FFVII Dirge of Cerberus – Ohhh, we were supposed to play the game as intended!

Chapter 7: The Shera

In between Chapters 6 and 7, Kyle and I made a discovery in the gun upgrade screen: Gun frames that have reached a certain level can no longer receive traditional, flat upgrades, but you must instead choose an upgrade path from a list of three. This, by the way, is why the game offers base-level gun frames for sale, so that people who just love customization can take their favourite guns down multiple paths, or so players who have made a mistake can correct it at a cost. Our beloved Cerberus pistol frame was at this point Level III, but we didn’t have the money to upgrade it down any of the three paths (which cost the same, as you can see in the attached screenshot). Meanwhile, our Griffon submachine gun frame was Level II and couldn’t go any further without branching (this is odd, as the Hydra sniper rifle frame also goes up to Level III, so only the Griffon stops at II), but we could afford the upgrade. We had to choose between the powerful and accurate P Griffon, which had a shitty magazine size as a downside; the longer range but otherwise unremarkable S Griffon; and the jack-of-all-master-of-none M Griffon.

Given the option, I usually do take a balanced weapon, but the M Griffon’s sense of balance was so pitiful that we very nearly passed it up. What about the P and S Griffons, then? Unfortunately, they weren’t looking all that stellar themselves. A submachine gun with no ammo in the magazine? A submachine gun that functions at long range when we already have a rifle? The M Griffon didn’t feel very ambitious, but at least it didn’t seem to be missing the point. Then again… in the end we took the M Griffon, but it may be that we made a big mistake, as the submachine gun gradually became our least-used gun from this point on. Maybe that was just a play style thing, and that none of the upgrades would have put the submachine gun into our good graces, but I can’t help but wonder if we passed on two quality guns and decided to wield a brick.

Returning to the plot, Vincent has found Reeve somehow still alive in his ruined command centre. Reeve talks about how ashamed he was for this, and how he wasn’t a hero, and… yeah? I mean… we already knew this, Reeve! But I guess I can’t stand to see a guy like this, even if it’s Reeve, so it’s nice when Vincent gives him his idea of a pep talk, which isn’t much but was apparently enough.

After everyone has gathered their marbles, we find that Shalua is still technically alive, though she’s in such bad shape that she’s now restricted to a special model of the healing tubes used on Vincent and Shelke. Yuffie explains that Azul crushed her head, which is especially brutal, and maybe the only bit of this game’s manufactured edginess that I find actually hits home with me. While Yuffie is incredibly upset about Shalua’s injury (they seem to have been offscreen friends, which is yet another manufactured setup that I won’t let the writers get away with), Shelke is still lost in her moral debate, and Yuffie storms off. Vincent tells Shelke that she was Shalua’s reason to live, and we continue to follow the cliché villain redemption plot point for point. It’s all very boring to me. In a scene that’s probably supposed to reflect on Vincent’s own regrets about Lucrecia, he tells Shelke that giving your life to protect someone else is an easy thing to do if you care about the person, but in saying it, he realizes that a lot of the people around him are more heroic than him.

Suddenly, Shelke stumbles, the first sign we’ve seen of her physical weakness since Chapter 2. I suppose she’s running out of mako? By the way, I should probably mention that the short stories make it clear that the WRO has no access to mako, as in zero, because everyone on the planet is terrified that the Lifestream will attack them like it did Meteor if they continue to suck out the mako. That’s why Barret and Cid went looking for oil in the short stories. Long story short: the WRO has no way to tend to Shelke’s medical need for mako and she should rightly drop dead any minute now. In any event, Vincent catches her and they lock eyes, which seems to cause a flashback to begin.

Young Vincent was lounging on a tree outside Nibelheim and Lucrecia has come to find him. Lucrecia echoed a complaint Kyle and I were making as we watched: “How are you supposed to be my bodyguard if you’re up here sleeping?” At the end of the flashback, however, Lucrecia offered that they have a picnic together.

