Final Fantasy VII is experiencing a strange identity shift. The ongoing remake is changing the original canon in bold ways while spin-offs like the 2006 PlayStation 2 game Dirge of Cerberus are being folded in for larger roles in the main story. And then there are new spin-offs, like First Soldier, the online mobile battle royale shutting down early next year, and also plans for another remake called Ever Crisis, a mobile game that will reexamine Final Fantasy VII’s timeline. With all that swirling around the Lifestream, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion emerges as a surprisingly faithful remake of the 2007 PSP game that smartly focuses its changes on gameplay while keeping the story intact – warts and all.
Crisis Core takes place before the events of Final Fantasy VII and follows the story of 1st Class Soldier Zack Fair. For those who entered Midgar for the first time with Final Fantasy VII Remake, Zack’s story is a crucial element of the Cloud and Sephiroth relationship, and playing Crisis Core both illuminates and shrouds Zack’s surprising cameo at the end of Remake. As someone whose main interaction with the universe of Final Fantasy VII was with Remake, I am grateful to learn who Zack is and his whole deal ahead of future entries.
Learning that story, however, is often a chore. Crisis Core has a fantastic ending that leads into Final Fantasy VII in a thrilling way, but the journey to get to that final cutscene, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels like a game from 2007. The updated voice performances are good, but the presentation is stilted and slow. I found myself wishing I could watch cutscenes at double speed as characters awkwardly shifted into different animations during grueling pauses in dialogue. The cadence of conversations is rough, but the new visuals are great and nearly bring it up to the quality of Remake.
That difficult cadence extends to the overall pace as cutscenes often feel interrupted by quick combat scenarios, or a series of combat scenarios feel interrupted by a slow-as-molasses cutscene. Neither appropriately leads into the other, giving the whole game a start-and-stop feeling.
The star of Reunion is those combat scenarios, however, which have smartly received the most attention. Hitting monsters with your sword, executing magic attacks, and calling in special abilities is flashy and smooth. It lacks the impressive versatility and diversity of the excellent combat of Remake, but it looks close enough that you might assume they are similar at a glance.
The Digital Mind Wave (DMW) is Crisis Core’s main distinguishing feature that randomly rewards you with powerful attacks or temporary upgrades based on a slot machine constantly running in the corner of the screen featuring characters you’ve met during the story. The benefit of the DMW is sometimes you get access to powerful attacks when you need them most. The downside is it is completely random, so there is no way to use it tactically. On the occasions when I was struggling with a boss or powerful enemy, I would just replay the fight until I was randomly rewarded the opportunity to summon the fire demon Ifrit, or a comparable attack, which is not a satisfying way to tackle an encounter.
For the ongoing Final Fantasy VII re-examination, which Square Enix has officially dubbed the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core feels like required reading. Its place in the larger story is important and will likely grow in significance moving forward, but making your way through those story moments sometimes feels like a school assignment. Reunion is a well-executed remake of the 2007 game that delivers fun combat alongside a stilted story with an interesting and narratively important final act. If you plan on starting or continuing the Final Fantasy VII Remake journey, make sure to do your homework.