My unfunny Valentine.
Since the dawn of time, brave scientists have combined things that seem to have nothing to do with one another in the hopes of unexpected success. While these experiments sometimes fail, science has a way of keeping its chin up.
After a variety of lackluster games, Square-Enix must have decided that it was time to try a daring merger. And since they probably had some extra Advent Children FMV lying around, it made sense to dive even deeper into the now eight year-old Final Fantasy VII cash cow. A few tie-ins and cameos later and we’ve got Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, a first/third-person RPG action mash-up starring Vincent Valentine, a somewhat peripheral character from the original game.
[image1]But just like Joanie and Chachi, Vincent doesn’t have the star power to hold this spinoff together, leading to a nearly disastrous foray into the indecipherable world of a franchise gone awry.
Barely utilizing its acclaimed source material, Dirge of Cerberus’ story doesn’t actually have much to say. A convenient group of underground zealots pops out of the ground and starts messing with some ancient planet-killing power, and Vincent must bust caps until they stop. There’s very little sensible development, just a bunch of meaningless new characters that you’ll either eventually shoot, keep from being shot, or just want to shoot. Indeed, prolific Shatner pauses and annoyingly melodramatic exposition might make the most hardcore fans think this tale is gripping, but it comes off like an overwrought soap opera to everyone else. The cameos are cheesier than a freeze-frame high five, aiming squarely at the hearts of fanboys and, sadly, missing. Ultimately, it boils down to ounces of plot and pounds upon pounds of ‘production,’ apparently in an attempt to slip the rest of this hackneyed shooter past those of us who played, like, God of War.
This is mostly due to the unholy amount of cutscenes, which are triggered constantly, often in the middle of shootouts. They bounce erratically between the past and present, vaguely trailing off about the same few plot points. It destroys any sense of pacing or flow to the game, sort of like hitting every red light on your way to Vegas. You’ll watch hours of these things, with considerable load times between every single clip.
[image2]From the very beginning, the clips set up disappointment. You’ll see Mr. Valentine performing ridiculously cool gun acrobatics, stylishly wasting all in his path, only to leave you with the boring task of plodding about with a useless double jump. For example, a certain clip of Vincent dropping into the ruins of Midgar on a hoverboard while blasting at helicopters and planes would have made a great rail shooter stage, but instead you just end up watching all the cool stuff and waiting for him to land, merely triggering another foray into corridor shooting.
Which is what you spend most of your gameplay time in Dirge of Cerberus doing. Level after level has you shooting swarms of baddies, exploding barrels, breaking open crates, finding the one key for the one door, and running through the rest of the perfectly linear level with hardly a scratch. The mechanics of running and shooting are fine and can be done in first or third person, but the dumb enemy AI and default auto-aim makes the whole thing way too easy. It feels like a guided tour.
The best part of the pseudo-RPG mechanics is the gun customization. You can outfit your pistol, machine gun, and rifle frames with a decent variety of scopes, materia, and barrels (not exploding ones), heavily altering power, firing rate, and movement speed. There could have been more variety in terms of weapons, but there’s still a good deal of wiggle room to suit your style. You gain levels based on a rating of your performance at the end of each level, but you’re also given the option to turn that experience into money in order to purchase better weapon parts. It’s confusing and tempting, because you’re never really sure which will benefit you more, and you can’t even see what a particular upgrade will do until you can afford it.
So, if you can’t afford it by the time you’ve shot everything there is to shoot, don’t count on going back later. After beating the game, you’re pretty much done. Other content is there, like concept art, a soundtrack, and other nerdy gifts for fans, but it’s only unlocked by tediously finding and shooting hidden capsules scattered throughout the game. In lieu of the Japanese version’s multiplayer, a mission mode can be opened, but the mission play is just like the normal game, minus cash, experience, and any sort of point. At least some of the mission levels look more interesting.
[image3]Which reminds me - aren’t I supposed to be venturing through familiar areas of FF VII? With the exception of Shinra’s evil basement, I’m having a hard time recalling any of the game’s boring alleys, courtyards, and warehouses. Not only are the levels linear in every sense of the word, they all look essentially the same.
To be fair, the character graphics are very detailed, and that probably hogs much of the graphical horsepower. Most of the cutscenes are delivered in-engine, but still deliver expressive faces and are generally good looking. The audio is equally bi-polar, with mediocre sound effects like Vince’s “Hoo! Hut! Hah!” slapped over high-quality soundtrack orchestration. The script needs work like we need dates, but the voice-acting is at least reasonable. After any of those cameo scenes, it’s easy to see things could have been much, much harder to stomach.
And after clocking a good ten hours of Dirge, at least four of which were spent watching cutscenes, I’m done with it. Square-Enix makes quality RPGs and pretty FMV, and I hope they’re content to bow gracefully out of genres they obviously have little reason to meddle in. Leave the emo-shooters to Dante and just peep Advent Children again if you need a fix.