One of the most curious parts of DoC’s story occurs right at this point in the narrative. Just a few days after DoC’s North American launch, Square Enix released a bonus chapter of the game’s story to cell phones, specifically on Amp’d Mobile and Verizon in the west, developed by a company called Ideaworks3D. Called “Dirge of Cerberus Lost Episode –Final Fantasy VII–,” the game is basically lost today (like many pre-smartphone cell phone games) and the most complete surviving video is of the Japanese version with English subtitles, and even it has notable missing content.
For those not willing to check out the video, I’m going to analyze it best I can. It opens with Vincent in a helicopter, flashing back to his human days, showing Lucrecia examining some sort of transparent Materia with what appears to be a galaxy inside it. Vincent’s flashback is interrupted when the helicopter is attacked by monsters. He crashes and is stalked on the ground by a member of the Tsviets that players of the main game won’t see for several hours yet: Nero the Sable. Nero, by the way, was the one who was kidnapping WRO members with his shadow attacks at the end of Chapter 1. His conspicuous absence from the middle of the plot makes me suspect that the Lost Chapter might have been plucked from the original script to some degree! Nero is voiced by Mike Rock (though I can’t be certain if he did the voice for the Lost Episode, given its budget nature), making him the other SOLDIER that kidnapped Genesis at the end of Crisis Core.
After a brief tutorial segment, Vincent arrives in Junon and finds the town nearly empty and under attacks by monsters. Rosso arrives, saying that “the tainted will be hunted down,” I suppose implying the people with Geostigma. The game isn’t very clear on why Deepground is so concerned with killing people who show signs of the stigma. We’ll later learn why they’re kidnapping people who, like the little girl from Chapter 1, aren’t infected, but why they’re killing people who are goes unexplained. They’re… just… jerks? Rosso, as we’ll later learn, likes killing for its own sake, so to hear her spout unexplained rhetoric about “the tainted” as though there was a meaning behind it is all very strange.
Vincent gets into a few more boring, creepily silent firefights with Deepground at this point, before having a confrontation with Rosso, who gets the edge on him comically early in the fight. Vincent ultimately escapes and blows up the entire area behind him in the process. Rosso naturally survives and starts taking pot-shots at Vincent as he tries to catch the last ship going across the ocean to the western continent. After Vincent nearly hits her a few times, Rosso flees the scene and Vincent over-dramatically catches his ship, leaving Rosso behind. Nero, however, is able to fly and continues to follow Vincent over the ocean.
We pick up the story after a time skip. Vincent hears an old gramophone on the ship that’s playing music that reminds him of Lucrecia, and he flashes back to one time that the two of them danced to the song in the lab. Of course, he doesn’t get long to enjoy himself as a bale of Sahagin appear on board, presumably sent by Nero, but who knows in this monster-infested world? After some shooting, Vincent rescues a woman who runs away from his attempts at rescue, complaining about her research being spoiled. This once again causes Vincent to flash back to Lucrecia, as she and this other scientist resemble each other. In this flashback, Vincent asks Lucrecia about the transparent galaxy Materia, and Lucrecia refuses to explain except to say that it’s “important.” Back in the present day, Vincent agrees to escort this new scientist to her research, which is wrapped up after a few gameplay segments without any additional plot fuss.
Once again on his lonesome, Vincent continues his flashbacks, wondering what Lucrecia’s research could have been. Wasn’t it in relation to the Jenova project? He can’t be sure any longer. As he’s pondering we cut to Nero, who’s monologuing to himself about darkness and dark energy like a Kingdom Hearts villain. Nero then uses his power over darkness to summon a war robot, a Black Widow. This boss unsurprisingly shows up later in Dirge of Cerberus, since you can’t expect a mostly-promotional mobile game like this to have its own assets, can you? Thankfully it behaves differently. Vincent takes the robot apart piece by piece during an extended boss battle, but it ultimately hits him with a powerful laser in cutscene. This causes him to black out again, after which the transparent, galaxy Materia appears over Vincent’s chest for a moment before he faints, which is a big reveal that mobile players got early, even if they might not necessarily understand it. Driven by curiosity about this vision if nothing else, Vincent recovers and defeats the robot. However, the explosion rocks the ship and it sinks, taking Vincent with it.
