Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion Review

Geek Review – Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion

The year is 2007 and the PlayStation Portable (PSP), clutched tightly in hand, turns on, and the ‘Start Game’ option appears. You select it, and get immediately transported into a landscape that’s all too familiar now: the formidable, looming Shinra corporation building hanging over the dilapidated slums of Midgar, bathed in the green glow of Mako energy. 

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The overture of a glockenspiel leitmotif lingers in the backdrop, and the scene leads into a dramatic hero reveal. Clad in uniform, Zack Fair makes his grand entrance on a train in all his spiky-haired glory, marking the start of another Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) adventure – one that’s set before the events of one of the franchise’s most illustrious entries. 

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And so begins the story of a character who would go on to play an important role in shaping Cloud’s legacy in FFVII. 15 years later, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion repackages this hero’s tale into a sensitive, faithful remaster that has undergone a handsome glow-up, but also shows that too much of a good thing, which in this case, is faithfulness to the source material (or shall we say, materia), isn’t always a good thing. 

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Like the original prequel, the game features an action-focused approach that puts Zack in the spotlight. The exuberant, squat-loving, and impressively skilled fighter is introduced as a  member of Shinra Electric Company’s SOLDIER programme, with hopes of climbing the ranks to become a Soldier 1st Class, and stand beside other legendary warriors like Genesis, Angeal, and the later-notorious Sephiroth. 

Trouble, however, starts brewing when news about the experiments that Shinra conducted on these elite fighters begins to surface, which puts a heavy strain on their friendship and comradery. Zack ends up being tangled in the mess, and these tensions inevitably spark a chain of events that would bleed into FFVII, including Sephiroth’s descent into madness, the burning of Nibelheim, and Cloud’s involvement in the whole affair – as well as his subsequent rise to the protagonist of the mainline game. 

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Coming into Reunion, the most immediate upgrade is its overhauled visuals that further sweeten the experience. Make no mistake, the remaster isn’t as polished as FFVII Remake, but the Unreal Engine 4 magic has clearly worked here, taking the form of great-looking character models, highly-detailed environments, and a clean UI.

Indeed, the characters all look pretty damn good during cutscenes, from Zack’s spiky tips and his sharp facial features to the walking animation of say, Angeal or Sephiroth – everything has been vastly improved here. There’s even a lighting system to go with, adding shadows that were previously lacking in the original. 

The Summon sequences are easily the best part of the graphical overhaul, with Ifrit’s fiery, devastating Hellfire making for an incredibly cool entrance, while Odin is a magnificent sight to behold in all its suave, horse-riding Zantetsuken glory. Bahamut Fury’s Exa Flare continues in this vein, with a punch tearing a hole through the moon and obliterating earth with its laser. Destruction has never looked cooler here, even if there are pre-rendered cutscenes that didn’t undergo the same extent of rework. 

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As per the original, these moments often unfold in the midst of combat. Returning to the battlefield is the Digital Mind Wave (DMW), arguably the game’s most unique feature that takes the form of a constantly-spinning three-tile slot machine at the top-left corner of the display. When certain numbers or characters are lined up, Zack will receive boosts depending on the combination, which can range from combat-focused buffs such as unlimited MP and temporary invincibility from physical attacks, to the ability to execute a powerful Limit Break or Summon.

Even levelling up is an affair left to chance – there’s only one way to do so in Reunion, and that’s to hit 7-7-7 in the DMW. The unpredictability is a double-edged sword that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, since it offers an easy out that takes away the fun of figuring more unique ways of beating a boss, but it can be extremely handy in a pinch. 

Narrative consistency also comes with Limit Breaks, which are triggered once all the portraits match up in the DMW. These are tied to a particular character that upon activation, plays a past memory of Zack’s interaction with them, and brings specific perks. Sephiroth, for instance, calls forth an omnislash-like ability called Octaslash, whereas Aerith grants full healing – just like her Limit Break in FFVII). Some characters will appear first as silhouettes until a certain part of the story is reached, tying neatly into the whole narrative structure. 

