Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII Reunion Review
It’s wild to me the original Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is nearly 15 years old. In all that time, it’s been locked away, only being available on Sony’s maligned UMD format experiment. Luckily with the upcoming release of Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII Reunion, the jail cell has finally been broken, and a whole new generation of players and returning Zack stans can once again enjoy this prequel adventure. After playing through the game, I can confidently say that this still very much feels like Crisis Core for PSP, for better and worse.
To begin, I think it’s important for prospective players to know what they are and aren’t getting with Reunion. What you are not getting is the Crisis Core story retold in the Final Fantasy VII Remake engine or with its mechanics. What you are getting, though, is a refined version with updated visuals, some quality-of-life improvements, and some new features, all while retaining the same structure and vibe of a late 2000s portable experience. Crisis Core comes complete with the same over-the-top dialog that fans of the original remember, albeit with a re-recorded cast.
Crisis Core Reunion tells the story of Zack Fair, the mentor of the original Final Fantasy VII’s protagonist Cloud, and the game serves as a direct prequel to the original PlayStation title. It begins with a young and overly eager Zack, a 2nd Class SOLDIER operative, with his mentor Angeal, responding to reports that 1st class operative Genesis, a close childhood friend of Angeal, has gone rogue. What follows is a series of twists and surprises as Zack has to contend with his new role in the coming conflict and internal struggles within SOLDIER and Shinra itself. Throughout it all, though, Zack remains as chipper and easily excitable as ever, living up to his “Zack the puppy” nickname, and he remains the shining light of this story. Fans of the original Final Fantasy VII, and even those who have only experienced Remake, will find plenty of little snippets and cameos of things they recognize over the course of the tale.
Zack’s upbeat nature, excited mannerisms, and optimism are needed contrasts to the dark, gritty nature of Midgar.The themes of war, desertion, and more that are ever present, even in these early segments of Crisis Core. I loved Zack when I played through the original version of Crisis Core back on my PSP, and even though I find his new voice actor occasionally sounds like the comedian John Mulaney, I still love him today.
From a cursory glance at any screenshot or trailer, it’s clear to see that the graphics have seen a dramatic improvement over the PSP version, but there are relics that have been directly carried over and stick out. Many of the prerendered cutscenes featured in the original PSP version of Crisis Core remain in Reunion, having only been upscaled and the Buster Sword model corrected. Even with the up-res process, they went through, these videos still have a grainy and rough look to them. Even the character model of Zack I found to have a bit different of an aesthetic in these old CGI videos compared to his updated game model. The fact that these old movies are rare and far between simply makes them stand out more when they show up.
On the flip side, the redone limit breaks and especially redone CGI summon attacks look absolutely killer. A few series mainstays are present in Crisis Core, like Ifrit, Bahamut, and Odin,and much like other entries they appear in, they tend to feature more of the flashier attacks among the summon pantheon. This remains the case, with both of their attacks never failing to leave me with shivers with just how impressive they are.
Combat is the component that has been most significantly adjusted from the original release, with the general pace of every encounter being faster and smoother than its portable ancestor. The slot machine mechanic that is the Digital Mind Wave (DMW) is still present and I still can’t stand it though. I was never a fan when I played the original of how many aspects are tied to this randomly generated system (leveling your materia, summons, and even when Zack levels up) and nothing in Reunion made me change my view on this. I’m glad it’s never appeared in a subsequent game since.
Thanks to the additional buttons, Zack’s default sword attack now has its own button meaning that you no longer have to swap back to it in a menu to use the attack. Remaining on the topic of improved battle flow, spell and special attacks from materia now are assigned to their own buttons, usable but toggling between your standard actions (basic attack, item use) and your materia-based attacks. As a bonus, you are able to create multiple sets of materia in the menu, but you won’t be able to freely swap between them in combat, instead forcing you to manually swap between them from the start menu. Having the second analogue stick also helps immensely, letting you easily move the camera around at any time.
To further make Crisis Core Reunion more approachable, after obtaining SOLDIER 1st Class, a new mechanic is introduced that helps replenish your health, mp, and ap (the points used for special abilities) after each fight. The amount that will be regained is based on your performance in the encounter. If you prioritize finishing foes with magic spells, you will gain mp back and ,similarly ap if you opt for special abilities instead. If you are extra good in a fight, finishing things off without taking damage, you will regain a percentage of everything back! I would have liked this feature to be toggleable, as I find it made things a bit to easy and made most item use irrelevant during my playthrough.
Despite all the combat changes made to this remaster, Crisis Core Reunion’s structure remains closely bound to decisions that were put in place due to the technical limitations of the PSP hardware. The many locations you will be visiting during this 30-plus hour adventure are presented not as sprawling and filled-out areas but instead as smaller, relatively barren zones that are connected to one another by loading screens. For larger story missions, you will find numerous save points spread throughout, relics from the original that make less sense in this remaster. Even with the updated visuals, perhaps even exacerbated due to it, the environments just feel lifeless. Encounters are random, with enemies jumping out from nowhere to attack you with the only exception being the target that you need to dispatch to complete the mission.
This approach was understandable for the original Crisis Core release, but it was disappointing this wasn’t addressed or improved for Reunion. Strong as it is, the art direction and new graphics can only do so much.
The other area where the restraints of Crisis Core’s original version is most apparent is with the game's side missions, all 300 of them. These bite-sized missions see Zack tackling small challenges, usually involving killing a certain monster that is waiting somewhere in the mission's small map. Most will take you, on average, between 45 seconds to three minutes to complete, depending on how long you look for treasure chests. Completing one mission will usually unlock another, and reaching completion milestones may net you additional bonuses.
It’s an approach that I remember vividly from portable games of the era, a design that allowed players to feel like they could make progress, even when they couldn’t invest a lot of time into playing. It’s a methodology that is much more at home on a portable device like the PSP than you would expect in a home console release back then and especially so today. That said, I found this approach to be more forgivable as each one further enriches the lore of Final Fantasy VII and expands its already substantial web of connection, and I could easily just go on auto-pilot to progress.
With so many side missions, though, you can expect to visit the same handful of locations, like the underground cave, the forest, the open field by the ranch, or desert cliffs, as examples. This repetition really highlighted just how empty they all were and was the main cause of why I had to have something else in the background going on while I grinded missions.
Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII Reunion is one of Square Enix’s better remaster offerings and is generally a pleasure to play. The responsiveness and tight controls, along with the new quality-of-life additions, make combat a thrill to take part in. The visuals breathe extra life into an already interesting world, and I never got sick of watching the redone summon attacks. The story of Zack, while tragic, is still filled with moments of some brevity and intrigue, thanks in new small part to Zack simply being a wonderful character. My gripes aside, I am thrilled that whole new generations of players can once again enjoy this prequel and see Zack’s story again after such a long time. Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a must-play for anyone that loves Final Fantasy VII.