At the start of the Crisis Core Journal, you might remember me saying that covering the Compilation of FFVII would be difficult because the first game of the compilation had never been released in English, even though “it’s plugged into the ass of all the other Compilation games despite most of the world never seeing it.” I was referring to Before Crisis – Final Fantasy VII –, originally released in 2004. But despite that game never being released internationally, a video of its story missions did reach the English web, and that video has been translated – multiple times, in fact! While I can’t play the game myself, I think doing a writeup of the playthrough could also be helpful, since very few fans seem to have actually watched those translated videos (hit counts start off in the tens of thousands but eventually trickle as low as 500 in some series!), so I imagine that most Final Fantasy fans have only experienced the story in part or in the brief wiki summaries. It could be helpful and fun!
And yet I didn’t cover it during the original run of the Compilation of FFVII! What gives? (Ed. Specifically, this went up after our coverage of FFT and FFVIII, so don’t mind the occasional reference!) I knew all this going in, but didn’t want to interrupt the spirit of the Marathon by experiencing it without Kyle. Also, uh… even I couldn’t be arsed to watch the whole ~15 hours of longplay. But lo, the days did come when I could be arsed to watch the whole ~15 hours of longplay! And I didst watch that longplay, and now, I shalst comment upon it! So consider this something of a Compilation of FFVII Marathon Appendix. The first chronological FFVII game, covered dead last, and not as a record of a playthrough between friends, but as a record of a longplay watched by friends at different times and also Kyle didn’t finish it but he did get really far so don’t hold that against him. Not exactly our usual purview, but if not in the spirit of the Marathon, then certainly in the spirit of the “play every game” completionism that rests at the heart of the Marathon, and I think that’s close enough.
Before Crisis was an early, online cell phone social game starring that other famous Shinra organization, the Turks. The game was originally released in September 2004, and received story updates over the next year and a half, with a few special episodes released at dates I can’t find on the English web (though one must have been as late as 2007, for reasons I’ll explain when we get to it – for this reason, if not others, the videos we’ll be seeing include a 2007 copyright). The original game was released for DoCoMo phones, specifically the FOMA 900i line, and required a monthly subscription. The game was later spread to Softbank Yahoo!, which provided service to 3G phones, and EZWeb, which worked with worked with Samsung’s WIN BREW line of Windows phones. The DoCoMo version was arguably definitive, since it eventually received all the exclusive content attached to the Yahoo! and EZWeb versions. I mean, to whatever degree any version of a dead game can be considered “definitive.”
The video source we’re going to be using for this look-through was recorded by a Nico Nico Douga user named Ririn. No one on the English web seems to know how the hell Ririn got such relatively high-quality recordings. It’s not like they tended to make capture cards for early-2000s cell phones, after all! As I implied above, there are numerous English translations of the playthrough. My translation of choice is by a user named Grimoire Valentine, formerly of now-defunct site FFVII Excavation (Before Crisis subsite), links provided via the Wayback Machine. Out of respect to this Grimoire as a real person, I will actually address as them “Grimoire Valentine,” a courtesy I did not extend to their fictional counterpart. If you’re interested in alternate translations, you can find an older but incomplete one here (I used to have a link to a second one that was complete, but it’s been taken down). One thing I should note is that I haven’t been able to find Ririn’s original video, which actually causes some problems along the way, as I’ll note. Besides these videos, Grimoire Valentine also provided a few text-only translations at the FFVII Excavation site, which I’ll link to via the Wayback Machine when appropriate. Because I know most readers won’t have watched the playthroughs, I’m going to cover in a little more detail than usual to try to give you the whole experience, though I admit that may cost us in the jokes department. Que sera.
Before Crisis puts you in charge of a roster of rookie Turks, each with their own capabilities. I’m going to start by discussing your playable characters, matching the player experience of selecting their first pick. Unfortunately, this is going to take so long that I’m going to have to split this opening post into two and post both on launch day. This is something I started doing during FFVIII for anyone coming to this review first. If you’re ready to read them both, they’ll both be here for you to read!
