Review: One out of twenty who read the title went off and looked up ?dirge' in the dictionary.
Final Fantasy is one of the juggernaut franchises of the gaming world. The series is long, storied, and anyone who has played a videogame likely knows about it. A lot of this widespread exposure is thanks to a little PlayStation game called Final Fantasy VII. That one game cemented a fanbase of millions and became the measuring stick for all RPGs to follow. In Square we trust.
Time passed, things happened. Square merged with Enix, three new Final Fantasy games were released, and there were two firsts for the series: a direct sequel and an MMORPG. FFVII itself received a single episode anime and a full-length CGI movie sequel. Now we have Dirge of Cerberus to continue the fan service, which raises the question, does FFVII really need this?
It's been three years since the events of FFVII and Gaia's in trouble again. From beneath Midgar come the Deepground, former SOLDIERs with a penchant for violence. Led by the enigmatic Weiss, they hunt for ex-Turk Vincent Valentine in order to achieve their plans of mass destruction. If not one of those names rang a bell, stay away from this game. It's intended only for fans since the story expects you to recognize characters and plot points without heavy explanation.
And what a story. Expanding on the FFVII universe, you'll get to experience Vincent's story and his struggles with his past. That's not to say the rest of the original cast is neglected; old faces like Cait Sith and Yuffie are on hand while others have cameo appearances. Sorry Cloud, Vincent's in center stage.
Does the fact that Vincent is the protagonist bother you? If so, you may not like this next one: Dirge of Cerberus is not an RPG. Nope, it's pure real-time action more akin to a first-person shooter than any previous Final Fantasy. You'll be controlling Vincent with an over-the-shoulder view and drawing your gun will bring up an aiming reticule. Moving the reticule over a target locks it on, making it easier for you to run around while still shooting. There's a first-person mode too, if you'd prefer more precise aiming. Aside from your guns, you'll have magic and the ability to transform into a near-invincible form via Limit Breaks. While not a RPG, there are trace elements. At the end of every stage, you'll gain an amount of experience points that can either be used to level up or be transformed into Gil, Final Fantasy's currency. Your guns and their add-ons can be upgraded to do more damage, have farther range, etc. at the cost of Gil. All of this sounds like the makings of a solid spin-off, no? Sadly, too much goes wrong all too soon.
Story first: the pacing. The stage will open up with several cutscenes, there'll be several more cutscenes placed throughout, right before the end there'll be more cutscenes, and after the end there may be some too. Yes, most will be quite lengthy. Are we talking hours? Obviously not, but for an action game to be broken up like this would definitely jolt the gamer out of any sort of immersion. For your average RPG this wouldn't be so bad, as they are usually less hectic. So if you're looking for non-stop excitement, this might not be for you. Speaking of thrills, this is one story that won't suck you in. Spoiled by a mediocre script, it's all ho-hum with no surprises. An average plot isn't that crippling but poor dialogue and direction is. Most of the cast either speaks in cryptic messages, dramatic speeches, or can't even finish a sentence and there are plenty of scenes that kill the suspension of disbelief, making you ask, ?Why didn't he just do that?? They also happen to be dry and have the magnetism of glass. The old gang like Vincent and Reeve may have the advantage of familiarity but newcomers Shalua Rui and the Tsviets don't. The Tsviets make up the antagonists for Dirge of Cerberus and how woefully underdeveloped they are. Instead of forgotten fallout bred from a time of strife, we're presented with just another blood-thirsty bunch. A beastly being that lusts for battle? Check. A sadistic woman with a Russian accent? Check. An effeminate fellow with the power of ?darkness' and a rather strong attachment to Weiss? Check. It's a good thing there's the option to skip the cutscenes. FFVII fans may find something to enjoy out of them but one shouldn't expect too much. May as well just watch Advent Children. Sure, it suffers the same problems but at least it's full CGI with flashy action.
But isn't Dirge of Cerberus full of flashy-goodness? Well, yes and no. As expected, the CGI looks lovely like usual. Just watch the intro for evidence. But that's just CGI and not in-game. The in-game graphics on the other hand?hold up pretty well. The characters look like they're supposed to and move naturally. However, that only applies to the primary characters. Prepare to see the same WRO soldiers and enemies run around often. Quite a few of them have the habit of blending in with the background, which would make sense in the real world. Alas, this is a game and when people can't be seen well, that usually means sub-par visuals, not adherence to reality. There's also the issue with the levels themselves. Yes, you'll get to visit a lot of FFVII's locales, but FFVII never had the brightest setting. Adding to the troubles is the overall atmosphere of the game, meaning you're going to be doing a lot of running around in your conventional doom-and-gloom places: rainy cities, hallways, sewers, train yards, and industrial complexes. All grey and drab locations. It's expected and not much of a concern until you factor in other complications.