Hearing or imagining Lucrecia’s voice telling Vincent to live, Vincent swims out of the ocean only to discover a submarine surfacing right in front of him, piloted by Cait Sith. Oh good, Reeve can drive submarines with puppets now, that’s… that’s great. Good for him. Without bothering to go back underwater, the two of them just stare at the horizon while Nero spies on them. Despite this sterling opportunity, Nero leaves them be, talking about an intruder in his “most precious place.” Hey! Buddy! We don’t need to know what you and intruders do in your most precious place! Nero adds that “All who come close to him will be eliminated.” It’s possible to partially understand this statement from an endgame perspective, but only partially. The problem is that once you know about Nero’s “precious place” and the “him” that he’s talking about, you run into the issue that there can’t be any intruders in the place he’s talking about! The only way I can read this is if he’s talking about Reeve’s spying attempts, but that’s confused by the fact that Cait Sith is here and, as we’ll see, Cait Sith is used in Reeve’s spying attempt… wait, Reeve isn’t driving two of these horrible things simultaneously, is he? And one of them is driving a submarine? Ugh, god, he must be. And if even that was the case, does this mean Nero can teleport across continent, considering he shows up during a cutscene about Reeve’s spying attempts in what must be moments later?
Vincent ends the mobile game with further flashbacks about Lucrecia and Shinra Manor, basically urging the player to buy the PS2 game if they want to see the rest of the story.
Honestly, the game looks like it’s as much of a mess as all 3D cell phone games, and the lack of background music is flat-out eerie. Then again, I’ve said it’s more promotional than stand-alone so some of its weaknesses are understandable, and it was nice to see a little more of Nero, who in the main game only really appears crammed into the final few hours like an afterthought. At the same time, I’m not exactly missing this chapter either. Maybe if they re-released DoC someday (unlikely, given DoC’s reception) with the Lost Chapter added in, it would be a nice addition, but I’m not exactly going to go out of my way to track down a working Verizon phone with the game’s data. In fact, I’m not sure that’s even possible. The Kingdom Hearts cell phone game, V-CAST, was divided into multiple data files that had to be actively downloaded from the server whenever you entered a new section. DoC’s Lost Chapter seems to do a lot of online loading, so I suspect it might have a similar structure. This means it’s not possible for one phone to have all the relevant data, and it’s incredibly unlikely that there are multiple phones out there, each containing the right missing pieces of data. Unless the developer, publisher or distributor have source copies, I suspect the DoC Lost Chapter is lost forever. A bit of a shame, but only a bit.
Chapter 5: Manor of Despair
With the Lost Chapter theoretically behind him, Vincent starts Chapter 5 waist deep in Nibelheinan shit-water, and it’s only a few steps into the sewers that he once again encounters Sahagin. Thanks for bunching those together, Lost Chapter! Once again, we see that the GUI is on the side of the enemies, as basically the entire Sahagin squad rushed Kyle just as the GUI splattered a mission briefing all over the screen!
Due to the fact that basically the only enemies in this dungeon are Sahagin, the sewers didn’t make for a very engaging segment. All I have to say about it was that there were a number of portcullises, and the game had the good decency to give us cables to follow from the doors to the panels that would unlock them. Finally, we made our way into the manor, where Deepground troops were just standing around facing away from the manhole. Were they worried that someone was going to try to escape through the manor and then out the monster-infested sewer, but not the other way around?
This mansion’s basement was annoying to us, because we were supposed to navigate it via an elevator, but both Kyle and I mistook the elevator as being blocked off, since we didn’t understand that the elevator opens on one side at the top and on a different side at the bottom (as it happens, our recording clearly shows two guards using the elevator after we arrived, strongly implying that it’s functional. We must not have been paying attention). Not only is the elevator confusing, but once I did find the door, I assumed it wasn’t the right door because there was no button to interact with, as unlike all other doors in the game to date, this elevator operates on a timer!
Because we were lost, I kept returning to a room that seemed to have exits, but didn’t. This was actually a room full of infinite enemies who attacked from vantage points that seemed to be within Vincent’s jumping height, but were actually blocked off by invisible walls. Not only did this cost us most of our healing items and a shitload of bullets, but it didn’t fetch us many rewards either, since the enemies dropped their items where we couldn’t reach them. Suffice to say, we were a little pissed once we finally found the elevator. While most of this was our fault, I’ll say that Square Enix really should have redesigned the stupid infinite soldier room to keep it from looking like a damned exit. You can see how the developers ended up with this problem, even though I’m still grumpy about it: the ledges in this room look like you could double-jump onto them, but the Japanese version of DoC didn’t have the double-jump!