When we returned to the present, Vincent and Shelke were still staring at one another, and Shelke says “Why were her data fragments responding?” implying that that was her flashbacks, and not Vincent’s, and that the “the doctor’s” data in her “neural network” was Lucrecia’s.

Reeve came in through the door, telling Vincent that he’s taken his pep talk to heart and is ready to fight, and he asks Vincent if he’s sure he found all of the Omega Report in Mission 5. Vincent says “I’m sure,” even though you were perfectly able to collect only one of the four parts and then just walk out, so at least we know that Vincent is good at the art of bullshit. Reeve tells us that they must be missing some pieces (the ones you collect in later missions, as I’ve already spoiled), but he’s not just talking about the four pieces of text the player gets to read from the menu. It seems the Omega Report also contains special data that you can only access if you have all eight files, as though it were an old install file divided across 8 floppy disks (and a whole 10MB of data!). Thankfully, Shelke seems to have changed sides entirely by now, and she says what we’ve guessed: the Lucrecia’s memories have been implanted in her mind, and that she might be able to use that data to restore the Omega Report. She also says that she’s been having trouble burying Lucrecia’s personality, supposedly a side effect of her memories being incomplete, and she hopes that by completing the Report, she might regain control of her mind, which I guess is as good a patch of sci-fi bullshit as anything.

Yuffie then calls Vincent and Reeve to come up to the surface, where she reveals that Cid has just arrived in the Shera… along with an entire fleet of similar airships, here to join the assault on Deepground’s headquarters.

Chapter 7’s gameplay is set entirely on the Shera, and is basically all expository and exploratory, with no combat, not unlike a town set between dungeons. I’m almost surprised the game only has one of these! Cid instructs you to look around, and you basically spend the whole trip talking to NPCs and the like. In a nice touch, all the NPCs are voiced, though I’m afraid I won’t be able to give them all credit, since the end credits cluster the game’s “Additional Voice Actors” in a big, useless block.

Some of the NPCs start to explain where this whole fleet of airships came from, including the Shera: essentially, the writers pulled them out of their asses, wiped them off a bit and then… urm, I mean, Cid found them underground. They’re Cetra technology, or from some society in between. The crew doesn’t honestly understand how they work or how to repair them, which sounds so very reassuring!

Another NPC explains the origins of Grandpa Shinra’s Subterranian Funtime Playhouse for Disenchanted Youth, saying it used to be a SOLDIER medical facility. He goes on to imply that that the experimentation began because of a rogue SOLDIER named “G.” From a post-Crisis Core perspective, we can make out a fairly reasonable timeline in which President Shinra founded Deepground to deal with the Genesis rebellion but never got a chance to use it, which I’m willing to believe (I’d have to assume the kidnapping of children and the long timetable involved in the present Deepground came later), even if the sheer scale of the project is still unreasonable and detrimental to the plot’s believability.

You have to talk to several named characters numerous times to advance the plot here, which confused the two of us a lot. If you thought the famous bottleneck in KH1 where hundreds of players got stuck because they didn’t talk to Leon twice in a row was bad, just wait until you take a look at this chapter, which expected you to speak over and over again to multiple characters, and far more than twice! (Then again, maybe Leon was worse for being an outlier?) With poor Yuffie and her airsickness, we wanted to leave her to be sick in private instead of bothering her over and over with conversation, but that’s what you have to do! Later, we also had to speak to both Reeve and Cait Sith, separately, multiple times, even though they were sitting right next to one another, which made me feel like the game was making a fool of us.

The jukebox on the Shera was well equipped, offering new Mega- and X-Potions for sale. Mega-Potions (originally introduced to the series in FFVIII – they’re normally a group healing item!) restore 1500 HP here, you can carry 2 and they cost 500 a pop. X-Potions restore full HP, you can carry 2 and they cost 800 a pop. Unfortunately, jukeboxes in the next stage don’t carry X-Potions, but they eventually return. Clever how they made it so you leave the comfort of the Shera and lose the ability to buy an item in the process!

