Chapter 2: Showdown in the Wastes
This is the second Dirge of Cerberus post today! Make sure to read the first post before this one!
Taking a Shadowfox to Edge, Reeve attempts to fill Vincent in on the attackers, whom he identifies as “Deepground soldiers.” Reeve says that over the course of President Shinra’s reign, the future Mr. Human Pancake gathered the innumerable Deepground soldiers you encounter during the game without anyone noticing and tucked them into his basement like action figures, right next to trillions of dollars’ worth of vehicles and robots, kept under the Shinra HQ and mutated them into super-soldiers. This is a highly believable and respectable narrative.
Reeve explains that the Tsviets are Deepground’s elites, and that that’s basically all Reeve knows, and even that from rifling through Scarlet’s files. Considering Deepground wasn’t necessarily relevant to the rank-and-file until about an hour ago, he must have handed out a memo pretty damned fast if the sergeant recognized Rosso just seconds ago, in another part of the world! Reeve figures Heidegger, Scarlet and Hojo might have known more about Deepground, but they’re all dead (or so I assume Heidegger and Scarlet are dead, since Reeve makes no attempt to contact them), and he figures that Rufus doesn’t know anything at all, because of the chaos of his rise to power (though come to think of it, Reeve doesn’t make any on-screen attempt to talk to him, either…).
Reeve has more bad news, saying that Deepground has also caused no less than 1200 people have vanished from Junon. Reeve has shushed it up, which this game expects us to believe in a world that has cellphones.
At this point, their talk is interrupted by a transmission sent by the Deepground leader, Weiss, though he’s not identified as such. Weiss is played by David Boat, and if that name sounds familiar to you, that’s because he appeared at the end of Crisis Core as one of the two SOLDIERS who kidnapped Genesis at the end of the game. Sure enough, that cameo was in fact meant to be Weiss.
But hold on a second, Weiss. This is probably as good a spot as any to talk about DoC’s original, Japanese-exclusive multiplayer storyline, since it’s actually set before the events of the main game and if it’s going to be discussed anywhere, it might as well be here. Why is Weiss only contacting the surface world now, several years after the fall of Shinra? DoC’s multiplayer mode had its own storyline that happens to explain. The multiplayer storyline was structured around a number of challenge missions, many of which were turned into story-free “Extra Missions” in the international release, which you can play as Vincent on the main menu. Instead of playing as Vincent in Japanese multiplayer, you played as a custom character who was a member of the Tsviets, working under Weiss in his attempt to win Deepground’s freedom from their Shinra-appointed overseers, a group of former SOLDIERS called the Restrictors. Why the Restrictors chose to keep Deepground locked up for three years, I don’t know, but they did it all the same, trapping Weiss and his allies in President Shinra’s secret bunker until the end of the multiplayer storyline. The single-player storyline doesn’t mention any of this, which makes sense in the Japanese release as they wouldn’t have wanted to spoil the story of the alternate mode, but it’s just plain unexplained internationally!
To cut the story short, the Tsviets modify the player character’s mind with the help of Kari Wahlgreen’s character’s technological abilities, and implanted a memory of the player character having a sister who was killed by the head Restrictor. The player character, bent on revenge for a fictional crime, kills the head Restrictor but dies in the process, learning that their memories and sister were fakes only as they are bleeding out. Weiss is thus left in charge of Deepground. There may very well be more nuance to the story than that, but with so little content on the English web, I can’t say much more, myself!
Lovely story, I’m sure we’re all rejuvenated now.
Back in the present, Weiss now makes a speech about basically killing everyone on the planet, all very generic and unremarkable as villain speeches go. After it’s over, the Shadowfox is attacked by a pack of Guard Hounds, a low-end monster from the start of FFVII. Reeve directs Vincent to a gun turret to deal with them. Kyle and I ended our session here for the day rather than continue into the mission proper (we only stuck around to get the basic gist about Deepground and the plot). While we avoided DoC the next time we got together and played Heroes of Might and Magic instead, we committed to DoC the next time we met to play, and finished the entire rest of the game in one day. Our total time was just short of 11 hours. It’s not exactly the largest game in Final Fantasy history, but an action game never will be in comparison to an RPG.
