Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion is a remaster. Let’s get that out of the way right now. Temper your expectations. Now that said, it’s a good looking-game; though not quite to the standard of Final Fantasy VII Remake, it certainly brings the PSP original into the modern era. This review will explore Crisis Core as a game by today’s standards. If you’re a super fan and already anticipating picking this up, expect an adequate remaster treatment.
As far as I can tell, much of this game is a shot-for-shot take on the original. I certainly didn’t notice any sneaky bits or cute references to Remake, but they could have gotten past me. The core cast’s English voice acting is serviceable, while the extras are absolutely painful to listen to at times; I often didn’t even let the speaker finish their lines if I had already read the dialogue. Japanese is an option.
Using a controller worked phenomenally well for me. Keyboard is an option, but if you have a controller, this is the kind of game that’s going to work best with it. Zipping around the battlefield in the restricted area—by imaginary lines or the environment—is a snap as Zack magnetizes to his target. Locking on isn’t always necessary, but each player will have their own preference. The game’s AI does a good job locking onto the nearest target, even if they’re off camera. At times, especially initially, I found myself fighting with the camera, but eased into the camera controls with time; get friendly with your right stick on the controller.
Combat is fun, but lacks depth. Players are encouraged to use materia to fight and finish off foes, as completing a battle with abilities (yellow materia) or magic (green materia) will grant a percentage of points back depending on how many foes were killed with that method. Four to six materia can be equipped to add stat bonuses (purple materia) or act as support (blue materia) to Zack’s magic materia as well. When materia is equipped, players hold a shoulder button and then press one of the mapped buttons to use it. Simple. Additional bonuses exist for taking no damage or guarding every hit and finishing with limit breaks or summons.
Limit breaks occur frequently as the Digital Mind Wave (DMW) spins in the top corner like a slot machine. It appears complicated and involved at first, but the fact is that it spins passively without any player input; just trust that it’s doing its thing and hope for bonuses with some degree of frequency. Certain combinations of numbers may make magic- or ability-based actions cost nothing, while others may give Zack some other bonus, like stagger immunity or even complete damage nullification. If three of the same character portraits line up, Zack can use a limit break specific to that character. Usually, these limit breaks deal damage. Once the player earns summon materia, the DMW may reveal a summon, like Ifrit, to use just like a limit break. Other than that, players are intended to engage in combat normally while the DMW applies random buffs.
Outside of combat, players can fuse materia like in a traditional alchemy system, trying to net rare techniques or powered-up abilities. Stat-based items can eventually be used to assist in fusion, granting players access to buffs in stats like HP or magic damage. While accessories are the only equipable items in the game, players can expect most significant number-based buffs to come from materia, not accessories. Accessories are typically best for immunities or elemental affinity.
Fusing materia is cumbersome, and I wish the UI were better. By the end of the game, I had literally hundreds of materia—some mastered, some not—and had to scroll endlessly to find a unique relationship between my newly mastered materia and all of the other vendor trash I’d accrued.
Speaking of vendor trash, Crisis Core boasts a staggering amount of side “missions” that players can undergo to obtain more useless items. I say “missions” because these are virtual environments in which players traverse one of five or so different locales with the same layout of hallways arbitrarily barred off by invisible lines. For example, if I’m navigating an abandoned Shinra reactor, a red line may prevent me from going left, forcing me to go right. Next time I’m in the reactor, I see the map is the exact same, but I might have to go left instead. Each mission has a certain amount of treasure chests to discover, but most of the time, they contain a redundant accessory or something weak like a potion. The answer’s simple, right? Just don’t go for the chests. Well, sometimes—though rarely—they have something of significance. Regardless, the maps are boring hallways filled with random encounters at every knob or elbow. I didn’t count, but there may be only twenty or so enemy models. The names don’t even change, either, with some higher-level enemies simply labeled “II” at the end of their names.
