Nostalgia is a powerful force, and be in no doubt that Crisis Core has been designed from the ground up to harness it. Lest we forget, this is being sold as a prequel to Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy VII was the real breakthrough for Japanese RPGs in the West. While the likes of Final Fantasy IV (or Final Fantasy II as it was known over here) and Secret of Mana had achieved cult classic status in the UK and US, the RPG landscape was still dominated by the likes of Ultima, Wizardry, The Elder Scrolls and Lands of Lore at the time Square's masterpiece arrived. FFVII changed this overnight, with an incredible combination of gorgeous 3D visuals, cinematic presentation and the deepest, richest story console gamers had ever seen. The impact was huge. Even now, over ten years after FFVII was first released, many of us still remember the game - its iconic moments and characters - more clearly than we can remember some games we played last month. In fact, it's fair to say that, for some RPG fans of my acquaintance, nothing else has ever quite measured up.
And it's to this group that Square-Enix has addressed Crisis Core. Taken without the nostalgia factor, it's a decent action-RPG for the PSP with some high production values and some interesting game mechanics, but not an essential purchase by any means. If, however, the chance to visit Midgar and Nibelheim and hang out with Cloud, Aerith, Sephiroth and the Turks is enough to justify the purchase then rest easy. Crisis Core won't be 100 per cent what you're looking for, but neither will it disappoint.
Why not 100 per cent? Well, it's a case of adjusting your expectations first. This isn't a traditional, party and turn-based combat RPG, but a more straightforward action RPG centring on a side character of FFVII - Zack. Fans may remember him as Cloud Strife's once best friend (and role model) and Aerith's first love. Around this slightly obscure figure, Crisis Core weaves a narrative that functions as a back story for FFVII as seen from a position inside Shinra, covering the events that will lead towards Sephiroth's 'death' at Nibelheim and Cloud's inheritance of the legendary Buster sword. Along the way, it ties up a few loose ends and rounds out a few characters while dishing out the mix of melodrama, sci-fi and sword and sorcery that has been the hallmark of the series between FFVII and FFXII.