A turret sequence needs no explanation to anyone familiar with modern shooters. Despite Vincent’s best efforts, some of the Guard Hounds get on top of the Shadowfox… and judging by the fact that they’re gone when Vincent pulls himself on top to fight them off, I can only assume they fell right the fuck back off, which is a genuinely funny missed moment the developers probably didn’t intend! Finally, the Shadowfox discovers that the bridge they were about to cross has been taken out, and somehow ramps up on flat ground to make the crossing. I don’t think I was supposed to notice that, but I did, and now I can’t unsee it.
The Shadowfox crashes as a result of its impossible stunt, and Reeve decides to stay and fix the Shadowfox so that he can make the drive to WRO headquarters (which is never given a distinct location, but presumably isn’t in Edge). Vincent heads off on foot to Edge, which I can only assume must be close enough to bother with a jog. Along the way, Vincent is attacked by a midboss: an inverted colour Guard Hound called a Crimson Hound. By the way, I couldn’t help but notice that we crashed in the middle of nowhere, but still ended up pinned between two of Deepground’s portable force field generators, which the developers use to gate your progress across the game. Deepground must have installed these things every twenty feet between here and Fort Condor! You have to kill the Crimson Hound to get the card key to escape.
After the midboss fight with the constantly-fleeing Crimson Hound, it was on to fight a group of Deepground bikers called Pegasus Riders, who circle around you and were fairly hard to hit, but weren’t particularly that harmful in turn. They never show up again, which was a good show of restraint on Square Enix’s part. After yet another needless cutscene meant to make Vincent look badass, this abbreviated stage came to an end. We got an A, and killed 42 of the game’s 70 Guard Hounds before killing the Crimson Hound, which counted as a side mission. Fuck, DoC, if you had told us that was a side mission we would have stuck around to farm the pests, but go ahead, punish us for efficiency why don’t you!
Chapter 3: Silent Edge
Despite Edge nominally being the site of an ongoing firefight between Deepground and the WRO, Vincent arrives in town to find it abandoned. This begins an unusually sedate chapter, but first things first: we see Rosso reciting and critiquing Weiss’ speech from Chapter 2 while sitting among a pile of WRO corpses. Nice person, Rosso.
As Vincent is skulking around town, he’s very nearly ambushed by a scientist from the WRO before she recognizes him and stops herself. Vincent doesn’t even come close to noticing her. And I don’t in any way want to demean this new character, since she’ll prove to be fairly capable as the game goes on, but… Vincent, aren’t you a supernatural being? This is Dr. Shalua Rui, voiced by Kim Mai Guest, the voice of Mei Ling from Metal Gear Solid. Guest would go on to do voice work in all the games from Final Fantasy’s Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries released in English to date: playing only bit roles in FFXIII and Lightning Returns, but playing the role of Alyssa Zaidelle in FFXIII-2, and Celestia in FFType-0. Shalua is Before Crisis character I mentioned during the Advent Children Journal as being the prosthetist who made Barret’s original gun arm. She’s since developed a need for her own prosthetic skills, having lost her left arm along with her left eye, though only the arm was replaced with a prosthetic.
Shalua remarks that she’s “here on other business, but something’s not right” as though the absence of people from one of the world’s most populated cities is just a moderate curiosity (actually, Shalua insists that only 500 people live here, but I want the writers to take another look at Edge from Advent Children, with its skyscrapers and highways, and then look me in the face and repeat that). Once again, Shalua repeats that she has better business than the disappearance of 500 people, and then cagedly says something about her reason to live and walking off. Well, that was nice, I’m sure she’s just a minor character that we’ll never hear from again.
Vincent walks through the alleyways of Edge for a while, trying to find a cutscene that will progress the plot. He eventually finds one in the form of a dying WRO soldier, who reports that he was killed by Rosso. The soldier reports that Deepground were once again gathering up civilians, and directs Vincent to the victims. After the man dies, Vincent finds a cardkey on his body that allows the mission to actually get going.