Before Crisis is an action RPG, and each character has their own distinct attack patterns has you unlock their weapons, so there was definitely some merit in experimentation! There were only four Turks available for the game’s initial launch on DoCoMo, but the EZWeb and the Softbank Yahoo! versions each launched with their own, exclusive fifth character. Both exclusive characters were eventually back-ported to DoCoMo (although I don’t know when), giving a late-join DoCoMo player a starting roster of six. As the player proceeds through the story, you’ll be introduced to new Turks who join your squad… although it’s not clear to me if these characters were unlocked only for people who had reached that part of the story, or if they were just added to the roster for everyone during the same update. In any event, these additional characters lead to a total roster of 9 (DoCoMo original), 10 (EZWeb, Yahoo!), or 11 (DoCoMo revised) total Turks. Ririn seems to be playing the revised DoCoMo version (so we know the revision happened at least by 2007), as we later see group shots of all 11 Turks.
Despite this wide spread of player characters, Ririn’s playthrough will only be showing us one. I don’t know how frequent that would have been among the player-base: was it better to focus on just one character, and the character selection was just a way to inflate the game’s replay value in between updates, or is this unusual on Ririn’s part? This also leaves me with a few questions about gameplay that Ririn’s playthrough leaves unanswered. Do all the Turks share a level, or do you level them up individually? If they levelled up individually, that would certainly explain why Ririn focuses on just one! This game has a materia system (as you can see in some screenshots below), but do they share materia, or do they each have their own inventory? I know for a fact that they don’t share weapon upgrades, but do you have to earn the upgrades by using the character, or can you use anyone?
Still, we do know a handful about the other playable characters, so let’s give them a look-see. As I said earlier, these rookies are named by the player, but since most of them appear in the non-canon OVA Last Order, they were also given names in Last Order‘s credits by Studio MadHouse (who also responsible for BC’s trailer, the source of the screenshots in this post), so I’ll address those as well. First up is “Rod (Male),” since every Turk is known by their gender and weapon on fansites. I’m not sure how the tradition started, but Occam’s Razor suggests that the game calls them that on the naming screen. Rod (Male), or “Alvis” as Last Order calls him, is a redhead who fights with a baton, basically making him a substitute Reno for anyone who wanted to play as Reno. All he’s missing is the goggles and cigarette! According to the wiki, Alvis’ backstory is that he’s an ex-con and gang-leader, who was arrested and recruited after a failed attempt to rob a Shinra garage. He’s the only melee character in the starting roster, and no wonder, since the game doesn’t seem to have been built for that kind of silliness. Still, they must have gotten comfortable with the idea, because they only added more melee fighters as development went on!
Next up is Gun (Female), aka Emma. Emma is a Midgardian, specifically a resident of the slums, despite being the daughter of a Shinra instructor (geeze, Shinra, pay your senior thugs!). We’ll be hearing a little more about her as we go along, as she’s one of only two player characters who has a unique impact on the story. And yes, that is a little weird.
Next, we find Two Guns (Male), aka Ruluf, ex-bodyguard to Don Corneo. Not much to say about him. He’s like Gun (Female) but with a wider, yet weaker, bullet spread.
Our star for Ririn’s playthrough is going to be Shotgun (Female), aka Freyra, whom Ririn appears to have simply named “Shotgun.” Shotgun’s backstory is that she’s one of Midgar’s upper class, and is also an experienced hunter, something she mentions from time to time in the games’ dialogue. All of the game’s events seem to occur in the exact same fashion for all characters, but when it comes to individual lines of dialogue, they get a chance to show their individual characters. Oh, and by the way, I am going to keep calling her “Shotgun” instead of “Freyra.” It’s what Ririn (or Grimoire) appears to call them, so that’s what I’m going with!
Next up, the version exclusive characters. These two didn’t appear in Last Order and so don’t have personal names. The Softbank Yahoo! exclusive character was Nunchaku (Male). The wiki tells me that Nunchaku was a rich son of… Bone Village? Bone Village doesn’t have any permanent residents, much less rich residents! I respect you splitting up the cast around the globe, but did you have to call him a rich, sheltered boy from Bone Village?
The other exclusive character, originally for EZweb, is Knife (Female), born and raised in Corel but orphaned and wounded in some unspecified conflict involving Shinra. Since we never see her in action, it’s not clear if she stabs with or throws her knives, although I suspect the latter given how she holds her knives in official art.
That wraps up our extended preamble, so let’s get down to business. It’s time to be bad guys. Again.
Screenshots in this Journal come from a subtitled video playthrough of Before Crisis (believed to be a playthrough of the DoCoMo release), originally played by Ririn and subtitled by Grimoire Valentine. The playthrough is available on YouTube.