It's difficult not to have high expectations of a game that carries the title of one of the most popular and beloved video games ever made, so right from the start the odds are stacked against Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. It also doesn't help that the game eschews its role-playing roots in favor of a generic third-person shooter design. If you're looking for another character-driven epic that lives up to the Final Fantasy VII name, you'll be disappointed with Dirge of Cerberus. If you could care less about all that and are just looking for a mindless action game to blast through in a weekend or two, you can find some moderate enjoyment in Dirge of Cerberus. But in a market that is filled to bursting with great action games, it takes more than some mediocre gunplay and Final Fantasy window dressing to make a game worth your time and money.
Vincent Valentine is one of the more interesting characters from Final Fantasy VII, so it makes sense to give him his own game.
In Dirge of Cerberus you play as Vincent Valentine, an immortal gunslinger with a dark past. Three years after Cloud, Vincent, and friends saved the world from total annihilation, people have started to put the pieces of their lives back together. But there's more trouble in store: A group of elite soldiers known as Deepground have plans to revive the Omega weapon and destroy the world. However, they need Vincent in order to do so. It's your job as Vincent to save the world once again while uncovering the secrets of your past to discover why you play such an important role in Deepground's scheme. The story gets convoluted at times, especially when new characters are introduced; nevertheless, it's an interesting look at the origins of one of the more endearing supporting characters from Final Fantasy VII. Some familiar faces do show up in a couple of cutscenes, but for the most part Dirge of Cerberus tells a self-contained story that is separate from that of Final Fantasy VII.
The game plays out in the standard mission-based format. You usually have to watch a lengthy cutscene to set up each stage, then you enter the stage and start blasting your way down a very linear path from the start of the level to the end, where you usually encounter a boss of some sort. The general goal is to kill everything that moves, but sometimes you'll trigger mission events, which present you with a more immediate goal, such as to protect all the civilians in the vicinity, or to disarm the hidden mines in a room. These missions are optional, but by completing them you'll earn extra points that can be used to level up Vincent between stages, or to purchase weapon upgrades and items. The missions do make the levels a bit more interesting by giving you something to do beyond just running down what feels like a long hallway and shooting the same enemies over and over again. Unfortunately, the missions are few, so you're left to simply run and shoot your way through about a dozen bland, repetitive levels.
The stages will take you to some familiar places, such as Shinra Manor and the famously destroyed city of Midgar. But even if you've played Final Fantasy VII extensively, you won't ever feel like you're in the same world here. The backgrounds are all bland and unassuming, with a lot of overused scenery that will make you feel as though you're seeing the same exact room or hallway again and again throughout each stage. There's a bit more variety from stage to stage, but all of the levels are so linear and confined that even if you wanted to explore the environment, you couldn't get very far. There's also very little interaction with your surroundings, which furthers the sterile feel of each level. You'll see a box or barrel here and there that can be destroyed, but you'll also see open doorways that are blocked by out-of-place laser-beam barriers, ledges you can't jump to, small objects that you can't leap over, and a lot of very dull scenery.
With such uninteresting stages the focus is on the action, which is unfortunate because the action isn't terribly exciting, either. The game controls much like a first-person shooter, with the left analog stick being used for movement, and the right analog stick being used to aim. The controls work fairly well, and it's easy to strafe around a target while keeping your aim steady. The shooting is made easier by an optional targeting support feature that will snap your aim to the nearest available target. Using the targeting support you can pick off enemies one after the other without any trouble at all. In and of itself, the dual analog control scheme works just fine, but with the narrow corridors and cramped spaces of many of the levels, the camera becomes a hassle. The camera is positioned behind the back of Vincent, and when you move the right analog stick the camera follows. This is fine when you're out in the open, but when you're in a tight hallway the camera doesn't have anywhere to move, and instead gets right up in the back of Vincent's head. There is a pseudo-first-person view that you can switch to as long as you don't have a sniper scope equipped, but it's obviously not intended to be used for extended play because actions such as performing a melee attack will automatically pull you out of this view. The game does include the option to use a PlayStation 2-compatible USB mouse and keyboard to make the controls more akin to a PC first-person shooter, but with the built-in aim assist in the game, the extra accuracy provided by the mouse is unnecessary.
You'll shoot the same few enemies about a thousand times before the end of the game.
The gunplay in Dirge of Cerberus is functional, but it isn't especially satisfying. The enemies you face are mostly generic soldiers and dogs, with a few mechs and flying creatures thrown in from time to time. More often than not the soldiers will leap from behind some boxes as you enter a room, but sometimes they'll try to snipe you from the top of a building. All of the enemy behavior in the story missions is scripted, so you'll always see the same enemies in the same places, and their behavior quickly becomes predictable. You can usually take down an enemy with a single shot, or perhaps three shots at the very most. That means that even if the enemy artificial intelligence were halfway decent, you'd never know it, because the enemies don't stick around long enough to do anything but die. There are several boss battles in the game, but most of these battles play out like any other gun fight, except they last longer because the bosses tend to have thousands of hit points rather than hundreds.