Scheduled release date:
Summer 2006


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.

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