Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII review

Score: 6.6/10

Pros:

  • Interesting mix of gunplay and rpg aspects
  • Stunningly beautiful FMVs and character models
  • Multiple challenge levels to unlock
  • Tells the story of one of FFVII's shadiest characters

Cons:

  • Shallow gunplay and underexploited RPG aspects
  • Bland level designs and environments
  • Cutscenes clash awkwardly with gameplay
  • Camera can be a pain in close quarters
  • Lousy A.I. and laughable boss fights

As someone who's well versed in the Final Fantasy series of video games, I was looking forward to learning about one of FFVII's previously underdeveloped characters. For those of you who don't know, Vincent Valentine was a secret character from FFVII whose backstory was only briefly touched upon over the course of the game. Dirge of Cerberus is here to cater to the fans by telling his story and giving him his own game. The question is, does it have much value beyond that?

The game opens about where FFVII ended, with Vincent and Yuffie (another secret character) leading an evacuation of Midgar as meteor is about to hit. The game then flashes forward to about three years later, when Vincent is sitting peacefully in his home. All of the sudden, soldiers appear out of nowhere and capture and shoot down everyone in the streets, and out comes Vincent to save the day.

As you'd expect, this is all just the beginning of a deeper, more epic story, but frankly, it isn't near as engaging as FFVII'.s. This is due largely to a weak script, with most dialogues being spoken either in cryptic messages or nauseating dramatic speeches. It also suffers from an influx of weak new characters. This is most obvious in the case of the villains, who are basically a handful of bloodthirsty, cookie-cutter soldiers whose sole motive seems to be to kill, kill, kill. Despite the weakness in the main plot, however, the story's main purpose is to tell Vincent's tale, and in that respect, it succeeds admirably. Watching his story unfold, as well as how it ties into the main plot, is just what the fans were looking for.

Oh, and regarding the aforementioned opening, I'd just like to say that the FMVs composing that and other scenes are some of the most visually stunning on the PS2. It's clear that they use the same engine as Advent Children, so the action and characters pretty much explode on the screen. As for the in-game visuals, well...more of a mixed bag in comparison. The character models are excellent, particularly Vincent and his awesome cape, but the enemies aren't crafted with quite the same care, as most of them are either the same generic soldiers or the same generic dogs. The environments are also lacking. It's true that you'll visit many locations from FFVII - the most dull ones, at least. The village of Kalm isn't one of the more talked about locations from the game, probably because it's drab, gothic look is completely unmemorable. Most of the original environments created for the game aren't very imaginative, either. These include a city filled with alleyways, an HQ building filled with hallways, and a train yard filled with...well, trains. Getting my drift? What's more, it's pretty obvious that each level recycles a single tileset, as each corridor carries an unshakable feeling of deja vu. Only the sharp texture work saves them from complete ugliness.

Get used to the gothic look, cuz' you'll be seeing it a lot.

Sound-wise, DoC is also a mixed bag, but generally performs well. The sound effects are pretty weak - Vincent's gun doesn't have the power it should, sounding more like a pop gun than a big powerful pistol, and most of the enemies don't have much power, either. On the other hand, despite the weakness of the dialogue, the voice actors do an admirable job with the work they're given (and it helps that the highly professional Steve Blum handles Vincent). The music consists mostly of gothic tunes, with some J-pop thrown in for the main theme. It's solid, and fits the game quite well, although, like the visuals, it does start to get repetitive pretty quickly as pretty much every track (with the exception of the main theme) uses a similar-sounding gothic tune. A bit more diversity with the soundtrack would have been nice.

Okay, I'm sure that I've established that DoC looks and sounds decent enough, but how does it play? Here's where the game nearly falls apart.

Let me start off by saying that the playable character, Vincent Valentine, is awesome. Take, for example, a part of the intro in which he jumps from rooftops and shoots down several attack choppers, or a slightly later scene in which he jumps from a rooftop and takes another chopper out with a single shot.

