Andrey Listopadov

Crisis Core Reunion

@random-thoughts games ~15 minutes read

So, I usually don’t do game reviews, but this time it’s kinda special to me. I’m a bit late to the party as the game come out quite some time ago already, but that’s mostly because I didn’t plan on getting it. Honestly, I was too afraid to play this remake, as I cherish my memories with the original game on the PlayStation Portable. However, my friends at work gave me a copy of this game for Nintendo Switch as a birthday gift, so that’s that. I recently finished the play-through and wanted to write down some thoughts.

A remake

First things first - I can’t consider this game a remaster for a multiple of reasons, even though a lot of sources say it is one. In my eyes, a remaster is when the developer takes the original game - original sources, models, textures, and enhances the experience, maybe fixes some bugs, does some quality of life improvements, etc. I feel that this aligns closely to the musical term, where remastering means taking original stems and, well, re-mastering them.

In case of this release, the engine has obviously changed - Unreal Engine 4 was only in the works when Crisis Core was released, but I doubt PSP could ever run it even if it existed at the time. It’s quite hard to find what engine did the original Crisis Core run on, but probably it was custom-made. Which means that Reunion is built from the ground up on a different engine. Perhaps they’ve managed to import some old assets, like animations, but I’m sure that there was a lot of work done to make Reunion to match as close to original as it does. And man, how closely does it match the original!

I still have a PSP lying around, and I compared these two games side by side at various points of the play-through - they line up frame by frame. Well mostly. I can’t be sure enough, but I think I found some transitions that have been altered, but for the most part, it’s the most faithful re-make I have seen in my life. The other one that comes to mind is Ocarina of Time 3D. While I never played the original, after completing the game on the 2DS and watching some videos with walk-throughs of the original, I think they’re the same animation-wise. So the Crisis Core remake is on par in that regard.

I… don’t have that much of a problem with the voice acting in this game. Well, I kinda do, but… we’ll get back to this later. Overall, I’m very pleased with this revision of the game.

The original Crisis Core

I got my PSP in 2009 as a birthday gift from my parents. And I consider this gift one of the most important in my life for a multitude of reasons. You see, back in the day I was a World of Warcraft addict. I was in school, and I found out about WoW pretty late, but I was hooked.

I played WoW Burning Crusade like a madman - coming from school, playing up until the evening. This impacted studying a lot, and I noticed that, but I couldn’t do anything about it - WoW was too addicting. So when I got PSP as a birthday gift, I wasn’t playing on it too much because I had no games. That is, until I got my hands on Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

At first, I played PSP mostly only during long flights over Azeroth or when waiting for someone to go into the dungeon. But then I noticed that even though my character already arrived at the destination, I kept playing PSP because it actually was way more interesting than WoW. So, in the end, PSP and Crisis Core helped me drop WoW completely. I never played it, or any other MMO RPG, ever again.

This was some of the backstory you probably don’t need to know, but I felt like it’s important to tell. I love Crisis Core, and the above is but one of the reasons.

This game is great, and actually aged pretty well in my opinion. I’ve replayed it several times over the years - it’s amazing that my PSP is still alive to this day. Can’t imagine that with the most devices I own today.

I love this game mostly for its story. Sure it’s simple but it’s touching nevertheless. And actually, I never played the original Final Fantasy VII before I got Crisis Core, so my love doesn’t come from nostalgia. Yes, you can blame me for not playing the original, but I didn’t have PlayStation in my childhood - PSP my very first game console. IIRC FFVII did release on PC, but I didn’t know about it.

What amazes me is how well the characters interact in the original. English isn’t my first language, and in 2009 I couldn’t speak in English yet, but I could read it pretty well already. So I understood the story, often with a dictionary, but thankfully most of it was pretty easy to deduce by what’s going on screen.

What I mean by character interaction is the way they talk. This game was voiced, and being a Japanese RPG translated to English, you know how often a lot of lines don’t really connect. Localizing a Japanese game is hard, and I think for the Crisis Core, they did a stellar job. Characters talk very naturally, phrases don’t seem to be out of the context or too cheesy or over the top. And the voice acting is on it - the main characters are all very believable, delivering their lines with passion and power when needed.

For majority of Japanese media I consume, I prefer original Japanese voices, because translated ones almost never sound like they’re belong. This mostly applies to anime, but also for games. For instance, Persona 5 with English voices is a horrible experience. Mostly because of how the dialogues are structured there, and expressions characters make. Crisis Core is not like that in this regard. It’s dialogues are pretty normal, without much anime grunting, or other quirky stuff, so the English voices fit much nicer. It varies from game to game though.

The graphics were also pretty great for a PSP game. I was amazed by the CGI cutscenes and in-engine ones too. Later I learned that some in-engine cutscenes were pre-rendered for some reason, but there are maybe like three of them for the whole game. And this game has a lot of cutscenes, try searching for “crisis core full movie” on YouTube, it’s about 4 hours long.

