Zack Fair has been released from his PSP prison in a remastered version of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII that is bigger, prettier, and only slightly outdated.
The stakes were enormous when Final Fantasy VII: Remake was released in 2020, where the old classic had been rebuilt from scratch with all the pomp, glory, and spiky hair styles which only Square Enix can deliver. The result came out mostly positive, but some of us (myself included) felt that the original story had been tampered with too much, resulting in a re-imagining rather than a remake of the original Final Fantasy VII where the creative freedoms taken didn't always benefit the story.
Despite some criticism with the narrative, it's hard to argue against the game's gorgeous visuals, the smooth sound with both beautiful music and great voice acting (both the Japanese and English versions deserve praise), and the action-packed combat system. Though the latter was more modern, it also felt somewhat inspired by the combat system in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the prequel released for PlayStation Portable in 2007. The dream of an updated version of Crisis Core with the same combat and visuals as Final Fantasy VII: Remake started to appear, but alas, the dream seemed too far-fetched. Crisis Core is notorious for being a console-exclusive game on PSP with not even a digital version available, and because the game's villain Genesis was modelled after the Japanese musician Gackt (with all the paperwork that must involve), the game appeared to be stuck in license limbo forever.
Yet Odin, Bahamut and Fat Chocobo be praised, for they have heard our prayers! Two and a half years after the world's eyes were once again focused on Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth, the time has finally come for the world's greatest SOLDIER 1st Class, Zack Fair to make his return. The Final Fantasy VII prequel has at last broken free of its PSP captivity, and now everyone can enjoy a fresh take on the 2007 game - for better or worse.
This is an ad:
The main attraction here is the narrative, and if you're among those who didn't like how Final Fantasy VII: Remake toyed around with its source material, I am pleased to report that this is a faithful reiteration of the original story. Here we're told the tale of Zack Fair, an aspiring super soldier for the mega corporation Shinra with an unquenchable drive to reach the top and become a hero like his own role model, Sephiroth. We follow Zack over the course of seven years, bringing us from his apprentice days right up to the opening scene of Final Fantasy VII, where several dark truths regarding Shinra and their SOLDIER program come to light and present us with an extended look into the background lore for Cloud's adventure.
The game's story covers central lore points in the Final Fantasy VII saga, and certain parts of the remake can even be hard to understand unless you have played both the original Final Fantasy VII and Crisis Core. This remaster opens the door for more players to enjoy the story, but the main cause for celebration is because this might be the best story in the Final Fantasy VII compilation. Most of the credit is due to Zack, who's such a likeable character with his overconfident attitude and unbreakable spirit, making it much easier to get familiar with him than the mopey and quiet Cloud. The supporting characters are also mostly great, both the ones exclusive to this game and the characters we know from the rest of the saga. Not all the characters have aged well, especially the pompous Genesis who loves nothing more than quoting his favourite epic Loveless every time you meet, but for the most part the story has kept its dramatic impact with many emotional moments. If you have the slightest interest in the Final Fantasy VII universe, you should consider this as a mandatory part of the curriculum.
One of the reasons why the story remains practically unchanged is because this is a remaster rather than a full-on remake. Yet Square Enix has done a lot more than just boosting up the resolution before republishing the game on new platforms. To describe their approach for this release, imagine a Lego set where someone has taken the old construction, removed the old bricks that have lost all their spark and colour, and then rebuilt the whole set from the same instructions while using new and vastly more detailed bricks. The core gameplay mechanics are kept in this remaster, but the game sports brand new audio, massively improved visuals, and a refurbished combat system, all of which bringing the game closer to the Final Fantasy VII: Remake level. In truth, this game is somewhere between a simple remaster and a complete remake, kind of similar to Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139. You will recognise where you are if you've been here before, but it doesn't take long before you realise how much has been changed with this new version.