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This masterful weaving of memories and identity makes each Limit Break more than just a mere execution of an ultimate ability. It acts as a window to Zack’s soul and his personality, offering insights into the influences that have shaped him into the man as we know in the game. Between these story bits and the removal of the Modulating Phase mechanic in the original Crisis Core that would grind battles to a halt, the DMW is a fun system that puts a fresh, chaotic spin (pun intended) on combat. There’s more room for control here, too, with the player able to decide when to manually trigger the cutscenes; in the PSP version, these play out automatically. 

On the note of fighting enemies, everything is a lot faster and smoother now. The combat system has been completely revamped to closely resemble that of FFVII Remake, and it’s a significant quality-of-life improvement. Gone is the sluggish sword-swinging action, and in its place comes an all-too-familiar dance that fans of the action and hack-and-slash genres will greet like an old friend. In Reunion, Zack can deftly block or dodge hits and dish out some slashes after, roll behind an opponent to land critical hits, and roll backwards to get out of the striking range or cast spells. 

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Like the mainline entry, the game features materia, magical orbs that grant the use of magic attacks and elevated combat abilities in battle. There’s no fixed loadout here, which means the player is free to equip Zack with whatever configuration fits best, activate the respective spells or effects during battles, and level them up. 

It’s a trial-and-error process that adds a bit of the tactical flair, and can be rewarding when done right. While the equipped set cannot be switched out on the fly, players will be able to do so when restarting after a game over or outside of combat, which is also where different materia can be fused to create new or more powerful spells and abilities. 

This slight layer of complexity carries over to combat scenarios, making them more dynamic than the standard rock-paper-scissors mechanic present in most RPGs. Simply spamming spells won’t get the job done here – it may work a few times, but definitely not all the time – as every spell has a unique quirk that needs to be considered. Gravity orbs, for instance, can immediately decimate half of the opponent’s health bar, but take very long to connect with an enemy, rendering them ineffective against nimble, mobile enemies. Similarly, Blizzaga summons icicles that deal great damage, but have a narrow area of effect.

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Make no mistake: Reunion still falls short of the depth that FFVII Remake achieved with its combat system. There’s no ability to switch between party members, and the novelty of materia crafting wears off quickly, with the sheer number of combinations turning the discovery process into a grind. However, the changes prove to be the biggest leap from the original title by far, and are certainly instrumental in delivering an enjoyable combat experience to both returning and new players.

The same can’t be said for other aspects of the game, unfortunately. Every now and then, traces of its PSP glory days make themselves known in various forms, from the stiff animation and linear, streamlined gameplay structure to the awkward dialogue. Despite the polish, some of the animation in Reunion comes across as a little too simplistic, such as Zack’s repeated fist-pumping gesture that plays over and over when he gets excited, or the inharmonious lip-syncing that occurs as an NPC speaks. 

While there are relatively open areas that Zack can run around in Midgar and Gaia, they allow little room for exploration and don’t offer much variety in both interior and exterior designs. The game also features too many random battle encounters. Sure, combat is enjoyable, but one can only hear so many ‘Activating Combat Mode’ and ‘Conflict Resolved’, before the whole shtick starts to get tiresome and repetitive. 

The monotony is exacerbated by the sheer number of side missions. Considering the portable nature of handheld consoles, this approach made sense for the PSP version, since the bite-sized length of each mission was ideal for players to squeeze in some gameplay while on the move. In Reunion, though, it doesn’t work quite as well – completing runs feel less satisfactory, and the constant slog of fighting the same enemies over and over again dulls a lot of the shine that comes with acquiring new, more powerful materia or additional lore bits, which the player obtains as a reward for finishing the side missions. 

The scale-down environments and limited map designs further show the game’s age, and it’s times like these where a change in pace from the interminable combat would have been welcome. Although rare, there are moments where you can turn your attention to non-battling activities like Zack’s squatting contest with the other cadets or a mini-quest that tasks you to locate Wutai spies disguised as civilians; adapting scenarios of such nature for side missions could have made things more diverse and fun. Fortunately, these side missions aren’t compulsory, and won’t affect one’s understanding of the story. 

