I speak for myself and other self-proclaimed teenage “scene weebs” growing up in the late 2000’s that the PlayStation Portable kept us well nourished. Square Enix fed us directly time and time again, and their library is extensive. One of their most illusive, and arguably best known, titles on the system was Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. A prequel to the original PlayStation classic, it tried to tell the backstory behind several iconic moments, characters, and items crucial to the original story. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion aims to modernize the portable classic to bring it as close as possible to the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake. This version doubles as a way to preserve the original PSP experience and provide new fans of Remake a prequel to that timeline.
Zack Fair, a minor character of the original game that you could really blink and miss, is the protagonist of this story. Dreaming to be a hero, this plucky young man climbs his way up the corporate ladder of Shrina while uncovering a conspiracy that changes everything he thinks he knows. While this story sounds rather dark, and it certainly can be, the tone of Crisis Core is one of its most polarizing aspects. The writing has remained intact, with the script only receiving very minor revisions, and what that means for the quality of Reunion will depend largely on how much you enjoyed the original.
Personally, I enjoy Crisis Core for what it is. It falls into many of the usual pitfalls that tend to plague prequels, primarily overexplaining aspects that might have been best left to audience interpretation. However, I can’t find myself faulting Crisis Core for being a little awkward, primarily because it strives forward with such confidence that I just can’t help but adore it from start to finish. I don’t even think the tone is that much of a departure from the original FFVII’s, but more of an adaptation of the general “vibes” for the culture of the year 2007 (just how I feel Remake did the same thing in 2020).
The story has been untouched, with the only differences being that the voice cast has been recast and every line of dialogue is now voiced in both English and Japanese. I typically try to avoid talking about the quality of voice acting, because I think people have a tendency to be mean, especially to English voice actors in games. Crisis Core is a very nostalgic experience for many of its fans, and there’s a lot of love left for the original cast. I have a strong fondness for them as well, believing that game was both the peak and perfect sendoff for those voice actors in the Compilation titles. Having said that, I think Reunion’s cast (which is made up of some carryovers from Remake where it fits) is largely an improvement. However, there is some awkwardness that is hard to ignore, and in some cases more than the original. This, I believe, has a lot to do with the script just feeling outdated in general. I understand the choice to keep the script mostly the same, but coming off of Remake’s incredible dialogue Reunion feels rather stiff. I enjoy this, it feels like a time capsule of the era, but fans of Remake will likely find it jarring.
The gameplay really drives home how divisive this title can be, it really is like nothing else I’ve ever played in the action RPG space. Randomness is the name of the game, with a literal roulette system that decides how battles will play out. You have everything that makes up your typical action game: Normal attacking, dodging, blocking. One, the top left of your screen is the DMW roulette, where actions in your fight can randomly roll certain numbers or characters that can give you a large variety of results. These could be buffs, summons, or special attacks based on characters Zack meets in the story. The tide of battle could randomly turn in your favor with a random invincibility, or being able to use skills with no cost to your meter. Another strange vital RPG mechanic tied to this system is leveling up, of all things. The only way to level up is to hit a 777 in the roulette. I’m sure there’s math running behind the scenes that allow this to be paced out, but my point is that Crisis Core’s systems portray themselves as a lot more complicated than they need to be. That’s still here, but thankfully lessened.
On PSP, combat felt awkward. It takes the patience of a saint to appreciate Crisis Core’s combat. With input lag and drawn-out animations, the game felt almost… wrong to play. Reunion keeps the eccentricity but eliminates the awkwardness. Your attacks and dodges come out with no delay, and as the biggest overhaul to Reunion, they succeeded perfectly. The combat was the biggest barrier to entry, but with a couple of tweaks and with added flair they’ve made this the definitive version of the game. I don’t think they made an action game masterpiece out of Crisis Core’s fundamental systems, but they made it much easier to have fun with them. There are still awkward mechanics, but what was added are all net positives. Without all of this quirky randomness, you’d be left with a pretty standard hack-and-slash game, so I think this works out in the right context.
Handheld games were a lot different back in the era of the PSP and Nintendo DS. Portable gaming was intended to be more pick-up and play, whereas now developers seem to mostly shrink down console experiences. Crisis Core takes what would be a typical PlayStation 2-style RPG and breaks it up with a large series of missions that can be started and finished at any time. These are all optional, but the rewards are well worth it. The “PSPness” of Crisis Core was part of its charm, and thankfully this was not lessened in this remaster. The areas feel stripped back of complexity compared to a game like Remake (but I am quite thankful for the added sprint button, even if it might not technically be needed), minigames are added frequently to break up the pace, and chapters are short and sweet. There’s even a robust Materia fusion mechanic, which players can lose hours into.
Because I value Crisis Core as a portable experience – the type we don’t really get anymore – I’ve been stoked to experience Reunion on the Nintendo Switch. I was honestly surprised it was coming to Switch at all, given that Remake was clearly way too powerful to ever run on the system. Reunion’s visual style is a stripped-back version of its predecessor, existing as skin on top of the original’s bone structure. Most of the animations have been re-used, and it certainly seems like some of Remake’s assets were repurposed.
The original’s pre-rendered FMV cutscenes must have been preserved because this goes far beyond a typical upscale. Each of them has been re-rendered, which is easy to see thanks to changes made in them to insure parity with the original FF7 and Remake. Specifically, the Buster Sword, which had a strange redesign in Crisis Core and was “fixed” to match Cloud’s better. The Buster Sword was actually updated in the pre-rendered cutscenes, which wouldn’t have been possible unless they were completely re-rendered. They look outstanding, but still of the time in all the best ways.
I’m pleasantly surprised with how Reunion plays and looks on Switch. There are some expected cutbacks, with the target resolution and framerate being reduced to what you’d find on any other console. For what I was expecting, I’m pleased with the results. The models look pretty sharp considering the hardware, and the textures don’t feel too cut back. There is some awkward dithering on hair, The game targets 30 frames-per-second, and largely hits that. I found my experience more consistent in portable play over docked, and I think I’d recommend Switch users play primarily that way. The 720p target looks best on the small screen and didn’t hold up nearly as well when blown up to my TV. I also felt the framerate didn’t hold as well when playing it docked.
Crisis Core is interesting, truly the pinnacle of games that are greater than the sum of their parts. The story hits brilliant highs, and Reunion successfully brings the rest of the experience as close to those highs as possible. Obviously, when every other console is promising a full HD 60 frames-per-second experience it’s hard not to look down on the Switch version. But this stacks up well to a remake/remaster of the PSP original, and when taken as a portable version it’s quite ambitious that so little was lost.
I’ve always loved Crisis Core, it’s a foundational kind of game I remember fondly from my youth. It came out at just the right time, born during the dawn of the now thriving YouTube generation of millennials, featured proudly in Windows Movie Maker AMVs and cutscene compilations. Make no mistake, my enjoyment in Crisis Core is far from ironic or “cringe” that many might associate with those. It’s common to reflect back on that era negatively, but to me, Crisis Core represents the pure innocence of youth and the earnest mistakes associated with it. Zack’s story is so endearing and captured the attention of so many teenagers across the world for a reason. We got to see someone struggle to stay afloat in a system far larger than himself and do his best to keep his innocence intact. As I played this on my Nintendo Switch, I felt sent right back to that part of my life. I even got the urge to play it under my covers late at night as if to hide from parents I no longer live with. Repackaging those feelings, and cutting as much of the bloat as possible is commendable. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion strives to be the experience we remember, rising above the game we actually got.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Square Enix