Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII Preview
I had a chance to get hands on with perhaps the most anticipated Square-Enix title to come out this year, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. Set in the universe of the original Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus is an altogether different type of game from Square-Enix, starring Vincent Valentine, the mysterious scientist from the original game. The game definitely places more emphasis on blowing stuff up rather than finding stuff or exploring character development. A hybrid first person/third person shooter with plenty of action adventure elements, Dirge is entirely different than what most Square fans have come to expect from the company.
Upon starting up the near final build of the game, I found myself in the streets of Midgar. My objectives were not initially clear, though they became apparent enough as I soon found myself in battle against several soldiers, armed with Vincent’s rather impressive sidearm and unique melee combat skills. Switching between shooting and melee action was as simple as the press of a button, allowing me to instantly switch between ranged combat with weapons to up close and personal confrontations using my fists and feet. The transition between the two was actually one of the nicer aspects of the controls as it was never a pain to change up battle strategy and knowing whether or not to do so was always intuitive as the game didn’t really give you much choice in terms of when you had to go for long range shots or up close combat.
While in weapon mode, the game takes an approach similar to that of Splinter Cell, with an over the shoulder camera view that still functions almost identically to most FPS control schemes. It gives you a better overall view of the action around you and allows you more control over your movements within the environments, but still gives you the precision of standard FPS controls. Targeting enemies was easy enough, due to a quasi-lock-on feature, though you could zoom for greater accuracy and target objects (whether enemy or crates or barrels or whatever) at will.
It’s obvious that this is Square-Enix’s first foray into this type of gameplay as the shooting elements in the game still felt a bit unpolished, though they’re probably finished. Movement in weapon mode feels slow and a bit unresponsive, and targeting enemies isn’t as easy as it could be, but if anything this just provides more challenge in what is a fairly straightforward and unchallenging gameplay dynamic.
Melee combat felt much more natural, as I was able to effectively deal with enemies at close range with fairly simple button mashing. Even more simplistic than the shooting elements, it was at the same time that much more gratifying, perhaps because it seemed to suit the nature of Valentine’s character better; after all this was a FFVII character known for changing into a beast and beating the crap out of enemies.
Those looking for traditional Square-Enix gameplay won’t be entirely disappointed, either, since the game does employ some of the more conventional RPG elements in terms of using how hit points are handled, using items, exploration, etc. You’ll find potions and magics that power up your attacks or heal your player, though their use is not relegated to some menu based system. Instead you can use potions at will through the D-pad and use magic by tapping on the L1 button. You can also activate limit breaks in pure Final Fantasy style in certain conditions, and of course there are tons of crates and chests and whatnot full of completely necessary items you’ll need to progress. The real difference here though is the more action oriented shooting and melee combat, and overall it felt very satisfying.
The visual aesthetic was just as satisfying as well, though. Dirge of Cerberus is definitely the prettiest game we’ll see from Square-Enix this year. The visuals are crisp and sharp and about as good as we’re likely to expect from any developer on the PS2, even Square, who has historically pushed the technical boundaries of Sony’s consoles for years now. Character models were smoothly animated, the backgrounds, while not terribly varied, looked great, barren as they were, and the action sequences were frantic and engaging.
The music (at least what I could hear of it) was great as well, though quite a bit different from the stuff you’d normally expect from a Final Fantasy title. Think more along the lines of The Bouncer, minus the cheese, and you’re getting close. In other words, it’s more hectic, more orchestral, more…. ‘metal’ than what you’re used to from this particular developer, but it fits well, helps ramp up the feel of the action, and thus does a suitable, if not memorable, job.
Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus is set to be released in north American stores this summer, and we’ll have more updates on the game as they become available.
5/11/2006 Ryan Hartmann