This is an ad:
The end result is a game tailored to modern platforms, looking especially pretty on newer hardware like PS5. The character models are extremely detailed, the lighting effects are both saturated and warm, and the reflections seen on both marble and asphalt is quite impressive. The environments are vastly more detailed than in the original, though they could have been more crowded. A PS5 will bring you a silky smooth 4K/60fps presentation but playing on an older PS4 will reduce the visuals to a mere 1080p/30fps, which of course makes the visual experience less impressive. Still, the game has received a great visual facelift, at least if you focus on Zack, the most important side characters, and the surroundings. Minor NPCs are on the other hand less satisfactory, as most of them have stiff faces, soulless eyes, and some quirky movement patterns reminding you that this is a remaster of an old game. The foliage is also rather stiff and doesn't react to neither wind nor Zack's movements, but despite these minor issues this is a game where the visuals will impress more than disappoint.
Which is why it's sad to see that the pre-rendered CGI sequences, which were the visual highlights of the original game in 2007, hasn't received the same treatment. On the contrary, they're now the worst-looking parts of the game since no remastering or upscaling has been done to improve neither the resolution nor the lighting effects. It's moments like these which reminds you how much of an improvement we have seen on the visual side of video games over the last few years, especially when it comes to lighting and colour saturation. The difference is less noticeable on an older PS4 without HDR support, but it's still there. Considering the obvious love and care given to the rest of the game, it's disappointing to see the lack of care for the pre-rendered CGI scenes.
While the Japanese voice acting is kept more or less intact (and now available outside Japan without the need to import the game), the English audio has been re-recorded with the new voice actors who play their respective roles in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. This grants us voice acting superior to the original which also creates continuity to the modern interpretation of the saga. The music has also been improved, and though it may not be noticeable at first you only need to do a quick comparison of the old and the new version of a track to notice great improvements made to the quality, harmonising and choices of instruments.
The positive improvements also trickle down to the combat system, now adjusted to fit with modern controllers. On PSP you needed to swap frantically between the different combat options by using the shoulder buttons, but now you can equip different Materia to each button on a fully equipped game pad. Dedicated buttons for dodging, blocking, and hitting come free of charge, plus the new option to cancel the enemy's strongest attacks if you move fast enough. This gives you a game with a lot of fun and action, though combat may be a little easy for veteran players if they choose normal difficulty. As for the much-debated Digital Mind Wave system (DMW), this returns with practically no alterations. The system grants random bonuses to Zack during combat, and whether you will like it or not depends on whether you're bothered by random factors beyond your control in a fight. Fans have argued over the matter for 15 years, and now they will probably continue doing so (until Sephiroth blows us all to smithereens with a Supernova).
Unfortunately, all the fun of fighting during the main story quickly evaporates when taking on a side mission, which is the weakest part of the game because all side missions are basically the same. After reading a quick instruction explaining why you need to go and fix something, you're dropped in a generic area where you must beat the main monster after clobbering some mobs on the way. These short missions only take a couple of minutes each and were clearly designed for short sessions on the run while playing on a handheld console. One can respect Square Enix for sticking with the original mission structure to retain the game's identity, but unless you're playing on the go on Switch, these side missions should be kept to a minimum to avoid losing all motivation. At least the loading times are now as good as gone, which means you can do a whole bunch of side missions on the fly if you choose to do some.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - Reunion is a remaster exceeding most other examples when old games are refurbished for new consoles. It retains the original's identity and core, including the negative aspects that haven't aged as well, while at the same time offering a presentation and game mechanics that are much closer to today's standards. The abysmally dull side missions and the lack of remastered CGI sequences are a minus, but when the game delivers the same great story with better sound, a smooth visual experience, and an action-filled combat system, you won't hear me complaining.
8 / 10
Splendid audiovisual update of an old classic. Silky smooth performance on high-end hardware. The great story remains intact. Improved controls. Practically no loading times.
CGI cutscenes haven't been remastered and look worse than the rest of the game. Boring and outdated mission structure. NPCs aren't given the same love and care as the main cast.