After finally got back on track, we came to a goofy room where Deepground trapped us on a causeway, then ambushed us, and then happily freed us from the causeway after murdering them! We made our way from there to a more traditional elevator, where Vincent took his time waiting to flashback to his life as a Turk. This is getting a little redundant after the Lost Episode, but I suppose DoC itself can’t be blamed for that. He remembers the first day he met Lucrecia, and her strange reaction to seeing him: she became startled, and then said, “Why would they send his…?”
After this flashback, the game abruptly cut to Cait Sith falling out of the sky and screaming. It turned out that Reeve had sent Cait Sith into Deepground’s headquarters, a place plastered with Shinra logos (considering that Deepground’s HQ is under the Shinra Building, and Cait Sith was just seen heading across the ocean in the Lost Episode, we’ll definitely have to assume this is a different robot puppet). To our surprise, Cait Sith was under our control! He was basically only capable of moving about and using a weak scratch attack, so we were disappointed but not particularly surprised to learn that his gameplay would be all stealth. Goodie. We later discovered that DoC had a strange idea of “stealth,” since it involved rolling explosive barrels at soldiers and murdering them. “No sir, no one snuck in today. Though Steve did explode.”
In any event, Cait Sith’s segment wasn’t much worth talking about except for the plot at the end. We guided the puppet into a room lit with green, radioactive waste, where he stumbled upon Deepground dropping a crate full of prisoners into the waste. While this was awful enough on its own, a great beast reached out of the pool and grabbed the crate, pulling it under the waste (in hindsight, I’m not entirely sure which model they used for this beast, as the creature you eventually fight is… well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say that I have concerns). But when Cait Sith remarked aloud about the monster, he discovered he wasn’t alone: Nero had found him, and identified the monster in the waste pool as an “Usher of souls.” He then curiously added: “My brother,” and then “Omega,” with no suggestion of exactly how one concept had led into the other. Naturally, the very next thing Nero did was to destroy the Cait Sith puppet.
After this interlude, we returned to Vincent, who was now inside the Shinra manor proper, specifically in the laboratory basement. After restocking at a jukebox (you remember the jukebox and elevator that have always been in the Shinra manor basement, right?) Vincent found himself in the old library, which was apparently fully intact. Wait, are you serious? The WRO’s first act wasn’t to confiscate this world-destroying information and equipment information years ago?
Searching the lab, Vincent discovers a Materia on the ground, which he collects, only to turn around and discover Lucrecia standing behind him. However, Vincent quickly discovers that this is a hologram, presumably triggered by the Materia. In a nice touch, the sound quality on Lucrecia’s voice drops to sound more like a recording only after Vincent realizes what she is. The hologram seems meant for Vincent, but after a quick introduction it changes subject and says: “Omega, his awakening is upon us.” We suddenly cut to Lucrecia standing in the cave where she would later be trapped in crystal. Presumably this flashback is for the player’s benefit as the hologram speaks the same words to Vincent. Flashback Lucrecia recites the poem from her thesis, and reveals that it’s not actually her poem but something written by the Cetra, which describe Omega as “the end.” Lucrecia then holds out her hands towards the crystal formation at the back of the cave, and seems to stop talking, her narration coming from the hologram in the present. As she holds out her hands in the flashback, light gathers and forms into a glowing orb that soon vanishes, a special effect that seems mostly here to distract you as it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the current scene or, for that matter, any later part of the game!
Finally getting to the point, the hologram explains that Omega’s purpose is quite final: to “cleanse the planet of all things living” and carry their souls to somewhere else in the universe. She tries to compare Omega to the basic process of life cycling through the Lifestream in general, but we’ll get a better explanation later on. She ultimately concludes that, in any event, Omega’s awakening means that everything on the planet will die.
