Sephiroth grins boss

"Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion," an upgraded remaster of the PSP original from 2007, serves as a prequel to the events of "Final Fantasy 7." The game tells the story of Zack Fair, his friendship with Cloud Strife, and Sephiroth’s descent into madness. This version of the game features the new combat systems introduced in "Final Fantasy 7 Remake," an impressive visual overhaul, and new voice acting. But while "Final Fantasy 7 Remake" saw sprawling changes being made to the original game’s plot and characters, "Reunion" remains faithful to the "Crisis Core" story.

"Crisis Core" is filled with heartbreaking moments between some of the most iconic characters in gaming history — which is saying something, considering how heavy "Final Fantasy 7" proper can be. "Crisis Core" explores themes of disillusion, the pain of losing one’s heroes, and the overwhelming cost of freedom.

The impact of this game’s story on the rest of the "Final Fantasy 7 Remake" universe remains to be seen, but it’s still a great JRPG in its own right, full of pathos and emotion. Here are some of the most memorable.

Zack’s disillusionment

Crisis Core Reunion Zack Fair close up

The first heartbreaking moment in "Crisis Core" arrives in an early moment of character development for Zack Fair. The game’s story begins with Zack joining the SOLDIER program at the Shinra corporation. At this point in the story, Zack is a naïve, bright-eyed young adult who wants to protect the defenseless. He doesn’t know about Shinra’s true nature early on in the game, and much of the story in "Crisis Core Reunion" is centered around his respect and reverence for the company being slowly shattered.

This development is first hinted at near the beginning of the game, when Zack is speaking to his superior Lazard. At the tail end of the conversation, Lazard asks Zack why he wanted to join the SOLDIER program in the first place. Zack responds honestly by taking a goofy pose and saying that he hopes to be a hero. Lazard chuckles at the answer, then remarks that the best dreams are the ones that are unachievable.

This response clearly hurts Zack, and it is painful to see his awkward response. Zack only wants to do good in the world, and seeing his hopes being dashed when he believes he’s so close to achieving his lifelong goal is difficult to watch. However, the moment effectively illustrates the believable front that Shinra has built for the public.

Angeal’s matricide

Crisis Core Reunion Angeal

Angeal is a fellow member of the SOLDIER program who serves as Zack’s mentor in his early days with the group. The two build a very close bond with one another and Zack sees in Angeal everything that he aspires to be. This makes it all the more impactful when Zack gets a peek at just how ruthless Angeal can really be.

Zack and Angeal find themselves in a village that is about to be bombed by Shinra, which hopes to erase any evidence of its involvement in a recent mission. However, the village is Angeal’s hometown, where his mother still lives. Because of this, Angeal heads to his childhood home and Zack follows him, hoping to help his partner evacuate his mother before the village’s destruction.

Instead, Zack arrives at the home to find Angeal’s mother dead — at her own son’s hand. Zack is shaken by what he finds, and the moment becomes even more distressing when Angeal justifies his actions by claiming that his mother couldn’t bare to live anymore. He claims the murder was actually a mercy killing, which he follows up by hinting that he is in a similar situation. Genesis then appears and taunts Zack after Angeal leaves, implying that he manipulated Angeal into taking such drastic action.

Zack is forced to kill

Crisis Core Reunion Zack with Angeal

After witnessing Angeal kill his own mother, Zack goes back and forth on whether to oppose Angeal or assist him. Their complicated relationship culminates in a confrontation in which Angeal forces Zack to fight him. Zack is ultimately victorious against the monstrous Angeal, who uses the last bits of his strength to speak to Zack.

This conversation is one of the saddest moments in "Crisis Core." After all, the two characters have such a complicated history with one another, and there are so many emotions wrapped up in seeing Zack say goodbye to his hero and mentor. To make matters worse for Zack, he didn’t even want to fight Angeal, much less kill him. His hand was forced, which can’t be easy to come to terms with.

Angeal’s death is made even sadder by the fact that his origins as a genetically-modified fighter essentially put him on this path. He was created to fight and kill without questioning his orders, and then spent much of his life being manipulated by Genesis. The odds were always stacked against Angeal, who has to pay the ultimate price for his actions — despite none of it seeming to be his choice.

