The original Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII is a game I remember most fondly. Not only because of my love for Final Fantasy VII and its world as a whole, but because it represented a turning point of sorts in the way that I consumed games. Crisis Core was one of the first I was able to import from Japan thanks in part to the delay between the Western release, and the emergence of easier ways to obtain said titles overseas.
Of course, times have changed since then and the era of simultaneous worldwide releases is forever upon us, but that wasn’t always the case. So armed with my copy of Crisis Core in Japanese, my PSP would become its exclusive home for a long time as I played and played and played through it some more. By the time the English version did roll around, I’d completed Crisis Core several times over and there really wasn’t any specific need for me to dive back in again. There wasn’t anything specifically different about the game that warranted a sixth or seventh go at it. Until now.
Fast forward 15 years (yes, that’s fifteen whole years) since the original PSP release and Square Enix has finally deemed it fit to shed the limitations of that handheld platform and be revitalized for the modern era. The appropriately titled Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion is headlining the December release slate across multiple platforms as it promises to be “more than a remaster.” And it really has to be because Crisis Core isn’t some “easy” upscale project. This game was developed for PSP and those visuals certainly don’t hold up too well today even if they were impressive for their time.
The good news is, Crisis Core Reunion certainly doesn’t look like it came from the PSP. In fact it might be the most impressive remaster project to date.
Impressive though it may be, let’s get one thing straight: Crisis Core Reunion is not a remake. I’ve seen this kind of discourse floating around from people who may have seen our preview coverage, and while yes, the game looks amazing considering it’s roots, it’s not a remake in the traditional sense. It’s a prettied-up remaster that still relies heavily on its origins. That is to say, the original bones largely remain, and you can see this directly in things like the level layouts, the character animations and copious amounts of cutscenes that were put in place to likely help with the loading on PSP. It’s not a bad thing at all though, don’t get me wrong. Crisis Core Reunion looks great, but to call it a remake just isn’t quite right. It’s still the same Crisis Core we remember, just with what amounts to a modern coat of paint.
As for what said “modern coat of paint” means, well, there’s a lot. The modeling has seen a massive overhaul from the characters to enemies and the environments and other objects – no stone remains unturned when it comes to revamping these visuals, which is necessitated by the transition to the high-definition era. On top of that, we’ve got high resolution textures all over and a new lighting system that puts Crisis Core Reunion along the same vibes as other modern titles such as Final Fantasy VII Remake. There seemed to be a large, concentrated effort to homogenize the look of Final Fantasy VII in the contemporary environment.
Despite these improvements, there is a bit of a caveat, and this ties back to what I said about Crisis Core Reunion not being a remake. Its status as a remaster shows through in several smaller areas – for example, the character animations. Don’t go in expecting something like FFVII Remake because you’re not going to get that. Instead, it does feel like the developers have leaned a bit on the original skeletons created for the PSP version. The result is high poly models often looking stiff or somewhat janky when they’re moving around or talking. They’ve also made use of a lot of the original CGI cinematics, just upscaled – though there are a couple new ones for the summons. You’ll get used to it but it’s clear the focus was on making Crisis Core Reunion look the part more than anything else.
While the foundations of Crisis Core Reunion remain the same, that also extends to the narrative. It’s still the same story pre-FFVII about an overly eager SOLDIER named Zack who you may or may not remember from other media. You’ll take control of him as he levels up to SOLDIER 1st Class and discovers the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows as he once perceived it to be. He has a friend named Angeal, who has a friend named Genesis and Sephiroth is involved somewhere in there too. Things happen and Zack gets pulled into their dramatic conflict. I won’t spoil any more for those who haven’t experienced Crisis Core in any form but the long and short of it is, it remains a fine way for fans to dip their feet into the world of Midgar before taking on the bigger, meatier games like FFVII or Remake.
Now, there is actually a good number of changes to Crisis Core Reunion from the original and it’s this part that makes it “more than a remaster” in my view. The largest change is present in the battle system. This is a good thing because the original on PSP was somewhat clunky and it was hard to control at times. Now though, things have been streamlined to feel smoother and strung together in a way that echoes FFVII Remake. For example, Zack can string together normal attacks and then make use of an Ability Materia to strike a stronger blow. This is evident on screen when the damage numbers light up in orange. There’s also several quality-of-life additions in the user interface that show off your spoils post battle and the like, and the addition of a sprint button to help you get around faster. They’ve also done up all the dialogue with voice over where the original was only select scenes, which is something that helps the world feel more alive. Just little things that elevate the overall experience. Of course, side content like the individual missions you can take on remain largely as they are, and you can still mess around with materia in the materia fusion system. There’s a good mix of those new gameplay elements along with the old.
The old mechanics that remain do stand out, however. Once specific instance that felt grating is a stealth segment where Zack must crouch around and infiltrate a snowy area. If you’re spotted, you get booted out and have to fight some enemies before trying to make your way back through again. It’s this type of design philosophy that’s straight out of the PSP era and hasn’t exactly aged well. The same goes for a lot of the missions you can do that take place in a small area constrained to those same limitations. If anything it says once again that Crisis Core Reunion is very much chained to those past designs.
Despite those shortcomings, Crisis Core Reunion serves to remind me that Crisis Core was always a great game and now it’s even better. It feels good to revisit it after so many years, on a platform that I don’t have to dig out of the closet to play again. The PlayStation 5 version runs buttery smooth and looks sharp at 4K and 60 frames per second. The addition of HDR and a remastered soundtrack put their mark on what is no doubt the definitive release and a further feather in the cap that is the Final Fantasy VII universe. With plenty more on the way, there’s never been a better time to dig in.
Disclaimer: PlayStation 5 review code provided by the publisher Square Enix.