The Milking of… oops…The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII continues with Dirge of Cerberus. An action game starring the dark and mysterious Vincent Valentine, the gun-toting bonus-character from the original FFVII, Dirge unveils new details on the brooding hero and treats fans of the series to some exquisite cutscenes with cameos aplenty. Judged solely on its action, Dirge of Cerberus is average at best. But when you look at it as a form of interactive storytelling catered to the millions of people that bought FFVII, there’s more than enough to enjoy.
In a nutshell, Dirge of Cerberus tells the tale of the struggle between the World Restoration Organization (good guys, half of whom wear Parappa the Rapper toques) and Deepground (bad guys, with a fondness for fluorescent blue). Kinda-vampire Vincent Valentine finds himself fighting the good fight and discovers that his dark past is the key to this conflict.
But for an action game, this one's basic as hell. You basically run around, shoot lots of things, punch lots of things, find things, unlock things – repeat as needed. In an attempt to add variety, there are escort, stealth and turret stages, but there's nothing especially glowing in any of these modes. Each stage also has side missions that help determine your score, such as killing X number of enemies, finding Y number of items and protecting Z number of allies. Compared to games like Devil May Cry and God of War, the action feels underwhelming and antiquated.
There are two ingredients to the action: lots of shooting or up-close combat. While the gunplay itself is uninspiring (especially if you play in first-person view), there are lots of cool ways to customize Vincent’s arsenal. The three main guns, as well as any hidden ones you unlock, have attributes that can be modified with accessories and upgrades. The power, range and speed of each gun can be changed, allowing you to have three very different weapons. Close-quarters combat seems like an afterthought - the wonky camera makes hand-to-hand irritating and confusing. Thankfully, you don’t really need it for the vast majority of the game.
The game’s linear level design is also outmoded. The bland backdrops are technically unimpressive, which is a stark contrast to the beautiful characters and elaborate production values. The levels make you feel like you’re walking through a series of boxes, fighting bad guys in each one. The look of the boxes changes from chapter to chapter and you never really feel like you’re in the world of FFVII until you watch another achingly beautiful cutscene.
Now it might sound like there’s not a lot going on with this game, and if you’re not a fan then that’s absolutely true. Fans will find a lot to love in the cutscenes, story and music - three ingredients you'll eat up with ravenous glee. The pre-rendered scenes are nearly as good as those found in the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children DVD and the in-game scenes are quite good too. These aspects, alongside a stirring and memorable score, appeal to this audience directly, and that’s precisely what you have here: an action game made for RPG players.
If you’re walking into this game expecting action on par with Halo or Half-Life, you’re missing the whole point of Dirge of Cerberus. Sure, the combat is trite and quite easy, but in a way, it’s supposed to be. Gamers used to turn-based skirmishes will be able to handle the it just fine. The average gameplay links the excellent storytelling together in a way that players of all skill levels can enjoy. It’s a great carrot-and-stick model for the millions of Final Fantasy VII donkeys out there.