Unfortunately, not far past the gate, you run into a group of snipers, and unlike the snipers in Kalm, these ones have some serious firepower (I suspect that the snipers in Kalm were actually armed with pistols, just like the player). Thankfully, you just so happen to have picked up a rifle body on your way to this room, the Hydra, but that doesn’t mean the game is going to treat this as a tutorial. Kyle and I were both gunned down here, forcing us to replay the entire stage to this point three times. Geeze Dirge of Cerberus, you checkpoint like Kingdom Hearts 2! Thankfully, the game lets you keep any EXP you earn from enemies even if you die, but most of your EXP comes from your post-Chapter score rather than your kills, so it’s never much of a help.
During Kyle’s second attempt, he actually managed to clear the courtyard being guarded by the snipers, which led to a few confused minutes before we discovered that some of the courtyard’s doors could be opened (Dirge of Cerberus, like many obnoxious games, doesn’t visually distinguish between doors that can and cannot be opened). In so doing, Kyle found a jukebox that would have been pretty damned useful when we were being shot dead, but oh well, better late than never. At least Kyle proved himself by clearing the snipers without the help of the shop!
Finally, we discovered a boy being held at gunpoint in one corner of the courtyard. It’s possible we missed him earlier, but I think he had been added to the map by our entering one of the buildings. We rescued him and the boy told us he knew where to find a guard carrying a cardkey that would lead to our destination, which started the game’s first and only escort mission, Minerva help us. In between the kid’s comically overwrought wails for help and the gentle, everyday joy of popping human skulls in front of a small child, Kyle and I managed to find a certain humour in the otherwise worthless concept that is the video game escort mission, but as you can see it wasn’t exactly a refined experience. Oh, and at one point, the kid slammed a door in our face, which feels like a fair bit of revenge for our shitty babysitting.
Finally, we snuck up on the guard in question and took his cardkey. After this, the kid attempted pathos by asking us to avenge his parents’ deaths, but Vincent, adopted father of the year, didn’t say a word to him.
(Unfortunately, Kyle and I missed the Model Gun in this section, a gun body that is later upgraded from junk status (it’s Japanese name was “Toy Gun”) to become the Ultima Weapon. We would have gone for the expensive upgrades, too, so maybe it was better we stuck with the practical weapons instead of wasting all our cash on a gun that wouldn’t have paid off until the 11th hour.)
Once Vincent reached the warehouse where the people of Edge were supposedly being gathered as prisoners, we came across a Heavy Armoured Soldier equipped with rocket launcher and giant sword. This Heavy Soldier was as the level’s boss, but was simply a souped-up version of a regular enemy from later in the game, and so they didn’t have the AI they would have needed to prevent me from standing in front of them with a submachine gun and firing and point-blank range.
Entering another room, we once again cut to Rosso, who talked about being in the rain for the first time after an entire lifetime underground in Uncle Shinra’s Secret Downstairs Nursery School for Kidnapped Children. Panning over, the game revealed that she was actually talking to Vincent, and once again talked to him about the “Protomateria,” which she revealed was “the key to controlling Omega.” As I said before, Vincent has no idea what these people are talking about and they refuse to believe him, so Rosso attacks him in cinematic. Rosso briefly gains the upper hand, only for Vincent to transform… and not into the Gallian Beast, but his fourth and ultimate Limit Break form, Chaos the demon from FFI. In a powerful burst of energy, Chaos pushed Rosso away, but Vincent collapsed and had to be collected from the field by Shalua.
Our ranking, which after three deaths at the hands of snipers we honestly deserved: a C.
Chapter 4: Headquarters Under Siege
We cut back to find Vincent in Lucrecia’s cave, a continuation of the scene from the beginning of the game. You’ll Vincent asked Lucrecia why she said she was “sorry,” but with her garbled, echoing speech, all he was able to hear in response was the word “Awake.” After this, Vincent flashed deep into the past, to the day Hojo shot him and came to the idea of using Vincent’s body in the first place. The flashback continued until Vincent first woke up in his mutated body.
Back in the present, Vincent woke up in tube of fluid not unlike the one used to hold Zack and Cloud when they were being experimented upon. Outside, he saw Shalua at work on the computer, and the game gave us our chapter prompt: “Headquarters Under Siege”… which if you think about it, kind of spoils the event, doesn’t it?
