Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion review — cheap birthday cake

By Lee Brady,

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion is an ambitious PS5 and PS4 remaster of one of the PlayStation Portable’s best-selling and most beloved games. In this review, we explain why this Crisis Core remake might not gel for fans.

In an ideal world, a recommendation for Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion would not need to come preloaded with precautions, detailed contexts, and excuses, like a guilty parent presenting their child with the slightly-ruined box containing their store-bought birthday cake. You can argue that your heart was in the right place and that the cake won’t taste any worse just because you dropped the box getting out of the car, but all the context in the world won’t stop little Timmy from crying over Thomas the Tank Engine’s horrible smashed-in face.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewZack, the sometimes goofy hero of Crisis Core Reunion.

If you're looking for more game recommendations and opinions, check out our lists of the best JRPGs on PlayStation, the best RPGs on PlayStation, and the best PS5 games.
Alas, this is not an ideal world — the perfectly timed release of Crisis Core Reunion between 2021’s Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, and 2023’s Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, means that a high proportion of players may spontaneously and optimistically pick up a copy of this remastered prequel and open the box only to find their birthday cake ruined inside. Going into Crisis Core Reunion without foreknowledge is to invite disappointment and tears, especially when an internet review recommends you play the game — like this review ultimately will.

That Crisis Core Reunion recommendation will have to come much later. First, we’re going to sit down and talk about why you’re getting store-bought birthday cake when you asked for something bespoke. Then, before we open the box, we’re going to have a frank and honest conversation about Thomas the Tank Engine’s smashed-in face. Finally, we’ll open the box, enjoy some pre-smashed cake, and agree that while not exactly what either of us wanted, we’ve all definitely had worse.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewIt's a party, alright.

In the wake of Final Fantasy VII Remake
Crisis Core was originally released in North America in 2008 on the PSP and was the eighth-best-selling title on Sony’s handheld. Made as part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, a short-lived series of projects that sought to expand on original FFVII, Crisis Core endeavoured to flesh out the story of Zach Fair, who we only see in flashbacks preceding the original game’s story. Now, with Remake directly referencing the game by the end, fans can no longer live in blissful ignorance — Crisis Core is now tangibly and unavoidably canon.

Remodelling and remastering Crisis Core Reunion to fit into the crisp, washed-out modern aesthetic of Remake is just one more genius move in the game of 4D chess that Square Enix is playing. Trapped on all sides, the FFVII fan is now utterly convinced that Crisis Core is a vital work in the series — and, for better or worse, it is. Better still, with Crisis Core being a prequel to the original FFVII and FFVII Remake, gamers not already entrenched in the series could be tempted to start their journey into FFVII with Crisis Core Reunion.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewAngeal, pondering whether his sweet new wing makes him a monster.

There’s only one problem — Crisis Core Reunion is modelled on the game design and presentation of a fourteen-year-old portable action game. When your original game is a classic turn-based RPG, it’s different — people can look at 1997’s Final Fantasy 7 and know instantly that it’s a niche old game that either is or isn’t up their alley. The same cannot be said for Crisis Core Reunion, which looks a lot like 2020’s Remake but plays like an ambitious yet limited action game built for a portable console in the mid-2000s.

Many players will know that about Crisis Core Reunion and won't be too surprised to discover the game has a single gameplay loop, boxy corridor level design, enemy encounters that appear from thin air, a very limited open world, a long repetitive list of side activities that all play exactly the same way, and a main story that’s both relatively short and nigh incomprehensible. Goddess help those who don’t have the context and just think this is a Remake spin-off or think now that Crisis Core looks more like Remake it might play differently. Those who expect bespoke baking are going to be extra crushed when they try this store-bought cake.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 review"Hellooo~" is a pretty iconic line, well done Crisis Core.

The graphical successor to Final Fantasy VII
All that might sound harsh, but that’s just the wider context, not my personal circumstances going into Reunion. While I had never played Crisis Core before, 2022 coincidentally was the year I decided to get into FFVII, finishing the original game and Remake with fond memories of both fresh in my mind. I also enjoyed beating Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep this year, so I had a general idea of what a blockbuster Square Enix action game feels like once it gets scaled down to fit on a PSP: a little limited, a touch repetitive, and very grindy when played on higher difficulties, but otherwise brimming with creativity, charm and polish.

That said, there is something consistently uncanny about Crisis Core Reunion’s wearing Remake like a skinsuit that somehow drew more, not less, attention to the game’s PSP roots. Environments, for example, look fairly crisp and well-realised, but when you realise Reunion never at any point introduces verticality into its level design due to the PSP’s lack of a right analogue stick to look around with, the richness of its locales starts to feel almost claustrophobic as you look out from your narrow channels to level geography you’ll never explore.

Crisis CoreIf you're not exploring a field, you're exploring a cave.

