Today's Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus impression is brought to you by the letter "spiffy" and the number "cool."
I must admit, I had low expectations of Dirge of Cerberus. I think I was pleasantly surprised with what Square Enix had to offer. As a shooter, it's cut-rate, and as an RPG, it's mediocre. I think it seemed greater than the sum of the parts of the whole, at least from my perspective. The graphics are nothing special--Square Enix proved long ago they know how to make the PlayStation 2 sing, but Vincent's adventure has a panache that's undeniable.
The demo featured bits and pieces of a section of the game revolving around a certain town. It was under attack by a large squad of blue soldiers (read: Star Wars Stormtroopers plus Kingdom Hearts II Space Paranoids), and Vincent had a bone to pick with them. Vincent shoots first. Aside from Vincent, the blue fellows, and some frightened townsfolk, I only saw two other characters: a prepubescent girl who seemed to be in command of the blue legion, and her exaggeratedly tall sidekick. Thus, the demo left me without much to say about the storyline.
The gameplay was the talk of the town. I found it largely entertaining, with some rather telling flaws that prevent it from really shining. FFVII: DoC is as much an action RPG as it is a shooter RPG, in my opinion. Valentine has some crushing melee attacks that can outperform his revolver in many circumstances. Don't be so quick to bust a cap in that guy--consider some more brutal alternatives. For ranged combat, though, most of the blue guys were armed with guns, so unless you had the drop on them they would fill you full of lead before you had a chance to reach them. The gun operated much like any FPS. R1 fired the gun and the analog sticks aimed it. Shooting a blue dude in the head scored a critical hit (the damage was shown in red), and they went down pretty quick. Vincent jumps very high, so don't be afraid to rain hellfire down from the rooftops. Shooting was a blast, in my opinion. I fitted my gun with a longer, more accurate barrel, and focused more on pinpoint aim than power. It worked, in my opinion. The ability to really modify your gun allows you to use very different combat strategies.
So what kneecapped the system? A couple little things that added up fast. I imagine some of it will be cleaned up by the final version. Firstly, enemy AI. At one point I saw a fellow ahead of me in line shoot at two soldiers from a distance. His shot scattered; one guy took some buckshot in the teeth and went down, the other took about 40 damage and stood there. Didn't even look around. The guy in front of me snorted in derision and removed the blue idiot from the gene pool. When I was playing, there were a bunch of soldiers chasing some townsfolk down an alley, and I was supposed to save them. The soldiers were so focused on the yokels that they ran right by me. They didn't live long enough to regret it that much. Secondly, speed. When you draw your gun, your ability to run and jump is hindered. It's almost like Vincent enters a sort of "sniper mode" and loses most of his agility. It can be very painful to aim your gun when it moves so slow. On a related note, when you take bullets, Vincent flinches. This makes aiming very difficult, especially in moments when you need the accuracy and speed most.
All in all, I find it very hard to judge the demo of FFVII: DoC. If the storyline shines through the way we all know Square is capable of doing it, and if the weapons can be built up and customized the way the demo showed (and more), I think Vincent might just have a winner on his hands here.