Review by Lord_Bun_Bun

"An unimpressive, but revealing first effort from Square Enix."

Square Enix has been making RPG's for as long as some gamers have been alive, so its understandable that they might become overly tied to that style of gamemaking. Particularly in the Random Encounter style of RPG, a Squenix standby, environment interactivity is minimal, and the combat system has no real interaction with the environment. In FFX, it didn't matter if you were on a beach, or in a mountain, you were probably very nearly on rails, with little leeway on the paths through the areas, and the environments generally had no combat or exploration effect, the terrain really makes no difference.

A shooter, however, cannot suffer this kind of design. This is a major failure of Dirge of Cerberus. Even unstacked boxes exude some kind of vertical forcefield, completely stopping the player from jumping over. Of course, given their invincibility and immobility, it is perhaps to be expected that these magical boxes have other powers. This isn't just unrealistic, it's irritating. These boxes make good cover, but I can't jump over them to make a cool aerial assault, and even if I'm protected by them, they never even show bullet damage. That's right, not only are nearly all of Dirge's environments completely indestructible, they're also impossible to alter. Even the worst of recent shooters feature rudimentary bullet-holes in objects and walls.

But, as I mentioned, these design flaws are almost to be expected, though not overlooked. Dirge plays like a good-looking FF7, except Squenix made the fatal mistake of pulling out much of what defines the game, and replacing it with a poor 3rd-Person Shooter.

Which isn't to say that the actual shooting is terrible. The gun creation and upgrade system is kind of neat, it reminds me in some ways of Resident Evil 4. Unfortunately the creation aspect may be a tad simplistic. The game contains only 4 Gun Frames (the most basic part of the gun, which determines its ammunition type, look, and basic characteristics) only 3 of which are upgradeable. The number of Gun Frames actually can come to 13, because each of the upgradeable frames can take one of three routes, but the routes are essentially the same choice for each frame, Power and Accuracy, Firing Speed, or Magazine Capacity. More frames, with more distinguishing characteristics and more differentiated upgrade characteristics would be welcome.

To further hurt combat, magic is implemented in a lackluster fashion. There are only three activatable Materia, Fire, Thunder, and Blizzard. The only way to upgrade them is a "Materia Floater," another gun add-on. While the magics do have differences, they are simply casted using MP. Other than the fact that they are attached and are fired out of your gun, they are unrelated. It doesn't matter if you use it with your bullet-hose Machine Gun, or powerhouse Sniper Rifle, Fire is Fire. I would have liked to see a closer relationship. For example, one has one's machine gun out, activates Fire, and from now on every bullet the gun fires has the characteristics of the Fire spell (specifically, area of effect damage), at an MP cost of course.

Other than that the combat is fairly good. The enemies are fairly varied, though the models don't change much, which isn't a huge problem given the games relative shortness. Even given some of the similarities, the enemies are different enough to keep combat exciting. The combat does seem to be marred by slight inconsistencies. The damage system is odd, sometimes killing enemies with (apparently) less damage than another, despite the fact that they were the same model, and were defeated in immediate succession. Also, the camera does have some difficulties near walls and obstacles, shaking and jumping.

The game's controls impressed me. The game allows a USB compatible Keyboard and Mouse in addition to the standard Dual Shock 2 Controller. This, along with the 3 targeting settings, will make anyone feel at home. The manual setting is for PC shooter junkies with using the WASD setup with their mouse, while the Semi-Auto setting seems best for those using a Dual Shock and have had some console shooter experience. The Auto setting is for anyone who hasn't played a shooter, or who hasn't played any shooter but Metroid Prime.

Story-wise, expect excellence. I mean, this IS Square. As usual, the tale is enjoyable, well-paced, and has a few good surprises, it's well told through in-game cinematics and CG cinemas.

Speaking of cinematics, the game's graphics are excellent, particulary for the characters. A few of the environments seemed bland, and the textures weren't super-impressive (though this is the PS2) but the blandness could easily have stemmed more from art direction than technical inferiority.

In summary:

Graphics: Good, not amazing, but very good, and excellent as far as the character models.

Story: Square always does well with this category, how much can you say about some of gaming's best storytellers?

Control: Good control, hampered by a sometimes finicky camera.

Entertainment Value: Due to the game's poor environments, sometimes irritating combat, and close-but-not-close-enough gun creation, as well as it's poor implementation of magic, this game has little value for people who aren't fans of the series. If you love FF7, have seen Advent Children, and absolutely must get your fix then this is a good continuation, story-wise. Otherwise the game just isn't much to talk about.

Overall Score: 5/10

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 08/22/06

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