Dirge of Cerberus

    After waiting nearly a decade, fans of Final Fantasy VII can rejoice: Dirge of Cerberus is upon us! Continuing with their newfound pattern of offering direct sequels to Final Fantasy games, Square Enix has released a continuation of what is arguably the finest craft from the series. Though Cerberus plays nothing like the previous, and more traditional Final Fantasy role-playing games, it’s a welcome change for long-time fans and is sure to attract newcomers as well.

    Taking place after the events of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children – an animated film continuation of the original game – Cerberus follows Vincent Valentine’s investigation into a dark secret left behind by the defeated evil corporation, Shin-Ra. Three years after the Jenova War, the focal point of the first game, a massive force of soldiers and their powerful leaders – a force known only as ‘Deepground’ – have begun attacking villages and pillaging for mako, a magical life-energy created by the Planet. Much like Shin-Ra before them, Deepground is using this destruction to channel mako away and create elite troops to kill the very essence of life that sustains the Planet.

    In the first game, players utilized an Active Time Battle (ATB) system and menu commands to control their characters in battle, progressing from area to area by way of a large world map with airships, boats and Chocobos. In Cerberus, players control Vincent more directly in a third-person shooter format, complete with gun upgrades, magical add-ons, melee attacks and stealth tactics, all required to progress from one environment to the next.

    The free-sprawling travel and exploration of the world map is gone entirely, with cut scenes moving Vincent from one mission to the next. Cerberus has a ranking system for each chapter, allowing for players to select from various checkpoints if they wish to retry a mission and earn a better ranking. Players accrue experience and money during each mission according to their performance, leveling up and earning better weapons along the way.

    With this new gameplay comes plenty of benefits, most notably the auto-saves that occur whenever a checkpoint is reached. Gone are the days of spending hours working through a dungeon or town, only to lose all of that effort because you forgot to save, or else died before reaching a save point. Similarly, the open-ended approach of the traditional Final Fantasy has made for some dull moments and extreme confusion; this more linear style progresses the game in a very smooth manner, keeping the player tuned in and facilitating their next move. Cerberus also retains the element of configuration that makes the series’ gameplay so phenomenal, as players can modify Vincent’s armory to their liking, with several types of guns and a plethora of tweaks and tunings at their disposal.

    On the flip side of this new system, the fluid, fast-action style of the game makes parts of the story feel rushed, often lacking the narrative navigation that Final Fantasy gamers have come to expect. This isn’t to say that the storyline lacks intrigue and suspense entirely – it’s still a great tale by universal standards.

    Square Enix has included the usual wealth of side quests and hidden features that will keep players interested, both of which add a healthy amount of replay value to Cerberus, most notably amid the "extra missions" that become available upon completion of the story mode. Final Fantasy gamers have come to expect a great soundtrack, superb graphics, rich detail and memorable characters, and in these departments, Cerberus delivers.

    Overall, this is a superb game that is a must-have for any fan of the series. While it may not live up to the story of the original, the new style and look more than make up for its narrative shortcomings. Even gamers who don’t usually enjoy role-playing games and start off with Cerberus are likely to pick up the original game to see what the fuss is about.