Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion Game Review | Gaming
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
One of the biggest questions fans of Square Enix know best Final Fantasy had when Final Fantasy VII Remake the country in 2020 was whether the previous spin-offs of the PS1 original still “spoke” in the series’ broader narrative. Re-recording director Tetsuya Nomura was dismissive, sometimes calling titles like the PSPs Crisis core wouldn’t fit anymore, other times said it was up to the fans to decide for themselves. Now we have a clear answer Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion – The backstory of Cloud Strife’s predecessor Zack Fair as he rises through the ranks of the Shinra corporation’s private army SOLDIER not only remains canon, but it has received a remaster that almost brings it up to speed with the generation-defining quality of Re-recording itself.
‘Almost’ is the key – while Reunion benefiting from a significant upgrade compared to its handheld roots, this isn’t a glow-up on par with Re-recording. It now boasts fully voiced characters, with actors returning from Re-recording to better unify the games, and massively improved character models and environments, but beneath the glossy image – not quite as glossy as Re-recordingthough, with the opening over Midgar City looking almost grainy and unfocused – it remains a PSP game at heart. That means a greater focus on action, quests that still show signs of being designed for play in short bursts on commutes or lunch breaks, and far less exploration. Even structurally, the placements are smaller than those in Re-recordingwhile side missions accessible from any save point will test players’ patience as much as their skill, throwing up repetitive maps to hack through enemies in. Perhaps most annoying is the return of random battles, which feel positively regressive now.
It goes without saying Reunion however, is devoid of improvements, with some of the most important improvements found in combat. The biggest improvement in quality of life can be found in how Materia – the FF7–the verse’s magic-giving gems—works. On the PSP, you’d have to awkwardly go through the Materia you had equipped and then select the one you wanted to use – not an ideal system when the game had traded the turn-based battles for FF7 for zippy real-time encounters that combined attacks, dodges and blocks. Now you just hold down R1 (on PS5/PS4, version tested) and choose which skill you have assigned to another button. It’s a small change, but one that has huge benefits for the flow of matches.
While real-time combat is far more familiar to gamers today than it may have been back in 2007, Crisis Core’s returning the Digital Mind Wave system remains a mystery. Referred to as DMW, it’s a slot machine gimmick that constantly spins at the top left of the screen during matches, randomly matching character icons and numbers. Numerical battles grant Zack bonuses, such as removing the MP cost of using magic, or making him temporarily invulnerable, while image battles can enhance currently equipped Materia or increase Zack’s level. As you progress through the game, more characters and even summons will be added to the DMW, expanding the range of effects that can occur mid-fight.
On the PSP, a “modulating phase” of DMW would interrupt encounters, fill up the screen and rob the player of any real control. Thankfully, these are now gone, making every match faster and smoother. However, the biggest frustration with DMW remains the randomness, removing – especially in the earliest parts of the game – any meaningful way to use key abilities as the player wants. It’s usually better to focus on whatever stat-boosting accessories Zack has equipped to have any bearing over combat performance, and anything DMW rolls up in your favor is a bonus.
However, Materia Fusion offers another way to modify combat, allowing you to combine gems into new forms to build the perfect arsenal of equipped skills and spells. For example, one of Zack’s main moves early on is Assault Twister, a whirlwind of sword strikes that draw on his pool of ability points instead of magic. Combine that with a magical Materia, say Blizzara, and you’ll be able to dish out ice magic damage with every amount of strike, without costing MP. Crisis core rewards smart thinking in your team’s system, and it always feels rewarding to stumble upon a combo that “tricks” the game’s own cost rules.
It is Zack himself who remains the game’s biggest appeal. In part, it’s down to Crisis core exploring a character that has become almost mythological at the time Final Fantasy VII himself, and getting to see first hand his connection to iconic characters like Aerith, Sephiroth and of course Cloud himself. In his own right, Zack is a happy, bubbly young SOLDIER – though he’d more likely describe himself as an aspiring hero – and it’s almost impossible to dislike him. He’s a million miles away from the sour, detached cloud, right down to their names being deliberately contrasted.
Yet Zack’s cheerful optimism is also the source of Crisis Core’s deepest tragedy – he is not the hero. He is a warning of how well-meaning people can be twisted to do evil in the name of duty, not realizing the harm he causes or the atrocities his masters perpetuate. Many of the game’s missions involve Zack acting as Shinra’s well-trained attack dog, from killing the defenders of the ‘enemy’ nation of Wutai to sniffing out anti-Shinra dissidents in Midgar, and he rarely questions his orders – even as his own mentor, Angeal, goes rogue early. If fans come to crisis core, especially a new generation brought in by the success of remake, pick it up, or care more about seeing the fan-favourite characters is another matter – but it’s still one of the sharpest texts ever FF7 story.
But while it’s great to see Crisis core given a much-needed dust-off, the result is ultimately not of the same caliber as Re-recording. While Square Enix calls Reunion “more than a remaster”, a remaster is really all it is – the bones of its portable origins remain skeletal even now. What worked on the PSP still works, and much of what didn’t has largely been massaged into something better, but anyone expecting an upgrade on par with Re-recording will be disappointed. It remains a central chapter in the great saga of Final Fantasy VIIbut with its alien mechanical flourishes, it’s a better story than it is a game.