The greatest pitfall of all lies in the scriptwriting, however. It should be noted that Square Enix cannot be faulted for carrying over pre-existing content, especially since the game was marketed as a direct remaster, but some changes to the dialogue would have been welcome. Genesis immediately comes to mind – between his dramatic reciting of poetry and over-the-top characterisation, his role as an antagonist doesn’t leave behind a strong impression.

It doesn’t help that the lines, which by the way, are usually the same ones, come across as extremely cheesy. The references to Shakespeare’s works and his brand of soliloquy, meanwhile, are too on-the-nose, and only serve to establish Genesis as a pretentious lover of literature more than the intimidating, powerful big bad that he’s supposed to be. Take into account the occasional clumsy joke and cringe-worthy contemplation on what it means to be a monster, and the need for refinement becomes more apparent. 

Alas, poor Yorick!

Then, there are the narrative gaps and pacing to contend with. Reunion sets a good pace halfway or even three-quarters into the story, but sours in the final arc. The development of events feels rushed, especially after the burning of Nibelheim, while the display of Sephiroth’s weakened prowess here goes against lore. The silver-haired General, known as the Demon of Wutai and the most powerful warrior in Shinra’s history, getting defeated so easily? Talk about unconvincing. 

And that’s a real shame because the story beats do have their fair (hah) share of standout moments. The events that unfold in Reunion inject some depth into Cloud, Tseng, Aerith, and other familiar faces from FFVII and its remake – the portrayal of a pre-corrupted Sephiroth, in particular, works well, as he becomes much more humanised. 

Zack’s perky, infectious, and affable personality also makes it very easy to like him, even if he may come off as overzealous at the start. His brand of idealism does fizzle out a little nearing the major events of the story, but the beloved Soldier 1st Class never quite loses the spark that has become the bedrock of his inspiring, charming self. The foil to Cloud, Zack ultimately succeeds in growing into the star of his own tale. 

The characterisation is further supplemented by an excellent cast of Japanese voice actors, all of whom breathe life into their respective characters. Reunion welcomes the addition of full voiceover to scenes that were previously text only, and it’s an upgrade that has yielded a handsome pay-off. 

Kenichi Suzumura (Caleb Pierce for the English voice, replacing Rick Gomez of the original), for example, does an excellent job of injecting enthusiasm into Zack’s character, while Gackt (Shaun Conde) lends the perfect touch of smugness to Genesis. Toshiyuki Morikawa (Tyler Hoechlin) impresses with his silky, baritone impression of Sephiroth’s voice that transitions easily into villainous-sounding tones; if any of these names are familiar, it’s because Square Enix has retained the same talents from the original game. 

Is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion a faithful retelling of the original? Most certainly. Should it have been a one-for-one remaster? Debatable. On the one hand, the title brings an enjoyable adventure to a new audience (the PSP version didn’t have an official Western release) in its rawest form; on the other, its potential is hampered by a couple of antiquated features. It’d perhaps be better to have some slight narrative changes, but with that comes a host of other considerations. 

The question now is how it’ll play into the narrative tapestry of FFVII Rebirth the upcoming second entry in the FFVII Remake trilogy – especially with the retconning of Zack’s fate in Remake. As it is, Reunion proves to be a delightful return for fans of the original, and manages to escape FFVII’s shadow with its own brand of charm.



As the name suggests, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a welcome reunion for returning fans. It looks good, plays well, and succeeds in telling an emotionally-charged story, but has some rough edges that may make it difficult for some to swallow. As a remaster, though, it has set a high bar for upcoming entries, offering a memorable ode to the legacy that gave birth to one of the greatest Final Fantasy games in history.

  • Gameplay - 8.5/10
  • Story - 8/10
  • Presentation - 8.5/10
  • Value - 7/10