Gameplay animation is smooth and weighty (at least on PS5, Crisis Core’s frame rate takes a hit on PS4), but in cutscenes shifts dramatically to jerky PS2-era cartoon motion as characters bounce into a scene and use fewer frames to illustrate big motions. Everyone feels somewhat rubbery — a particularly uncanny detail when they also sport the graphical fidelity of, at times, high-end PS3 characters.

The shifting graphical fidelity is also a sign of Crisis Core Reunion’s PSP origins, but now the shifts between art styles look all the more jarring. The highly-compressed pre-rendered cutscenes (thanks for nothing, compressed PS5 file size) lifted directly from the PSP may once have been an indicator of how these characters are supposed to look, but now look the most off-model with the increased realism of the in-engine character models.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII ReunionIf you've ever wondered why Zack looks so different in shots like this, that's because this is from the PSP original pre-renders.

A scene might start pre-rendered, then shift to a cutscene where the faces react appropriately but the motion feels jerky compared to the model detail, before shifting to a scene acted and portrayed by stiff robots with little motion or emotion. The upside, for returning fans, is that these scenes used to have no voice acting — now they do, they just don’t sync with the characters at all.

None of this is particularly new if you’ve ever played a PS2-era Square Enix game, but these shifts were certainly a lot less noticeable when the production quality was as high as Remake. With Reunion dressed up in Remake’s assets, the game feels like a spiritual send-up of the original FFVII’s shifting graphical styles, making up for the original’s sheer disparity in character design by introducing a greater sense of uncanniness as you play.

Crisis Core ReunionThe original graphics.

The finest PlayStation Portable game design
Again, this all sounds quite negative, but by now you might see my intention here peaking through. Remember: I’m going to recommend you play Crisis Core Reunion, I promise — it’s just that before I do, you need to know that I am seeing all the things you’re likely to see and complain about when you start playing Crisis Core Reunion. We’re going to open the box and stare at Thomas the Tank Engine’s warped grey mug together — then we’re going to eat cake.

To that end, let’s edge towards praising the game by talking about its combat — Crisis Core’s only gameplay loop. In Remake you might spend half your play time in combat, and the other half roaming areas, taking part in mostly bad side quests, playing minigames, exploring and occasionally solving puzzles; Crisis Core is nearly all combat, all the time.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewHow many missions did you finish, man?

The game has a huge amount of side missions (300 in total), some of which offer vital upgrades to beat the game and all of which involve beating up enemies in a dungeon. While each chapter does offer the chance to explore a little and solve the odd optional puzzle, most of the time the result (or solution) entails beating something to death. The odd flash of a puzzle, like at Modeoheim’s bathhouse or Shinra Manor, only serves to remind you how little variety there is in Crisis Core’s design.

However, while it’s not quite as fun to mess around with as Remake, the combat mechanics in Crisis Core Reunion are perfect polished and refined, benefiting greatly from Remake’s heft and visual clarity. With a simple arsenal of magic, abilities, items, sword strikes, a block, and a dodge, Crisis Core Reunion’s combat remains hypnotising and engaging throughout. Bumping the difficulty up to hard mode and surviving a fight just over Zack’s level with perfect blocks and dodges feels exceptionally good to pull off, which is good because you’ll be doing that a lot.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewThe DMW is in the top left here.

When you get into the details of the game design, the messiness leaves much to be desired — particularly the game’s pseudo-random DMW system (which is supposed to stand for Digital Mind Wave, but I quickly adopted Doesn’t Matter Wheel in my head for how quickly I put it out of my own mind). As you fight, a slot machine will fire off in the corner, occasionally gifting you with temporary buffs and powerful special attacks. This function is fine and adds a little opportunism to proceedings when you get to freely spend your MP or gain invincibility for a bit.

The DMW is much less fine when you consider that levelling up is tied to this lottery wheel rather than a set experience limit, meaning while you might have killed enough creatures to level up, until the wheel deems you worthy you won’t. While depriving the player of a consistently rising power level does push them to engage with the game’s other systems — raising Zack’s power by messing with materia and obtaining equipment — the fact you still need to level up at all at this point indicates flabby game design.

That messiness can also be seen when the game’s combat encounters drag on too long, as you will find yourself caught in a loop spamming the same spell ad nauseum until your opponent keels over. Granted, this mostly applies to the minibosses fought in missions — when done right, like with the game’s drawn-out final boss, the variety and skill required to win does zero in on how balanced and fun the combat in Crisis Core can be.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewThe Strife continues.

Final Fantasy VII out of X
While it certainly looked unappetising at first, once you chew long enough on a slice of Thomas the Tank Engine's disgusting mashed eyelid, you realise that even a cake made of trauma can be delicious — and once I got past all of its middling design choices and confusing presentation, I similarly could not help having a really good time playing Crisis Core Reunion. I progressed through the story leisurely, taking breaks often between chapters to investigate the few NPCs dotted around Midgar and playing mission after mission in a mindless, often relaxing, video game haze.

