Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a PSP exclusive spinoff from 2007 that's often remembered fondly through the tinted goggles of nostalgia. In truth, the original Crisis Core was a messy game when it first released, and it's only gotten worse with age. Much like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the animated film that flanked it, Crisis Core was packed with cool ideas that appealed to fans of the original Final Fantasy VII — but its execution of these ideas was often misjudged.
For all its issues, though, it's easy enough to argue that Crisis Core deserves a second chance, especially now that we live in an age where Final Fantasy VII Remake is a reality. And so here we are, with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, an extensive remaster — not remake — of Zack Fair's angsty adventures through the ranks of Shinra's elite military force, SOLDIER.
Now, Square Enix has been hit and miss with its remasters in recent years. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is probably one of the best remasters money can buy — but then you've got Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, which still runs like dog muck on PS4. Thankfully, Reunion is much more in line with the former. Overall, it's an immaculate graphical upgrade on the PSP original, boasting remade character models and environmental assets — while also sporting an overhauled user interface taken straight from Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The change in art direction might rub some fans the wrong way, however. 2007's Crisis Core had a character style reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, with big shiny eyes and cartoonish facial animations. And while Reunion reuses most of those goofy (pun not intended) movements, the cast are much more 'realistic' in appearance — presumably in an attempt to make it look like the new Remake saga. For us, it works as intended, and Crisis Core now feels like it's part of Remake's ongoing world. But others may not feel the same.
At least you can't argue with the remaster's performance. It's an unwavering 60 frames-per-second at 4K resolution on PS5, and at times, it almost looks as good as Remake — especially when the sparks are flying during combat.
The only thing that lets Reunion down in terms of presentation is those aforementioned animations. In the game's more static dialogue scenes — of which there are many — these comically overdone animations can look downright stupid now that the character models are so much more realistic. There's definitely a noticeable disconnect between the game's old-school (and relatively cheap looking) in-game cutscenes, and how good the remaster looks as a whole.
But let's face it: Crisis Core has always been an incredibly dumb game. Even for a 2000s Japanese RPG, even for a Nomura-led Square Enix project, even for Final Fantasy at its most overdramatic, Crisis Core has some truly horrific writing. Tiny, tiny bits of the script have been altered in Reunion, but the point still stands. The storytelling frequently borders on nonsensical, and protagonist Zack is constantly left in the dark by his superiors, who just so happen to love speaking in hilariously overwrought riddles. If you're not familiar with the original release, you're in for a ride.
Is the game's jaw-droppingly awkward approach to plot delivery part of its charm, though? We're tempted to say yes. There is something endearing about just how stupid Crisis Core can be. It walks a very fine line between being actually crap and being so bad that it's entertaining. We've played this before and we know how it ends, but we still caught ourselves buying into Zack's struggles, and thinking "Sephiroth is so cool" every time he appeared on screen.
Much of what makes Crisis Core tick is basically fan service, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. The game goes out of its way to show you just how much of a badass Sephiroth and his SOLDIER friends are, while also providing hints of interesting backstories for many of Final Fantasy VII's personalities. Even if it is dumb, Crisis Core does, ultimately, help flesh out one of the most beloved worlds in gaming.
And there's no question that Reunion is the best way to experience it. Even if you're not on board with the new character models, or the redone voice acting (honestly, the new Zack is questionable at best), the numerous gameplay adjustments tip the scales beyond doubt.
By far the biggest improvements lie in the remaster's combat. Fights in the original were decidedly wonky affairs where the game couldn't quite decide whether it was an action title or a command-based battler. It certainly didn't come close to achieving the hybrid heaven of Remake's system, and so Reunion takes much needed cues from Cloud's most recent outing.
Zack is faster on his feet and his attacks are easier to combo. His dodge roll is more responsive and more evasive, and the result is what feels like a real action RPG that rewards proper timing and knowledge of your opponent's capabilities. It's a massive step up.
It's worth noting that you only play as Zack in Crisis Core. There are no party members, and so the trademark Materia system plays an important role in keeping things interesting. By completing side missions, you'll acquire a library of stat-boosting and ability-granting orbs, letting you customise Zack's loadout to suit the situation. Rewarding stuff, proving once again that Square struck gold with Materia in Final Fantasy VII.
But not all systems can be universally praised. Crisis Core's most divisive mechanic is the so-called Digital Mind Wave — or DMW for short. Essentially, it's a slot machine that sits in the top left corner of the screen during battles. It's always spinning, and when it hits lucky, you get access to buffs, special attacks, and summons. It's a weird thing, but now that combat has been overhauled for the better, the DMW isn't nearly as frustrating as it once was. With Zack capable of holding his own in tougher fights, you don't need to rely on lady luck to give you a necessary edge, which means that the DMW is now more of a fun extra — as it always should have been.
All of these combat improvements are key, because other areas of the experience are lacking to say the least. The game's environmental design was basic and boring in 2007, and that hasn't changed — even if the backdrops do look a lot better. Mission locations are just corridors filled with encounters, and depending on how deeply you dive into the side quests, you're going to be seeing those same corridors over and over and over again. Crisis Core can be a very repetitive game, and its portable origins become increasingly clear when you're churning through bite-sized optional content.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a top tier remaster of a flawed and often comically awkward spinoff. But for all of its angsty melodrama, the story of Zack Fair is an endearingly daft tale that only adds to the world of Final Fantasy VII. It's hard not to enjoy the blatant fan service and completely over-the-top cinematics, while the overhauled combat system is infinitely better than it once was. A worthy second chance.