The triumph of Final Fantasy VII Remake continues to have ripple effects through the original Fantasy VII’s legacy. Case in point: After 14 years trapped in PSP purgatory, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII has finally been brought to new platforms. Out of the two major FFVII spinoff titles—the other being the overwrought Dirge of Cerberus—Crisis Core was always the more vital and narratively exciting, filling in a major piece of lore from Cloud Strife’s backstory. But a clumsy combat system and some atrocious cinematic direction made getting to the good stuff an ordeal. If nothing else, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion definitively fixes one of those problems, and manages to be endearing despite the persistence of the other.
No, Reunion isn’t the same top-to-bottom overhaul that Remake was; it’s more than a remaster but not by a world-changing degree. The lion’s share of the upgrades have been applied mostly to the presentation. The original Crisis Core’s CG cutscenes have been remastered and render at a dazzling 4K resolution, while everything in-game is now running on Remake’s graphics engine. The stiffness in the character movements is a dead giveaway of Crisis Core’s origins, but in the thick of it all, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the world of Midgar all over again.
Things aren’t nearly as forward-thinking in terms of the voice acting. Reunion does get a brand-spanking new voice track that features much of Remake’s cast, including Tyler Hoechlin, who gets to stretch a little more as a pre-Nibelheim Sephiroth. But the new cast is constrained to the stiff, awkward direction of the original performances. This was an unforgiveable flaw when Crisis Core was first released—a year after Portal and BioShock, and the same year as Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV—and it feels more seismic now given the result of the actors’ lip sync.
The sour notes of the voice track make for a rather steep barrier of entry right as Crisis Core kicks into motion, but even if the performances were award-worthy across the board, it would still be difficult to see the first half of the game as anything but a wheel-spinning affair. After all, the first few hours are focused on a rather generic goose chase with Shinra SOLDIERs Sephiroth, Angeal, and our cheery golden retriever of a player protagonist, Zack, trying to hunt down a deserter, a one-winged opera-quoting drama king named Genesis.
This stretch isn’t without its charms. We catch gentle glimpses of Zack and Aerith’s relationship, and our main antagonists are complex, honor-bound military men rather than bog-standard, ever-brooding anime villains. But there’s a lot of cringy, adolescent filler in between, and in the wake of Final Fantasy XV and Remake showing us what Final Fantasy looks like all grown up, Crisis Core feels like an ancient relic on par with Spirits Within’s Aki Ross posing for Maxim.
Crisis Core’s second half, after Zack goes on a forced leave, is where things get really interesting, as the game starts filling in the blanks left open by the original FFVII. There are a few unnecessary retcons, such as Genesis showing up in one of FFVII’s most pivotal moments, which is bound to leave a sour taste for most players. But the story starts building up some heady drama fast, and Zack winds up being our emotional anchor through it all, a noble, heroic presence keeping his head up, and carrying us through some wild twists and turns.
You don’t get anything resembling the spectacular Stance system here until extremely late in the game, but you still get to enjoy the ingenious Digital Mind Wave during combat, a sort of slot machine that gives you temporary buffs or allows you to get various limit breaks and level your materia for a short time. That’d be a nifty gimmick by itself, but it’s also perfectly weaved into the story of the game. Every slot on the machine corresponds to a lesson, a person, a moment in Zack’s life, and seeing those elements roll up and trigger memories or new abilities during combat adds a fascinating narrative layer to every fight in the game.
Crisis Core’s combat has always looked flashy, but now, the stiff, unresponsive PSP controls have been loosened up just enough to make it feel much more of a piece with Remake. Unfortunately, those looking for more of a shakeup to the original Crisis Core, especially given the jaw-dropping twists that were dropped at the end of Remake, will be disappointed.
But, then, this Reunion clearly didn’t set out to push the Remake universe forward so much as remind us of what Remake rebelled against. FFVII and Crisis Core were ultimately stories of inevitability and tragedy, while Remake was about defiance. Even with some much-welcome extra polish, Reunion still feels like a game of the past, but it’s also a strong reminder of why FFVII fans are so immensely excited about the future, and what defying the fates might bring.
This game was reviewed with code provided by fortyseven communications.