The game itself is good too. Can’t say it has the best game feel, a lot of things can feel old today, but overall, for a PSP game it’s decent. I enjoyed it back in 2009, and in later replays. One such replay My character was at level 60, I completed maybe 70% of side missions, and spent more than 100 hours in game. Though I never 100% the game, it’s not really my thing.

Then, there’s the music. I learned to play guitar back then, and this game features a lot of beautiful pieces that I was trying to play. I still can play some of them, even though I don’t play guitar as much anymore. If this doesn’t say how much I like this game, I don’t know what is.

This game actually got me crying hard when I finished my first play-through. And I still tear up, 15 years later, while watching the ending cutscenes. I truly love this game, and I’m glad my parents got me the PSP.

The Remake

So given everything above, when I learned that they’re making a remake, I was shocked and didn’t know what to think. I have played the first 5 hours of Final Fantasy VII except 30 hours REMAKE and was kinda disappointed. The video I linked has some thoughts on the remake I agree with, and so I thought that this is the direction Square Enix decided to take for this series. At the end of the FFVII Remake they even show a fragment from Crisis Core ending cutscene which was altered and doesn’t match with what was in the original game, so when I knew they’re remaking Crisis Core I expected them to do what they did with Final Fantasy VII. And thus I decided I will not play this release, and keep my good memory of the game.

Then, the videos of the Reunion started to pop up, and I failed to avoid them, so I saw a bit of it, and was indeed disappointed. The videos featured some early game cutscenes, and voice actors weren’t doing the game justice in my opinion. Turns out, this wasn’t just my opinion - lots of fans of the original game were actively discussing new voices, and mostly none of them liked how they’ve changed. This justified not playing the game for me even more.

Was I wrong? Well, kinda.

I already mentioned at the start of this post that the Crisis Core remake is very good, but I want to point out some things. Also, I would refer to the Crisis Core remake as CC Reunion from this point on, and Final Fantasy VII Remake will be just FFVII Remake.

Graphics and performance

After I saw how beautiful the graphics were in the FFVII Remake when it initially released, I immediately thought it would be great if Crisis Core were to be remade with similar graphics. And while the CC Reunion isn’t as beautiful as the Remake, it’s close.

However, I’ve noticed that a lot of games today have a weird ghosting effect:

As far as I know, it’s caused by TAA which stands for temporal antialiasing, and I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to use this technique in games with moving objects. I can see this effect practically at all times during the game, and it is kinda ruining the experience for me, at least a bit. Other than that, this game looks solid, especially for running on a Switch - a six-year-old hardware with not the highest specs to begin with. To be honest, I would actually prefer if it didn’t use antialiasing at all, as I don’t have any issues with jagged edges in games after playing on PS4 for so many years. And IMO, jagged edges are a lot easier to forgive than ghosting.

It’s like motion blur - all games that I play I turn it off when I can, as it makes games more crisp, and doesn’t turn the picture into an eye-melting mush every time I turn the camera. Unfortunately, in the case of CC Reunion, every time something moves over a texture with enough details, a noticeable semi-transparent trail shows up, as shown on the screenshots above. I thought I would get used to it after some time, but I didn’t.

But, speaking of performance, the game runs really smoothly, load times are not that long, and I hadn’t noticed it using dynamic resolution. Though, I’ve been playing on a couch on a big TV, so I don’t think I would notice a difference in resolution that much - it’s far more noticeable when you’re playing on a PC with the screen right at your face. Weirdly enough, the pre-rendered CGI cutscenes were lagging more times than I’d expected. I mean, I’m assuming it’s just a video file played in-game, as it was like this in the original Crisis Core, yet the FPS dropped a few times enough to notice it. Not sure if that’s the Switch’s issue or not, as the rest of the game basically runs without any noticeable lag.

Music and sound

I have noticed that the game’s music isn’t exactly the original music but a re-recording. Though, I feel like the result is close enough to the original, and it didn’t bother me at all. I’m not sure if the ending theme is completely re-recorded or just re-mastered, though. Perhaps the former, but I wasn’t listening closely enough, and I don’t remember the original piece all that well already.

Not much that I can say about the subject, but I didn’t want to omit it completely. I like it more when the original music is kept, but this is also good.

Story, characters, interactions

What I do remember is the story. Perhaps I remember it too well for my own good. I remember how the lines should go, when the characters say or do something and how they do it.

And, I gotta say, playing the CC Reunion after I played original for so many times feels extremely uncanny. I mean literally, Reunion gave me the uncanny valley feeling for maybe the first third of the game. Here’s why:

  1. The game looks a lot like the original - all of the environments are basically the same how I remember them though with a higher graphical fidelity
  2. The animations are exactly the same. It’s amazing how they managed to do them exactly right.
  3. The voice acting is different.