At the end of a mission is the objective target, which isn’t especially harder than the rest of the mobs in the mission. Once they’re dispatched, the reward is granted, and that’s also usually vendor trash. This reward is at least displayed at the start of the mission. So, only do the missions with significant rewards, right? Well, the problem is that in order to get to the significant rewards, previous missions need to be completed. At the start of the game, Zack starts with two accessory slots, but can gain additional slots by completing missions. Summon materia may be earned this way, as well. Again, Crisis Core has an insurmountable surplus of extremely boring missions to tackle, and while playing on hard difficulty, I eventually hit a wall at the sixth difficulty of tiered missions, and had to throw in the towel.
Players can choose between hard and normal difficulty at the start of the game, and I found hard to be a reasonable challenge for almost the entire game, save the final area. If you’re considering doing normal on the first run and then proceeding to hard for the new game+, know that mission progress and some other important features do not carry over. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two difficulties is numeric damage, health, defensive stats, etc.
If you can’t tell, I find the gameplay dated. The core act of zipping around and hitting enemies is reminiscent of Remake, but doesn’t quite have the same depth or agency. Combat is frenetic and enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t meet the expectations of the modern era. Understanding that this is a remaster and not a remake, I don’t see why some adjustments couldn’t have been made to spice up the recipe. If nothing else, fix the grind. My daughter watched me for a section of my playthrough one day, and she said, “Oh my gosh, you keep fighting the same guy!”
Crisis Core’s story is why many are here, though. Zack Fair is a SOLDIER 2nd Class and trains under the tutelage of Angeal, a 1st Class. Angeal rose through the ranks alongside Genesis, and the two became fast friends with Sephiroth, a legendary SOLDIER. When we enter, Shinra is at war with Wutai over the right to put a reactor down and siphon the lifestream’s energy for modern conveniences. Genesis has gone missing, so Zack is sent to Wutai to assist with the mission. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it appears, and we discover clones with Genesis’ face fighting Shinra operatives. During a rushed escape, Angeal disappears while helping Zack save the SOLDIER director. With two SOLDIERs missing, Zack has to step up to fill the gaps and make a name for himself.
Of course, he’s up to the challenge and begins getting cozy with the Turks, a few specialized Shinra agents who are just as skilled as SOLDIER members in combat, yet boast a little more finesse in dealing with delicate matters. Players get to navigate the entertainment district, learning about a hit epic poem, LOVELESS, while running around and talking to the more well-off citizenry on top of Midgar’s plate. Zack may take a trip to the sectors beneath the plate, but much of the game takes place inside Shinra HQ, in Sector 8 (the entertainment district), and on the field.
Keeping in mind this isn’t a core entry in the Final Fantasy franchise, Crisis Core is on the shorter side, about twenty to thirty hours depending on how long players are willing to tolerate side missions. As such, the narrative moves at a steady clip. One cost of this is that climactic events and changes in relationships don’t hit as hard as perhaps the developers would have liked. I understand Zack is going through loss and conflicted feelings here and there, but without the time devoted to each character, I don’t feel the same attachment he does. As a result, these moments don’t have the impact I would have hoped for, save the ending.
Fans of the series will enjoy getting a peek at what life outside Midgar will look like in the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve spoiled it for myself. As the visuals aren’t as good as Remake, Crisis Core feels like a cheapened version of what we’re going to get. What was once wonder for me has become: “Oh.” I now know what certain towns or locations look like, and while I know they will look so much better in Rebirth, some of the charm may be lost. All this fussing aside, seeing these beloved locations brought to 2022 will be truly exciting for some players, but I wanted to relay my personal thoughts and experiences on this, as I’m sure I’m not alone.
While Crisis Core’s remaster is a fantastic appetizer to the second entry in the Final Fantasy VII remake series, it falls flat in a lot of ways. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed my time with it, and having all of the narrative freshened up for me is a fantastic strategy on Square Enix’s part, but Crisis Core would have benefited from some substantive changes, not just a face lift. If you’ve never played Crisis Core and want to see what the hubbub is about, this is the definitive pick for you, but remember that this game was developed fifteen years ago.