For all of its flash and bang, I'm tempted to drop my title of Final Fantasy 7 apologist. I never got into quite as much as your average fanboy (or fangirl – hot hot CloudxSepheroth action!), but I respected it and heralded it for what it really did right. Regardless of the vitriolic slugs purists discharged in the game's direction, FF7 is no less important to the history of the video game industry. The characters were memorable, the setting diverse and interesting, the scope enhanced by new-fangled technology and classy cinema scenes. "Wow factor" was its forte and perhaps, in terms of content, it isn't the best in the series, but like Cloud and co. changed the fate of their world, Final Fantasy changed the fate of ours. Suddenly, RPGs sold like gangbusters (well, FF did) in the US and the Playstation brand, now so intimately associated with the series, became king of the mountain.
I'm sure people ask themselves why reviewers so often give them a history lesson in the opening paragraphs of an article instead of jumping right into the "buy-it-or-chuck-it" spiel, but it's to provide context – in this case, to understand what in the hell Square-Enix is trying to do with this beloved franchise. From that perspective, Dirge of Cerberus is money in the bank; unbridled fan service designed less as a game and more as an elaborate device to illicitly extract money from your wallet.
Hyperbole aside, Vincent Valentine's solo adventure does everything in the most average and predictable way possible. You'll wish the game was supported by TiVo – and that's already considering the fact that it lets you skip cutscenes! While the cameos are fun (seeing Reeve and Cait-Sith back in action is nice) and the opening FMV features the same amount of visual appeal as Advent Children did, most everything else is an exercise in listening to painful, rigorous pablum. Oh, and about those cameos, it's all you're really going to get. This is truly a Vincent story – and that's fine if you really, really like Vincent – but an almost completely new (and boring) cast of characters shifts focus away from the main storyline of the series.
It would be cool if the gameplay was at least up to snuff, but Dirge of Cerberus once again proves that Japanese developers just cannot get a handle on the FPS. In fact, the game is better played in its third-person mode, especially considering the extensive use of close combat. Speaking of which, that isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. Early comparisons to Devil May Cry 3 turn out to be like foil-wrapped dog feces to a scrumptious Hershey's bar. You have a total of two combos – one for ground attacks and one for air attacks – and both are mapped to the circle button. That's it. All you do is hit the circle button with no regard for the intricate strategy required by a game like DMC3. What's worse is that it's usually more effective than killing enemies with guns, so you'll probably end up using it a lot.
Of course, you'll have to pull out your side arms at some point and that alternates between being more fun and more frustrating. There's certainly more variety in the sense that you can find at least three different guns (the basic pistol, a machine gun, and a rifle) and upgrade all of them in several aspects. If there is something that DoC has going for it, it is this – the integrated RPG aspects. Guns have slots for add-ons, barrels of varying length (power vs. accuracy), and even materia that allows access to the use of spells in battle. Enemies have hit points and each successful attack elicits a damage number floating above their head just as it would in any other traditional role-player. Vincent has HP and other stats which can be upgraded at the end of each level (or calculated whenever you die, so you'll be more powerful the next time you make an attempt). These aspects do add a little something extra to the game and when you're popping potions and ethers in the middle of an intense fire fight you, just for a moment, wonder why the traditional Final Fantasy games couldn't be this cool. Then you realize what you're playing and the dull level design and gameplay mechanics drag the experience down. If only the RPG elements belonged to a better game, they might be worth copying.
It should be noted that a few changes for the better were made in bringing the game to the Western world. The online multiplayer was taken out (yes, this is a good thing, because the main game can already be frustrating enough) and those missions were replaced with bonus single-player ones that can be found in the extras. Also, enhanced difficulty options and the ability to use a USB keyboard/mouse with the game do make it slightly more appealing. Dirge of Cerberus is a cakewalk on the normal difficulty, but it does become more challenging on hard with manual aim. The only complaint I have with that is that bosses gain far too many extra hit points so unless you change Vincent into his Galerian Beast form and just go to town on them, they take forever to bring down.
Dirge of Cerberus is just a completely average game and while I can see some people being able to run through it on fan service and curiosity alone, it's just very hard to recommend with so many great games coming down the pipe. Now I just wish Square-Enix would stop dicking around with spin-offs and spend that cash on a proper remake/sequel for the original Final Fantasy 7.