The developers of both games discuss the process of remastering two portable classics.
Two of the greatest games from the PlayStation Portable era are back – and they’ve had some work done.
Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion and Tactics Ogre: Reborn aren’t mere remasters – they’re whole new experiences, with enhancements, additional features and much more.
For example, Crisis Core – a prequel to the original Final Fantasy VII – has been given a lavish visual upgrade, and its battle system significantly revamped to be faster, smoother and more enjoyable to play.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn enhances the critically acclaimed Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together with updated visuals and sound, plus enhancements to the battle and customization systems that make it easier to play, and even more strategically deep. There’s even entirely new content. It was already considered one of the jewels of the tactical RPG genre – now it shines even brighter!
But what goes into bringing these once handheld-exclusive games over to modern platforms? With both games arriving in 2022, we gathered the devs to find out!
Involved in this discussion are:
Yoshinori Kitase (Producer, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion)
Mariko Sato (Producer, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion)
Hiroaki Kato (Producer, Tactics Ogre: Reborn)
Takashi Katano (Director, Tactics Ogre: Reborn)
Naoyuki Takahashi (Lead Game Designer, Tactics Ogre Reborn)
Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII and Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together are two of the most acclaimed games released on the PSP. There’s a lot of anticipation about them coming back, especially in new and improved form – but why do it now?
Hiroaki Kato (Producer, Tactics Ogre: Reborn): Personally speaking, I’d always had a strong desire to be involved in the development of Tactics Ogre again at some point – especially if I could incorporate some of the feedback from people who played the PSP version.
The turning point for me was the development of Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age, which I was in charge of. After improving elements of the original game – such as the visuals, and sound, adding new voice recordings, and improving the battle design and playability – I thought: “Maybe I can utilize this knowledge to create a new Tactics Ogre!”
That’s when I decided to develop it.
Yoshinori Kitase (Producer, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion): If a game’s original hardware is no longer manufactured, it can be difficult to play the title. Crisis Core is an example of that.
Of course, it would be possible to use cloud technology to play the game at its original specs, but the truth is that after Final Fantasy VII Remake fans have higher expectations towards the graphics.
So, I think that it’s definitely worthwhile remastering the game for current generation platforms in order to meet these expectations.
Of course, it’s also a Reunion for many of you who worked on those original games. You must have some fond memories of that time…
Yoshinori Kitase (Producer, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion): I was executive director on the original Crisis Core… but we didn’t have enough game designers back then, so I also joined the creative teams on the ground part way through the development period!
I was in charge of several sections that came from the original Final Fantasy VII, such as the level design for inside the Shinra Mansion and the staging for the confrontation between Cloud and Sephiroth in the Nibelheim Reactor. There was a lot of nostalgia working on those (laughs)!
Takashi Katano (Director, Tactics Ogre: Reborn): I was the technical director for Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, so I tend to think about the technical aspects. The most memorable moment for me was when the prototypes for the Chariot Tarot and World Tarot were implemented.
These features were the biggest challenge from a technical standpoint, as they let you rewind battles and the progression of the game itself. I remember how new it felt to be able to do this!
Kato: For that PSP version, we recorded and implemented three songs with a live orchestra: the title song that plays at start-up, the prologue movie song, and the opening movie song. I remember listening to the data of the three songs delivered to us and being overwhelmed by the power of the live orchestral performance.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn has live orchestral performance throughout the entire game, so I hope people experience similarly visceral feelings to those I did all those years ago.
Mariko Sato (Producer, Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion): I didn’t work on the original Crisis Core, but I definitely played it when it came out!
At the time, I vaguely remembered Zack as a character who only had a brief appearance in Final Fantasy VII, but I was so surprised at the emotional reaction I had to his story.
Naoyuki Takahashi (Lead Game Designer, Tactics Ogre Reborn): I played Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on PSP and found the game to be very substantial – especially the weight of the story choices and the battles.
I also recall being surprised and delighted that even when the game was nearing its end, I could keep on playing with unit training and end game content.
Both of these remasters add lots of improvements and new features. How did you decide what to add to the game?
Takahashi: First, everyone on the Tactics Ogre: Reborn development team played the original version together and made a list of good points and things to be improved. Based on this list, we held discussions and decided what to add to this new version.
Kato: Yes, I replayed the PSP version again, including all the extra elements, so this is now the game I have spent the most time playing ever (laughs).
Fortunately, one of its charms of this game is that you can play it over and over again without getting tired of it. That, and having that list of things to review and new elements to incorporate, meant that playtesting was always a fresh and enjoyable experience.
Takahashi: That list of changes and new features was finalized as development progressed – and if we found new elements that we thought should be added, we address them too.
Katano: There were also some things based on feedback from players of the PSP version that we’d already decided to do, including applying level increases to units instead of classes and redesigning the artificial intelligence.
Of course, not everything proceeded according to plan, and there were some elements that were finalized during the development process, such as a major replacement of the sound effects, which was accomplished through the efforts of our sound department during the latter half of the project.
Sato: For Crisis Core, we discussed the direction we wanted to take the remastered version in with Creative Director Nomura Tetsuya. The development studio (Tose) also made proposals for enhancements, and from there, we decided what to go with.
What was the most challenging thing about adding these new features?
Sato: There were many challenges, but adjusting the visuals was one of the biggest. We originally considered porting the graphics unchanged, but there were a lot of things that we were concerned about when we first brought the original version onto a large screen.
We ultimately decided that we wanted to create a similar impression to the graphics from Final Fantasy VII REMAKE. However, there were some things that just didn’t work well when we just swapped out the 3D models, so we spent many long days altering and adjusting things.
