The ultimate masterpiece within the Square Enix roster is an oft-disputed subject, but many RPGamers would have the world believe that Final Fantasy VII deserves that title. Square Enix has definitely picked up on this bounteous fanbase and, consequently, has released numerous spin-offs. Interestingly, none of these titles are "traditional" RPGs. While some, such as Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis, maintain rather close ties with their RPG roots, others decidedly abandon them. Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus belongs to this latter school, as it follows the enigmatic Vincent Valentine through an action-oriented, almost first-person shooter adventure.
|"Dirge of Cerberus is no RPG. Players can expect plenty of first-person shooting mixed with third-person exploration and combat."
Dirge of Cerberus opens with a cinema that immediately follows the closing of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children -- although this fact is only barely evident -- meaning the tale is set several years after the cataclysmic finale of Final Fantasy VII. Following the cinema's conclusion, the game jumps forward a bit and shows players a scene they have come to expect from Final Fantasy titles: an army of evildoers. This particular army, called Deep Ground, is attacking the town of Kalm, where Vincent is visiting per the request of his friend and former comrade Reeve. It appears, much to Vincent's chagrin, that the army was sent there to capture him.
As was previously mentioned, Dirge of Cerberus is no RPG. Players can expect plenty of first-person shooting mixed with third-person exploration and combat; that is one can either whack enemies with third-person combo attacks or gun them down from a distance via the game's first-person mode. Originally somewhat of a chore, toggling between the two modes now requires only a tap of the R3 button. Obviously, with the gun-toting Vincent as the main character, the first-person action takes the leading role as far as gameplay goes.
From the start Vincent has only his Cerberus firearm, but he possesses the ability to equip three entirely customizable guns at once; obviously, more weapons can be found later in the game. All of them can be upgraded, too, via the acquisition of parts and the iconic "materia." The parts include such items as scopes or barrels, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. A long barrel, for example, will increment the strength of a shot while simultaneously slowing down both Vincent's movement and recoil recovery time. Materia will be used in a way almost identical to that in Final Fantasy VII; that is to say, if a player equips a fire materia, Vincent will gain the ability to shoot fire magic at his foes. Of course, Vincent's guns and magic are assigned to two separate buttons. Also, in initial playthroughs many complained of the difficult movement that accompanied the first-person mode. Square Enix reacted to these sentiments and, quite thankfully, included for the player the ability to adjust viewing speed and orientation to one's preference, along with an adjustable lock-on feature.
Furthermore, for the hardcore FPS crowd, Dirge of Cerberus supports both a keyboard and mouse. Players use the left mouse button to initially toggle between third and first-person, then to fire; the right button is used to toggle out of first-person and engage in melee combat. The scroll wheel has two functions: pressing it opens up the configuration menu, and spinning it toggles between armaments. Of course, all this can be altered in the configuration menu, as can the buttons on the Dual Shock.
Of course, there is more to Dirge of Cerberus than just shooting. Vincent comes fully equipped with his signature transformation Limit Breaks. The most widly recognized, at least at this stage in the process, is the Galian Beast, whose abilities have been significantly augmented for the North American version -- his transformation time is greater, his attack radius is wider, and his fireballs (counted now as magic instead of bullets) can penetrate shields. Additionally, the resell value of Limits has been reduced from 3000 Gil to 850, and the number of Limit stocks Vincent can keep has been lowered from 5 to 3.
For gameplay variety, Square Enix has included several levels wherein the players will control not Vincent, but Cait Sith. Since he lacks any real weapon (sorry, no megaphones this time around), Cait's levels will play more as a stealth game than an action game. Of course, Cait will still have a temporary knockout punch available to him should he find himself in a problematic situation.
Fear not, though, for some RPG elements have indeed been included, albeit small ones. Basically, at the end of each stage Vincent can opt to upgrade his stats (hit points, strength, etc.) or receive money, which is used to purchase items or level up weaponry.
While this style of gameplay may initially come as a shock to many RPGamers -- especially those in FPSless Japan -- there are reasons to play. The main one, of course, is the franchise the title is based upon. Although Vincent, Yuffie, and Cait Sith play the largest parts in Dirge of Cerberus, the entire cast of Final Fantasy VII will indeed return, be their parts large or small. There's plenty of angsty story to fill in the gaps between the action sequences, too, and it's all presented with full voice acting and often accompanied by Advent Children-esque CG.
For those gamers out there that simply wish to witness the story, there is always the option of playing at the normal difficulty setting, instead of hard. The Japanese build included an easy mode as well, but it was removed for North America and exchanged for an extra-hard mode that players unlock once beating the game. This mode allows the player to journey through some 40 different sub-missions, where new weapons, items, and other goodies will be made available. Additionally, the North American version will include more bonus material -- along with the alternate ending and Event Viewer, there will be art and character model galleries and a jukebox music feature.
Finally, Dirge of Cerberus also originally included an online multiplayer mode, but this feature was recently shut down in Japan. There has been no news on such a feature for North America, so players can most probably expect only an offline version.
Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus will be available in North America on August 15, 2006 at a suggested retail price of $49.99 USD. This game has been rated Teen by the ESRB.