‘Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion’ review: Zack to the future

Are we the baddies?

Before diving into the materia of Crisis Core Reunion, take note: unlike Square Enix’s latest series of Final Fantasy 7 reimaginings, this is a remaster – not a full remake. That means beneath a makeover worthy of Midgar’s Honeybee Inn, this is still the same 2007 PSP game – and though the Buster Sword may cast fancy new reflections, you’re still swinging the same clunky bastard around.

That being said, it’s a testament to the original Crisis Core’s staying power that Reunion works so well. There are some growing pains but largely, anyone returning to this game will find it exactly how they remember it, while newcomers will find a game that looks and plays incredibly well for a 15-year-old game.

Crisis Core is a prequel to Final Fantasy 7 and follows Zack Fair, a soldier in megacorp Shinra’s private army (subtly named SOLDIER). When Genesis, one of SOLDIER’s best fighters, defects with an alarming amount of cloning equipment in tow, it’s up to Zack to put a stop to his schemes. Young, naive and ambitious, Zack dreams of becoming one of SOLDIER’S elite – and at heart, just wants to become a hero like his peer Sephiroth. If that rings any alarm bells, you may already have Shinra sussed – Zack’s employer isn’t going to win any Best Place To Work awards.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.
Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.

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Crisis Core’s story revolves around Zack’s growing disillusionment and a lingering question: what does it mean to be a hero? It’s a tale that’s held up particularly well, mainly because Final Fantasy 7 has become one of the most celebrated games since the Mega Drive adaptation of Sliced Bread: you’ll feel starstruck when sad boy trailblazer Sephiroth takes you under his wing, and cheer when some of Final Fantasy 7‘s biggest characters make surprise appearances. If this is your first time in Midgar, it can be confusing – the plot gets rolling with very little in the way of an introduction, and some of the dialogue can feel a little bit clunky and over the top – but it’s remedied by Crisis Core‘s compelling cast, a charismatic bunch that will compel even the freshest Final Fantasy fan to stay tuned.

In terms of how Crisis Core Reunion plays, it leans toward the more interactive, busier style that modern Final Fantasy games have embraced. Combat is a real-time hack-and-slash, allowing Zack to dart and dodge around as he slashes enemies to ribbons, pausing only to sling magic or gulp down a potion. Earlier in the game, it starts off a little simple – enemies have their elemental weakness clearly highlighted, and stabbing them in the back for critical attacks will melt their health bar in no time – but it becomes far more interesting as Crisis Core goes on.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.
Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.

There are a few reasons for that – the first is Crisis Core‘s only real quirk, which is a big slot machine that’s pinned to the top-left of your screen while Zack’s in combat. The machine is an endless spin of faces from Zack’s life, and as he meets new characters, they’re added to his bizarre mind casino. Triples are best, and unlock animated Focus Moves depending on who pops up: three Sephiroths will let Zack use the One-Winged Angel’s infamous Octoslash attack, while Aerith will provide a powerful healing ability. Defeating some of the game’s summoned boss fights – gigantic, elemental demons – will also add those to Zack’s arsenal, which means the further into Crisis Core you get, the more varied and exciting it becomes.

Likewise, Zack can blend his materia to create new spells or abilities – sword attacks can be imbued with elemental damage, for example, or you can upgrade your standard fireball with a splash of poison. Though Crisis Core is largely a linear game, branching out to explore an area fully will often reward you with more materia to play with, while completing optional missions (usually consisting of speedy, simple battles) at Crisis Core‘s save points can provide more summons and equipment for Zack.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.
Crisis Core Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Credit: Square Enix.

However, Crisis Core Reunion‘s greatest strength – bringing the original game into the modern-day without twisting it into something totally new – is also its largest weakness. You don’t have to look hard to see that this is still a 2007 game: cutscenes can sometimes look fuzzy and unfocused, and characters will frequently reel off their lines without moving their lips. Visually, it’s surface-level grime – nowhere near bad enough to get in the way of enjoying Crisis Core – but unfortunately, other parts of the now-dated game’s design offer a larger obstacle. Crisis Core is a largely linear game, and levels can feel like claustrophobic conveyor belts, shuttling Zack between endless fights with little room to breathe. Consequentially, the same environments that wowed us on the PSP are no longer as lively and some can feel stiff.

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That being said, 15 years have done nothing to age Midgar. The rain-slick cobbled paths of Loveless Street look excellent, illuminated by shining broadway advertisements, while Shinra’s holdings – and their pallid, sickly green light – look better than ever. Really, that’s the crux of Crisis Core Reunion: behind a phenomenal paint job, this is still a 15-year-old game – and luckily, it just happens to be an incredible one.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion launches on December 13 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch. This review was played on PC.

Verdict

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion is a faithful, thrilling remaster that celebrates one of Square Enix’s finest stories. Though some clunky level design suggests Square Enix’s remaster has been true to a fault, a gorgeous visual upgrade – combined with a gripping tale of disillusionment and what it means to be a hero – makes this an essential play for Final Fantasy fans.

Pros

  • An emotional story that casts Final Fantasy 7 in a richer light
  • Battles are fast-paced and frenetic
  • Everything looks fantastic – it’s magical to see a 15-year-old game look so good

Cons

  • Dated design quirks can make some levels feel stiff
  • Voice acting can be hit or miss
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