Though I hate to admit it, as a Final Fantasy fan, I never managed to play Crisis Core on its original PSP release as I never owned that particular handheld. I suspect, though, that I'm not alone, which is why it's such a relief that Square Enix is now bringing the game to practically every current platform available.
I recently went hands on with a demo of this lengthily-titled remaster - Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion - and I'm excited to dive in properly on its release this December.
Questions remain over the impact Crisis Core will have on the forthcoming second part (Rebirth) of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake trilogy, but what's immediately clear from its remaster is how it's now clearly positioned as a side story to Remake.
Menus and fonts have been updated to match Remake, ensuring the entire plethora of forthcoming Final Fantasy 7 games is coherent - something that was clearly intentional when I previously spoke with creative director Tetsuya Nomura and the development team. Playing Crisis Core now feels like part of the same Remake experience, with plenty of care taken over this remaster.
Updated character models and effects are a huge step up from the PSP original and, on PlayStation 5, it runs silky smooth and looks gorgeous. Admittedly the sometimes stiff animations in cutscenes bely that PSP core, but that's proof of the remaster's authenticity to the original. FMVs integrated into combat, though, are noticeably blurry.
The similarities to Remake extend to combat too, though of course this game came first. It's an action-RPG with a balance between standard attacks, special attacks, and magical abilities as you lock on to enemies and dodge around them for critical hits from behind. Basic sword attacks are strung together into combos, while magic and special attacks are assigned to shortcuts for instant use. It all flows together like a modern game, not a 2008 re-release. Over in the menus, you can equip materia, armours, and accessories to give the edge in battle, all presented almost identically to Remake.
The twist comes from the roulette Digital Mind Wave (DMW) system. As this spins in the top left corner of the screen, it randomly results in enhanced status effects and, better still, powerful limit breaks that play out like mini cutscenes and can be initiated whenever you need them. These look especially flashy in a very anime sort of way, punctuating the rhythm of combat.
Playing the demo multiple times also showed the impact of DMW in combat. It culminated in a tense battle against the summon Ifrit that puts dodging, blocking, and magic use to the test, but some runs were noticeably easier, by chance, as the slots landed in my favour and those flashy moves got even flashier. It's this system that will ensure battles always remain dynamic.
The system is also tied into the relationships between lead character Zack Fair and his mentors. In the demo, Zack meets Sephiroth for the first time and - being the fanboy that he is meeting his idol - it heightens his emotions, allowing for different moves to appear on the roulette.
The biggest boon for Final Fantasy players - especially those of us new to Crisis Core, or perhaps those who have only recently played Remake - is seeing the world of Midgar and its characters from a new perspective.
The demo encompassed a mission at the start of the game, which takes Zack to Wutai in the midst of a war between that nation and the Shinra Corporation. It's an area that's only fleetingly visited in the original Final Fantasy 7 (and isn't seen at all in Remake, beside references in its Intergrade DLC), but in Crisis Core it's seemingly far more fleshed out.
I even got to see a young Yuffie before she grows into the lovable thief we all know her as. In a cute scene between her and Zack, her iconic agitated animations and run from the original game are re-used in a fun nod. Crisis Core also provides more backstory on the villainous Sephiroth, here a war hero, while Zack is a naive but likeable protagonist who frequently stumbles and doesn't quite know his own strength.
Beyond fanservice, Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion seems set to be a confident outing for the series in its own right that now, more than ever, will slot neatly into the Final Fantasy 7 oeuvre. I can't wait to play more of Zack's story, which could turn out to be required reading for Remake fans.
Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion is set for release on 13th December across PlayStation and Xbox consoles, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam).