Following Devil May Cry 2’s disastrous, to say the least, release, Capcom needed Devil May Cry 3 to be more than just a good follow-up; it needed to rekindle a fire that had been put out. Devil May Cry 2 felt more like a copycat than it did a proper sequel to the original Devil May Cry. For the franchise to regain any semblance of good will, Devil May Cry 3 would not only have to clean up the second game’s mess, it would need to remind fans why the original was so beloved in the first place. While it would have been easy to take Devil May Cry 2’s criticisms to heart and build off the foundation Devil May Cry left behind in a safe, but respectable manner, DMC3 took a more ambitious approach to remedy past mistakes. Instead of simply making an acceptable sequel to the original Devil May Cry, Hideaki Itsuno and his team outright refined the hack ‘n’ slash genre.
For as impressive as the original Devil May Cry still is, it’s nonetheless quite obvious it wouldn’t have been able to lead into a sustainable franchise without a few changes moving forward. Devil May Cry 2 was a bad sequel because it misunderstood what made the first game so good. Devil May Cry 3 just as similarly would have been a bad sequel had it simply placed DMC1 in a new setting. A good sequel can be similar to its predecessor, many are, but Devil May Cry had effectively already done everything it could as best as possible in a format that it had, more or less, created. Any sequel that didn’t play with the foundation Hideki Kamiya left behind would run the risk of being considered a pale imitation. Considering the circumstances the franchise was put under thanks to Devil May Cry 2, a straight up sequel might actually have worked, buying back some of the series’ lost goodwill, but at the expense of taking a chance to genuinely push Devil May Cry forward.
Taking into account Devil May Cry 3’s legacy, it perhaps goes without saying that Itsuno was right not to take the easy way out. DMC3 is often considered one of the greatest games of all time and the gold standard within the hack ‘n’ slash genre, but why? What is it exactly that propels DMC3 above its predecessors, contemporaries, and successors? Refinement. Devil May Cry 3 is elegant in every facet of its design, not unlike the original Devil May Cry. Where the original simply refined where it needed to, DMC3 goes above and beyond to ensure every detail and mechanic is thoroughly polished. The inclusion of Styles give Dante six different base play styles to fool around with; Dante now has ten weapons to choose from and can have four equipped at all times; the level design takes after the first DMC with arcade-esque missions; Dante’s brother Vergil is a playable character with an arguably just as in-depth play style; and the story actually works in benefit of the gameplay.
Of all the methods Itsuno and his team used to evolve Devil May Cry’s gameplay, Styles stand out as the most overt and important. In the original DMC, Dante effectively only had two base play styles: Alastor and Ifrit. Alastor was a faster, more versatile weapon that shared most of its moveset with Force Edge, Spara, and Yamato when playing as the Legendary Dark Knight, while Ifrit was a slower, close ranged set of gauntlets that gave Dante access to heavier combos. While there were multiple guns to equip Dante with, none of them could lead the gameplay in the same way Alastor and Ifrit could. Styles serve as a way of varying and enhancing Dante’s abilities at their most basic. In the original Devil May Cry, every player was essentially forced to take the same approach to the first mission due to Dante’s early game limitations. This isn’t inherently bad for DMC1, and actually works in its favor, but it’s simply not a sustainable approach for a growing series. Just from the outset, DMC3’s Styles allow players to take four varied approaches to the main game.
Even though Dante only has Rebellion and Ebony & Ivory starting out, the Styles add enough variety to his moveset to keep the first mission from devolving into uniformity. As it’s equipped to Dante by default, most players will tackle the first mission with Trickster as their initial Style. A carryover from DMC2, Trickster gives Dante far more maneuverability by allowing him to dash and run up walls during gameplay. Devil May Cry 2 handled Dante’s acrobatics rather poorly by constantly placing him in far too large environments with far too easy enemies. Devil May Cry 3 remedies the issue by implementing far tighter spaces for combat and considerably more aggressive enemy AI. A dedicated dash that flows in and out of combat does a lot for Dante’s play style, as does Wall Hiking since it can serve as a quick, stylish way of dodging enemies when pinned up against a wall. Although it doesn’t add directly to Dante’s core combat, it does enhance it by giving him an additional controlled method of movement, one where he can dodge an attack and immediately dash back into the action.
