One of the most anticipated video games of the year isn’t really new. It’s 15 years old. It’s a prequel to an even older game.
new game is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, scheduled for release next week. It’s a reboot of the 2007 mobile game of nearly the same name, except with better graphics and accelerated combat so it can be resold to modern systems, including the new PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo consoles. It’s also a prequel to another game reboot, 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.
If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Video game reboots are nothing new, and, boy, have there been a lot of them lately. This year, game studios have released updated versions of popular titles, including The Last of Us, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ogre Tactics, among others.
With Reunion, Final Fantasy maker Square Enix is capitalizing on the nostalgia enterprise. Originally released in 1987, Final Fantasy became a blockbuster when the game’s seventh installment debuted in 1997. In that game, players take on the role of Cloud, an angry mercenary who joins a group of misfits to stop the end of the world.
Since then, Final Fantasy VII has become one of the most influential games in history, spawning spinoffs, animated films, and fan fiction. The game has been re-released at least six times on every major gaming platform, including PC, tablet and smartphone. It’s a juggernaut – Reunion has played its part in keeping the franchise alive.
Most video game reboots are nothing more than upping the graphics resolution to look better on new TVs, but Reunion is different. With completely revamped visuals and smoother gameplay, it’s much better than the original. It’s a great example of how a reboot can be done in a righteous way, and it’s a very safe bet to keep a recognized title.
“Instead of us doing something that doesn’t have a certain recognition yet,” Yoshinori Kitase, Square Enix’s Reunion executive producer, said through a translator: “We can better see these characters and the audience for the Final Fantasy VII series.”
After playing a portion of the original Crisis Core, I finished Reunion last week. Combat and visual changes have transformed the game from a so-so entry into a must-play Final Fantasy episode whose cachet in gaming rivals that of pop culture’s Star Wars. (In other words, Reunion is the Final Fantasy Rogue One—the prequel we deserve.)
Reunion is also an extreme approach to “remastered,” a video game term for an old game whose graphics have been scaled up to look better on a new TV. Since Square Enix originally released Crisis Core for mobile gaming devices (the outdated PlayStation Portable), the graphics had to be redone for modern systems.
Now, the pixelated, expressionless faces of the original characters have been replaced by realistically detailed mugs; the drab backgrounds of city streets and dungeons are enriched with color and texture.
The game’s producers also took the extra step of fixing the most annoying aspect of the original — the combat system — to make progression through the game more fast-paced and fun. If people are bored with video games, it’s a smart solution in an age of unlimited options for other things to do.
Square Enix left the Crisis Core story intact, including the voice actors’ script. The game centers on Zack Fair, a member of the elite military force Soldier, controlled by Shinra, the world’s dominant power company.
Zack’s mission is to track down a pair of buddies who left Shinra. It’s no spoiler to say that our heroes met tragic endings, a fact that fans of the franchise have known for over 20 years. But the prequels tell how his legacy contributed to the epic events of Final Fantasy VII.
However, while Reunion’s graphics are a marked improvement over the original, the game is nowhere near as polished or well-crafted as its sibling, Final Fantasy VII Remake.
That’s because Reunion is essentially an intermission to a larger show. According to Square Enix, its main purpose is to keep gamers interested in the franchise between the releases of Final Fantasy VII Remake, which sold 3.5 million copies in its first three days in 2020, making it the best-selling franchise ever. One of the PlayStation 4 games. The remake is being released in installments, every two to three years. (Episode 2 is expected to be released next winter, nearly three years after Episode 1, with the series wrapping up with Episode 3.)
“It’s going to be a long wait,” Mr Gide said. “So we wanted to make sure we got those fans engaged and interested“
Even so, the break was endearing. The game gives Final Fantasy VII stars Aerith, Sephiroth, and Cloud a lot of playing time, fleshing out those characters and setting the stage for an epic game.
In terms of gameplay, Reunion takes a fresh approach to combat. Players can freely control Zack in 3D space, swinging his great sword to attack monsters, and dodging its attacks while attacking monsters with magic. This feels more exciting than the old-school “turn-based” system, in which players engage enemies by pressing buttons to trigger actions, then wait for them to take their turn.
The biggest problem with the original Crisis’ core combat system was the digital mindwave, which was essentially a slot machine that was constantly running in the background of each fight. When the scroll lands on certain combinations, it triggers a special attack that can wipe out enemies.
In the original, the slot machine was noisy and obnoxious, interrupting a fight to play its animation. Fortunately, it has been tuned down to run silently in the background, and players can press a button to activate it at any time when the slot machine unlocks the bonus, and even skip animations.
Reunion also simplifies the experience of grinding, which traditionally involves repeated (often mind-numbing) combat in order to become strong enough to continue the game. Instead of wandering around and fighting random enemies, players can take optional missions and deploy Zack to take out specific enemies. Along the way, players can level up and collect useful items and spells to aid them in their main journey.
In the end, it took me about 18 hours to finish the game, and I had a blast (unlike my experience with original Crisis Core, where I stopped playing after four hours because the combat was so tedious). My main complaint is that the game is too easy. After completing a handful of optional missions, the player finds himself powerful and defeats the game’s main villain with little effort.
Some gamers hungry for a whole new title may feel that releasing a reboot is too easy for a game maker like Square Enix. The risk with reboots, Mr. Yoshinori said, is that they could end up appealing to a single, older fanbase. The company initially intended a more modest update to Crisis Core with minor graphics improvements, but once it found that Final Fantasy VII Remake was attracting many new fans, the mission was changed to appeal to those gamers.
“We decided midway through development that we had to update the game,” he said.