherently a bad thing. In the proper context, it forces players to tap into their full arsenal of abilities, to try out bold new strategies, and to feel rewarded for their effort. But Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis leverages its relatively minimal gacha interruption almost entirely on this aspect, which means the story kicks it up numerous notches not just between chapters (by the end of the beta, we were able to play FFVII’s second chapter as well), but over the course of the chapters themselves.
You can grind a ton. It works. I did it myself. Here’s the thing. Ever Crisis’ gacha revolves around weapon pulls, meaning upgrading your characters’ weaponry can be done with in-game currencies as well as (natch) real cash. The difference that better weapons can make is quite pronounced, and the abilities that can come bolstered onto those weapons can make all the difference in the world. Aerith’s Fairy Tale, for example, includes an ability that lets her cast a high-level cure spell on the entire party. It’s a game-changer, and yes, it’s a rare draw.
I don’t want to be too harsh on this. I realize Square has to make a buck here. I wish this was a premium purchase, but Square knows better than most there’s a higher profit potential when the odds of drawing that Fairy Tale can be impacted considerably (though never entirely!) if you fork over a few bucks. And, in fairness, during my time with the beta I found there to be an adequate amount of in-game currency to help me with my pulls. Here’s hoping that doesn’t go away at launch.
Ever Crisis includes a Materia system, and hallelujah for that; a Final Fantasy VII product without Materia is like an egg without salt and pepper. Or something. Anyway, you can equip a few Materia at a time, and each Materia has its own little slot – we’ll call it a Mini-Materia slot, because why not? – which provides a potential passive boost dictated by a character’s weapon and that weapon’s level. It’s a neat little wrinkle, and I’m excited to see what Square does to diversify it over time.
In addition to weaponry, there’s also ‘sub-gear’, which is also well worth leveling up. Let’s put all this into perspective: your characters have levels as well as power levels; your weapons have levels; your Materia has levels; your sub-gear has levels; even unlockable alternate outfits can feature helpful boosts. In order to stay ahead of the story mission curve, or even comfortably alongside it, you want to be constantly increasing all of the above. This brings Ever Crisis’ grindy nature into sharper focus, methinks, though I do want to emphasize I’ve seen far worse in other gachas, and you probably have, too.
Replaying the same story chapters would get old fast, and Square Enix has wisely packed other mission types into the game from the get-go. There are remixed dungeon variants on those story stages, which grant players the opportunity to change their party not just within the confines of the particular game that’s being adapted, but across the fullness of Ever Crisis. This is great for grinding, and it can really do a number on foes whose weaknesses tend toward party members who aren’t normally around.
There’s a battle tower – think endless dungeon – that’s worth delving into sometimes. The rewards are solid, and again, it all adds up when you’re leveling to meet the needs of the games’ main stories.
All told, I’m excited to give Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis a try when the full version debuts. I’m not the biggest gacha player by any stretch, so well done, Square. I do wonder how much appeal a mobile-only reimagining of the Compilation of FFVII will hold, especially among Western audiences. It’s hard not to dwell a little on what might have been, had this been a package with a fixed price.
But again, they’ve got my interest piqued. I probably had more fun with Ever Crisis than I’ve had with any other gacha, and it’ll be interesting to see if word-of-mouth can spread – and spread positively – enough to summon a serious audience. We’ll be sure to continue the coverage regardless, so stay tuned for more.