Seeing Vincent was awake, Dr. Rui let him out and informed him he was at WRO Headquarters. Discussing how he collapsed, Vincent mentioned the name “Chaos” and this seizes Shalua’s attention. It seems she knows about Chaos thanks to the research of Lucrecia, properly named here as Dr. Lucrecia Crescent, who was researching “the Chaos gene.” The idea that Lucrecia was researching Chaos is news to Vincent, and Shalua reveals that Chaos was the subject of Dr. Crescent’s doctoral thesis. Shalua describes Chaos as “one of the sentient xenoforms residing among us,” but whatever else she has to say from that point on is faded out as Vincent zones out and thinks about Lucrecia in private. Ahh, if only this had happened when Genesis was quoting LOVELESS! Vincent asks to see the thesis but Shalua says they don’t have a copy, only a few scraps that she happened to see in Shinra’s archives. Wait, so this thesis basically doesn’t exist, but you were still shocked to learn that Vincent doesn’t know anything about it?
Elsewhere, Kari Wahlgreen’s still-unnamed character is at work, a piece of orange Materia on the desk beside her. Azul comes to ask her about Vincent’s location, but she can’t be certain, though she’s determined enough to identify the apparently-secret WRO headquarters. She and Azul decide to deal with the WRO, Wahlgreen’s character taking the Materia with her.
Back at HQ, Reeve has arrived to discuss this “Protomateria.” When they do so, Shalua starts quoting a poem from Dr. Crescent’s apparently not-very-scientific science thesis – indeed, we’ll later discover that Lucrecia’s thesis was more of a history report than anything else (the game will later mention Lucrecia having ties with a paleontologist), but at the moment it’s looking more like a creative writing project. Notably, despite Shalua bringing this up in response to the word “protomateria,” the poem doesn’t include any reference to Protomateria, though does mention “Omega.” I can only assume there’s a localization problem here, but I can’t be certain if the poem was supposed to reference the Protomateria or if Reeve was supposed to mention something that did appear in the poem? The poem basically describes Chaos as the “squire” of Omega. You’ll notice the developers are trying to put Lucrecia’s thesis in a very, very fragile narrative position, somehow existing or not existing at the writers’ convenience. It simultaneously doesn’t exist so they can’t get any particulars out of it, and yet Shalua is able to call parts of it to memory at any time. It goes without saying that it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny or even the weight of the game’s own plot. I think I preferred Crisis Core, wherein LOVELESS existed, but Zack was just too annoyed and lazy to read it over the course of years.
Shalua starts to insist that they find more data on Lucrecia’s research, definitely not out of personal curiosity, only for an alarm to sound and for us to discover that Azul has led Deepground straight to headquarters. In a continued effort on the part of the writers to do whatever they want no matter how little sense it makes, the writers take this world with cameras, computers, cell phone and presumably radio, and yet somehow Deepground is basically already inside the defence perimeter by the time that Shalua, apparently the only person qualified to turn on the security system, is able to raise the blast doors and trap WRO inside with their attackers. Oh yeah, I definitely believe an organization of this staggering competence was put together by Reeve Tuesti. Azul breaks through the blast doors with his bare fists, and by the time Vincent makes his way to the ground floor from the basement labs, they’ve occupied the entire fucking building.
Cutting back to Shalua, she discovers Wahlgreen’s character entering the perimeter and is quite shocked, even after a casual glance.
God, I hated this section of gameplay, and I wasn’t even playing. Starting in the atrium lobby, Kyle spent the next seventeen minutes trying to track down all the game’s damnable trigger zones to advance the plot. Just to get out of this one room, and only temporarily! And what a nice, calming jazz soundtrack to accompany our siege! The first sub-mission had Kyle trying to rescue Reeve, with his performance graded on a timer. This involved an admittedly hilarious moment where a Deepground soldier took advantage of the omnipresent explosive barrels in 2000s shooters to roll one down the stairs and on top of Vincent’s head as we stared in mixed confusion, bafflement and admiration. Then there was a section where a rocket launcher-wielding soldier fired three rockets into Vincent’s face and in a row, which is always funny.
