These sweet and strange strings. The tinkling glockenspiel pattern. The camera pans out to show the formidable Shinra corporation building that towers over the polluted slums of Midgar, lit up in sickly green. The hero arrives on a train and another Final Fantasy 7 adventure begins.
It’s a familiar opening for Final Fantasy 7 fans, especially those coming to Crisis Core for the first time, who have yet to experience the PSP prequel to Square Enix’s most popular game in its illustrious series. but eager to explore this world again.
And many fans have been won over the two and a half decades since Final Fantasy 7 was released on PlayStation. This means that now Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion (what a mouthful) has quite a bit of work to do, as a 2022 remaster of a 2007 prequel to a 1997 game that received a famous remake in 2020. C is for fans of the original PSP game looking for an update. This is for fans of the original JRPG looking for an expanded story. And it’s for Remake fans looking to experience the game’s roots – and maybe even a glimpse of what’s yet to come.
I can only speak for two of these three, having never played Crisis Core before, but like many fans, I’m very happy that Square Enix is finally making the game more widely available – and I can safely say that fans won’t want to miss this. Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion is a somewhat frivolous game, but it’s also fun. One that not only reinvigorates the PSP prequel, but legitimizes its existence to Final Fantasy 7 and Remake with newfound cohesion.
To give newcomers some context, Final Fantasy 7 is a story of eco-warriors stopping a corrupt society from destroying the planet, but its second half focuses on the skewed memories of main character Cloud. Crisis Core dives into the spin of this game (no, not this one) to deliver a deeper backstory on Cloud’s origins, leading directly into the events of the original and his exploration of identity – although I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the plot of three different games.
Cloud features in Crisis Core, but Zack Fair is the protagonist – a spunky, over-enthusiastic member of Shinra SOLDIER’s special forces pups with a curious urge to squat when stressed. And over the course of the plot, we also learn more about Shinra’s inner corruption and the downfall of the antagonist Sephiroth.
It’s pure fan service, but in the process it takes a flashback from the original and weaves it into a new story: introducing new characters, reintroducing old ones, and trying to make sense of some of the nonsense about the game. cloning, strange experiments and a theatrical production. . While initially intriguing and full of dramatic irony, it’s all a bit pointless. Zack’s story didn’t need to be told in such detail, and the additional characters here add little to the overall Final Fantasy 7 saga. Zack is a likeable character, but the game expands on what never has. really needed developing – if anything, Crisis Core over-explains the original plot to the point of cheapening it, undermining its subtle ambiguity.
That’s not to say Crisis Core isn’t fun, though, and anyone who’s played the PSP game will be aware of the plot flaws. If you put those aside, Square Enix has delivered a sensibly modernized remaster that, story aside, vastly improves on the original. Sounds like the definitive way to experience Crisis Core.
Graphically it’s a big improvement, with updated textures, a gorgeous lighting system, and character models in line with Remake’s. It’s not quite up to par with this game – animations remain a little stiff and lip-sync is noticeably off – but it’s clearly now part of the same saga. Menus, fonts, and UI are all pulled from Remake, merging those games into a cohesive whole.
The revamped combat system is also closer to Remake, given the new immediacy. Combat happens in real time and is particularly satisfying as Zack blocks attacks and dodges behind enemies for a critical hit, and so like Remake, battles feel fast and fluid rather than awkward, uninterrupted. Now, for example, magic and ability hotkeys can be assigned to six buttons accessible with the left bumper. These correspond to collected materia – orbs tied to spells, special moves, and stat buffs – which can be easily swapped out to customize Zack to suit your playstyle.
With use, matter increases to increase potency. Then it can be merged to form new ones – two maxed Fire spells merge to form the strongest Fira, and so on. This adds to Zack’s flexibility, but it also quickly translates to too much gear and not enough game to use them, as Crisis Core’s runtime is only around 15 hours. Despite the customization, Zack is the only playable character, which can get repetitive. Makes me wish another materia would stop gathering dust in a menu somewhere.
Returning from the original is the most innovative combat feature: the Digital Mind Wave (DMW). It’s basically a roulette wheel in the corner of the battle that’s constantly spinning. Certain number combinations will impact the battle, ranging from providing unlimited magic power for a short time to upgrading Zack and his equipped materia. Summons and limit overruns are tied to this system as well: the former is a welcome relief in combat, the latter has to do with Zack’s relationships with certain key characters. Now these moves are triggered by the player rather than automatically, which adds some control to the randomness.
The DMW makes up for the lack of party members and even includes additional cutscenes that play into the overall memory theme. It also makes battles ridiculously easy and trivializes bosses – I often found myself endlessly spamming strong attacks from a lucky spin. However, the randomness certainly keeps battles from getting too stale by putting a (sorry) twist on combat.
There are also other improvements in this remaster, especially with sound. All cutscenes are now fully voiced: it’s cinematic and indicative of Square Enix’s high production value. Additionally, the voices now match Remake, more reflective of that game’s presentation, and the soundtrack has also been revamped to modern standards. As expected, the orchestrated score is beautiful, from that evocative opening to heavy battle rock.
Despite the changes, however, Reunion still can’t hide the fact that this is a PSP game showing its age – and I’m not talking about flip phones. The gameplay is linear, the world includes several small areas with little room for exploration, and it’s mostly focused on combat rather than puzzle solving. That said, the hyper-focus on a smaller-scale character and story makes for a refreshing change from the grandeur of the JRPG opera.
The PSP hangover continues with the hundreds of additional side missions, accessible at save points. These are tiny, bite-sized missions that require navigating simple mazes of repeating assets – environments, enemies, and bosses. They quickly become tedious, but are necessary for leveling up and collecting solid materials.
On the other hand, these missions are often triggered by incoming emails which offer additional insight into the world and emphasize Zack’s job as a soldier for hire. Plus, many missions take place outside the walls of Midgar, providing exciting insight into what awaits in Cloud’s next adventure. Just be aware that Crisis Core doesn’t have a new, more typical game mode – saving after the credits retains experience and materia, but side mission progress is lost.
What remains to be seen is how important Crisis Core is to the plot of Final Fantasy 7 Remake as it returns for part two, Rebirth. The choice to remaster this game at this time reintroduces Zack to a new audience and, I suspect, suggests greater importance to him in the future. And what might that mean in the context of Cloud as an unreliable narrator, the theme of memory, changes to the original plot? It’s called Renaissance after all. It is certainly a tantalizing prospect.
Either way, despite an overdeveloped plot, Crisis Core Reunion goes beyond just a quick upgrade, making fundamental improvements to visuals, sound, and controls, and implementing them with care. There are flaws, but it’s still a joy to hang out with favorites Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth once again.