Final Fantasy VII is considered to be the first title to really bring RPGs into the mainstream. Its cinematic approach, combined with a well-conceived story, led it straight into many an RPGFan’s heart. Almost ten years later, Square Enix is providing spin-offs of this classic PSOne RPG. The first to reach the shores, the computer animated film Advent Children, was well recieved by fans. Will Dirge of Cerberus ~Final Fantasy VII~ be given the same reception in the US? Sales figures and message board scuttlebutt will have to be the teller of this tale.
As I’m sure most of you reading the score for this title are more than ready to send me some flaming hatemail, Dirge of Cerberus does have some redeeming factors. The story in Dirge of Cerberus is interesting for those who have a passing knowledge of Final Fantasy VII, or even those who don’t recognize the characters at first glance. Fans of the original title, and specifically Vincent, will find the story enthralling, and much like Final Fantasy X-2, adds characters to the mix who weren’t in Final Fantasy VII’s story. Dirge follows Vincent as he learns about his love, Lucrecia Crescent, the Shin-Ra soldiers known as the Tsviets and Deepground, and his own connection with the Chaos Gene. It’s not the most inspiring story ever, and a good deal of it is in the “let’s go here, then here, then here” vein, but the between-level cutscenes are impressive.
Additionally, the sound aspect of Dirge of Cerberus is also positive. The voice acting for all of the characters seems appropriate, though there are a couple of situations where dialogue was stretched too far to fit the characters’ mouth movements. The music, composed by Masashi Hamauzu, does well to capture the essence of the game. The inclusion of Gackt certainly is a selling point, although this isn’t the first game the J-Pop star has had his hand in, after his starring role in Bujingai.
Graphically, Dirge is a mixed bag. Characters look great, both in the story sequences and during battle, except for the fact that story sequences do not show the type of weapon Vincent is actually wielding in-game. It can be a bit disorienting to shoot a grip of enemies with a rifle, only to have the next story sequence show him mow down the last enemy with a short-barreled pistol. There are CG sequences that obviously had the same team behind Advent Children working on them, and those look absolutely gorgeous. However, enemy and environment design leaves much to be desired. Vincent spends most of his time killing the same eight types of enemies; there were numerous Generic Deepground Soldiers and Generic Female Deepground Soldiers who found themselves mowed to the ground. The environments are just as bland. It’s obvious that there was a single tileset used for each individual level and most rooms look exactly the same, making the already labyrinthine dungeons that much more tedious. It’s not a deathblow to Dirge of Cerberus, but it’s certainly a downer.
The bland and repetitive environments aren’t helped at all by the basic shoot-’em-up gameplay that’s pervasive throughout Dirge. Vincent shoots a room full of enemies, finds a cardkey, and continues on to another room full of enemies. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to describe about the general gameplay. At the end of about twenty minutes of shooting Generic Deepground Soldiers, Vincent will come upon boss fights, which are a bit more fun, even if several of them are recycled as well. There are at least three instances of fighting Giant Robot With Lasers, and even a couple of the story-relevant bosses are repeated. None of the bosses have any particular substance to them, and most can be defeated by simply shooting them.
After completing a mission, Vincent is rated on how he did in the mission, and is given gil and experience to commemorate the occasion. The experience points can also be converted into gil, which increases damage with weapons instead of the overall statistics of Vincent. Gil can be used to purchase new parts for his guns, which there are few, or to upgrade the parts he already has. It was incredibly easy to just find the weapon type I was best with early on, and simply upgrade those parts. There’s a chance to purchase ammo about four times a level, so it wasn’t much of an issue to just stock up whenever the ammo supply for the handgun dried up. Vincent also has the capability to transform into a giant beast as he did in Final Fantasy VII. His limit break transformation is much more focused on melee attacks, and can be incredibly powerful; a few bosses just required the use of the transformation item and some button mashing to defeat.
None of the bland gameplay is helped by the fact that the controls feel sluggish overall. Even though the sensitivity of the analog sticks can be changed in the options, it’s tough to find a middle ground, and Vincent’s movement seems awkward. While the mouse-and-keyboard controls are an alternate solution, most PS2 owners won’t have a comfortable spot to put a keyboard and a mouse down. Even with the sluggish control, anyone who has played a first person shooter on a console will be familiar with the controls.
Dirge of Cerberus ~Final Fantasy VII~ is a flawed game, but it is an entertaining one nonetheless. Anyone who’s never played Final Fantasy VII or even those who aren’t particularly fond of it might find Dirge of Cerberus to be a fun weekend rental at best. Fans of Final Fantasy VII should play through Dirge of Cerberus, if only to unravel the mysteries of Vincent left untold in the PSOne title. Plus it’s got Gackt. Everyone loves Gackt.