Zack’s breakdown

Crisis Core Reunion Zack Fair with Aerith

The relationship between Aerith and Zack is of the central plot threads in "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion." The two meet early on in the story and quickly develop feelings for one another, eventually leading to one of the most human and emotional moments in any "Final Fantasy" game.

After Zack’s final conversation with Angeal, he goes to the cathedral and meets Aerith. As Zack continues to lose faith in Shinra and his mission in life, Aerith and the cathedral quickly become his only solace. So, when he has to bear the burden of killing Angeal, it makes perfect sense that he would go there to try and grapple with his emotions.

Once Zack arrives, Aerith kindly strikes up a conversation with him, not realizing why he is there. She talks about her flowers and possibly selling them in the higher sections of the city, then realizes that Zack is kneeling on the ground sobbing when he doesn’t respond to her. This is an incredibly vulnerable moment for him, and Aerith responds by silently walking over to him and taking Zack in her arms.

This quiet moment that lays their emotions bare in a captivating way — and as a prequel, it also carries the weight of the audience’s knowledge of these characters’ futures. They may be doomed, but for now, they have each other.

Cloud’s disappointment

Crisis Core Reunion Cloud Strife

"Reunion" doesn’t exactly focus on "Final Fantasy 7" protagonist Cloud, but he is prominently featured throughout the game. The prequel explores his relationship with Zack in order to illuminate why Cloud adopts so much of his closed-off personality in "Final Fantasy 7." However, the game also sheds some light on the early stages of Cloud’s iconic relationship with Tifa Lockhart.

When players first run into Cloud, he has failed to qualify for the SOLDIER program and is working as a guard for Shinra. Cloud and Zack quickly hit it off, resulting in the future hero traveling with Zack and looking up to him throughout their adventure. Later on, the duo run into Tifa, who acts as their guide and temporarily joins the player’s party. But while Tifa is with them, Zack realizes that Cloud doesn’t remove his helmet or speak at all.

Zack eventually questions him about this, and fans who are familiar "Final Fantasy 7" might be able to quickly piece together what is happening. When Cloud left to join Shinra, he promised Tifa that he would return as a First Class SOLDIER, and Tifa has been waiting for him ever since. However, Cloud is deeply embarrassed by his failure to make the grade, leading him to hide his identity from Tifa even when they are traveling and fighting together. To make this even sadder, Tifa repeatedly asks Zack about Cloud, proving she doesn’t care about his rank — she just really wants to see him.

A turning point for Sephiroth

Crisis Core Reunion Sephiroth

Sephiroth is the horrific antagonist of "Final Fantasy 7," but he’s still a respected and dedicated SOLDIER during the events of "Crisis Core." Because of this, players can enlist him for their party, giving fans a glimse of what he was like when he was still a hero of the program, rather than a maniac trying to end the world with a meteor.

"Crisis Core" shows Sephiroth in a more a much more sympathetic light, which in turns makes him a more compelling villain. In fact, the game does such a good job of fleshing out his character that his ultimate fall from grace is heart-wrenching.

Like Angeal and Genesis, Sephiroth was a genetically modified super soldier. However, Sephiroth has some misgivings regarding his role in the program. This comes to a head when Genesis confronts Sephiroth and Zack in a base related to the gene experiments. Genesis reveals the truth to Sephiroth, telling him that his "mother" didn’t give birth to him and calling him a monster. This realization finally pushes Sephiroth over the edge, causing him to isolate himself and slip into the revenge-driven madness that defines his arc in "Final Fantasy 7."

Aerith’s final letter

Crisis Core Reunion Aerith Close Up

Late in the game’s story Zack and Cloud are both kidnapped by a scientist that performs numerous experiments on them. Zack is eventually able to escape with Cloud, but doesn’t have any recollection of his captivity and no idea how long he was subjected to it. Shortly after leaving the facility, Zack finds a letter written to him from Aerith.

The letter reveals that Zack and Cloud were being experimented on for four years. If that revelation wasn’t enough, the letter also reveals that Aerith never gave up on waiting for Zack. In fact, the letter is the 88th that Aerith wrote to him in the years of his absence. She never gave up hope that he would return to her, even when she didn’t know where to send the letters to anymore.

The letter is unbelievably sad to hear being read in the game. Just imagining Aerith waiting for years for her boyfriend to return without hearing anything from him and not even knowing if he was still alive is just brutal. But the scene is made even sadder by seeing Zack’s reaction to the pain the girl he loves has had to endure. It is a tragic moment that is only made worse by the game’s ending that the scene is so near to.

