It's hard not to wish Square-Enix would just set aside all this Compilation of Final Fantasy VII nonsense and announce the near-inevitable PS3 remake of the seminal RPG from which it all stems. The company's collection of FFVII-themed new titles, delivered across myriad different media - game, film and anime - comes across as unfocused and grasping more than considered or generous. The unlikely (and un-requested) excursions into new genres on distinct platforms is also confusing to both newcomers and fans alike. It's as if the company knows it has a goldmine of an IP on its hands but is unsure as to quite how best to excavate it.
That the quality of titles in the compilation thus far has been mixed doesn't help. Even the most rampant fanboy would struggle to defend the dizzying mediocrity of the PlayStation 2's shooter Dirge of Cerberus while the straight-to-UMD CGI movie Advent Children was startlingly pretty but largely vacuous. Indeed, it almost seems as though Square is unclear as to what made this world so very popular in the first place.
Nevertheless, in Advent Children, the characters Cloud, Aerith and Sephiroth have continued to demonstrate their undeniable attraction by drawing in new fans - particularly in Japan where the film has introduced a wide female audience to the series. So pity the team working on Crisis Core, the first action-RPG to be released in the set so far. Their job is to satisfy several million hard-nosed and hungry players of the original title, develop the game's story and mythology in a consistent and engaging way, while also providing something these newcomers - many of whom don't play games much - will find immediate and enjoyable.
It's a dilemma clearly at the forefront of game director Hajime Tabate's mind as Eurogamer sits down to unpick the details. "We actually have two teams of testers currently playing through the game: one made up of hardcore players, and the other casuals," he explains. "We have worked extremely hard to make the game enjoyable to both groups and the results coming back from testing suggest that we've been successful."
The game is set prior to the events of Final Fantasy VII and centres around the story of Zack, a minor character in the original game most notable for being Aerith's one time lover. Zack works for SOLDIER, the a military group owned and run by the nefarious Shinra Electric Power Company who are busily putting the final touches to their new metropolis, Midgar (the starting location of the original game). A group of SOLDIER members have gone missing during combat operations in the remote town of Wutai and so Shinra send employees Zack, Angeal and, Sephiroth off to discover what exactly happened.
But has it been a challenge fleshing out a lead character to follow in the footsteps of one of videogaming's best-loved heroes? "We've worked hard to make Zack a distinct character from Cloud, but at the same time somebody people will want to play as," says Tabate. "Obviously players of the original already know loosely what happens to Zack, but his story is an interesting one and, thanks to his close proximity to Sephiroth I think it's a very compelling tale."