At the end, we discovered that Reeve was fine, being defended by none other than Cait Sith, which… which I don’t even want to think about because it doesn’t even make sense. We then returned to the atrium, trying to hunt down Azul. Kyle passed the controller to me at this point (I can tell the exact moment in the footage, because I get lost on my way back through the hall), and Vincent spots Azul over a balcony. Unfortunately, you can’t simply pursue Azul: we had to complete a turret sequence before we were allowed to carry on, keeping us in this endless atrium sequence for another few minutes, bringing our total up to around 20 spent minutes in just this one room. Hey, guess what? This room returns in a later stage!
By this point in the game if not earlier, jukeboxes began to stock Hi-Potions and Ethers. Ethers restore only a little MP (MP doesn’t have a numerical display, so I can’t say how much), you can carry 2 of them and they cost 1000 gil, though Kyle and I only really used them for bosses. Ethers are never upgraded to Dry Ethers or Mega Ethers, so you’d better hope you’re impressed with them as-is! Hi-Potions, meanwhile, restore 700 HP and you can hold 2 at 300 a pop.
Finally, it was time to track down Azul, though that involved a few encounters with the shield robots that Square Enix would later employ against Zack in Crisis Core. Eventually, we came to an empty room where we noticed a mostly invisible, cloaked figure following Vincent. Shalua appeared, and after an incredibly cheap, “Oh snap, why is she pointing the gun at Vincent?” fake-out, the cloaked figure revealed themselves to be Wahlgreen’s character (why was she pointing the gun at Vincent? Wahlgreen’s character was over there). Shalua finally identified Walhgreen’s character as “Shelke,” which is the Urdu word for “orange.”
It didn’t take much conversation for Kyle and I to realize that the only two naturally-coloured redheads in a Japanese game were probably related, and we soon learned that they were sisters. So, if Shalua knew Shelke’s name because they were sisters… were the Tsviets promoted based on their already-existing colour names, or…? Shalua started to say that “we’ve both changed so much,” only to correct herself and say that “you haven’t changed at all,” which she meant literally: apparently, Shelke’s mutations at Deepground have kept her in the body of a nine year old for ten years (“nine,” Square Enix, really? She looks like she’s at least a preteen). This opens an obvious question, the question that Square Enix should have considered before they put it on the table but just as obviously did not: …why?
What motivation was behind Square Enix making the incredibly curious narrative decision to keep Shelke in the body of a nine year-old? I promise: it has absolutely no impact on the plot except for Shelke to briefly angst about it in a vague manner, which could have been replaced with any number of more feasible sources of angst. I had originally written a long paragraph exploring possible rationalizations for this plot point and why I felt they were unreasonable, but now I can only see two possibilities. I’ll discuss both of them later, but they have a common root: that root being that Square Enix wanted a 9 year old villain just really, really bad, for its own sake, but didn’t want to feel guilty about Vincent shooting her, so they gave her a 19 year old mind. Considering the highly dubious reasons that stories have made characters “mentally an adult but in a child’s body” in the past (and I hope you know what I’m talking about) Square probably shouldn’t have made the attempt, since it throws them into some incredibly skeevy territory. In fact, they probably should have taken steps to make sure they didn’t resemble that sort of thing in any way in any way, at any cost.
(The two theories I have on Shelke’s age aren’t very complicated. I’ll discuss one in Chapter 5, and the other is the root I just described with no further extrapolation. I think there’s a very good chance that the writers straight-up didn’t think about it beyond “a nine-year old villain! Neat!”)
When Shalua attempts to approach Shelke, Shelke reveals that she’s armed with some orange lightsabres and threatens her birth sister. Vincent, who has been sleeping through this family reunion so far, flinches slightly but then goes back to his nap for basically the rest of the scene. He’s the hero. Shelke talks briefly about her Deepground conditioning and how awful it was, and says that as a side effect of her strange body, she requires a supply of mako to survive. This is also never relevant. Was there… was there some sort of editor’s strike at Square Enix that ran from 2005 to 2006? What is wrong with this narrative?
