Well, this is easy: there’s just one playable character. I guess it was inevitable, since Crisis Core is, to all intents and purposes, Zack’s story. But maybe upgrading some of the other characters to party members, even for a little while, would have made them more memorable.
Zack: Black-haired and unnaturally blue-eyed due to SOLDIER’s compulsory Mako injections, Zack starts out the game as naïve and overeager (Angeal compares him to a puppy), but also willing to learn from his role model. Once Angeal disappears (i.e. very quickly), Zack has no choice but to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being SOLDIER 1st Class as best he can, while dealing with Genesis’ shenanigans. It helps that Zack is a genuinely good person at heart: he’s cheerful, optimistic, dedicated, compassionate and always willing to help. The game charts his relationships with both Cloud and Aerith, which become pivotal in FFVII, and both paint him in a very flattering light. Heck, even his interactions with Sephiroth and Genesis are to his credit. Both Genesis’ and Zack’s character arcs revolve around becoming a hero, but while Genesis thinks he’s predestined to become one, Zack doesn’t take it for granted and actually works for it. I wouldn’t say that he develops all that much as a character over the game, since he’s quite obviously a great guy right from the start, but he does end up applying all the heroic ideals he’s been told about. Much to his detriment, unfortunately. His weapon of choice is a sword, and he can also use a healthy selection of materia to complement it, even though the best attack in the game involves him simply punching the enemy. Zack’s stats are very balanced, with a tiny slant towards melee, but you can tweak it all with judicious materia fusion, so it’s all a bit meaningless, especially since there aren’t any other characters to compare him to.
Aside from Zack, there’s a substantial list of supporting NPCs, but somehow, as already mentioned, all of the newcomers are completely one-dimensional and/or uninspiring. Even a character like Angeal, who’s supposed to have a life-defining influence on Zack, is introduced and then vanishes far too quickly to get across anything more than ‘honourable and stoic’. He’s more of an archetype than a character, really, regardless of what else happens to him over the course of the story, which lessens his impact overall, and the impact of the ending in particular. Cissnei is very cute and could have had potential as well, but again, her character development forgot to happen.
Among the recurring characters, Sephiroth and Cloud get some very welcome screen time in their respective ‘pre-insane’ and ‘pre-schizophrenic’ states which serves to flesh out their characters some more. I was also happy to see more of Tseng, who’s definitely easy on the eyes, even though he doesn’t really get much character development either.
Aerith…Well, I already disliked her in FFVII, so I didn’t expect that to change, but somehow, they’ve managed to make her even less likeable (in my eyes) by ramping up her girlishness, similarly to what happened to Rikku between FFX and FFX-2. Aerith’s modest pink dress and jacket have now become a frilly, strappy white number, while her practical walking boots are now platform sandals. And her personality has definitely taken a turn for the ditzier. Maybe this is meant to depict the fact that she was more cheerful and carefree before the events of the game took their toll on her, but it certainly doesn’t do her any favours, IMO.
A young Yuffie also makes a couple of appearances, just to cement the fact that she was just as annoying as a kid as she would be as a teenager.