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Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation 2) artwork

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation 2) review

"Unbeknownst to the public, hidden within the ruins of Midgar, a malevolent organization known as Deepground seeks to rectify the failures of Sephiroth. Their goal is simple; to awaken the power of Omega and destroy all life."

Three years have passed since the epic battle between Cloud and Sephiroth, an event that would come to be known as Meteorfall. It was then that Sephiroth, harnessing the staggering power of Meteor, laid the magnificent metropolis of Midgar to waste, and nearly succeeded in bringing the world to its knees. Shortly thereafter, the WRO (World Regenesis Organization) was formed to restore the scarred planet. With swift action and united efforts, the WRO has managed to heal many of the wounds left by Meteorfall, but as history has taught us, good cannot exist without the presence of evil.

With the WRO to support them, the citizens of Junon have managed to thrive on the outskirts of Midgar; a constant reminder of how far they have come in three years. Suddenly one night, a large number of people disappeared. Panic was rampant as rumors spread of deathly howls from the catacombs of Midgar. Their concerns were justified, as no person who ventured into the city has ever returned. Unbeknownst to the public, hidden within the ruins of Midgar, a malevolent organization known as Deepground seeks to rectify the failures of Sephiroth. Their goal is simple; to awaken the power of Omega and destroy all life. An unfathomable creature, Omega has no morals or ethics. Its only purpose is complete annihilation.

Every life, every memory, and every dream of the future rests in the hands of one man- Vincent Valentine.

Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) is one of those rare games that needs no introduction. It grabbed hold of the world and changed the face of gaming forever. In one way or another, every gamer has been affected, but here is my confession. I did not like FFVII. I hated the melodramatic speeches that passed for conversation, minute-long magic attacks, cliché amnesiac characters, and the cinematics, while breathtaking, began a terrible trend of style-over-substance for future RPGs. With that said, I turned to Dirge of Cerberus (DOC) in the hopes that I might be able to experience the world of FFVII without the aforementioned pitfalls. DOC is a groundbreaker in the FF series. Tossing away its RPG roots, DOC is a bullet-ridden action game that, as an added bonus, features the one character from FFVII that I truly like.

I’m not sure why I like Vincent Valentine so much. After all, he is just another brooding, stylish, amnesiac cliché. It has to be the guns. While other characters are busy trying to pick up their oversized swords, Vincent is busy running along the rooftops, pouncing into the air, and diving through a hail of gunfire to fell a gunship with a single bullet. At least that’s what DOC’s cut-scenes lead me to believe. In truth, combat in DOC is a rather stale affair that might have passed for excellence five years ago, but feels utterly decrepit next to the recent likes of God of War and Devil May Cry 3.

Controlled from the 3rd person, Vincent can perform all of the basic actions you have come to expect, like strafing, jumping, dodging, and ducking. The trouble is that none of these maneuvers work into combat effectively. Every enemy seems to be a crack shot, so whether you jump through the air, dive to the side, or just stand there, you still get hit just the same. There are the occasional moments when ducking behind a box can save your hide, but the usual plan of attack is to keep firing your gun and whip out the fists when enemies get close. SquareEnix must be aware of these problems, since health-restoring potions are littered everywhere. You can hardly take twenty steps without coming across a potion, and you will end up using every one of them. As good as the Deepground cronies are with firearms, they are horrible tacticians. They don’t bother running for cover or trying to obtain strategic locations. They pick a spot, and stand there. I don’t know about you, but if someone shot me in the head, I might consider ducking.

Even boss-fights, which should be the crowning events in DOC, are simplistically mind-numbing. The bosses range from military vehicles to the Tsviets, scientifically enhanced humans that look like raver-rejects wrapped in glow-sticks. Facing off against Azul, the behemoth that fires tank cannons like rifles, might have been an epic experience if he did anything besides stand in one spot and shoot at you. There is only one thing that you need to remember for boss-fights anyways; limit breakers. These power-ups are found throughout each level and their activation turns Vincent into an invulnerable, rampaging beast capable of ripping bosses apart without breaking a sweat. As an added insult, each boss-fight is capped off with a cut-scene showing Vincent delivering the final blow with some amazing acrobatic stunt. Not only does this rob you of your well-deserved victory, but it teases you with all the jaw-dropping maneuvers that you can’t do.

The majority of Japanese RPG’s still use a style of game design that was ready for the trashcan a decade ago. You run a ways through a level, engage in small battle, continue through the level, engage in another battle, and so on. SquareEnix doesn’t seem to understand that this style isn’t suited for action games. For the first half of DOC, enemy encounters are broken into small battles scattered throughout the levels, complete with cut-scenes before each one, regardless of whether it is a boss-fight or two henchmen attacking. The majority of your time is then spent running down empty streets and corridors. The least SquareEnix could have done was to make use of the jump feature and work in some platforming elements. Eventually, the cut-scenes go away and the action flows more continuously, but not until halfway through the game. Even then, the problem is only partially fixed since you are then stuck in the middle of more enemies with an ineffective combat system.

One aspect of DOC that I definitely want to see in SquareEnix’s future forays into the action genre is the weapon customization system. By combining gun frames, barrels, and accessories that you find or buy, you can make a weapon to perfectly suit your needs. Whether you’re into standard pistols, sniper rifles, pocket-sized machineguns, or Dirty Harry hand-cannons, DOC has a gun for you. You can even attach materia to release devastating magic attacks or heighten other abilities such as defense or melee attack power. DOC also gives you three weapon slots, so you can painlessly switch weapons on the fly in the middle of a mission. Every mission ends with a grade of your performance and an experience reward. Experience can be used to give your stats a boost or it can be traded in for Gil (money) to purchase potions or further weapon upgrades. The customization system may not be as extensive as the one seen in SquareSoft’s phenomenal Vagrant Story, but it still stands out as a shining point.

On the topic of shining points, DOC could definitely use a few bright spots. The first thing I noticed regarding DOC’s graphics was how grey everything was. There is dark grey, light grey, brownish grey, and so on. Every landscape, building, and side character is infused with the same dismal color. At least the main characters in this tale have some color, even though the Tsviets are complete fashion disasters and every woman looks fresh from working the street corners. As has become standard in the Final Fantasy series, DOC features a number of awe-inspiring CG cinematics that develop the story and push the emotional intensity further than the in-game cut-scenes could hope to achieve. Among them is the battle between the WRO and Deepground. With cameos from Cloud, Barret, and Tifa, it’s an adrenaline pumping scene that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

DOC is not simply a continuation or spin-off of the FFVII saga. As well as revealing the history behind Vincent Valentine, it answers some of the lingering questions regarding the origins of Sephiroth and his rise to power. The story, cinematics, and customization options are all welcome perks to the overall experience, but they don’t justify the hours of tedium and frustration that constitute most of the game. Although Dirge of Cerberus has the Final Fantasy VII name attached to it, only the most diehard and inquisitive fans will find this to be a worthwhile adventure.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (August 17, 2006)

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