This is a Guest review from Zipp based on the Amercian release of the game.
Square Enix had this long standing policy about sequels and remakes... they didn't make them. This has obviously become more of a guideline these days, with several remakes having come out in the last year, and some sequels, one of which is Dirge of Cerberus. I can't say I'm unhappy with this change of events, sometimes it's hard to play a whole game, fall in love with the characters, and then have to end it knowing you'll never see them again. Dirge of Cerberus puts you in the role of one of those characters, the formidable and way cool Vincent Valentine from Final Fantasy 7. I don't know what it was about FF7's characters that made them so cool, but most of them were undeniably awesome, and Vincent was high in the running for biggest badass. So a game based solely around him should be sweet, right? Well, sort've. Yes and no. Okay, not really. But it does have it's highlights.
Like their last Final Fantasy sequels, Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Dirge of Cerberus fails to deliver as rich a story as its predecessor. And that may be an understatement.
Dirge of Cerberus takes place three years after FF7 and Meteor Fall. The game starts you out in the peaceful town of Kalm, which is suddenly attacked by soldiers and their creepy metallic dogs. People start dying in droves as the soldiers either kill them or load them into crates and fly them away to an unknown fate. Fortunately, Vincent Valentine is on call and he's ready to kick some ass. Soon he teams up with old faces Yuffie and Cait Sith/Reeves to get to the bottom of the attack. This leads him to some of the key locations in the FF7 world, eventually ending with Midgar.
The game tries to further two storylines. Part of the time, you'll be trying to figure out who the mysterious soldiers are and why they're taking people away. The rest of the time, you'll be watching flashbacks which delve into the past of Vincent Valentine and his connections to Hojo and Lucrecia, the parents of Sephiroth. There ends up being a connection between the two plots at the end of the game, and it's interesting and startling, but only for fans of FF7. Otherwise, it's just confusing. That's probably the first thing gamers should be aware of. This game is for those who know FF7. If you don't, don't expect to understand the story at all.
As far as a story goes, it's not too bad, but the presentation ruined what value it could have held for me. The game completely failed to get me interested in the characters and their depressing situations. It tried. Some of the characters spend the whole game whining to try to get you to feel for them. Others are cold and distant (which accomplishes little). And still others are thrown in simply to look cool and distract you from a plot that's going nowhere. Now, the whole depressed and introspective thing worked in FF7. But the reason it worked was because it wasn't forced on us. It let us realize the pain the characters were in on our own. Most of the characters spent FF7 trying to hide that pain they were in from the world, and from the gamer. The game was about them confronting their inner fears and darkness and overcoming it. It was all very inspiring for us angsty teenagers, and it still works (or maybe I'm still angsty). Dirge of Cerberus tries to rehash elements of this story in a game with a fifth of the playing time and a hundredth of the dialogue. The result is sloppy, rushed, and ruinous to any good thing they had going.
Dirge of Cerberus is an action RPG that uses a third and first person shooter interface. Yeah. That confusion you're experiencing is perfectly normal. But don't worry. It handles well, despite the many genres. You can customize the controls however you want, as well as the aim sensitivity. The camera angles are even good, never trapping you in corners or getting stuck behind walls. But despite this, Dirge of Cerberus fails to deliver a satisfying gaming experience. Why? Because they tried to do much, and ended up doing too little.
I mentioned that it is an action game. Well, it tries to be. At least, there's the ability to perform melee attacks and to double jump. But that's about where the similarities end. The Super Mario Brothers is more of an action title than Dirge of Cerberus. Sure, you can kill things with your hands. But the majority of the fights are against large groups of enemies with lots of guns, making this a good way to get shot to hell. The main benefit of melee attacks is that they get powered up after using a specific item to send you into a limit break. At this point, you'll transform into a hulking brute of a beast and gain the ability to pummel the ever loving snot out of your enemies. Aside from this, you'll still use your melee attacks, but they are definitely there to supplement the shooting.