Swordmaster is the most conventional of Dante’s Styles as it’s the one that directly enhances his core combat. In the original Devil May Cry, all of Dante’s combos were done with pause presses and directional inputs associated around one button. In equipping Swordmaster, Dante gains access to new, weapon-specific moves, associated around a separate button. It seems like a relatively simple addition, giving Dante access to another button for combat, but it’s one that greatly opens up the combat. DMC1 proved what could be done with one button so there was no need for DMC3 to rigidly follow that philosophy. Swordmaster adds another layer of complexity to the combat, rewarding players who take the time to learn all the new techniques the Style brings with it for each of Dante’s five main weapons. Using Swordmaster makes playing as Dante feel like the natural evolution of DMC1’s combat. At the same time, making Swordmaster optional allows players to forgo it in favor of single button-based combat, keeping the spirit of DMC1’s gameplay alive. It’s a best of both worlds situation.
On that same note, Gunslinger does to Dante’s guns what Swordmaster does to his Devil Arms. While far from useless, guns weren’t exactly Dante’s best call to action in the original. They worked great for crowd control, filling up the Devil Trigger, and keeping combos going from long range, but damage needed to be done with either Alastor or Ifrit most of the time. Gunslingers not only gives Dante more leeway with how he uses his guns, the Style makes them a viable alternative. Like with Swordmaster, Gunslinger is a logical next step for how combat should work in Devil May Cry. Keeping a combo stylish is far more manageable with guns now, and Dante’s long-range versatility goes a long way in varying up the combat. Gunslinger encourages a different approach to action, but one that feels completely in-line with Devil May Cry’s groundwork.
Of Dante’s four default Styles, Royalguard is easily the most unique as it’s the only one without a basis in the rest of the series. Swordmaster and Gunslinger are evolutions of DMC’s combat while Trickster comes straight from DMC2. Royalguard is a Style that was designed specifically for Devil May Cry 3 in mind. A dedicated block, Royalguard adds defense into the mix of combat. While this may seem like a cheap way of circumventing the series’ inherent difficulty, Royalguard avoids that dilemma by also turning it into a counter of sorts where blocking at just the right time stores up energy that can be released in order to do damage against enemies. This keeps Royalguard from devolving into a mindless block button, instead encouraging players to parry properly in order to do as much damage as possible. While Royalguard has no base in the series, its risk versus reward style of gameplay feels right at home with Devil May Cry’s gameplay.
In addition to his four main Styles, Dante also gains access to Quicksilver and Doppelganger over the course of the game, two Styles using Devil Trigger for far more leeway in combat. The former outright stops time for Dante to quickly experiment with combos he wouldn’t be able to use in an active environment while the latter spawns another Dante that’ll attack in unison with the player. Both can conceptually break the game in the right context, but they’re controlled by the use of Devil Trigger, making them another risk versus reward situation. Players can use the Styles for quick bursts of success, but at the expense of being able to heal and do extra damage with their Devil Trigger. As different as Quicksilver and Doppelganger are compared to Dante’s four default Styles, they still fit into the overarching theme of moving the combat forward.
The six Styles exist not only to keep gameplay fresh, but to genuinely build off DMC1’s foundation. They’re not just cool ideas implemented for the sake of it, they have a deliberate purpose within the game design and each Style is polished to the point where they feel totally natural in the gameplay without superseding the others as some sort of intended play style. In that sense, while the Styles are certainly impressive and well thought out additions, it’s the game design that allows them to work as well as they do. Stages and enemies are clearly designed with each of the six Styles in mind, meaning that Dante never comes off over or underpowered depending on what Style he’s repping. More importantly, there’s nothing locked behind a single Style. Dante can still reach far away heights with careful platforming without Trickster, and reach SSS rank in combat without Swordmaster or Gunslinger. Styles are simply a way of varying up the gameplay without replacing legitimate game design.
Devil May Cry 3’s 20 missions are easily the best set of levels in the series. Pacing wise alone, they’re brilliant thanks to how frequently Dante fights new bosses and gains new weapons. There’s a continuous feeling of progression and each mission feels designed with a purpose in mind ala Devil May Cry 1. Good level design is tremendously important for the hack ‘n’ slash genre as it serves as the grounds where battles take place. An empty arena certainly works in special occasions, allowing players to go all out, but it’s necessary for pacing to throw in hallways, cramped rooms, libraries that limit visibility, areas with spike traps, and enemies that take advantage of verticality to best bring out a player’s skill. DMC3’s stages are varied and dynamic with unique setpieces often dedicated to building up to a boss fight. Just getting to a boss on the higher difficulties can feel like a genuine endurance match due to how deliberately designed the stages and enemies are.
