|Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Windows, Xbox One, Xbox X/S
|December 13, 2022
The original Crisis Core game was released on the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in Japan back in 2007, and worldwide afterwards in 2008. It is a prequel to the beloved 1997 classic Final Fantasy VII, and follows the story of Zack Fair, a minor character who turned out to have a significant impact on protagonist Cloud Strife’s past and journey. I remember seeing the commercial for the release of Crisis Core back in 2008 and wanting to experience more of the Final Fantasy VII saga. Playing the game on the PSP back in the day was rewarding enough; the graphics were beautiful, and you could explore Midgar and interact with characters in a way you couldn’t before. I know that for years there had been clamoring from other fans about wanting to experience Crisis Core on consoles, instead of the tiny screen the PSP had to offer. With the release of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, and in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Final Fantasy VII, it was announced that a remaster of Crisis Core, dubbed Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, would be released on all major consoles, allowing many fans to experience Zack’s story for the first time. The question is, does the remaster stay true to the experience that many first-time Crisis Core players grew to love?
Crisis Core begins several years before the events of Final Fantasy VII during the height of the Wutai War with the Shinra Electric Corporation, and concludes at the beginning of Final Fantasy VII. Zack Fair is a passionate 2nd-class SOLDIER at the start of the story, with dreams of becoming a SOLDIER 1st Class, and a hero beloved by all. Unlike Cloud Strife, Zack is warm, friendly, and always willing to help others who need help. He is mentored by one of the most well-known 1st Class SOLDIERs, Angeal, as they are dispatched together by Shinra to put an end to the long-running Wutai war.
Things become complicated as Angeal disappears, and rumors of a SOLDIER desertion spread through the ranks, led by another SOLDIER 1st named Genesis. With the help of the legendary SOLDIER Sephiroth, Zack sets off to learn more about the connection between Angeal and Genesis, and what secrets Shinra is hiding at the heart of the matter. Zack also meets other important friends and enemies, all who have a part to play in his story, including the kind Aerith Gainsborough, the sinister Professor Hollander, the Director Lazard of SOLDIER, and a new infantryman named Cloud Strife.
Crisis Core is an action-RPG where the player controls Zack through both exploration and battles. Most of the areas Zack can venture to are wide-open space, and in the case of Midgar and similar areas, have NPCs that Zack can interact with and accept quests from. A lot of locations players can explore may look familiar to the seasoned Final Fantasy VII fan, but are developed on a smaller scale for the sake of the story. Such locations include the Shinra building and the various sectors Zack can explore, such as Sector 5. They aren’t nearly as vast or populated as newer fans may come to expect after playing the Remake, but this helps lead the focus on Zack’s development and quest as he uncovers more of the secrets Shinra is hiding.
This streamlined gameplay means the missions to complete are relatively simpler too; the most notable are the Shinra missions that are available for Zack to complete, and acquire unique items from that can help him grow stronger. Original Crisis Core fans may recall that these Shinra missions felt repetitive, with copy-and-paste environments and enemies. This unfortunately does not change here, aside from more polished environments, that will be discussed more in a moment. These missions do not have to be completed in order to complete the game, but are beneficial in raising Zack’s overall strength and power to help with more difficult bosses down the line.
I was pleasantly surprised by how large Reunion felt after not playing Crisis Core for so many years. There are definitely influences present in the landscapes from Final Fantasy VII: Remake, especially when it comes to Midgar. Midgar in the original Crisis Core game had a dark, green and gritty feel that was almost claustrophobic. On the one hand, I do miss this darkness as it made you feel that there is obviously a lot going wrong in the city of Midgar, and its citizens are not all happy as Shinra would have players believe. I do appreciate the updates in lighting and shading, though, as well as some changes in environment to reflect those found in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. It’ll be up to individual players to decide which change they prefer, but I do think it shows thoughtfulness and careful planning on the part of the developers.
As an action-RPG, the action is always on the go. You have a good deal of room to attack your enemies with, but strategy is still highly suggested. You can only play as Zack, so any fatal mistake that causes him to be knocked out means it’s game over. You have to equip your materia carefully by what you feel comfortable with using to have the most damage against your enemies. Like most Final Fantasy games, you need to know which magic and attacks work for specific enemies. If one tactic doesn’t work, you need to actively change your strategy in order to succeed and move on to the next target.
One controversial element that was introduced in Crisis Core was the use of the Digital Mind Wave (DMW). This slot-machine-like element is used to help level up Zack and his materia, instead of through obtaining experience through battle. Players either like or hate this feature, as it’s both unique to the series and works randomly. I personally had no problems using the DMW, and appreciated how it was a battle feature that tied to Zack’s story in interesting ways.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed with Reunion’s take on the music of Crisis Core. Perhaps it’s because I was used to playing the game on the PSP with a pair of earbuds in my ears, but I had trouble hearing the music this time around. I remember enjoying Takeharu Ishimoto’s scores, especially the more melancholy pieces that highlighted the piano and violin. There were times where, if the music didn’t feel muted, it was a lot softer than I remembered. This unfortunately led me to forget about the music at times altogether, rather than it being a part of the overall experience. The sound design in this regard could have been a lot stronger.
The voice-acting for Reunion can also be a mixed bag at times. The original cast from Crisis Core, and from many of the other Final Fantasy VII projects, were replaced by new actors, primarily the ones featured in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. This can be difficult to stomach for long-time fans who have grown accustomed to hearing performances from Rick Gomez, Steve Burton, and George Newbern as Zack, Cloud, and Sephiroth, respectively. The Remake cast, however, does an admirable job once it stops being distracting. Caleb Pierce really did begin to grow as he displayed an understanding of Zack’s personal nuances. Despite Zack’s sunny disposition, he can also be reflective and melancholy by all the events surrounding his friends and himself; Pierce nails those points wonderfully. One new change that I found interesting was that all NPCs are now fully voiced instead of just having text-dialogues with them. These voices could be goofy and distracting at times, which can take you out of the game at times. It’s worth reminding fans that Final Fantasy VII could be a goofy game from time to time, and these new remakes are no exception. In that regard, the voice direction and acting, while not always tolerable, do enough to serve their purpose to help move the story along.
I really enjoyed playing Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion and having the chance to see how it would play on a console. Despite its faults, many of which carry over from the original PSP game, it is a game that will captivate long-time Final Fantasy VII fans, and hopefully attract new ones. The story can be difficult to follow at times, but seeing Zack develop from a bright-eyed teenager to a mature young man is really what makes the game stand out to me. Time will tell if Crisis Core and Zack’s adventure will play a part in the upcoming Parts of the Remake, but for now, it is a solid entry all on its own that is certainly worth adding to your Final Fantasy collection.
The Bottom Line
Despite some hiccups in this port to consoles, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a must-have for any fan of this series as they explore Midgar through the eyes of Zack Fair.