Dirge of Cerberus - Final Fantasy VII
Amongst similar interpretations, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word 'final' as 'coming at the end of a series. And, being as the organisation is the proverbial boffin of the English language, it makes sense to take their word for it - unless, of course you are Square. What began as a game named in such a way to mark the end of Square as a developer in 1987, turned out to be the company's flagship franchise and one of the most widely distributed series' in video gaming history. Now, two decades after its inception and its twelfth official sequel impressing audiences across the world, there's no sign of the Final Fantasy phenomenon ending any time soon.
In terms of storyline, Dirge of Cerberus aims to fill in some of the gaps left by the PlayStation and PC's Final Fantasy VII, centralising on the looming figure of Vincent Valentine who appeared as one of two secret characters in the game. Set three short years after the events of Final Fantasy VII, the peaceful equilibrium in the world is shattered once again. The game opens with an attack on the city of Midgar by a mysterious group of Soldiers known only as 'Deepground.' Mr Valentine is somehow related to these attacks and details of his shady past and current situation are gradually revealed.
Apart from a solid and engaging storyline that Final Fantasy lovers, no doubt, will lap up, Dirge of Cerberus is otherwise a fairly generic shooter with a host of niggling problems that force it to underachieve in comparison to some of the series' highest flyers. The game plays as a linear shooter, where quick reactions and a steady aim are some of the most important skills needed to succeed. Each of the twelve chapters involves a constrained romp from one end of the level to the other, made a lot easier by an auto-aim system that instantly locks onto enemies as soon as your sight nears them.
A couple of hours in and you too will be on auto pilot, since in every room and around every corner the challenge is the same - to destroy everything that moves. Occasionally the game throws up an optional distraction in your way in the form of defending civilians (the exception that proves the 'shoot everything' rule), destroying a set number of targets or a bit of sneaky-sneaky stealth action. Rewards for completing any additional tasks successfully are points to upgrade your limited array of weaponry. Bells and whistles include everything from new barrels and scopes to chains and magic, the correct assortment of which can make your adventure with Vincent that much easier. That said, however, his basic 'Cerberus' gun is, even on its own, powerful and adept enough to deal with the hoards of soldiers in your way, making any improvements somewhat pointless and arbitrary.
The game's AI isn't much to write home about either. At a time when gamers are used to expecting more than a smidgen of intelligence from computer-controlled enemies, squaring up to Cerburus' foes is like an uncomfortable trip down memory lane, where the virtual soldiers of past demonstrated just one or two collectively shared thoughts and objectives in their actions. Like mindless zombies, they fire at you relentlessly until you take pity on their stupidity and decide to permanently end any prolonged suffering. Mind you, this isn't always possible since the PS2's controller struggles to lend itself to the range and speed of movement often needed to clear out any given area. Vincent Valentine, love him, hasn't been afforded the dexterity to deal with enemies appearing from the edge of his field of vision, meaning that capping even some of the weakest of bad guys is hindered through a combination sluggish movement and awkward camera control through use of the dual analogue sticks.
Dirge of Cerberus can't be condemned for being a totally ugly game, mostly because it isn't. However, even the continual location changes (showing off updated versions of areas previously seen in Final Fantasy VII, such as the infamous Nivelheim Reactor amongst others) can't hide the deficiency in terms of lazy level design and in-game props such as item boxes and bonuses that appear in exactly the same form throughout. To top it all off, the environment is all but unaffected by the massive energy expelled by gunfire, explosions and magic occurring within it. Yes, the PS2 has reached it's twilight years as a console and obviously can't compete with this generation's high-definition offerings, but Dirge of Cerberus' dark, dingy and seemingly apathetic attempts at creating an exciting and believable world are unforgivable.
Dirge of Cerberus is a short game; the single player shouldn't take more than ten hours to polish off. Extra missions are then unlocked, but by this point even the most passionate of Final Fantasy fan might be struggling with the will to attempt them. Unless you really want to fill in the missing pieces with regard to the game's protagonist, then Dirge of Cerberus is hard to recommend. The gameplay is too simple, the levels uninteresting and the repetitive music, annoying. In a sentence it's all right for a quick blast, but nothing that holds any major draw. Not even the strength of the Final Fantasy franchise, neither the thrill of a selection of impressive pre-rendered cut-scenes can cover up this title's glaring weaknesses.