This game looks familiar, moves exactly the same how I remember it, yet sounds completely different and it feels extremely weird. I went and watched some videos where fans put back the original voices on the new in-engine cutscenes, and the uncanny feeling immediately disappears. But I got accustomed to the new voices pretty quickly. At first, I started playing with Japanese voices, as tried to shake off this weird feeling, but then I turned back to English voices. It seems that the actors got better over the course of the recording process. I mean, listen how Zack says “Zack speaking” after he gets off the train, and then compare it to later performances near the end of the game. It’s quite different.

I didn’t want to talk about voice acting, as I feel that most of the things were already said by the community. And I do prefer the original voice acting, but the new one is tolerable. However.

There’s one major change to how the story is now perceived - the game is now fully voiced. In the original, both the CGI and in-engine cutscenes were voiced, but that’s it. The rest of the game was text only. Talking to NPCs, and even some story elements, were delivered as text. And, it was fine.

Quoting the videogamedunkey channel again:

It’s one thing to read a weird dialog, but when you actually hear it, you go: “huh?”

And that’s exactly what happens for half of the text-only dialogues from the original. Paired with the fact that the devs kept the original character animation, it looks hilarious:

And there are many examples like this, but I wouldn’t blame the voice actors here. Most dialogues likely weren’t meant to be voiced. Still, this also contributes to the uncanny valley feeling.

On the other hand, the fact that the in-game dialogues use the same animations is amazing. In most places, the original animations were expressive and in character. Re-doing those would further drift this game away from the original, and I would start to question other decisions.

One thing I don’t really get though is why they didn’t make characters more like they’re in the CGI cutscenes. I mean, the models are much more detailed now, but more often than not the original models resembled CGI models better. I don’t know how to explain this better, but Zack’s face is wider in game than it is in the CGI cutscene. Maybe that’s due to the lighting, though.

The new designs are OK, and mostly faithful to the original. Kids are much better than in the original, as there they were extremely low poly.

The gameplay though is quite different. If you played the original, you’ve probably developed a tactic to avoid unnecessary combat. In the original, you could do wall-hugging which means that you basically walk into a wall and slide over it, avoiding triggers that will start the enemy encounter. This actually still works in the CC Reunion, and it’s great, as I can basically complete the game in much the same way I did on PSP. But it’s less necessary now.

In the original, the combat system was a bit rigid. The PSP had only so many buttons, lacking a second analog stick, and two additional shoulder buttons. Thankfully, the Switch has those, and CC Reunion devs decided to revamp the battle controls a bit.

Now, instead of choosing an action and performing it, which meant that you had to chose basic things like attack, or materia, you can attack at any time, and instead of choosing materia from the ribbon menu, you have quick access via a toggle. That was a really long sentence without much substance, but I can’t explain it better. The new controls are much better, and I don’t miss the original scheme at all.

Another thing is that in the original, the combat basically was turn-based in disguise. You selected an action, and Zack was queued to perform it, which could happen after a slight delay. Enemies were the same in this regard.

So, for example, you selected a materia that casts a block of ice to fall onto an enemy. It was marked as “next” in the UI, and Zack first had to finish any action he was in the middle of, like a dodge. Then the action was performed automatically. So even if you were knocked back, Zack would perform the queued action after he gets up by himself.

It’s not like that in the CC Reunion. The combat is more like in the FFVII Remake, except it retains the Crisis Core specific elements, like Digital Mind Wave. Speaking of which, now you have to manually execute the limit break, which was automatic in the original. And I’m not sure what I liked more - in the original if you had limit break activated, you were queued invincibility, and it could save you in a lot of situations. Now it is much harder to avoid damage via a limit break, though it is more reliable.

I like the new combat system, but I wouldn’t say that the old one is bad. It’s just the most dated aspect of the original, but it’s still functional. I definitively engaged into combat more than with the original, but at the end of the game I was still hugging walls, as I didn’t play this game for the combat.

Other than that, the gameplay is pretty much the same, but far less tedious.

Ending thoughts

I really liked Crisis Core Reunion. Perhaps because I went into the game with a lot lower expectations, given the fuss around voice acting. It’s a great game, now available to more people than before. I do wish some things were further improved, but it’s nothing serious.

I do have plans on playing the original Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation One if I manage to get my hands on one and a CRT TV, as playing it on a modern flat screen will look way too ugly. Sadly, it’s quite hard to find PS1 today, but maybe I’ll manage to get the PSX version for PSP I still have and somehow hook it up to a TV. We’ll see.

As for the FFVII Remake, I don’t think I’ll play the rest of the games they release. The Remake changed the story in a way I didn’t like. As far as I know, they will continue re-imagining it, so perhaps I’ll pass.

However, the CC Reunion remake is a good aim for any other remakes that studios want to make. It’s faithful to the original, doesn’t change what doesn’t need to be changed, and reduces friction where needed. It does feel like a remaster because of that, and perhaps that’s why everyone calls it that.

And perhaps that what a good remake should be!