Shelke seems to vaguely blame Shalua for her being tortured for a decade, but is distracted by the arrival of Reeve, who is presumably a higher-priority target. Reeve, however, reveals that Shalua has been spending her entire life trying to fight Shinra in both search for and revenge for Shelke, suffering not only the loss of her eye and arm but a lot of internal damage too (perhaps implying that she has additional prostheses?). Reeve is compressing an awful lot of information here. While I haven’t watched a full, fan-translated playthrough of Before Crisis yet, I suspect that some of these details are actually from there, and that the writers didn’t want to bore Japanese players of both (Ed. Eh, just a little). Then again, I may be giving them too much credit, given the quality of the rest of the game. In any event, Shelke doesn’t care about the speech and moves to attack Shalua, and Reeve shoots the smoke detector, which thankfully not only triggers (someone should Mythbusters that stunt, I think) but shorts out Shelke’s lightsabres. Everyone is basically shocked that Shelke just tried to kill her sister, most of all Shelke herself, who just sort of stands there like a broken robot, letting them escape and waiting for Vincent to come back.
Reeve then hands Vincent “sedation bullets,” which is so hilarious I don’t think I can even stand it. Hey Reeve, thanks for giving me the exact number of sedation bullets that I already had in my pocket, and fuck you for only returning as many real bullets as I had left after the boss fight. And Square Enix! Once you finally catch up to the idea that you shouldn’t be taking plot tropes from dubious pornography, how about you consider the far more reasonable idea that you not use a child-resembling villain whatsoever. Maybe she should have just been 19? Maybe she could have just been short?
Vincent returns to the room and Shelke engages him in battle, her health bar identifying her full title as “Shelke the Transparent,” in reference to her cloaking abilities, which for the record are never seen again. I did this fight, and while not as unimpressive as the Heavy Armoured Soldier, Shelke still wasn’t what I was expecting from the mighty Tsviets. She dodged a lot, she was a small target, and her dash attacks were hard to avoid if I wasn’t already in motion, but she barely had any HP and the fight was over before I knew it. About the only thing I felt I apparently saw the need to add to our notes was that “The GUI mission screen keeps getting in our way and is getting us shot,” which reminds me that Shelke shanked me at the start of the battle, before the start-of-fight objectives got out of the way!
I passed off to Kyle, and Vincent left Shalua alone with Shelke, only for Azul to drop out of the ceiling in the next room to confront Vincent. Azul dropped a few vague hints about Vincent’s origins being relevant to the plot somehow, but Vincent, an eminent model of practicality, just shot something that I can’t quite make out (see the attached screenshot) and it exploded in Azul’s face. Unfortunately for Vincent, it seemed that Azul had a perpetual Protect spell cast on him, and took no damage. This is odd, because you’re moments away from fighting Azul and needing to use explosives to harm him, and this scene seems to imply that that wouldn’t work! While that kind of incompetence is in line with Dirge of Cerberus overall, Azul talks to Vincent as though Vincent simply shot him, with no explosion involved, so I can’t help but suspect that someone on the special effects team got a little excessive and accidentally ended up providing false information to the player.
Azul demands the Protomateria, only for Reeve to reveal himself (he was supposed to be in the hall ahead of us, but he had weirdly vanished). Reeve leads Vincent to a hangar bay, and more importantly to a convenient rocket launcher. Just as Kyle and I were joking about the contrivance, it turned out the game was ready to hang a lampshade on it, with Vincent saying “You shouldn’t leave those lying around.” Okay, okay, that was funny, I take it back.
Naturally, Azul’s Protect barrier saved him from the rocket launcher, but the barrier shattered in the process. Through the miracle of hammerspace, however, Azul is now carrying a chaingun. Reeve (conveniently but thankfully) ran off-screen into a locked room and disappeared. This opened another boss battle, and a few seconds later, the objective of the fight became clear. Vincent could barely harm Azul with his guns and close combat attacks, but there were a number of barrels just ready to be exploded, as per the Video Game Convenience Act of 1991. After enough explosions, Azul said something about us only thinking this was the end before collapsing to the ground, dead as a wandering monster.
In the mission outro, Vincent said that he was going to Nibelheim to investigate his past in Shinra Manor. Reeve revealed that Deepground was occupying the area and that the only way Vincent would be able to get through would be to follow a sewer passage that apparently exists between the reactor and the town. Ah-huh. You mean an area covered by both mountains and an incredibly deep chasm with no sign of a sewer in it? As Vincent left, Reeve implied that he and Cait Sith were going to do some reconnaissance of their own.
We pulled in a rank of B for this mission.