That brings me to my first gripe: if Vincent's such a badass during cutscenes, why doesn't he have any of these abilities during the game? He can run around, jump, shoot, use a melee attack, and that's about it. A few improvements have been made to the controls for the American release of the game; slightly faster running speed, a double jump feature, and a new attack in which Vincent charges. Unfortunately, these additions are pretty much useless. I'm still not sure why they even bothered to add the double jump feature, since Vincent never really needs to jump at all; all the level designs require him to do is run through a corridor, shoot enemies, and then run to the next corridor. Rinse, lather, repeat, ad nauseum. Try to deviate from the beaten path, and you'll be faced with one of the games invisible walls. What's even more annoying is the camera's tendency to shift to an awkward angle and become difficult to adjust whenever you run through tight spaces. It's a rather basic and primitive design that repeats throughout the entire game.

The gunplay itself is competent, but hardly engaging. For one, A.I. is pretty much nonexistant; all enemies will do is stand there and shoot, pretty much acting like wooden targets. Likewise, the bosses are something of a joke, often requiring little more than strafing and mashing the fire button - and this includes the final boss.

At the very least, a shooter like this should maintain a consistent pace, but DoC doesn't even manage that. Its approach to storytelling is to tell it by way of lengthy cutscenes that pop up frequently and often without warning. This, of course, has the nasty tendency to interrupt gameplay and kill any sense of pacing you may have had. At the very least, the guys at Square have included the option to skip cutscenes, but if you're at all interested in the story, you obviously won't want to do that. Even if you do skip the cutscene, you'll have to sit through a significant load time. This approach may have worked in a typical RPG, but it simply doesn't work out well in a genre that relies heavily on pacing.

That said, DoC's gameplay isn't all bad. What's cool is that you're able to upgrade Vincent's stats and adjust his weapon via a unique RPG-styled upgrade system. You can give him more health, ammo capacity, and attachments for his weapons. What's also interesting is the ability to carry items during the game. There's your RPG standards like potions and phoenix downs, but there's also the cool limit breaker, which allows Vincent to transform into his limit break beast. This makes him stronger, tougher, and allows him to shoot fireballs. The tip of the iceberg is the ability to use material, which gives him access to elemental spells like fire and thunder. It's a cool system that adds some innovation to an otherwise generic shooter.

Unfortunately, while its shooter-RPG hybrid keeps things interesting, its not used in enough clever ways to really make much of an impact. Over the course of the game, you have access to several kinds of materia, but you'll never actually have to use any of them. When I did use it, it was simply to improve my ranking, since the game grades you on how often you use materia. In fact, the whole RPG aspect feels somewhat underutilized. You can improve your stats, which is cool, but that's about it. You can't purchase any special skills, so Vincent pretty much remains the aforementioned bare-bones character for the entire game. Even the gun selection isn't as deep as it should be. You have access to only three weapons - a machinegun, a pistol, and a rifle - and you'll never have to use any weapon other than the pistol. A real shame, as Square passed up an opportunity to really add soe depth to the gunplay.

If you persevere through the main game, which should take you roughly ten hours, the game actually does get more interesting. You're given over forty extra missions to complete, and these missions require you to perform a specific challenge, such as fighting bosses, killing enemies using only magic, and reaching a goal as quickly as possible. Also, the game uses a grading system for each of its levels, so you can always replay levels to try and improve your ranking. Pretty addictive stuff.

Dorge of Cerberus isn't a game that just anyone can jump into. It's a game that's meant to tell Vincent's story to fans, and they're the ones who will be less bothered by DoC's shallow, repetitive gameplay. Ultimately, how much you'll enjoy the game will depend on how much you're willing to overlook gameplay flaws to hear the story of FFVII's secret character.

I like to think of Dirge of Cerberus as the Shadow the Hedgehog of the Final Fantasy series - a mediocre spin-off title whose sole purpose is to tell the story of a fan-favorite character.

Cutscene Vincent is so much cooler than gameplay Vincent

Gameplay: 6.0 Cool weapon customization gives it some depth. Bland level design, poor A.I., slim weapon selection, and stupid boss fights take some away. Vincent, sadly, saves his best moves for cutscenes.

Graphics: 7.5 On the one hand, the FMVs are gorgeous and the character models are sharp. On the other hand, the environments are bland and the visual style is drab.

Sound: 7.5 The voice acting is solid (let's hear it for Steve Blum) and the gothic tunes fit the game like a glove, but a bit more variety would have been nice. Sound effects are weak.

Value: 7.5 A decent length story, a grading system, and dozens of challenges. Fans will be pleased

Overall: 6.6/10

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