Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is magical
It’s been 16 years since Square Enix first released Final Fantasy: Crisis Core on the PlayStation Portable console, and in that time gameplay has changed a lot. Some time ago, portable gaming and large console gaming could be different experiences. Not any more.
It’s especially important to me because the game’s re-release, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, gives me another chance to appreciate a title I didn’t really love all those years ago. Square is in the midst of a Final Fantasy VII resurrection, led by FF VII Remake in 2021, and another episode of it coming (hopefully) late this year. And Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is the latest entry in the FF VII comeback.
It is also a game with a spirit all its own. Crisis Core follows the story of Zack Fair, another spike-headed protagonist, but one completely different from the more familiar Cloud of FF VII fame. Fair makes a brief appearance in the original FF VII, sacrificing herself so Cloud can escape. And in Crisis Core, he finally gets his story told.
It’s this story that draws you to the game – and it shines when it’s remade on the big screen. That’s partly because of Zack’s story, and partly because of the backstory of what you already know from Final Fantasy VII. Where Cloud is brooding and isolationist, Zack, who becomes a soldier in Shinra and ends up fighting alongside more venerable heroes like Angeal and the eventually infamous Sephiroth, is impressionable, excitable, a fool. From the beginning to the end of the game, he seems built to put Cloud together, and you can’t help but embrace him in a different way.
You quickly invest in his story as well, and the story doesn’t just develop him. You get a strong look at Sephiroth in a new way, especially as the story develops and Zack finds himself teaming up with the eventual villain to hunt down his mentor.
This was a good story almost two decades ago, but it’s even better now. Square overhauls all the visuals, and you can see it in the detail of both Sephiroth and Zack’s hair, and the texture of the material on Zack’s Shinra uniform. These images extend to several extremely detailed locations, many of which we will see again when Remake Part II arrives. Add in amazing voice acting and the story comes to life in a way it never did on my tiny PSP screen. It all makes Sephiroth’s tale terribly sad; it was hard for this not to hold my attention.
You play this game for the amazing story, but the gameplay also holds up its end of the bargain. Where the original FF VII’s turn-based mechanics feel dated today, Crisis Core has always had a more modern approach to combat. It was essentially the hack-and-slash action in self-contained battles you’d expect from Final Fantasy.
But the twist: DMW, or Digital Mind Wave, which was essentially a slot machine that is constantly being played. When things went right in battle, Zack was given special bonuses in battle (imagine using no MP cost for a while), or given chances to summon or take off limit moves. It leads to frenetic-paced combat that challenges you to target key enemies, remember their weaknesses and take advantage of your bonuses. There’s no button-mashing here: use the perks you have when you have them, or you’ll go flat. Other standard game conventions, such as materials and equipment, also give you more to dive into and explore.
Only two relics hold back the excellent gameplay. First is a holdover from the game’s portable days: You have a lot of ultra-short sidequests in this game. It makes sense since this was originally built for gaming on the go: ultra-fast missions mean a lot of gaming. You just wish Square tied these quests into the story better; as built, they feel like filler, absent much of the voice acting and the brilliant scene of the main story.
The other problem: The overwhelming amount of random battles (many in these side quests). Most modern JRPGs offer some option to avoid these battles; here you have to wear them.
By and large, however, they are worth undertaking simply because the story and presentation are so magical. This is no longer just a PSP game. It’s an important part of FF VII lore, and it’s finally coming into its own now.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox 1, Xbox Series, Nintendo Switch, PC