Shooting things is the name of the game, and it doesn't perform too poorly. It basically works like any other shooter, except that you can freely switch between first person and third person mode, both of which are useful in different situations. You can also shoot while jumping, allowing you to 'float' while mid air. You have three guns, which start the game as the exact same weapon. Throughout the game, you can customize these guns to become radically different. The three types of weapon you can create are shotgun, rifle, and sub machine gun. While that doesn't sound like much, the options for customization are fairly broad, and you can really tune your guns to fit your every shooting desire. It's a much better system then having to carry around seventeen different weapons, ten of which you never use. You can also add magic to your guns, which basically gives it a secondary fire grenade launcher. You get EXP at the end of a level which you can convert into levels for Vincent, or gil to modify your weapons. Balancing your firepower with your raw abilities is a fun endeavor that adds a lot to the game.
So, that's the good. The bad? SqaureEnix has obviously never made a shooter before. Some of the most basic elements of a good shooter are missing. There's no good way to dodge bullets, and rarely any cover to duck behind, making fights contests of 'who has the most life.' The damage indicator, which tells you which direction bullets are hitting you from, is very small and hard to read, meaning that when you get hit from a distance, you'll be running around in circles desperately trying to locate the sniper. The enemy AI is poor, as well. Their tactics consist solely of standing in one spot and shooting until one of you goes down. This makes most of the game play like one of those target tests in a police academy, with you running around an environment and waiting for the bad guys to 'pop up.'
But I think my biggest disappointment were the bosses. In appearance the villains are bad asses. Each has their own unique way of slaughtering countless of the troops on your side and they show off their abilities many times in the cutscenes. And yet, when you actually fight them it comes down to using potions while shooting at them a lot. There's no weak spots and very little strategy for the majority of the bosses. Just aim, shoot, and keep your distance. I'd never thought people that looked so impressive could be so boring to fight.
Here, at least, the game knows what's it's doing. The cutscenes are incredible in this game, beyond anything that's come out so far. If you've seen Advent Children, you'll be seeing almost the same quality graphics here (if you haven't seen Advent Children, go do so). Even outside of the cutscenes, the graphics are nice, with detailed textures, fluid movement, and tons of character animations.
The music works, keeps the blood flowing, but when it comes down to it, it's just your standard high energy pap. Disappointing from a series which is famous for its music. Japanese pop star Gackt is the big name associated with this project, and he's definitely a big name, but his theme song is uninspiring and uninteresting.
On the plus side, the voice acting isn't bad at all, I'd even say it's good, especially considering some of the lines the actors have to pull off. And special mention goes to Yuffie, whose voice fits perfectly with the character.
The choice of locations is good. Each stage is different enough from the last that you don't get bored running around similar locations. Even so, the levels themselves get old after a while and are far more linear than they needed to be. Add to this the fact that there aren't any puzzles, and you'll be desperately wanting a new stage at the end of each level. You'll visit a lot of locations from FF7, but none of them look familiar, having been changed beyond easy recognition. This removes some of the potential fan service that seems to be the point of the game.
Another disappointment is the lack of environmental interaction. There are only two things besides enemies you can affect with your guns. Supply boxes, and explosive barrels. Everything else, from windows and bottles of wine to wooden barrels and cardboard boxes, are indestructible. C'mon, SquareEnix. You could break almost everything in Metal Gear Solid 2, and that was five years ago. Or are things just built really solidly ever since Meteor Fall?
The game has a good amount of replay value, with hidden items to find, several difficulty modes, and the ability to carry over your weapons into one of these modes.
Finally, there's the extra missions, which pretty much save this game from getting a really low score. Seriously, these are the best thing that Dirge of Cerberus has to offer. It's worth beating the game just to get to these. Basically, they put Vincent in different locations and give him objectives, like kill 100 soldiers, or make it through the level in five minutes. A lot of work went into the extra missions. Enemies not in the main game make appearances here, and the levels are unique, too. Granted, some of them can be highly frustrating (stupid missile melee) but the majority are highly entertaining.
The main reason to buy this game is if you're a fan of Final Fantasy 7. This game caters directly to fans. If you're not, then it's a lot harder to justify the fifty dollar price tag. If you're looking for an action game, go try Devil May Cry 3. If you're looking for an RPG, try out the original Final Fantasy 7. If you're looking for both, go play Kingdom Hearts. If you're looking for a shooter, Halo is always available to you. Dirge of Cerberus has elements of all these games, yet ultimately fails to deliver a perfect experience in any of the categories. Does that mean it's a bad game? No, but it left me very unsatisfied.