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After the meteorfall

Final Fantasy VII can’t go home again

8/23/2006 10:39:08 AM

WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A LACK OF IMAGINATION: Dirge is a third-person shooter with little variety and brain-dead foes.

It’s no stretch to call Final Fantasy VII one of the most beloved games ever. One can hardly blame Square Enix for wanting to revisit that world, but you wouldn’t think it would be willing to do such violence to its own creation. Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII is no sweeping, role-playing epic but a quick-and-dirty action game starring the enigmatic Vincent Valentine. A shadow of its operatic progenitor, it could not be more of a dirty slog.

The problem starts with a lack of imagination. This is a third-person shooter with little mission variety and brain-dead foes. Vincent runs down narrow city streets and through dull metal factories and — sigh — splashes through the sewers, blasting away robots and mutants all the while. Nothing we haven’t seen a million times before. The presence of familiar characters like Cait Sith doesn’t mitigate the drudgery. It’s more as if they were showing up to cash a virtual paycheck.

Even worse, it would seem the developers at Square Enix haven’t played a video game in at least five years. The level of environmental interaction that’s come to be the norm in action-adventure games has eluded the team entirely. You shouldn’t have to hit a button to grab onto a ladder. A character who can jump three times his own height ought not to be bumping into invisible walls when attempting to cross low barriers. Worst of all is the map feature. You can superimpose it over the screen and continue to play, but the map graphic is so dark that you can’t see anything else. What’s the point of a feature that renders itself useless as soon as you activate it? These things spoil any sense of immersion.


HOT TIP: Hang onto the seemingly useless toy gun — later you can upgrade it to the most powerful weapon in the game.
Dirge tries to spice things up by giving Vincent rudimentary RPG characteristics. He can level up as he goes along, but even that’s neutered because it happens only between levels. No mid-battle jingles or other pats on the back here. The system does allow you to choose between applying your experience points toward Vincent’s attributes and converting them into Gil, which you can then use to upgrade your weapons. It’s a tough choice, because you can often get several times more Gil than you’d ever acquire in a level.

Some of the more overt nods to FFVII are not just out of place but practically useless. Materia still exists in this world, and Vincent can assign one orb to each weapon (and can carry three weapons at any given time). Although Materia-based attacks can be much more powerful than regular shots, the game is easy enough that I spent long stretches forgetting I even had Materia. Same goes for Vincent’s limit break, which, as in FFVII, transforms him into the Galian Beast for a short period of time. Enemies show up in such regular waves that it seems a waste to use the limit break in combat, so you can just stockpile them until you reach a boss scenario.

Square Enix has stumbled before, but this is a shocker. Even the story line is so dry, and the cutscenes so damn long, that the usual sterling presentation is hardly more than polish on the proverbial turd. Little in the world of entertainment is more feared or reviled than the spinoff, and for good reason. Cynical attempts to capitalize on the hearts and wallets of an established fan base, spinoffs tend to avoid taking the risks that made the original great. With Dirge of Cerberus, video games finally have their answer to Joanie Loves Chachi.

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