Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII achieves a striking balance of old and new, and juggles fan service with pure role-playing satisfaction. It's striking how these elements have been shaped into such an appealing and emotionally affecting prequel. There are some new characters and plenty of fan favorites too, such as Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith. However, the characters you're most likely to empathize with are unlikely ones, including protagonist Zack, and Sephiroth, who is complex, troubled, and even sometimes likable. The way their personal stories weave in and out of each other--and set the stage for the events in Final Fantasy VII--makes Crisis Core not just the finest role-playing experience available on the PSP, but also one of the best Japanese RPGs in years.
If you enjoyed Final Fantasy VII, this kind of attention to detail won't come as a surprise. However, you may be startled at how the combat works. Crisis Core is an action RPG. Granted, it does have many of the same elements as FFVII: materia, limit breaks, and so on. However, it plays nothing like its inspiration, which may irritate some fans. This doesn't make it better or worse, but it does make it different, and once you get used to it, it's a lot of fun. Battles are almost exclusively random, with the exception of those that end your side missions (more on those later). When combat begins, you are limited to a contained area, but you can move freely within it. To target an enemy, you simply face in its direction, and to attack, you hit X. It's not quite real-time, but rather a series of quick turns that give you a smidgen of time in-between to select a different spell or attack. You can switch among different options and spells on the fly using the shoulder buttons. If you're familiar with the Tales series (Tales of the Abyss, and so on), you'll have a rough idea of how the combat works in Crisis Core.