Activating Combat Mode: A Review of CRISIS CORE – FINAL FANTASY VII – REUNION

Fifteen years after its original release in 2007, Final Fantasy Crisis Core has been remade for modern platforms as CRISIS CORE – FINAL FANTASY VII – REUNION

Back in the day, before the arrival of what is now arguably the best-known handheld gaming device – the Nintendo Switch – there was something called a PSP, or PlayStation Portable. Forgotten now among today’s new gaming generation, the PSP was a maverick gaming device and Sony’s first foray into the market of handheld gaming; all the fun of a PlayStation console in the palm of your hands, quite literally. It was neat, it was compact, it was charming, and it was ahead of its time. It had its golden age (I pray fervently for its comeback) and among the iconic games that were PSP exclusives was Crisis Core.

Crisis Core (2007) is a prequel to Final Fantasy VII (1997) set seven years before. We follow the story of Zack Fair, a SOLDIER who’s part of the elite fighting force of the Shinra Electric Power Company. Zack’s tale begins when he is tasked to find the missing SOLDIER Genesis Rhapsodos. Along with fellow SOLDIERS Sephiroth and Angeal, he investigates the mass disappearances of Shinra’s SOLDIERS. Zack is cheerful, dreams of becoming a hero and a Soldier First Class, in other words, the best there is. His perilous mission finally culminates at Nibelheim and we learn what exactly led to the amnesiac Cloud’s arrival at Midgar in Final Fantasy VII. It’s hard to summarise Crisis Core without going into the spoiler territory of Final Fantasy VII because it’s the missing puzzle piece to a major plot twist in Final Fantasy VII

It was only natural for Crisis Core to get a re-mastered edition as Crisis Core Reunion since the original Final Fantasy VII has now got a major modern overhaul as Final Fantasy VII Remake. So, let’s take a look at what exactly has changed from 15 years ago.

The graphics, for one, have had a major overhaul, as the game now runs on Unreal Engine 4. Zack and gang have got a glow-up, as they say, from 15 years ago. The UI is great; it mimics that of the Remake and is easy to use. Everything from the visual aspects of the characters and their facial expressions to the fighting animation to the environment is stunning, especially when you compare it to other PSP remasters. However, don’t expect it to look as good as the Remake. While the Remake makes you occasionally forget what reality looks like, Reunion just makes you forget you’re playing a PSP remaster. The CGI cut-scenes remain unaltered from the original game, which in a way does break the visual aesthetic flow. You can even spot a Getty Images stock photograph of a painting complete with the watermark in Chapter Eight of the game! Yes, it is a pretty game but not the prettiest game, but while playing it on a big screen compared to the PSP, one can’t really complain.

The combat is much more fluid than the original. The original had an action-based battle system, which allows Zack to attack his foes, use abilities, cast spells or use an item in real-time. Reunion’s battle system improves on the original quite well while still retaining the core mechanics. Zack can now dodge better, attack faster and take down his enemies with all the skill and grace that is expected of a SOLDIER. Be warned that it’s not just Zack’s abilities that have been improved, your enemies haven’t been sitting idle either. You cannot blindly cast Dark Fire and expect your opponents to patiently sit there and be politely deep-fried. They can and will dodge. If they move after you’ve used your materia the spell does not hit and you’ve wasted precious MP. Speaking of combat, it’s time to hit the slot machines a.k.a the Digital Mind Wave (DMW).

The DMW makes an appearance on the top left corner of your screen when you’ve entered combat mode. Quite like a slot machine, the DMW rolls continuously as you fight and if luck decides to favor you, Zack can get a free boost that certainly does help him get out of a bind. If the images or numbers attain a certain combination, a variety of different temporary effects are unlocked from a temporary No MP cost, to becoming straight up invincible for a limited time. And unlike actual slot machines, you don’t need to cough up coins to win. The DMW is also responsible for giving Zack his ‘limit breaks’ and allows him to unleash a powerful attack depending on whose portrait is aligned, like Sephiroth’s mugshots allowing Zack to use the Octoslash.

But what exactly is this omnipresent magical slot machine that is the DMW? Memories (cue in the infamous Sephiroth line: ‘I will never be a memory’) and the question of identity play a vital role in the universe of Final Fantasy VII. The DMW actually gives you a picture of Zack’s memories and emotions during a fight, which is what drives him to gain the upper hand in battle. This is why every limit break is different, making them not just a skill that Zack picked up but rather a way they’ve enriched Zack. A trip through memory lane is a charming thought, but you don’t necessarily want to be reminiscing while battling for your life. In the original, there was no way to skip the DMW cut-scenes. The DMW would pause the game, make you watch a scene from Zack’s memory and then let you get back into the fight. Now, however, you do get the option of skipping the scene, so the immersion of combat is not destroyed.

There are little side missions (300 of them) that Zack can do (which are handy for grinding and levelling up). These side missions take place in contained areas that involve Zack running back and forth and collecting items from chests. For such a tiny map, it’s littered with encounters; Zack turns around, there’s an encounter. Zack takes a left, there’s an encounter. Zack backtracks, there’s an encounter. It does get annoying especially when the encounters can end up draining your resources before facing the actual major threat of the area. It’s here where it really hits you that this game is actually better played on a portable device (when will PSP return?). Playing on the go makes grinding a little less tiring. These side missions do take up a fair share of gameplay time (around 70 percent of the time I’ve clocked in playing is actually time taken for side missions). Of course, these are entirely optional, but they do give you access to get some materia and accessories that would greatly aid Zack’s quest.

Now to address the elephant in the room and the biggest gripe returning players have – the voices. Full disclosure, I play with the Japanese voices enabled so I cannot really comment on the English voice, but considering that there are players who have been turning off voice entirely to get through the game, this is something that needs to be said. On the PSP, only the important scenes were voiced and the rest of the dialogue happened through text appearing on the screen. Reunion, unlike the original, is fully voiced with a new cast. Zack’s new voice in particular has gathered quite a lot of flak with people comparing it to Sonic the Hedgehog (which is oddly fitting in a really, really weird way since Zack’s hair is hedgehog-like). It doesn’t help that the original script has not been changed at all, so the new voice actors were pretty much forced to mimic their predecessors in timing and delivery to match the animated lip sync. There is always an easy way around to it, which is to play with the Japanese voices. It captures the mood well with better delivery and the translations do match more or less.   Crisis Core Reunion is a pretty faithful adaptation of the original. It doesn’t have much to do with the Final Fantasy VII Remake. In fact, it is still a prequel to the Final Fantasy VII (1997). But more than it being a prequel, it is Zack’s story. And it is a story that needs to be told. The plot more than makes up for whatever shortcomings there are in technicalities. Reunion and the original PSP game are stand-alone iconic games in their own right. The nostalgia factor hits you so hard while playing this game that you feel as though you’re back slotting in your UMD on the PSP in the late aughts. In the words of squat enthusiast SOLDIER 1st class Zack Fair: ‘Me? Gongaga.’

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