Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII is the third installment in the compilation of Final Fantasy VII series. Instead of starring Cloud or Tifa the game focuses on other cast members who didn’t have as much of a presence in Advent Children. The enigmatic sharpshooter Vincent Valentine takes center stage along with Cait Sith and Yuffie as the main supporting cast members. Square-Enix could have made another RPG or action RPG but they opted to do something totally new. Defined as a “gun RPG” Dirge of Cerberus is the first RPG cross FPS.
When the game gets underway you’ll run around with a third person camera following behind you. Vincent can do a melee combo by pressing X and jump if you press circle. But Dirge of Cerberus is really all about shooting. When you press R1 the game goes into “gun mode”. Vincent moves to the left corner of the screen and the camera shifts to an over the shoulder perspective a la Resident Evil 4. Now you can start blasting a way with your pistol by aiming with the right analog stick and pressing R1 to fire a burst of shots. Even though you can adjust between normal and reverse for both axes aiming takes awhile to get used to. What’s worse is that you can’t really focus on dodging and attacking at the same time. Vincent moves unbearably slow when he draws his gun. On top of that he can’t jump or dodge roll while shooting. So you’re pretty much forced into standing in one place, while walking slowly to avoid shots. Since you’re mostly stationary your best defense is shooting each enemy once and then rotating to the next enemy. Each time you land a shot you can stun an enemy for a second to prevent your foe from shooting at you. In some ways the shooting mechanic is more similar to a light gun game than a first person shooter.
Vincent has some abilities unique to him like using materia. You can equip materia on your gun and use the secondary fire, L1 button to use it. However, there really isn’t a deep materia system. Fire materia just shoots a sphere of fire, like a wide range bullet. Using materia does take up magic points, which you can obtain by running over glowing circles. While you could spend your magic on casting spells it’s probably better used to transform Vincent into his beastly forms. If you press L1 and R1 at the same time Vincent will use his FF7 limit break ability. This change is expensive, it consumes one entire MP meter bar and the remaining MP drains every second when you’re in an alternate form. When Vincent turns into a werewolf he’s given a phenomenal boost to his melee attack and can shoot a short range fire attack by pressing R1. He also gets an added defense bonus, which makes a transformation key for boss battles. Transforming also recovers all of Vincent’s HP. This is pretty much the only other way to recover HP other than using your limited stock of potions.
One thing disappointing about Dirge of Cerberus is that the best action sequences are all in FMVs instead of having a player control them. We watch as Vincent leaps into the sky to shoot down a plane and as he kicks an enemy into the air to finish him off with a burst of bullets. But we can’t actually do any of that in game. The amount of action is limited to the shooting gallery gun mode and if enemies get too close a flurry of hand to hand kicks. There aren’t killer combos, just chains of successive well aimed shots. No jumping around, limited puzzles that are really fetch quests and just a tad of exploration. Dirge of Cerberus throws out many of the gameplay mechanics that RPG fans expect. On the other hand the fast light gun style gameplay is entertaining. Dirge of Cerberus draws upon the light gun genre further by having stage missions when you try to save people from getting shot by shooting the enemies first.
At the end of each stage you’re awarded experience points which you can use to level Vincent up. Or you can trade in your precious EXP for gil so you can purchase items like Phoenix down or gun accessories. Gil is also useful for upgrading weapon parts so you can build a stronger gun. There are four parameters to consider when building your gun: power, range, speed and weight. All of them are self explanatory expect weight, which affects the speed Vincent moves while he’s carrying the gun. If you enter the customize mode Vincent can literally build a gun from scratch. You can alter the barrel, scope, frame, and more to make your own instrument of death. Build a rapid fire shotgun or create a long distance sniper rifle. Dirge of Cerberus offers lots of different gun options as you collect more parts. However, Vincent can only carry three different guns at a time. Since you can customize on the fly you can transform your pistol to a machine gun if you’re surrounded in the heat of battle. It might be unrealistic, but it guarantees that players can always create the right tool for the situation.
Outside of playing as Vincent you’ll also step into Cait Sith’s furry feet. When you’re the little guy you won’t tote a gun instead you’ll snoop around and try to avoid getting caught by the Deep Grand soldiers. Since Cait Sith is without his large companion, you can easily sneak behind crates and barrels. But if you get caught you won’t be able to fight back. Cait Sith’s claw combo does single points of damage.
Most people are probably picking up this game for the story and not just the gameplay. Dirge of Cerberus actually starts off directly after the events in Advent Children. Then the story quickly fast forwards to three years in the future where there is a war between Reeve’s World Revival Organization (WRO) and the Deep Ground Soldiers. Vincent is caught in the middle of this war and he’s drawn into helping Reeve’s side out. In between the gunshots we’re given a full glimpse of Vincent’s past. We finally know why he was locked up in Shinra mansion and how he obtained his trademark skills. It sounds like fan service, but Dirge of Cerberus manages to hold its own in the story department. This is probably obvious, but if you haven’t played Final Fantasy VII most of the plot won’t be clear since the game doesn’t spend much time introducing characters.
Square-Enix makes sure that it won’t disappoint gamers with the visuals. Dirge of Cerberus looks great. Realistic facial expressions and excellent character Advent Children based character models are what people want to see. The Hollywood inspired action sequences are great too, even though we can’t play them. Probably what is most impressive are the full motion video sequences that have a level of detail similar to Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The only minor complaint is the dark and generic level design. Otherwise Dirge of Cerberus lives up to Square-Enix’s high visual standards. The music is another story. The game background music is mellow ambient sounds, something different from the epic scale that Square-Enix typically uses or pulse pounding music you would see in an action game. It fits with Vincent’s mysterious character, but it’s not memorable except for Gackt’s theme.
Dirge of Cerberus is bound to polarize Final Fantasy fans. Some gamers will appreciate the “something new” value that Dirge of Cerberus offers. It has fast paced arcade style action and a good story. However the game’s controls are severely flawed. It’s best played with a USB keyboard and mouse if you have one. On top of that gamers looking for a tight controlling FPS or an in depth RPG are looking in the wrong place. Dirge of Cerberus only has elements of each those genres tied together.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 3
The action sequences are self explanatory once you get a hang of the controls. Potential importing problems can arise when you’re trying to customize your gun and menu navigation. If you can read katakana you’ll probably be OK playing the game, but if you want to understand the story you’ll have to understand Japanese.
Square-Enix is bound to bring this over to the USA sometime after Advent Children is released.
+ Pros: Visually impressive, Dirge of Cerberus falls into the something different category, which ought to be refreshing for all the RPG fans out there.
– Cons: The frustrating controls don’t allow for Dirge of Cerberus to be an action game. Also the multiplayer experience requires the hard drive / BB kit, Final Fantasy XI disc to install PlayOnline and paying a monthly fee.
Overall: It’s a unique take on the FPS, RPG and action genres, but at the same time Dirge of Cerberus doesn’t execute either of these genres extremely well. If you’re willing to be patient with the game’s controls Dirge of Cerberus offers a new experience and more background on the Final Fantasy VII universe.