It’s in these repetitive trance-like loops that you can see Crisis Core’s original appeal as a portable game. Curling up somewhere comfortable and cycling through your learned dodge-guard-attack pattern in combat feels quietly relaxing and addictive, like being entrenched in a dark corner of a busy casino, slowly whiling away the hours plugging change into a slot machine — a sensation the game might be trying to directly evoke with the literal slot machine in the top left corner.

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 reviewZach lamenting the slot machine he has in his brain.

When I say that, after a certain point, I would play podcasts or the audio of Youtube videos over the game’s soundtrack, zoning out as I chipped through the massive list of missions, I don’t want you to think I’m criticising the soundtrack here. This game just happens to have a very relaxing, simple flow to it, not unlike playing a few rounds of a game like Hades — just without the tight gameplay loop or the exceptional blending of game and narrative design.

Crisis Core’s story is not only impenetrable for fans who haven’t played FFVII (please take the advice of our Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core order article and do not make this your introduction to the series), but it's also impenetrable for fans who have. While Zach’s story is a fairly simple one to grasp and contains plenty of genuinely humanising moments, his playing fourth fiddle in his own story is a writing choice that starts as baffling and ends as cruelty.

Crisis Core SephirothIn Crisis Core, we get to see Sephiroth hang out with friends It's deeply strange.

The three main characters of this story — Angeal, Genesis, and Sephiroth — all have moments where they seem to make sense, only to each pull some nonsense character shift from the ether that the story either doesn't even try to justify (Angeal) or glosses over the justification because it expects you to have played Final Fantasy VII (Sephiroth). The story’s general air of mystery only occasionally sparks surprise when the game reintroduces characters presumed to exited the narrative earlier because they didn’t matter, rather than because they were building to a twist.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion — Trophy Tactics
I couldn’t check entirely which trophies I unlocked from the Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion trophy list, but to reiterate our article: this one is going to be a real-time sink to platinum. You’ll need to beat the game on hard mode to unlock a gold trophy, so make sure to do that run first and foremost.

As you play through, make use of your 25 available save slots at key places — in particular, save one spot per chapter, and also anytime the game warns you that proceeding to the next area might end a questline. Each chapter seems to have a hidden trophy of some kind, whether it’s nailing the stealth section at Modeoheim or stopping all the attacking robots from reaching the gates at Junon.

Once you’ve beaten the story on hard, I recommend switching over to normal difficulty to make the missions somewhat more doable — you should be in good shape to take them on by Chapter 9, and you know in advance that playing New Game Plus will wipe your mission progress. Completing all missions will let you earn a bunch of trophies, including finishing the DMW roster, a chance to defeat Minerva, and unlocking all the shops.
Crisis Core also likes to think of itself as occasionally profound, (in that vague, mid-2000s Final Fantasy way) and it really isn’t at all. You’ll be sick to death of hearing Genesis babble the same couple of lines from his drama school rewrite of Hamlet — a thread that culminates in one of the game’s funniest scenes when Genesis, babbling intensely, doesn’t seem to reveal anything interesting to the audience at all, yet somehow prompts Zach to audibly gasp and yell “Does this mean… you knew… from the beginning!?”

Crisis Core Reunion PS5 review"Yadda yadda at world's end yadda yadda gift of the goddess..."

More often though, Crisis Core Reunion is actually funny on purpose. Zack telling a character to shut up mid-monologue, or howling defensively when Shinra mistakes his makeshift flower wagon for a death machine are great moments that really enamour you with the world and its cast of weirdos. Put into context, these moments make great signifiers of the sense of humour Remake would later double down on twelve years after this game's original PSP release.

As with every other feature in Crisis Core Reunion, it culminates in a mixed bag. Yet the intentions are always good, the misses are closer than they are far, and the game is consistently entertaining even when it is embarrassingly trying to make itself sound clever. If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy VII media, you really should give it a shot — and now that your expectations have been sufficiently lowered, you might even have a great time with Crisis Core. Reunion may be a seven out of ten, but it’s the most seven out of ten game you’ll ever play — quite an achievement, really.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII ReunionWe should have dropped the cake metaphor right at the start.


Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a store-bought Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake — not the kind of treat we expect to leave much of an impression, especially after being flipped upside down mid-transit. Yet it’s the kind of treat that, once started, we find pleasant enough to eat consistently until it’s all gone, and we feel surprisingly disappointed when there’s nothing left. If you love store-brand birthday cake, you’ll love Crisis Core Reunion.
7 / 10
* Lee played the PS5 version of Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion for 30 hours on hard mode, beating the story at the 22-hour mark then going back to clear more missions before realising he was never going to beat them all. He unlocked 50% of the trophies, which is pretty impressive seeing he couldn’t see the trophy list at any point. TrueTrophies was provided with a code for Crisis Core Reunion by Square Enix — the game launches December 13th, 2022.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Marvel's Spider-Man 2, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium, recent Sony news), and his secret third eye on the junk he really likes (Sonic Superstars, Final Fantasy XVI). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
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