Originally released for the PSP in 2007, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was a prequel to the 1997 classic, Final Fantasy VII — a game that is irrevocably a part of the fabric of gaming in a way that few will ever replicate. The entire franchise has its claws in gaming, but FF7 has a special place in many gamers’ hearts unlike any other.
But Crisis Core was not a simple rehashing of the tale of the pouty protagonist Cloud, and nor is Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion a reimagining of Crisis Core the same way that the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is. Instead, this is a faithful rebuilding of what is arguably one of the greatest games released on the PSP.
Right from the off, the similarities between Crisis Core and Final Fantasy 7 are apparent, and that’s because this game tells Cloud’s origin story, as seen through the eyes of the Soldier that his personality and memories are constructed around – Zack Fair.
But Zack is not Cloud. It’s fitting that our spikey black-haired friend made his debut on the PSP. While he starts out as a bit of a weird and bemusing accessory, he quickly grows into the ill-fated Zack we know and love today. Replaying his journey while knowing full-well how it ends has been bittersweet. This game really is essential playing for fans of Cloud’s story, and this is the best version of the game we’re going to get, which makes the game’s occasional gut-punches all the more painful. To this day, I still can’t so squats without thinking about Crisis Core.
Crisis Core Reunion takes the 2007 original and rebuilds it in a modern Unreal Engine 4 for vastly more powerful consoles, remixing some parts of the gameplay along the way. It’s not as ambitious as the recent Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but the graphics are almost always fantastic, and gameplay is fast and fluid. The voice cast from FF7R is carried over to this version of the game too, helping tie the two games together.
The only real graphical issues come exclusively in the form of reusing original CG scenes from Crisis Core — these are few and far between, but they are jarring nonetheless. Why upscale and redo everything else, but leave these looking like relics of the past? It’s an odd decision that is ultimately to the detriment of the experience.
However, this philosophy of keeping true to the original carries throughout — even the slightly jarring pauses and animations when characters come to a stop are there. For the old guard like me, this is quaint and amusing, but I’m not sure how it will sit with the uninitiated.
One thing that even the old guard will find is that that the combat-based Digital Mind Wave system is still as impenetrable as before. The DMW is a slot machine that sits in the top left of the screen and controls your limit breaks, summons, and level ups — both of Materia and your character level. It just sits there spinning endlessly — you can’t interact with it, you just have to pray to the Goddess that the right things pop up at the right time. It wasn’t a great system then, as evidenced by the fact that it wasn’t used anywhere else, and it’s not a good system now.
That aside, combat is a lot faster and smoother than it was before. Crisis Core Reunion ditches the fixed camera views in combat for an FF7R-like follow cam, and modern consoles having many more buttons than the PSP means there’s less menu cycling to use your abilities. You can get in and out of combat incredibly quickly, which is a great improvement on the original.
But, as we’ve ascertained, it’s not all upsides here. The downside to making a faithful remaster is that the missions are still incredibly repetitive and, dare I say, boring once you’ve seen the same half-dozen locales repurposed for the twentieth time. Missions are your primary way of upgrading your loadout, both in terms of what Materia you can hold and how many you can hold at once, which means these are an essential part of the game. However, they do quickly become very samey and a bit of a chore.
The other weird carry-over is the game’s bizarre love of minigames. Each mission has something, whether it’s an awful sniper section or you needing to cut missiles out of the air for no good reason. These bits feel like they would have benefited from a less faithful approach, but then how would those who missed out on the original get to play this little slice of history? Again, I’m torn, but I’m incredibly happy for this trip down memory lane.
I’ve got the Switch version waiting under the tree – and it’s apparently a great port!