Releasing shortly after the Advent Children movie, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII was a game hugely anticipated by fans of the legendary PS1 classic. The film, while flashy and cool, did little to build on the Final Fantasy VII story. The biggest thing fans got from it was the cool new character models. Dirge of Cerberus, releasing late in PS2’s life, also failed to entice Final Fantasy VII fans. Playing as Vincent instead of the party as a whole or at least Cloud, players were also treated to a third-person shooting game with a story that builds on Advent Children and gives Vince a bit more background. But ultimately, it shows new Square Enix’s inability to build upon the FFVII lore. Crisis Core would counter that claim later on, but only to some extent.
Game: Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 2
Original release: 2006
Dirge of Cerberus is in a genre Square Enix are not known for, and I have to say it does well, considering that. Of course, the gameplay is nowhere near stellar third-person shooters like Max Payne or Resident Evil 4, but its shooting part works well enough. I like some things the game tried, and it does use some things well-known from Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy, period, like most of the items. I felt it was a bit too easy, with item shops being right there during some boss battles (including the most difficult one) being pretty crazy. The story is enjoyable as a whole, but ultimately, it’s just another “the world’s at stake, you must save it!”, except with much less inspired villains than Sephiroth and Shinra. It doesn’t touch with the actual events of Final Fantasy VII much, which is, I suppose, a good approach.
- Some good extra background for Vincent
- Cameos by your favourite Final Fantasy VII characters
- Shooting and upgrading your guns is fun
- Excellent boss battles
- Story is mediocre and really far from the Final Fantasy VII standard
- New characters are mostly dull
- Melee combat has terrible hit-detection issues
SAVING THE WORLD… YET AGAIN
The tale of Dirge of Cerberus is intended to be epic, but has a hard time succeeding. Even just starting from the fact that Vincent is cool and I like him, but he’s no Cloud. But he’s far from Dirge of Cerberus’ biggest problem – in fact, he fits the antagonist’s shoes rather well here. The game does a relatively bad job at getting the player to care about the world… The exact same world we loved so much in Final Fantasy VII. The fact that there are barely any NPCs to converse with surely contributes to that, as do the relatively boring environments. And this being the third world-threatening conflict in a row in the FFVII world (after the titular game itself, and then the Advent Children film), over the span of several years, makes for some serious fatigue and skepticism, leading to more difficult suspension of disbelief.
The story revolves around a terrorist organisation called Deepground which aims to wreak havoc in the world, and the WRO organisation, led by former Shinra’s Reeve, fighting it, with Vincent as its spearhead. Deepground are a forgotten remnant of the times of Shinra domination, a super elite unit that somehow never appeared throughout the conflicts in Final Fantasy VII itself. And that’s pretty much it, plus a lot of additional background for Vincent – which is, to be honest, the only true worth of Dirge of Cerberus’ story for a FFVII fan. I’d say they did a relatively good job with Vincent’s extra history, not contradicting anything from FFVII canon.
All in all, it is hard to take Dirge of Cerberus very seriously, as far as the Final Fantasy VII canon is concerned. To be honest, among it, Advent Children, and Crisis Core, only the latter would I deem somewhat acceptable to the lore, and mostly thanks to the way Cloud is portrayed, as well as the relationship between Zack and Aerith.
BORING CAST WITH SMALL EXCEPTIONS
As mentioned above, Vincent is the star of Dirge of Cerberus, and plays that role relatively well. He’s a bit of a quiet badass for most of the game, but, via flashbacks, we get to learn a lot about what made Vincent what he is. Most importantly, his sweetheart Lucrecia gets a lot of development and becomes a relatively fleshed out character. Lucrecia’s role in the game is key, despite her being but a memory for Vincent. This is kind of strange and could be looked at as a negative – after all, flashbacks should not be the key parts of a game, it should have a strong story on its own. But eventually, it all comes together – in a relatively unconvincing fashion, I thought, but it does.
The rest of the cast is mediocre or worse, especially the major villains. Weiss is the main antagonist, so to speak, and he’s menacing-looking and makes for one hell of a boss fight, but utterly lacks the charisma of Sephiroth otherwise (an unfair comparison, maybe – Sephiroth is pretty much THE video game villain. But we’re talking about a FFVII sequel here). The other key Deepground members – Nero, Azul and Rosso (yes, they are named after colours in different languages), are pretty boring.
There ARE a couple of cool new characters in the enigmatic Shelke (my favourite), and Shalua, who’s cute and has some good moments, but is ultimately still rather clichéd. All the other Final Fantasy VII playable characters appear in the game, but most are reduced to cameos. Yuffie and Cid play slightly bigger support roles for Vincent, but only slightly. Reeve, Cait Sith’s manipulator, is the most prominent figure supporting Vincent, as he’s the head of the WRO organisation fighting Deepground. He plays this role quite well, and I do like him better as a character after Dirge of Cerberus.
FUN SHOOTING, POOR MELEE
Dirge of Cerberus is a 15-16-hour game, which is about the perfect length for what it is. One should also consider the occasional lengthy cutscenes. Gameplay is separated in missions, usually finished with a boss fight. I have to say that the shooting in the game is not half bad. I really hate playing shooters with a controller as opposed to keyboard and mouse, but this one was nice enough to have the enemies stand around long enough so I can position my crosshairs at them and shoot them. I played on the regular difficulty, so I’m sure playing on harder mode would be much more troublesome.