Side content is also used as a way of expanding stages and increasing replay value this time around compared to DMC1’s permanently missable per playthrough approach. DMC2’s returning Mission Select feature helps with this quite a bit, but it’s the Combat Adjudicators that specifically encourage revisiting stages. Throughout the course of the game, Dante will stumble upon ten Combat Adjudicators that can only be damaged with a specific weapon, and broken with a specific ranked combo. Along with nudging players back into previously cleared stages, they serve as a way of training a player through side content. Since the hardest Adjudicators all require varying levels of S-ranks to break, they force players to fully understand every weapon in Dante’s arsenal. For as noteworthy as the Styles are, it’s the weapons that are the star of the show here. DMC1 was great with just two static main weapons for Dante, but DMC3’s five core Devil Arms open up the combat considerably, especially since two can be equipped at all times.
Returning from DMC2, weapon switching allows Dante to juggle between his two Devil Arms and two guns at any given time during combat. This is easily Devil May Cry 3’s best addition and the one that benefits the core gameplay the most. Weapon switching is seamless, keeping Dante’s combo intact and allowing him to transition into new techniques at the quick press of a button. Battles became far more engaging when using both of Dante’s weapons to their fullest. Devil May Cry 1 allowed Dante to switch between Alastor and Ifrit, but chaining combos in and out of the switch was virtually impossible. DMC3 makes it not only possible but almost required for just how hectic and hands-on the combat becomes on higher difficulties. It’s yet another useful tool for Dante, but it never trivializes the game. This is a recurring element in Devil May Cry 3’s design. Dante is at his absolute peak in terms of what he can accomplish, but these aren’t just mechanics that have been tossed onto him for the sake of some faux-variety. Enemies have weaknesses and strengths this time around, and weapon switching plays off that, giving players a chance to outfit Dante for any type of combat scenario.
With how seamless all of Dante’s Styles and weapons work in the context of Devil May Cry 3’s level design, it almost seems impossible that Vergil, another playable character altogether, would be able to work alongside his twin brother. Taking cues from Lucia and Trish from Devil May Cry 2, the addition of another playable character seems like a no-brainer, but Vergil doesn’t have his own set of levels this time around, in large part due to only being added in DMC3’s rerelease. Developed independent of the rest of the game and simply taking place within stages meant for Dante, Vergil truly should not work as a playable character. Of course, that’s assuming he’s implemented like Lucia and Trish were where they were only slight reskins of what Dante was capable of. Vergil is his own beast entirely with his own weapons and a unique Style designed to keep him feeling like his boss counterpart found in the main game while also adhering to the same game design rules as Dante.
Whether it’s a testament to Devil May Cry 3’s level design of gameplay, the fact Vergil works as well as he does without feeling derivative of Dante is downright incredible. Removing all context of Dante from the picture, it can be easy to believe that Vergil’s mode was always designed with him in mind. There is nothing that Dante can accomplish that Vergil ultimately can’t. Some feats are significantly harder, especially when verticality is involved, as Vergil does not have a double jump, but combat feels natural and clearing his mode up to Vergil Must Die is more than doable. His mere inclusion opens up the gameplay all the more, offering an acceptable alternative to Dante, and one who’s is arguably far more complicated to control and master. It also helps that Vergil is a pre-established character in the franchise, introduced as Nelo Angelo in DMC1, and plays an active role in DMC3’s plot. By the time players unlock him, they have an intimate understanding of the character which makes playing as him fare more appealing than playing as someone like Lucia.
While the original Devil May Cry wasn’t poorly written, it also wasn’t exactly impressive. It was mostly carried by its B-movie charm and goofy dialogue for Dante. It was likable, but not exactly worthy of analysis. Where its story shined was in how the gameplay reflected character beats for Dante with each boss, Nero Angelo in particular, creating an almost three act structure where Dante faced a challenge, learned the skills he needed to succeed through gameplay, and then ultimately overcame adversity. Devil May Cry 3 pulls something similar although on a much larger scale with each fight against Vergil serving as the end of an act giving DMC3 a clear, identifiable three-act structure. More importantly, while the cheesy dialogue from the original makes a return, it’s embedded with much more heart this time around. Devil May Cry 3 is a story about family and, as goofy as Dante can be, it really works to the game’s benefit.
