After ‘Final Fantasy 7 Remake’, I’m Hankering For Some ‘Crisis Core’
A quick spoiler warning, for you: this article contains some spoilers for Final Fantasy VII (1997) and Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020), as well as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007).
Final Fantasy VII Remake sure is a video game, huh. A very good video game, that's full of very video game-y bits that are very good. During my time with it, I had a lot of fun - and while Square Enix's long-awaited, new-gen remake of the 1997 PlayStation classic isn't without fault, it's clearly brought a lot of joy to Final Fantasy fans old and new. At least, that's what a cursory evaluation of my Twitter feed tells me.
When I finished Remake, I immediately felt an itch, an urge, to return to the source. The credits hadn't even finished before I was powering up my Switch to check that Final Fantasy VII was still installed on it. (And it was, thankfully, because its quality-of-life enhancements make playing the actual PlayStation game, off the actual PlayStation discs, feel like a chore these days.)
I had visions of exploring, for the nth time, the much-smaller, somewhat-more-restricted version of Midgar. Of meeting Aerith again, only with sharp right angles for hands, surely no good for picking flowers. And of replaying the sequence in Shinra HQ where Cloud has to follow the smeared trail of Jenova up to the building's uppermost floor - far creepier in the 1997 game, thanks to that music and the graininess of it all.
But reality, inevitably, bit. And I changed tack. Because it's not 1997's Final Fantasy VII that should be the game that people finishing Remake turn to for more of the same, albeit very different.
It's 2007's Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation Portable (and, so far, nothing else - remake, when?) that needs to be dug out, booted up and revisited. Or, perhaps, for this prequel, set six years before FVIII, to be seen from start to finish for the very first time. Which, in my case, is precisely what this playthrough is going to represent. The finish bit, anyway.
I've played Crisis Core before, but not to its bitter end (which I most certainly have seen online). When I got the UMD spinning away inside my PSP last night, I noted that the last save file is dated from about two years ago - and that also represents my only save file, albeit one with several hours' progress. But I've still not reached the credits - and because two years ago is plenty long enough for me to have forgotten how to play this thing, I've started over.
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How Crisis Core plays is sort of beside the point for this article, and this argument. But nevertheless, it's worth a moment, because this sure isn't ATB town anymore. If you enjoyed the more action-focused combat of Remake, then Crisis Core will tick your boxes for battling with more immediacy than if you were coming to it straight off the back of the slower, turn-based encounters of 1997's FFVII. It's a lot busier, is what I'm saying, with plenty of dodging - but its 'Digital Mind Wave' system still puzzles me somewhat. Something about sevens... sevens are important...
Anyway, back to Remake and - spoilers ahead - its ending. If you played Remake having already finished the 32-bit-era game that it shares its name with, then you'll know a fair bit about Zack Fair, Crisis Core's solo protagonist, but rather less so if you've not. This suspiciously Cloud-like character only appears in a couple of CGI sequences in Remake, around the time that our protagonists are fighting their way out of the Shinra Building and subsequently out of Midgar itself.
Exactly what Zack's doing in the Remake scenes, facing off against a legion of Shinra soldiers, isn't obvious. But what sure is: he is a SOLDIER, part of Shinra's most-elite fighting force, just as Cloud appears to be when we meet him in FFVII and Remake.
But if Remake is your first dance with FFVII, Crisis Core will bring what you saw of Zack at its end, and his huge significance to Cloud, into sharper focus. At the beginning of Crisis Core, Zack is depicted as a SOLDIER, Second Class, operating under the guidance of Angeal Hewley, who just happens to carry around an almighty great Buster Sword. Across the game's story we learn more of Sephiroth, Remake's final boss, as well as the Turks and Aerith Gainsborough. And yes, how that iconic weapon makes its way from Angeal to Cloud is something that is revealed across this game, and the game it directly leads into.
But that element of the wider 'Compilation' story for Final Fantasy VII, across its many instalments, isn't yet a part of Remake - and I'm not certain, based on what we've seen in the 2020 game, that it'll be made any the clearer in its no-date-yet-set sequel. That'll presumably take Cloud, Tifa, Barret et al to the eeriness of Nibelheim, the horrors of the Nibel Reactor, Cosmo Canyon and Rocket Town - but at this stage, your guess is as good as mine. If Square Enix can go as wild as they did at the end of Remake, who knows how its second chapter will play out. It did say, after all, that the "unknown" journey will continue, so it could well deviate from 1997's events even further.
Back to Crisis Core, though, and its presentation - outside of its gameplay - shares more DNA with Remake than the 1997 game. Its hyperkinetic CGI cutscenes are a little rougher-looking than those of Remake, but they're far more in keeping with the new game's aesthetic - i.e., the whole Advent Children look - than the blockiness of the original title. So that'll definitely help prevent visual whiplash if you bounce from Remake to something older, but no less essential when it comes to the Bigger Picture of all of this.
And in terms of getting a decent grasp of that Bigger Picture, of the wider FFVII Compilation in the wake of Remake, it's undeniably Crisis Core above all else that's worth your gaming time (apologies to Dirge of Cerberus, which is best left on YouTube if you've never had the dubious pleasure of playing it). It won't take as long to finish as Remake did, and you'll get a valid sense of completion from it - something 2020's game really lacks. Oh, and its ending leads directly to the beginning of FFVII and Remake - even though Remake appears to rewrite Crisis Core's final moments somewhat (understatement of the year, right there). So if you're still in the dark on the whole Cloud cruising into Midgar on the back of a train thing, hey, play Crisis Core.
I mean, there's more to it than that. Obviously. About Cloud, his backstory, his place in SOLDIER, all the rest of it. Aerith and the Ancients, Sephiroth's relationship with Shinra, those flashbacks with Tifa, in her funny hat, getting really angry in the reactor. Not so much all those Dementor-like Whispers, granted, but there are so many loose ends of Remake that can be tied by simply playing Crisis Core. But it's mainly the train thing, isn't it. Isn't it?
Featured Image Credit: Square Enix