There are several weapons at Vincent’s disposal – the Cerberus handgun, the Hydra rifle, and the Griffon machine gun. There are also some different models discoverable later, but these are the main three you’ll be using and upgrading. At the very end of the game, Vincent can also use the really powerful Death Penalty weapon. Anyway, while the handgun and rifle work like you would expect them to, I gotta complain that the machine gun doesn’t fire that fast at all. Maybe I didn’t use the proper upgrades, I don’t know, but, in result, I barely ever used the machine gun in my playthrough. You can gradually upgrade these weapons, provided you have the money. There are also parts you can attach to them, such as the long barrel, which increases the range of your weapon at the expense of making you slower, and the scope, which is really important when you want to shoot at targets far away from you.
You can purchase these upgrades at shops (which, for some reason, look like jukeboxes) you come across while playing, and also between missions. In shops, you can also purchase the incredibly important healing items whose frequent and timely use makes the game a breeze. There are several types of potions Vincent can use, most of them already known from other Final Fantasy games. There’s also the Phoenix Down, except you don’t use it to revive yourself when you’ve been shot down (obviously), you use it in advance to ensure rising up if your HP ever does reach zero. Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how many potions and Phoenix Downs you can carry, but it’s VERY necessary, seeing as how they can make the game so easy. Oh yeah, Vincent also has MP and you can use magic by attaching materia to your guns… But magic is so underpowered in this game you might as well not use it at all.
The other power at Vincent’s disposal is his melee attacks… And a big problem of the game lies here. Melee attacks are usually quite powerful and useful, but, unfortunately, they miss the target relatively often. You’ve gotta be facing your enemy precisely enough, or else your swing may miss and you’ll get smacked by the counterattack while Vince is recovering (recovery time is significant enough). This is VERY annoying and is quite the incentive to do more shooting than melee fighting. Despite that, I still found myself using melee a lot because it’s just easier to dash towards your enemies when they’re close enough and punish them. But it’s something that should be kept in mind. Vincent also has a Limit Breaker item which turns him into the Galian Beast form known from Final Fantasy VII, in which he takes little damage and has very powerful melee attacks.
Boss battles are, unsurprisingly, my favourite aspect of Dirge of Cerberus gameplay. They are usually quite epic, and bring a sense of achievement… Except the ones where you have a jukebox shop right there, and, as long as you have money, you can keep buying those healing items and using them while slowly bringing the boss’ HP to 0, despite receiving MUCH more damage in the process. Naturally, I abused the hell out of that, and felt a bit ridiculous when a boss battle near the end that would’ve been INSANELY difficult without the shop, was reduced to a joke. I probably received 20 times as much damage as I inflicted in that one. Of course, not all boss battles have shops conveniently placed there, most notably the last few. But, accordingly, they are also not as crazily difficult – though the very last boss almost is, unless have done well to have saved up A LOT of healing items till then. The last boss really holds true to the Square tradition in terms of scale and damaging attacks.
There is also the scoring aspect to Dirge of Cerberus – at the end of each stage, you get scores in many aspects, such as how fast you completed it, or how much damage you received, and corresponding ranks (S being of course the highest). I’ve never been one to care much about those, but, if you’re really into the game, it’s a nice indication to look at as you try to master it. One of the most interesting things about the game, however, is the ability to choose what to do with your experience – a choice which is made every time you get a Game Over, or complete a mission. You can either use it as pure experience, increasing Vincent’s level and stats, or you can convert it into gil (the Final Fantasy currency), and then use it to improve your weapons and get more powerful that way (or just to buy those healing items). There were several times when I did choose the second option because I was short of cash, and I have to say this little feature was one of the things I liked the best about Dirge of Cerberus.
COOL FMVS, DULL ENVIRONMENTS
As far as visuals are concerned, in Dirge of Cerberus there is a big contrast… The FMVs are not too far from Advent Children quality – that is to say, quite beautiful. Unfortunately, the rest of the game does not live up to that at all. The character models are quite fine for PS2, but the environments is where Dirge of Cerberus really suffers. With some slight, and still not that notable exceptions, such as mako reactors, the game consists mostly of boring corridors, caves and the like. Vincent’s movement is quite restricted through the terrain, even in open outdoor areas it’s like he’s moving through indoor corridors. Not even key locations from Final Fantasy VII such as the Shinra Manor in Nibelheim are done much justice. This really reduces the immersion.
The music is also nothing to write home about… There are a few relatively catchy tunes, and a couple of cool songs by JRock star Gackt, but that’s about it. Mostly, the soundtrack was forgettable… Very far from Masashi Hamauzu’s best. But the one song I’m featuring is quite special in comparison to all the rest, I thought – it’s a rather ambient tune called “Silent Edge” that plays during an interesting stage where Vincent needs to follow (and protect) a kid showing him the way. It reminds me of Phantasy Star Online music.
MOSTLY FOR FANS
Dirge of Cerberus is an enjoyable game, but nothing particularly special – and certainly nothing anywhere near the quality caliber of Final Fantasy VII which it happens to be a sequel of – though I’d rather call it a side story. With a relatively typical story and a weak cast, it won’t impress the typical JRPG fan… And while the gameplay mechanics feature some cool new things, such as the experience vs. money dilemma, they are ultimately not particularly special. Still, the overall package manages to entice enough to keep you going, which is more than can be said about most games.
For fans of Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus is somewhat valuable, mostly thanks to the extra background for Vincent and Lucrecia – though there are also some things a fan may not enjoy much. But for the average gamer who’s unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII, there are far better third-person shooters to be played. If you wanna try out a Final Fantasy VII game, this is definitely not the first one I’d recommend. Start with the RPG masterpiece and only play this later, if you really get into the Final Fantasy VII universe.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10