Much of the narrative is spent building up to the inevitable showdown between Dante and Vergil. The first game established that Vergil had been missing for years and fallen under Mundus’ control, and DMC3’s nature as a prequel means that the finale could only go one way. Even then, the build-up to a climactic battle between brothers is handled superbly with Vergil nearly killing Dante in their first fight, reaching a stalemate in their second, and ultimately teaming up in what seems to be a replacement for their third. Once they take over the other overarching villain, however, the two brothers are thrust into a final mission where Dante simply has to defeat Vergil in a one-on-one fight. No tricks, no gimmicks, just pure skill built over the course of the game. Vergil 3 is the quintessential hack ‘n’ slash final boss, not just because it genuinely tests everything the player has learned up to that point, but because the story has made players care about Dante and Vergil.
They’re likable, and they clearly love one another, so seeing them tear at each other despite putting aside their differences moments earlier is a classically tragic moment. It’s made all the more impactful due to the fact that Dante actually grows throughout the course of the plot. He had a reasonable character arc in the first game, but it was rather subdued and took a backseat to the rest of the plot. Dante’s arc is the driving force of Devil May Cry 3 and watching him mature over the course of the narrative is a satisfying sight to see. It’s not the world’s most creative or dynamic arc, but it’s well executed and depicts a more vulnerable Dante, one lost within the idea of his heritage without succumbing to melodrama. There have been better stories told in the genre, but Devil May Cry 3’s thematic cohesion and refined simplicity nonetheless add another welcome layer to the entire experience. Just as the gameplay evolved, so did the story.
It’s easy to take for granted just how much of a risk Itsuno was taking with Devil May Cry 3. Fans wanted Devil May Cry and the ones that stuck around after DMC2 might have been completely satisfied with a sequel derivative of the original, but that would have locked the series into an awkward position where the first game all but invented a genre, the second ignored everything the first introduced, and the third simply reiterated everything the original established. For the benefit of the franchise, Devil May Cry 3 needed to be a risk. It needed to look at what made DMC1 such a masterpiece and expand upon it in every way imaginable. Were Devil May Cry 3 just another sequel, it wouldn’t be discussed today. It needed to remind audiences that Devil May Cry wasn’t just another hack ‘n’ slash, it was the hack ‘n’ slash. Devil May Cry 3 is everything a sequel should be. It is a culmination of Devil May Cry’s strengths, Devil May Cry 2’s faults, and Devil May Cry 3’s desire to innovate and evolve. It is the direct result of refining a genre.
Heaven or Hell: ‘Devil May Cry’s Victory Lap
Dante Must Die has always been, and will always be, the ultimate way Devil May Cry challenges its player base. Regardless of the game, the franchise thrives on the idea that, at the end of it all, players will muster up the courage and skill to take on one final game mode designed around forcing mastery. This is a philosophy the original Devil May Cry very much uses to its advantage, utilizing both Normal and Hard as a means of prepping players for Dante Must Die. Naturally, both Devil May Cry 2 and Devil May Cry 3 brought Dante Must Die back as their grand finale, but something had always been missing from the picture: catharsis.
While the first game was clever enough to reward players with an overpowered costume that had infinite Devil Trigger, appropriately titled Super Dante, there wasn’t much to do after completing Dante Must Die. After all, why would there be? Dante Must Die was the game’s final challenge in every respect. A super costume is a nice reward, but it doesn’t exactly relieve any stress that might have been built up during Dante Must Die’s more intense moments. The super costume, at its core, was just a final push to get players to replay the game one final time.
Along with including Dante Must Die as their last game mode, both Devil May Cry 2 and Devil May Cry 3 follow up a completion with super costumes. Three games in and a rhythm set in, it seemed as though Devil May Cry was content with its approach to an endgame. All things considered, it is a genuinely solid approach on paper. Encourage players to master the game through multiple game modes, offer one final challenge, and reward them with an overpowered goodie. A video game has to end eventually and Dante Must Die makes for as fitting an ending as any. Something fundamentally changed with the release of Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition, however.