When you watch the intro, you'll likely think to yourself at some point, ?That Vincent sure is badass. I can't wait to do that in the game!? Sorry to disappoint you, but it's not happening. You see, Dirge of Cerberus truly does live up to its namesake. Maybe it isn't as slow as a funeral song but it assuredly isn't the exhilarating ride it would want you to believe. Since there's the auto-aim, as long as you paint your reticule over the target, you're bound to hit something. There's a problem with this as picking your target might become hard if there are several grouped together. Not good if you're low on ammo and want to shoot the explosive barrel instead of wasting it on them individually. You can turn it off and aim manually but aiming with analog sticks never was very accurate. Still you needn't worry about getting lost or turned around, as you're usually just going from Point A to Point B, shooting anything in the way. Yes, shooting. That's all you're going to do because practically all the maneuvers given to you, like melee attacks, are useless. There will be certain times you're forced to use them, to get over certain areas or to kill certain enemies, but the majority? Run and gun is the best way to go. Sometimes I wondered if Dirge of Cerberus would be better off as an on-rails shooter. Occasionally there might be missions within the level in order to change it up, but they're usually ?protect so-and-so' or ?defeat X enemies'. Basically that means for you to shoot them even quicker. At one point there'll even be a ?sneaking mission', but Metal Gear Solid it is not.
All the action becomes more repetitive since the enemies' AI extends to three options: hold position, move forward to your location, and retreat a few feet away. Their methods of attack? Shoot or melee you. Same goes for bosses. There's never any real strategy required; just keep moving and shoot them. Use a Limit Break if you want. It doesn't change at all and, in a way, that suits your own abilities. As said, Vincent can level up, but that does little aside from increasing your stats. No new skills (in fact, you don't have skills at all), no change in appearance, nothing. Worse yet, you're forced to choose between taking the experience or trading it for Gil. There's no go-between, like half experience, half Gil. All or nothing!
At this point, I could simply pass it off as an example of milking the franchise cow. I could and that would be the easy way out. Now let's try and see how it's not.
First off, Dirge of Cerberus does elaborate on Vincent's background. It might not be presented in the way some would like, but it's something. And even if the dialogue tends to become trite, the voice actors do an admirable job with their material. Most of them, if not all, reprise their roles from Advent Children, this time with Steven Jay Blum in the leading role of Vincent Valentine. If there's one thing to be noted though, it's the pauses they make in order to sync with the lip movement. Each time that happened (especially with Shelke) I was reminded of Final Fantasy X's same problem. It wasn't to that extent, but noticeable nonetheless. The music is your typical orchestra mixed with rock and electronica. It's theatrical and fitting but I don't see myself listening to the soundtrack anytime soon. J-pop/rock star and androgyne extraordinaire Gackt performed two songs for the game, ?Longing? and ?Redemption?, and lent his likeness to a character in the game. I like his music and I have no qualms about his involvement in Dirge of Cerberus. If anything, he meshes well with the Final Fantasy world.
Square-Enix loaded Dirge of Cerberus up with extras. In every stage you might see small capsule-things poking out of windows or hidden in the distance. Shooting these unlocks events, allowing you to watch them later. Whether or not this is a negative or positive attribute depends on how much you enjoy replaying levels. Personally, I wish they could have all been unlocked after beating the game, as I'd already seen them. Searching out those capsules just to see them again? No thanks. There's also the customary artwork and sound gallery, plus extra missions and even an extra ending if you find the right items. The extra missions give a bit more challenge than the main game, which is a pretty good thing, given the easy difficulty of it. Note: bringing up the menu will not pause the game in the extra missions. So use that ether in a quiet place.
An interesting point should be the fact that the game underwent rather large changes from the Japanese version during localization. The online multiplayer was taken out, Vincent's speed was increased and given new maneuvers like the double-jump and dash (unfortunately, both are ineffective). More missions were added in and there's actually support for mouse and keyboard plug-ins, promoting the first-person shooter concept.