The hologram tells Vincent that she left a copy of her records in the manor, and the hologram ends, the Materia collapsing. He then finds a floppy disk, the first file of the “Omega Report.” That’s actually all you need to clear the Chapter, but if you want, you can search the area for more parts of the Omega Report as a secondary objective, each of which can be read in the inventory. As it happens, these four only make up half the full report, with the remaining four coming in later chapters. Kyle and I only missed one of them in all, in a later chapter. I’ll try to summarize the four reports from this chapter before we wrap up for the day, while I’ll address the other reports as they’re encountered.
Exploring the partially familiar confines of the Shinra laboratory basement, Vincent found his old coffin, only to be attacked by a Deepground “Trooper” (basically Deepground’s version of SOLDIER, at least as far as equipment was concerned) jumping out from inside. My notes remark: “There was a ninja in my coffin!” Probably the most interesting obstacle in the basement was a room that had been set with land mines, the game forcing you to destroy all the mines under a three minute timer. We, uh… had a little trouble working out how to do this. Which is just another way of saying that we couldn’t hit the mines with our guns under any circumstance and simply stepped on all of them in the end, despite our best efforts. Kyle remarked: “This is what you get for not bringing a party rogue. This is Yuffie’s fault.”
The basement was looped to aid explanation, but after taking two trips around, we discovered that we had found the only two Omega Reports in the basement on our first go. Directed back to the plot by a walkthrough, we headed upstairs and found the remaining two reports, so I may as well summarize the four of them. The author of the Omega Report originally writes about the question of whether or not Omega is even a being, as apparently the author’s Shinra colleagues believe it to be another word for the Promised Land, if anything. (Note that the narrative is once again trying to make the Omega theory be both widely known and not known at all, according to its whims.) The author doesn’t agree with them, and begins to theorize that both Chaos and Omega might be lifeforms created by the planet, not unlike the Weapons. This was fairly reasonable from a meta perspective, given the name pedigree in this franchise. Kyle and I were both all-but calling Omega “Omega Weapon” for the entire game.
During the reports, the author continues to mention having a female assistant. Given that Lucrecia called these her notes during the hologram message, Kyle and I suspected that Shalua was her assistant, but we later learned that Lucrecia wasn’t being entirely honest with us. The early parts of the Omega Report were actually someone else’s files that Lucrecia had mixed in with her own, and that Lucrecia was the assistant of this original author. This only becomes clear later on. Still, it’s confusing and poorly handled, so I felt it would be best to make it clear here at the outset rather than the pretend to the contrary.
While exploring the first floor, Vincent had one of those incredibly violent flashback attacks that Square Enix protagonists seem to succumb to all the time. They should probably all get that checked out, to be honest. In this memory, Vincent remembers being held in a tube full of fluid in a laboratory somewhere, with Lucrecia looking in on him. The flashback ends on that simple note, only for Vincent to find Rosso standing over him. Vincent asked Rosso why Deepground cares about Omega, and Rosso gives one of the most perplexing speeches I’ve ever heard come from a piece of supposedly professional writing. Rosso said that she doesn’t actually care about why Weiss wants Omega, and that she’s only following his orders. Rosso briefly alludes to the multiplayer plot and the way that Deepground were prisoners under Shinra, but then says that they were freed and that she, at least, is here to kill everyone on the planet, because just because this game puts most women in the same uniforms as men doesn’t mean that they didn’t reach deep into the cliché barrel to pull out Rosso, a “sexy, evil sadist” stock female character. Some games shoot for the stars, but Dirge of Cerberus is making a deliberate attempt to shoot straight down at the ground, to drag a gutter through the grass and tile. But we’re just getting started, that’s not the baffling part. It wasn’t even very surprising, to be honest.
Rosso then starts trying to make a point about how Deepground’s soldiers were trained to kill, so they killed, because they were ordered to. They didn’t think beyond that point. I don’t know how I’m supposed to read this. Given the degree to which DoC borrows from Metal Gear Solid, is this – combined with the extreme reaching the narrative did to give Shelke a child’s body – some kind of attempt to make a commentary on military training, PTSD, or even child soldiers? If that’s the case, I have a counterargument offered by this game itself, and we’ll be looking at it in the final chapters. For the time being, let’s just say that if it was Square’s plan to make a commentary on child soldiers, they shot themselves in the foot so hard that the whole product is about to upend and die of blood loss.
