If you loved Final Fantasy VII Remake back in 2020 and have been suffering through the long wait for part two like the rest of us, Square Enix has a little something to whet your whistle.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion (hereafter referred to as Crisis Core because that title is ridiculous) launches on every current console and PC on Dec. 13. Square Enix’s latest sojourn into the expansive world of Final Fantasy VII is a remake of a PSP classic from 2007, a game that I personally loved at the time and found frustrating that fewer people got to play.
So, naturally, I’m as jazzed as anyone that Square remade it for modern hardware, bringing some snazzy new visuals and revamped combat along with everything else that made the original a must-play back in the day. If you missed out on Crisis Core the first time, or if you never cared about FFVII at all until the excellent remake, there are a few big reasons why you should give this revisited sub-story a look.
Zack is an upgrade over Cloud
Set seven years before FFVII, Crisis Core ditches the mopey Cloud Strife as protagonist in favor of Zack Fair. Zack, like Cloud, is a SOLDIER (part of the powerful Shinra company’s paramilitary force) who primarily appears in the 1997 classic in flashback form. As a former best friend of Cloud and lover of Aerith, Zack’s a pretty important guy, and Crisis Core exists purely to bring players closer to him prior to the untimely end of his story.
Though Zack and Cloud have the same job and even use similarly oversized swords in combat, the two could not be more different. Zack is just a big ol’ goofus who wants nothing more than to be a hero. He smiles, jokes around, outwardly expresses affection for his friends, and generally does everything else the sullen, identity-crisis-experiencing Cloud never does.
Despite its place in the timeline and shift of perspective, Crisis Core does pack plenty of fan-service for big FFVII-heads, too. You'll learn where the iconic Buster Sword that Cloud uses in the original game comes from, for example. That comes along with insight into Cloud's and Aerith's lives before FFVII, as well as some intense interactions with iconic villain Sephiroth before his turn towards the dark side. Nothing here is totally key to understanding and loving FFVII, but it all serves to flesh out the world and its characters a bit more. It's a welcome touch.
I won’t say more about the story of Crisis Core so as to not spoil anything, but it’s effective as a prequel because Zack is such an endearing character. If you’ve played FFVII, you know why he’s not around anymore. But that doesn’t make the journey to that point any less gut-wrenching, as Crisis Core has a final act that rivals any game I’ve ever played.
Final Fantasy is all about story and Crisis Core delivers on that front.
A fresh coat of graphical paint
Obviously, as a 15-year-old PSP game, the original Crisis Core isn’t a feast for the eyes. It looked great considering the hardware circumstances, but we can do better now. Thankfully, this new remake makes good on that potential.
While not anywhere near the luxurious reimagining that FFVII Remake was, Crisis Core revamps everything with new character models, environmental textures, and combat effects. As far as I can tell, none of the original visual presentation has been preserved here. It’s all new and it looks pretty good!
Sure, character models aren’t as detailed as they were in FFVII Remake and lip synching during cutscenes is doing the bare minimum at times. But (at least on PS5) it’s a huge step up over the muddy, low-resolution PSP game. On next-gen consoles, you get smooth 60 frames per second performance along with a sharp 4K resolution. Last-gen consoles (and the Switch), however, are locked to 30 FPS and 1080p (or below), but even that is worlds better than what you got out of Crisis Core 15 years ago.
An RPG is only as good as its combat and the Crisis Core remake puts more effort into overhauling that part of the game than any other. The result is something that bears a superficial resemblance to the best-in-class combat from FFVII Remake while also being a good deal simpler and more digestible.
Like the PSP version, this is a real-time action game where Zack can freely move around small combat arenas, taking on small groups of enemies or the occasional boss. In the PSP game, all of Zack’s moves were mapped to an ability bar that you had to navigate through with the D-Pad during fights. It was clunky and slowed down combat.
Now, everything from sword abilities to magic spells are mapped to the face buttons, substantially speeding up fights and turning Crisis Core into a more conventional action game. It’s eminently satisfying to mow your way through groups of baddies thanks to chunky sword strikes and big damage numbers popping out of enemies’ heads as you hit them. What it lacks in strategic depth, it makes up for in releasing those good brain chemicals.
This remake is also a great excuse for people to see Crisis Core’s absolutely bizarre upgrade system. Zack and all his abilities level up individually, but not through use or gaining experience points. Instead, there are two separate slot machines rolling at all times during every battle. Sometimes they line up to let you unleash a big Limit Break attack. Other times you get a temporary stat bonus like invincibility or unlimited magic power. And on occasion, the slots will strike triple sevens and Zack will level up.
It’s strange to make leveling up fundamentally kind of random, but it somehow works. This system keeps you on your toes and makes battles feel dynamic. Randomness can be disempowering, but here, it’s the opposite. It has a way of always throwing you a bone when you need it, doling out Limit Breaks or periods of invincibility at a solid clip.
Last but not least, Crisis Core still has the heart of a handheld game. Missions are often just a few minutes long and the longer story chapters can still be completed in about half an hour sometimes. If you’re tired of big RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 that take 120 hours to finish, Crisis Core is the game for you.
While it’s not as cinematic and high budget as FFVII Remake, the new version of Crisis Core is a sturdy reimagining of a cult classic. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to hang out with the big homie Zack once again. Those opportunities are few and far between, so you’d best take advantage of it.
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