Deep inside the Shera, we discovered a room that was serving as both medical bay and computer centre, making it Shelke’s headquarters in this little operation, where she could keep an eye on both the data and on her sister in her tube. She explained that Shalua had to be brought with them because they were basically abandoning headquarters after the double fiasco there, and I don’t really blame them. Shelke explained that she was setting up the WRO equipment to perform a “Synaptic Net Dive,” which would allow her to enter a computer or a sentient mind via virtual reality. Why Cid already has mind-invading VR equipment installed in his medical bay, I don’t know. Maybe video games have gotten really intense post-Meteorfall? Shelke is just about to explain why Shinra developed this technology in the first place when the writers had a rare moment of clarity and realized they were better off not talking, so she stops.

After the exploration was finished, it was time to briefed by Cid and Reeve. They explained that the ground assault was already underway, shown in an FMV that I suspect was cropped from a larger cutscene at the end of the chapter, given that the timing of events makes no sense here in the middle of the chapter. The FMV shows us that the ground assault is being led by none other than Tifa and Barret in a modified Shadowfox and and Cloud on the Fenrir. The target: Midgar, no longer a safe haven for anyone and now Deepground territory under siege. And sure enough, it also shows the ground assault taking place right now, even though the air support won’t technically arrive until the end of the chapter!  And yes, the end-of-chapter cutscene does show them arriving together!

The briefing continues when Shelke, in her VR helmet, begins to project an image of stars to the bridge of the Shera. This was apparently the completed Omega Report (even though we had yet to complete the Omega Report?), and the voice of Lucrecia explained a little more about Omega, namely that it was supposed to carry the Lifestream to another planet when this planet dies. Not that this isn’t interesting and all (although, since this is the third time we’ve heard some of these details, I suppose it isn’t that interesting), but is it really of immediate military concern for the entire crew of the Shera? We’re something like T-15 minutes here, so I assume you gathered them all here for a reason. A military reason. An immediate military reason.

Shelke confirms that Omega is, in fact, a Weapon. Reeve then elaborates that Deepground is trying to waken Omega by kidnapping victims and executing them en masse to trick the Planet into thinking that life on the surface is coming to an end. He clarifies that they’re trying to create a “pure” Lifestream, but he doesn’t specify what this means or why it’s important – probably because he doesn’t know and has no reason to know, since Reeve never got this information, only the player through cutaways to things the protagonists never got to see. I don’t feel that Shelke could have told him, because if she knew that much, surely she’d know why Deepground needs it as well! I feel the writers must have slipped that line into his dialogue by accident. It’s not clear if the victims have to be pure for the Planet to think life is coming to an end or if the two processes are distinct. If the processes are separate, maybe that’s why they’re killing stigmatic victims? That’s still a death, after all!

Reeve then explains that there’s a 9th Mako reactor in Midgar, Reactor 0, which is reasonably placed in Shinra’s HQ in Sector 0. Reeve says the other reactors are being used to feed Reactor 0, so he plans to destroy them. Fun fact: this is revised version of an early, deleted FFVII plot wherein Reeve would do this exact same thing at the end of that game. As a matter of fact, apparently you were supposed to go through two distinct final dungeons with two distinct parties, one fighting Sephiroth and one shutting down the reactors! I know that has nothing to do with the plot of DoC, I just think it was a really cool idea and I’m kind of disappointed that the idea of two simultaneous final dungeons it didn’t make it into the final product, or any later Final Fantasy games that I’m aware of, for that matter. Fun Fact #2: We also recently learned that everyone in the Midgar final dungeon party was supposed to die!  So… maybe it’s better that that didn’t happen, after all?

Hrm, the original Cait Sith was destroyed during Before Crisis, then one was destroyed during FFVII, one on-screen during DoC, and this one is new so it’s not the one from the Lost Chapter submarine either… but that’s only five?

