A quick look at what's new in Crisis Core Reunion's combat

Last week, Square Enix announced Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion, a “high-quality remaster” that liberates the 15-year old prequel from the PlayStation Portable and brings it to modern platforms. The game was originally part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII multimedia project that sought to expand the universe of the original PlayStation game into console games, mobile games, anime, and CG film.

Crisis Core features Zack Fair and his rise through the ranks of SOLDIER, a corporate military force that is given supernatural strength by imbuing their bodies with mako stolen from the planet which it uses to sustain all life. With that strength, the Shinra corporation uses it to wage war against its enemies as it seeks to expand and exploit any mako-rich resource it can find to power its central nervous system in Midgar. As they wage these wars, “heroes” emerge — manufactured in more ways than one. Zack befriends its most elite members but finds himself entangled in their struggles. As he seeks to join their ranks, he learns there is a steep price to pay for power.

A minor character in the original game, Zack’s story is heavily intertwined with its main character — Cloud Strife, as well as Aerith, Tifa, and Sephiroth, and explains the defining events that elapsed prior to its story. Being a SOLDIER with incredible martial prowess, Zack wields two-handed swords, including the legendary Buster Sword, as well as magic conjured from orbs of materia supplied by Shinra or found afield.

If you’re coming back to this game or hanging out until the Reunion remaster, I wanted to share a look back at the original game’s combat and how it may be changing for this new version, and touch on some interesting unknowns.

Rather than implementing turn-based combat using a party of characters, Crisis Core features a single character with a hybrid style of combat that integrates movement and action. An “action-ish” RPG if you will. Basic attacks and abilities linked to can be executed quickly, but the commands operate on a timer before the next can be completed, allowing for fast “queueing” of commands rather than direct inputs. These commands are also executed automatically and Zack will move into position to perform them, but again, they are not 1:1 actions. He can also move and dodge with dedicated buttons in an attempt to avoid incoming attacks.

Combat “arenas” are placed throughout 3D environments, and when Zack breaches their perimeter, an encounter starts. Typically, you won’t see enemies in the field unless they’re integral to the story or are designated as a special target in the game’s myriad missions.

One part of the combat UI is hard to look away from, nestled in the top left corner of the screen: the DMW or “Digital Mind Wave” mechanic. It looks very much like a slot machine at first glance, but operates with more design and intent than it lets on. Characters Zack meets that leave an indelible mark on him are represented in the DMW, and as his emotions heighten in the heat of battle, their connection allows him to perform special attacks and receive active and passive buffs. Zack will also level up if the DMW “rolls” all 7’s. It seems random, but it’s not — once a certain threshold of hidden experience points is reached, the DMW will stack the deck on rolling triple 7’s. Depending on what’s going on in the story a certain character may be on Zack’s mind, thus increasing their propensity to appear in the DMW. It’s a system that weirdly, abstractly tries to capture the headspace of someone in the throes of combat, frantic and unpredictable, the fog of war and a racing mind.

Looking at the scant bits of combat footage of the Reunion remaster, there’s a few notable differences I can point out quickly.

First is the different cadence with which Zack swings his weapon. Earlier I mentioned how all commands were based on a quick, but invisible timer, so no matter how rapidly you pressed the Attack command button, Zack’s strikes would deploy at the same rhythmic pace, one right after the other. In Reunion it looks like these basic attacks fly out at a different pace, perhaps reworked for a more active feeling aligned with how Final Fantasy VII Remake functions. The UI design itself is notably more inline with Remake too, opting for the same font and color use.

Next are the materia, which look like they can be bound to face buttons with a hold or press of a shoulder button. In the original game featuring the PSP’s limited buttons, selecting materia and items were bound to the shoulder buttons, disallowing manual operation of the camera. With six possible selections, cycling through them with shoulder buttons was a bit of a pain, so a dedicated shortcut ala Kingdom Hearts should make things a bit quicker to access in a pinch.

Items were also a submenu that was accessed from your list of commands, but in Reunion it appears they’ve been separated from materia and may potentially be used with the directional pad, freeing up the camera to be operated with the right thumbstick.

While we only have one trailer available to us at this moment, there are a few more areas I’m curious to see this remaster tackle. Chief among them is the general abundance of UI-related voice acting. Every battle is bookended with this flair, and I’m wondering if this will be limited a bit to reduce how obnoxious it can get during longer play sessions, especially if you stick it out and complete all 300 of the game’s bite-sized side missions.

Speaking of those missions, I’m wondering if the maps themselves will be tweaked a bit, as I often found myself hugging corners and walls ad nauseum to avoid activating a combat mode while hunting for the area’s mini-boss. There’s about a dozen areas in total used in these side missions, and you’ll often start off at different nodes while trying to make your way from point A to B… or B to A. I’m not sure if there’s much that can be done about their repetitive nature, or if it desperately needs it given their original design being conducive to short bursts of play. (After all, this was a handheld game.)

It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to them should they opt for a static console or desktop version of the game, platforms more agreeable with longer sessions of play.

We probably won’t have to wait long for the next media circuit to see answers to these questions, and really, a Winter release date for the remaster will likely creep up on us sooner than we think. Story content from Crisis Core will also be featured in Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis, a smartphone title that uses an updated aesthetic closer to the original 1997 game, but will pull from stories across the Compilation and new ones as well. “Another possibility for a remake,” as it were.

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Reunion is currently announced for a Winter release on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

About the Author

Tony Garsow Tony joined Nova Crystallis in 2015, and has spent more than a decade writing in the Final Fantasy community. He also contributes to the Nova Crystallis Twitch and YouTube channels, where you can watch select gameplay highlights, previews, and streams.