But wait a second: won’t Deepground’s plan end with all of them dead when Omega is revived? Weiss might have his reasons, but why would his underlings go along with that? The rank-and-file might not know the specifics and may be following Weiss’ vaguely-described, possibly-Geostigma-related “purify the world” plan, but I get the impression that the Tviets know what’s really going on (if you disagree, please forgive me for the next two paragraphs). There is a moderate implication that the members of Deepground have been conditioned not just to kill but also not to question their orders, although it’s never stated outright. While I’ll admit that this tops having no motivation at all, this is still a bundle of the worst possible motivations I’ve ever seen. “Just because they like killing,” is simultaneously the weakest and – if I may – most boring motivation in all of fiction, and while you can use it from time to time, it’s not exactly a great way to prop up an entire plot. Likewise, “following orders” has the potential to be its group-sized cousin, especially when it’s left alone without additional motivators. Funnily enough, usually a group of people at war have those motivators to kill automatically, since they’re tied in for their reasons for going to war – for example, Kefka, Celes and Leo in FFVI were promised promotion, magical power, the advancement of their people and culture! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that probably represents the motives of a lot of people in Vector! Leo went even further in that he got to look after the soldiers he genuinely cared about on a deeper level. Meanwhile Deepground will die when they complete their orders, which is not only a lack of additional motivation, but an actual punishment that subtracts from their motivation considerably!
If the idea of Deepground following orders without question is, like the “training to kill” thing, part of a larger social metaphor, we’ve got even more problems on our hand. Once again: this is just an implication, a guess on my part, it’s never made the focus of the plot. While there are some things in fiction that come with an attached metaphor for cultural reasons, an army that follows orders and kills people belongs to the larger pile of concepts that are essentially stock neutral: you don’t get an automatic metaphor just by adding one to the story! It’s not as though the armies present in other Final Fantasy games were presented as examples of the horrors of following orders blindly. FFIII went to lengths to present the armies of Saronia as either tragic (Famicom) or absurd (DS), and FFIV of course spends its opening hours on the morality of following orders. Meanwhile, DoC might be trying to make a point about following orders, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t an accident! As it stands, Weiss’ underlings don’t seem to have any reason to give up their lives, even if they do like killing, and that’s a serious narrative problem!
Rosso finally flees the scene and Vincent chases after her, only for another Black Widow robot (the boss from the Lost Chapter) to appear and try to cut us off. We ended up engaging the Black Widow in the lobby of the manor, where it could spider-climb on the walls and ceiling. I can’t say the fight was particularly sophisticated, but poor Kyle lost his Phoenix Down and all of his reliable healing potions before it was over. It was looking like he’d have to rely on our dubious supply of random-healing Red Potions when he suddenly pulled out a victory.
After the win, Rosso appears from nowhere and rushes Vincent, shoving her hand straight into his chest. But rather than pick out his heart or something to that effect, she pulls out that transparent galaxy Materia from the Lost Chapter. This is, naturally, the Protomateria. In the main game, this is a big surprise, and in either version of the storyline, it’s not entirely clear how Rosso worked out that was there when she and the other Tsviets have been asking Vincent about it all game. It’s basically yet another writer’s fiat to move the plot along.
Vincent starts twitching on the ground, and inadvertently transforms into Chaos, Rosso remarking that the galaxy Materia must be what allows Vincent to control his transformations. Seeing as how Chaos handed her ass to her on a platter the last time they met, Rosso moves to kill Vincent, only to be stopped by the arrival of a short figure in what appears to be a Moogle-headed variation of a Devout’s cat-eared hood. It didn’t take many ninja stunts for Kyle and I to identify this figure as Yuffie, and even Rosso, apparently a careful student of Shinra’s bestselling World Cultures and How to Garrotte Them, at least identifies Yuffie as Wutai. I told Kyle that Yuffie must have heard him mocking her about not being the party rogue and had come for revenge.
This cleared the chapter, earning Kyle and me an A rating, and pretty impressive side mission results to boot. Finding ourselves short on handgun bullets (which is to say: no handgun bullets) we made our first-ever purchase of ammunition at 201 bullets and lost a lot of our side mission cash. This would not be the last time, and ammunition would prove a frequent cash drain in the stages to come. Did I mention that the Cerberus is a three-barrelled gun that fires three rounds for every shot despite (so far as I can tell) not trebling damage compared to, say, an SMG? Yeah, that’s a thing.