Cid then says that you should go off and do some more pointless exploration, even though the ground assault has apparently already started. Yeah, this cutscene was definitely lopped in half at a later stage. I assumed we should be ready to go when we came for the meeting and all, but I guess we can have a few more chats. Speaking to Cid on our way out, he told us that the battle plan was for the former members of AVALANCHE were going to take down the reactors. Cid was kind of ambiguous about what Yuffie was supposed to do. The game ended up deploying her with some WRO soldiers in the middle of basically nowhere, so it’s possible the writers never bothered with a solid explanation for where Cid wanted her to be. In any event, Vincent would be alone, and Reeve had a mission for him: “From here on out, it’s Vince versus the Tsviets!” Or as Kyle put it: “Vincent, we’re gonna blow up the reactors. Because we’re terrorists! You, you’re just creepy. Creepy people get assigned to murder duty.”

One of the most important discussions was talking to Reeve and Cait Sith, where Vincent asked just who was funding the WRO. In a shocking display of incompetence, “shocking” even considering my dislike of Reeve, he announced that he has no idea! It may be that he was lying, because it was fairly clear from his description that he was being sponsored by Rufus Shinra in an effort to make up for Shinra’s actions in the past, and even Reeve isn’t that stupid… r-right? But then the question becomes: where is Rufus getting all this money? Didn’t a giant rock fall on top of all his money?

Finally, we went to a passage at the bottom of the sip, where Vincent’s body suddenly remembered that it can’t control his transformation without the Protomateria. While transformed, Vincent thought he saw Lucrecia, though when he recovered from his transformation, she was gone. Shelke saw all of this (the real parts, anyways), but since she’s only in the middle of her “developing concern for others” arc, she just heartlessly walked away.

As the assault approached, the Tsviets were waiting for the attack to come. In a great show of military intelligence on the part of the WRO, this scene showed us that the attack was coming… at night, meaning that Deepground would be able to control the lighting. And bear in mind that Deepground are an army of subterranean mole people with sensor helmets! Nero was there with the others, his first real appearance in the main game, and he said that “His awakening is near.” Cutting back to the airship, Cid gave an “inspiring speech” wherein he ordered none of the troops to die, which I suppose was fair, both because he cares about them and because Deepground was trying to fake an extinction event and all, but still wasn’t the most inspiring speech I’d ever heard. “You’re probably going to die. Don’t!” It’s going to make it to the history books, I think. Meanwhile, Shelke gave Vincent a cell phone so she could contact him during the battle, saying she could perform a Synaptic Net Dive from the airship’s computer to hack Midgar’s and Deepground’s computers remotely.

And then, at long last, it was time for the main assault, in full FMV. Now, my time stamp can only be an estimate, given we lost our original recording of the tutorial and first Chapter, but if I had to guess, I’d say we were around 6 hours into our 11 hour playthrough. The Battle of Midgar is going to run from here to the end of the game, meaning that the Battle of Midgar takes up 45% of the game! And let me tell you: we could feel it. It was the plot arc that never ended! By the end of the game, the idea that we had been adventuring anywhere else in the FFVII world felt positively alien to us.

I shouldn’t waste too much time on the particulars of the animation, but I will note that Deepground’s soldiers were polite enough to attack in nice, easily explodable clusters. Rosso spotted Cloud breaking through their front lines and engaged him, though sadly we don’t see the end of their little battle. Azul, meanwhile, opened fire on the airships, downing one. Vincent then air-dropped into the city on a hoverboard (as you do), but he was shot down by a flak cannon and landed somewhere in the former slums, alone.

Chapter 8-1: Midgar Assault

The chapter opens with Vincent getting a call from Shelke, who was attempting to coordinate the battle despite Vincent’s best attempts to land nowhere near where he was supposed to go. She tells him that he’ll have to get up to the top of the plate, which you’d think would be complicated by the city being in ruins, but think again! After all: it actually hasn’t been possible to get on top of the plate since well before Midgar was destroyed, ever since President Shinra destroyed Sector 7! Remember kids: decay will eventually erase all of society’s problems.

The game’s overlay map.