Zack’s fan club

Crisis Core Reunion Zack Fair emoting

As players progress through "Crisis Core" they receive numerous e-mails and messages from characters met throughout the game. This serves as an effective way to give players more information about the world surrounding the events of the game’s story, as well as the consequences that their actions have on it. One of these e-mails is received by the player after Zack and Cloud are experimented on for four years, leading most to think that they are dead.

As detailed by Game8, the e-mail is sent out by a fan club that was founded for Zack. Sent to all of its members, the e-mail explains that the club is unfortunately shutting down. It says that it has struggled to maintain funding since Zack’s presumed death, and can no longer justify operating. So, it shares one final message to its followers regarding Zack hopefully getting the angel wing that he always wanted and saying that they hope he is smiling down on all of them.

While Zack isn’t dead yet at the time of receiving the e-mail, seeing the impact that it has on his fans still hits hard. It is especially impactful because of the e-mails reference to the running theme of angel wings present on the mutated results of experimentation like Sephiroth. Since Zack is thought to be dead because he is being subjected to similar experiments, it makes the entire thing feel more sinister and sad.

Genesis’ rejection

Crisis Core Reunion Genesis

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Genesis, the game’s antagonist. His manipulations cause pain, the majority of his dialogue is made up of quotes from a fictional play, and he taunts and mocks the player at every opportunity. However, his final moments in the game also manage to be really sad, even if the player doesn’t care for him very much as a person.

Genesis’ final moments arrive when Zack is able to finally defeat him in combat near the end of the game. At the conclusion of the fight, Genesis is sent toward a statue to the goddess Minerva, which causes him to have a vision of meeting her. In the vision, he imagines approaching her for judgement. Rather than giving him praise or welcome, however, she closes her eyes and sends him flailing back to the normal world.

In this moment, the audience understands that all of Genesis’ actions, designs, and deeds were carried out because he thought that it was what Minerva wanted of him. Likely through delusions caused by his genetic modification, he thought that he was following the will of a goddess he adored. With that in mind, her rejection must be absolutely crushing for the misguided villain, who suddenly realizes that his destined purpose was always one big lie.

Zack’s sacrifice

Crisis Core Reunion Zack facing Bahamut

After defeating Genesis, Zack and Cloud know that Shinra is going to try to hunt them down for good. This drives Zack to make a final stand to protect his family and his best friend Cloud. Part of this means not reaching out to said family, who are undoubtedly worried after not hearing from him for years, just so that Shinra doesn’t go after them. Then, Zack hides Cloud to protect him, and prepares to face down an entire Shinra army on his own.

Zack’s last battle is a memorable sequence in the original "Crisis Core," and "Reunion" makes it even better by having players fight all the way to their inevitable defeat. As they do so, Zack’s Digital Mind Wave begins malfunctioning, showing players memories from his life to really ratchet up the emotion in his final moments.

The battle ends up killing Zack, but he manages to protect the people he cares about the most. His family, Aerith, and Cloud are all saved by his actions, and he saves himself from a life under Shinra’s control. He ultimately meets a more noble end than either Angael or Genesis, but it’s a terrible cost all the same.

Zack’s final moments

Cloud stands over Zack

The emotional ending of "Crisis Core" is one of the elements that helped make the game a classic, and that remains true in "Reunion." After Zack has defeated Shinra’s forces pursuing him and Cloud, he is left laying on the ground, mortally wounded and covered in his own blood. It is then that Cloud emerges from his hiding place and goes to talk to his friend one last time.

Zack pleads with Cloud to carry on his legacy. Gifting Cloud his Buster Sword to aid him in his journey, Zack asks his friend to try and be the hero that he always dreamed of being, and to do so in his name. Watching Zack and Cloud both having to come to terms with Zack’s imminent death is difficult to watch, especially after seeing their friendship grow throughout the game.

Fans who are familiar with the later events of "Final Fantasy 7" will likely find the moment even more impactful. Zack’s death and the act of passing on his legacy and sword to Cloud is very similar to Angeal’s final seconds with Zack. Thankfully, fans know that Cloud will be more successful in living up to Zack’s wishes. Indeed, Cloud goes on to become a world-saving hero after being driven by Zack’s death, which makes the entire exchange hit that much harder.