Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: August 15, 2006
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. Where to start? The basic conceit of the game is a no-brainer. Vincent Valentine was one of the most popular characters in Final Fantasy VII, despite having little to no bearing on the plot. Something about his cool and distant manner attracted gamers, and this feeling was no doubt bolstered by the fact that he sported a number of cool guns and transformed into uncontrollable monsters for his limit breaks.
Dirge of Cerberus picks up a few years after the end of Final Fantasy VII. What starts as a fairly straightforward action/adventure shooter quickly turns into something deeper. Vincent's past is put on display and called into question, particularly when it's revealed that he's in possession of something called the Chaos gene. Astute players will remember that that is the name of Vincent's final Limit Break. Revelations follow and stack upon one another; everything is dealt with, from Vincent's "death" at the hands of Hojo to the actions of his father, Grimoire. The group who is searching for Vincent is known as Deepground, and its elite fighting squad is known as the "Tsviets." These color-coded bad guys are the cream of the crop, and they're all gunning for Vincent.
The story is told through both voice acting and subtitles; the cast is the same as that of the Advent Children film, so it all sounds very good. The music is reminiscent of the score from Final Fantasy VII, without being patronizing. The tunes are faster-paced and harder-edged now, to go with the "gritty shooter" feel of the game. The non-battle music is light and fairly easy-going, which provides a nice contrast between the up-tempo, in-your-face music that permeates the battle scenes.
Dirge of Cerberus sports some fairly impressive graphics for a game coming out this late in the lifespan of the PlayStation 2. The cinemas are almost of Advent Children quality, and the in-game graphics are intentionally dark and gritty. Square seems intent on making their games prettier than ever, and DoC illustrates this nicely.
Believe it or not, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII was met with a somewhat lukewarm reception in Japan. Japanese players complained about the aiming and a number of other gameplay features, but Square Enix appears to have addressed a few of those concerns with the US release.
The title now feels more like a third-person shooter, with a dash of close-quarters combat added in. If you've ever played a Ghost Recon or Mercenaries, you're on good footing when you fire up Dirge of Cerberus. Aiming and firing is handled via the right analog stick and the triggers, with movement mapped to the left analog. It's a tried-and-true control scheme, and it works. You can zoom in and do the usual bag of tricks that you'd expect in a third-person shooter, but with a few new surprises.
There's a melee combat system in Dirge of Cerberus, but it's somewhat limited. You're going to be pressing the melee button really only in times of emergency. You get a short combo on the ground, a different set of attacks in the air, and that's about it. It's useful for stopping someone up close to you, but you're probably better off sticking to the gunfire.
This is especially true due to the upgrade system that's in place. You have three basic guns: a machine gun, a pistol, and a rifle. As you fight, you earn gil to buy new gear, and you can buy a bunch of different barrels for each gun. If you've ever wanted a machine gun with a hyper-accurate long barrel, you can do it. If you want a short-barreled rifle with sawn-off shotgun-style firepower, create it. The scope can be added to any weapon and gives you a monstrous level of zoom. If you ever wanted to try to pick a guy off from half a continent away, the scope is as close as you're going to get in Dirge of Cerberus. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of possible combinations of upgrades, new parts, and materia.
The materia system is interesting and simple. You have a slot into which you can strap materia (or other accessories) to boost your stats or use as a special weapon. Fire materia, for example, lets you fire off a large fireball that'll take out most weak enemies with one shot, while thunder materia gives you a super-fast lightning strike.
These upgrades are about as close as you'll get to genuine RPG gameplay. Vincent himself can level up and gain more HP either through fighting bad guys or sacrificing gil that could've been used to upgrade his guns at the end of a stage. Nine times out of 10, you'll have enough gil to gain a handful of levels, so getting a level up is no chore at all. Beyond that, the gameplay is a shooter to its core. You're going to be fighting a lot of long-range bad guys, so the emphasis is definitely on gun combat.
You're going to be shooting until your fingers hurt, and then you'll have to shoot some more. Tried and true third-person action game tactics will work wonders here, as you'll need to circle strafe, bunny hop, and blast your way to victory. Some boss fights require you to use bits of the scenery, like explosive canisters, to damage the boss. There's a limited location-based damage in place, too. A headshot will take out an enemy easily, while it may take three or four body shots to bring him down otherwise.
All is not golden in Dirge of Cerberus, of course. If you're at all experienced with shooters, this title is going to seem like a cakewalk. You'll get hit because you sometimes face walls of enemies, but dodging enemies and taking them out is going to be no big thing for you. It'll be even worse if you've made it through a nail-biter like Devil May Cry 3.
The aiming works, and the inclusion of keyboard/mouse support is very nice, but the aiming doesn't have the polish that we've come to expect from shooters. It feels rougher than it should, which makes getting headshots harder than it has to be. It would've been nice to be able to choose to convert some of your gil to XP at the end of a stage, instead of all of it. You'll often be faced with the choice of leveling up or buying ammunition for your guns, which is a kind of regretful position to be in. The increased health meter is always a boon, but so is actually having bullets with which to fight the bad guys. The stages are pretty much wholly linear, too, almost to the point of handholding. The few "fetch the key" quests don't do much to alleviate that feeling.
Ultimately, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII is neither fantastic nor terrible, instead landing somewhere in between. Final Fantasy fans might find the addition of an action game to their favorite series to be odd, while shooter aficionados will wonder why it's so easy. It's nice to get more info on a cool character, but sometimes you have to push yourself to get through the game. The shooting ends up being pretty monotonous, though the boss fights do a good job of breaking that up, and the flat melee almost feels like an afterthought. If you're a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, give it a look-see. It's a decent ride.
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