Kitase: The PSP used the same graphics technology as the PS2 generation, so there’s a gap of three generations here! Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion has achieved a graphical quality close to Final Fantasy VII REMAKE, which makes it feel like a new, fresher and more exciting game to play.
Sato: We also felt that the original Crisis Core battle system felt a bit difficult to play in some places, especially when compared to recent games that have action-based battles.
We re-examined all the areas that people considered hard to play in the original and implemented various ideas to improve them. A long period of tweaking and polishing was needed here too, to ensure that the game was more playable, but kept what made the original great.
Thinking back on it, we really did some serious fine tuning on the game (laugh).
There must have been just as many challenges on Tactics Ogre: Reborn too.
Katano: Perhaps the biggest was to design a UI (user interface) that would be compatible with both mouse and controller. We’d assumed from the beginning that mouse operation would be possible and had intended to incorporate elements like icons to support it.
However, there was no ‘ready to go’ solution to make using a mouse possible without compromising the convenience of controller operation. We worked on many iterations and improvements, right until the end of development!
There were also technical issues due to originally releasing on an older platform. For example, the PSP version stored data based on a CLUT (color look up table) – essentially a complex mechanism that determines color by combining multiple elements in a technical way.
Sticking with this system limited our ability to work at higher resolutions, which meant that it became necessary for some data to be rendered in full color. It was enormously difficult to reconstruct the data to meet this requirement.
Both Tactics Ogre and Crisis Core were also originally handheld experiences. How does that change development compared to making a game for consoles?
Sato: I can only talk from personal experience, but the specs of the current generation of platforms have improved a lot over what went before, which makes it possible to depict many different things – not just with the graphics but in lots of ways.
That naturally makes you want to push the development as far as it will go and add everything you can think of.
Games for dedicated mobile platforms are convenient because people can play them anywhere, but the specs you can work with as a developer are limited. As a result, you draw a line at a certain point in development and don’t experience the process where you go round in circles thinking “Ooh, I really want to implement that, and I also want to add that…”.
That’s a big difference between developing a game for console vs handheld.
Katano: There are big differences between making games for PS5 and PS5 compared to PSP or other mobile devices. For example, two major points of difference are the resolution and size of the screen on which the game is viewed.
For example, Tactics Ogre is a pixel art game in appearance, so the resolution of the screen greatly affects it. We had to consider how we could take advantage of the best qualities of the pixel art, while accommodating the high-resolution screens of today.
We also had to take great care in designing the UI. If a game is made purely for mobile devices, the UI is designed to be larger, as the screen size is fixed and smaller than that of a TV. On modern platforms, however, images are viewed on screens of various sizes, so we had to prepare lots of different displays when we were working on UI design and review.
There are also different technical considerations. For example, when we were working on Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on PSP, we had to put a lot of effort into improving the UMD loading speed. For the PS5 and PS4 versions of the game, the platforms sort of solve that issue for us – that’s something that we were very grateful for (laughs)!
Both Crisis Core and Tactics Ogre are true fan-favorites. Did that have an impact during development?
Sato: Indeed – the project team knew that it was quite a popular title from the beginning of development. We saw how lots of fans would post about Crisis Core on the anniversary of its release date each year.
There was a little pressure from that, but the whole team really threw themselves into the development, so we’re eager to show the results to everyone now! It was genuinely thanks to all the kind words from the fans that we were able to work so hard on this new version!
Incidentally, the way everyone called out “Gongaga!” when we revealed the game made me feel really glad after all our efforts (laughs).
Kato: For Tactics Ogre: Reborn, we wanted to ensure we presented fans with an experience that would surpass their memories. We focused on retaining the nostalgic flavors of the game, while incorporating current-generation technology and production styles to create something that feels effortless to play.
Takahashi: Throughout the whole of development, we considered what fans might be excited for. For example, we constructed the battles in such a way that the strong enemies who are appealing in the story are also strong enemies in terms of gameplay as well.
Katano: And while that core concept of providing enjoyment to customers remained a constant, we also carefully considered each new element with the game’s original Director and Writer, Yasumi Matsuno, to ensure that the direction of our improvements fit the world of Tactics Ogre.
Finally, what would you like to say to any players picking up Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion or Tactics Ogre: Reborn?
Sato: Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII Reunion- has been made so that players of the PSP original can enjoy a nostalgic, but also fresh and different, experience, I would recommend giving it a try.
Playing this game will also let you enjoy the original Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII Remake and the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Rebirth on a deeper level too!
Kato: For those who have played Tactics Ogre before, experiencing it with the fully voiced cutscenes and live music may leave them with a new impression. Also, the design improvements make gameplay more effortless, and let you enjoy the elaborately crafted world of The Valerian Isles at an even deeper level.
For those who are playing for the first time, I hope that you’ll be drawn into the world and the story, just like those who played in the past. Please enjoy the highly flexible character development and the tactical battles, where the fun lies in putting a little bit of thought into each move to figure out how to achieve victory!
Takahashi: I think Tactics Ogre: Reborn has a different feel from the PSP version. The game has added voices and a new storyline, so I hope you will enjoy the game!
Katano: I’ll add that the PSP version was only available in Japanese in Japan and English outside of Japan, but Tactics Ogre: Reborn supports English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese – the voices can be switched between English and Japanese. As such, we believe many more people will be able to enjoy the game. I hope you’ll pick it up and have a great time!
Many thanks to all the participants for sharing their thoughts and experiences of remaking these handheld classics.
As you can tell, Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion and Tactics Ogre: Reborn are so much more than simple remasters. They bring two superb games up to date, delivering something new and exciting, while capturing what made them great in the first place!
Tactics Ogre: Reborn launches for PS5 and PS4 on November 11, 2022.