A fantastic side-story packaged as a generic game
It’s widely accepted that the PlayStation’s Final Fantasy VII is the best game in Square Enix’s long-running RPG series. With its memorable characters, labyrinthine plot and superb RPG gameplay, it’s a game that many fans wish would be remade for current generation consoles. While there’s no guarantee that such a remake is on the way, the Japanese developers have been keeping fans of the game happy with a series of spin-off titles. We’ve been treated to a movie sequel, subtitled Advent Children, the upcoming PSP prequel Crisis Core and even a tantalising PS3 tech demo mirroring the opening moments of the original game.
The latest family member to hit stores in the UK is Dirge Of Cerberus, a semi-sequel chronologically positioned between Advent Children and the original game. This instalment focuses on recluse Vincent Valentine, one of the most loved but least understood characters of FFVII. The storyline has two strands, focusing on current events and occasionally flashing back to Vincent’s past. Most fans will inevitably pick the game up just to get Vincent’s side of the story, so I shan’t spoil things here. Rest assured it’s exactly what you’d expect from the professional at Square Enix. The gameplay, however, is a completely different story.
Fans expecting a typical Square Enix RPG might be disappointed. Put simply, Dirge Of Cerberus is a third-person shooter. FPS gamers will instantly feel right at home with the game’s dual analog movement control and guns assigned to the shoulder buttons. An auto-lock on feature and the ability to switch weapons at the touch of a button are also present. For the most part, this system works very well. The controls are intuitive and offer a great deal of freedom, although fans of third person action adventure games like Prince Of Persia may take some time to break instinct and feel comfortable with the FPS-style controls. The camera is certainly functional and doesn’t feel too awkward, although it does have a tendency to fail you in battles against some of the larger bosses. On the whole though, Dirge Of Cerberus controls smoothly.
The mechanics are pretty good too, and this is where the RPG elements begin to make themselves known. The three guns on offer don’t feel too different from each other to use, but one will be a better choice than the others depending on your situation. Enemies feel pretty generic too, but they offer a decent challenge, and the boss battles have their moments as well. Of course, you’d expect this from any half-decent shooter, but beneath the surface are a number of features you’d only expect from Square Enix. A familiar RPG-style menu is available at the touch of a button. Items and Materia are available for use in battle. Weapons can be customised to increase their magazine capacity, rate of fire and damage potential. Vincent can level up, increasing various parameters that subsequently affect his strength, resilience and speed. There are even damage points that appear on screen after every successful shot. At its heart, Dirge Of Cerberus hasn’t departed too much from the genre that spawned it.
Aesthetically, Dirge Of Cerberus is gorgeous. The production levels are exactly what we’ve come to expect. The graphics are wonderful, merging detailed character models with gritty 3D backdrops that remain true to its source material. Of particular note is the Shinra Mansion level, which perfectly recreates the familiar environment from the game. This fidelity will no doubt appeal to nostalgic FFVII fans. The aforementioned character models are impressive, too. Although nowhere near as detailed as those from FFX and FFXII, they suit the mood well and stay true to the style of FFVII. Vincent is clearly a labour of love, and the expected cameos that feature all look great too. Less time seems to have been spent on the new characters, and some of them seem a little out of place in the FFVII universe, but they’re still very appealing to the eye. The highlights, as always, are the FMV sequences, which look as though they’ve been torn straight out of the Advent Children movie.
The sound is also very good, and does a great job of rounding off the presentation. The music is well-composed and appropriate. Fans will no doubt recognise some of the tunes, but there’s some original material in there too. The voice acting is strong, with the actors making great work of an at-times clichéd script. Steve Blum shines as the lead role, and most members of the Advent Children cast reprise their roles for their cameo appearances. Sound effects are at an acceptable level, although none of the guns really sound as powerful as they should. As an example, the Cerberus pistol has three barrels, but doesn’t really have much bark (no pun intended).
Some naff gunshot sounds aren’t Dirge Of Cerberus’ only problem. Although it executes the third person shooter pretty well, that is essentially all it does. The RPG elements don’t have too much impact on gameplay, and the sometimes repetitive nature of the game can make it feel very generic. Put simply, it lacks any real kind of innovation. Lifespan is also an issue. Coming in at around ten to fifteen hours, with little real challenge, the main story feels a little short. A few more intricate puzzles wouldn't have gone a miss here. Fans of FFVII will play it through more than once, but more so for the storyline than anything else. There are some bonus missions on offer, but the generic gameplay means even they offer little incentive to dive back into the game.
Dirge Of Cerberus isn’t FFVII meets Devil May Cry, but fans wouldn’t have been expecting it. As a standalone game, it’s a fair shooter that’s worth a rental. For fans of the series, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection, as it’s the fans who’ll get most out of it. Granted, it could have been better. But it could have been a lot worse, too. Dirge Of Cerberus may not do everything brilliantly, but it does a lot of things right, and that’s what makes it definitely worth a play, fan or not.