Luckily, Vincent met up with some members of the WRO before any enemies, their sergeant saying that they, too are off-course, but also that she recognizes their location: the Sector 7 Train Graveyard, which apparently wasn’t crushed by the fall of the plate in FFVII. For some reason, Vincent also recognizes the place even though he wasn’t present when the party was visiting it, and given that there are no nearby trains to show him where he is, I can only conclude that Vincent-the-Turk was a connoisseur of urban junkyards.

Your side mission here was to get the WRO squad alive to the “central complex,” which seemed to be going fine for us for about half the stage before they all basically dropped dead on us in the same combat, one after another within the span of a few minutes. Whoops. And bad news too, because the sergeant identified herself as either Biggs or Wedge’s sister, and it seemed like an extra kick in the pants to be responsible for the death of an entire family across two games. Ooooooh well!

Around here, we picked up an “L Adjuster,” which increased the accuracy of long-range shots. I reasoned that since we never bring out our rifle in any situation but sniping, this would serve as a good replacement for its Materia slot. How clever of me! …At least until one mission from now when we came up with an entirely new idea for the weapon in Weapon Slot 3 (you’ll see what I mean in a bit), meaning I left us without a Materia in an emergency.

Finally, Vincent arrived at a checkpoint, where he told reminded WRO sergeant that Cid wanted him to live, even though that meant not participating in the battle, and moreover, we had just hypocritically let an entire squad of soldiers die on our watch. Do what we say, not what we do.

From here, we entered the train graveyard proper, and according to the internet, this was around the point where we missed that one Omega Report. Looking online, we find that the report discusses Chaos, the author wondering what Chaos’ role in this even is, wondering if Chaos is supposed to “lead us to Omega.”

The secondary objective GUI isn’t even off the screen! In fact, it’s giving the explosion a fucking frame!

Not far after this checkpoint, we came across what became an infamous moment for the rest of the playthrough. The game said “Protect the remaining WRO members,” we saw two of them up ahead, we walked towards them… and then they exploded right in front of our eyes without any input from us whatsoever. A few rooms later, a turret gunner wiped out a near entire squad of WRO, which we probably could have prevented, but it was too late. Not only were we laughing about this for almost the rest of the game, but this basically marked the point where Kyle and I stopped trying on side missions if the game was just going to rig them against us!

After a long walk, we were trapped by soldiers in a depot, where came across a wounded WRO member who was hiding out in a train car. There, we learned that we had been trapped by the first truly intelligent enemies in the entire game, in that they decided to just leave us there to rot rather than try to kill us. Unfortunately for this spat of intelligence, Vincent got cell phone coverage inside the depot and was able to contact Shelke for a map of the area, which provides him with a way out. She also warns him that he’s about to approach the enemy’s frontal defences, which is the first of several such warnings about those frontal defences. To cut to the chase, the game had started talking about the frontal defences way too early (they don’t appear until the end of Chapter 9, and we’re in the middle of 8-1!), and worse, keeps talking about it at regular intervals.

In the next room, Vincent engaged a Deepground commander and his army of robots, but despite the game saying that killing the commander was an outright secondary objective (and thus a pretty big deal as moment-to-moment details go in DoC), this was just another lazy recolour midboss. Honestly, the robots felt more dangerous than the commander, but I guess that can happen with humans and robots! Several rooms later, we came across a jukebox, and there’s a moment in the recording where you see me cycling through our weapons to check on our ammunition. The news wasn’t good: only about 80 shots left in our pistol (in practice, only 26 thanks to the three-bullets-a-shot mechanic), 100 in the submachine gun, and a completely useless 350 in our completely useless sniper rifle. I bought 100 bullets for each of the other guns, but I wasn’t feeling very confident. Unbeknownst to Kyle and myself, the seeds of a stupid, stupid idea were being planted in our brains. Oh! Pardon me. In our neural networks.

At the central complex, Vincent was attacked by jetpack troopers, who were some real nasty midbosses, with submachine guns and impeccable evasion, and just after we were concerned about running out of bullets! Still, the fight went quickly enough (it was either us or them) and this ended the stage with an A-ranking. Total WRO members saved across two sub-missions: 1.

Chapter 8-2: Fight for the Central Complex

I’m not sure what separates chapter 8-1 from 8-2 that prevents 8-2 from simply being chapter 9, but this is what the internet says, so that’s what I’m going to repeat.

Mission 8-2 mostly feels like filler and isn’t really notable. One of the only memorable objectives was one where you have to cover a WRO soldier as he jimmies an electronic lock, even though the two of you are divided by a force field. Defending him is optional but pays off big time in the form of the game’s first “G Report.” These reports exist mostly to promote the upcoming Crisis Core, and to talk about Genesis in a vague, “we’re not finished writing yet” sort of way. By collecting all three, you also unlock the game’s secret ending, which meant we were Marathon-obligated to find them. As to the text contents of the G Reports themselves, numbers 1 and 2 are entirely promotional, and only Report 3 tells you anything you won’t have worked out after the very first mission of Crisis Core.

I’m serious, though, 8-2 has no reason to exist, and I’m going to jump straight ahead to the boss battle just so we can wrap it up. This, at least, was not filler: a showdown with Rosso, who apparently survived her encounter with Cloud completely unscathed. Somehow.

Rosso’s biggest advantage over us wasn’t her actual abilities, but our ammo situation. Even though she conveniently fought us right next to a jukebox, allowing us to shop in the middle of battle, we just plain didn’t have any money to spend after somewhat foolishly upgrading our Hydra to a Hydra III at the previous jukebox. Part-way through the fight, Rosso made things worse by becoming “Bloodburst Rosso.” She started this by saying “Do you know why they call me ‘the Crimson,’ darling?” Um… because your name is “red,” you’re covered with the colour red, and belong to a colour-coordinated organization, displacing the possibility that you were called “Crimson” for the blood-related reasons you’re probably alluding to, given the tacky quality of this script? C’mon, are you serious? What kind of question is this? This didn’t seem to be so much a transformation, either, as the only notable change was that she started to hurl her weapon at us instead of shooting at us. Ah yes. “Crimson.” Synonym for “throw.”

Mind that that’s not to diminish the quality of her throwing, because we did terribly against Bloodburst Rosso! You can see our items disappearing one by one as the fight goes on for far longer than any boss battle in the game. At one point, Kyle makes a run for the jukebox and decides how to spend his remaining 600 gil: a Hi-Potion (our store of healing items was outright empty) and a few more precious pistol shots, since our rifle was doing nothing. But as this was happening, we had a thought. Something that hadn’t occurred to us before: “Wait,” one of us said, noting a certain item we hadn’t been able to collect in another corner of the arena. “Is it possible that Limit Breaks might… heal you?”

We broke open the Limit Break we had been carrying since Chapter 1, our health bar restored to full, and our entire game strategy changed: Limit Breaks could be used as substitute X-Potions! Better still, the Gallian Beast’s attacks turned out to be homing, which overcame Rosso’ strengths almost at once. While we still basically never used the Gallian beast for tactical reasons from this point on, its healing potential opened a whole new door!

With Rosso defeated, she became so upset that someone was stronger than her that her tiny, stock character brain couldn’t handle it, and she decided to commit suicide than give us “the pleasure of killing Rosso the Crimson.” Rosso, I’m not entirely sure that Vincent was even going to kill you. She then fell off a ledge, cackling, and since falling is such a reliable way for video game characters to die, Kyle and I kept expecting her to walk in the door for the rest of the remaining game, but no, she apparently was Dead For Real.

Somehow, despite our absolute garbage performance against Rosso and the secondary objectives, we pulled through with an A on this mission… and not much cash. While we strongly considered converting our EXP to cash for once, we stuck to our guns in the end, and used our tiny secondary objective payout to buy about half our needed healing supplies and a whole twenty pistol bullets. Deeee-lightful.

Prev: FFVII Dirge of Cerberus – Yuffie for WRO President
Next: FFVII Dirge of Cerberus – 100/100!