Rather than simply unlocking a super costume upon clearing Dante Must Die, the third game’s Special Edition offered players an entirely new game mode: Heaven or Hell. Instead of escalating the difficulty even further or making the game a complete cakewalk, Heaven or Hell created an even playing field where both Dante and enemies would die in a single hit. Although there is a degree of challenge to be gleaned, theoretically, by everything dying in one hit, Dante’s guns make quick use of both enemies and bosses. As a result, one has to question why Heaven or Hell was even included in the first place.
Devil May Cry is a franchise that prides itself on its difficulty, to the point where one could argue that any given game in the series isn’t over until Dante Must Die is cleared in full. While the series has never strayed away from catering to a more casual player base, offering an Easy mode as early as the first game, DMC has never catered to said audience. The escalation of a challenge is the appeal of the series, which Heaven or Hell deliberately flies in the face of. Upon completing the single hardest difficulty in the game, players aren’t rewarded with yet another tier in their gauntlet, but an incredibly easy mode that can be cleared by simply spamming the square button.
Which is actually quite brilliant, all things considered. Rather than closing the curtains with Dante Must Die, Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition crafted a scenario where players were granted a victory lap of sorts. After all, was said and done, players could get an emotional release from burning through missions and bosses that previously gave them a considerable amount of trouble. Defeating a difficult boss with a single bullet is inherently satisfying, even more so when taking into consideration the journey a player has to go through in order to unlock Heaven or Hell.
If Heaven or Hell were unlocked any earlier in the game, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying an unlockable. While the mode would still be charming in its own right, it loses its cathartic nature by sheer virtue of preceding Dante Must Die. Heaven or Hell is the reward, a proof of a player’s mastery. Only upon conquering the hardest challenge is a player allowed a chance to decompress. Even though Very Hard very much lives up to its title, the mere fact it isn’t the pinnacle of Devil May Cry 3’s difficulty means that Heaven or Hell would be out of place coming between it and Dante Must Die.
Given its context in the Devil May Cry franchise, it can be easy to take Heaven or Hell for granted.
More importantly, Heaven or Hell coming any earlier would break the natural progression of the game. There is a clear, gradual build up from Normal mode to Dante Must Die. From as early as the first game, each difficulty was used as a means of improving one’s skills. In the context of Devil May Cry 3, the journey from Normal, to Hard, to Very Hard, to Dante Must Die is one that ensures each new mode teaches players how to properly utilize the game’s mechanics to their advantage. Dante Must Die will always be difficult, but not nearly as brutal as it would be otherwise if players somehow managed to skip Very Hard altogether.
This same principle applies to a scenario where, after Very Hard, players take a break with a mode intentionally designed to be easier. By the time Dante Must Die occurs, it’s entirely possible that one’s skills would have deteriorated to some extent. Heaven or Hell’s very nature means that it is impossible to practice combos or develop strategies against bosses. Which is perfectly fine after Dante Must Die, but potentially disastrous before it. A particularly skilled player may not see any downside to tackling Heaven or Hell before Dante Must Die, granted, but the fact of the matter is that the game’s progression would nonetheless be broken.
When it comes down to it, what catharsis is there to be gained when the greatest challenge lies in wait? A victory lap should celebrate a player’s skills and Heaven or Hell does just that. It’s more than just a nice, extra mode, however. Heaven or Hell does something that can only be down in the gaming medium. Capcom hands the reigns to the player and says “well done, you’ve earned it.” Heaven or Hell’s very nature is one that elicits an emotional response from the player, if only to just relax them after hours of challenging gameplay. Catharsis can be felt in any medium, all things considered, but only the gaming medium can force catharsis on the player.
Given its context in the Devil May Cry franchise, it can be easy to take Heaven or Hell for granted. As is the case with any mode in DMC, Heaven or Hell is more than just another mode. It is deliberate not just in its design, but in its placement, in the context of the games, it appears in. Heaven or Hell may not be as expertly crafted in terms of enemy placement or pure enemy design, but it isn’t the kind of mode that needs to be. Heaven or Hell seeks to elicit a positive, emotional response from the player, and it pulls it off with that elegant, Devil May Cry touch.
‘Devil May Cry 5’ – Impressive Lack of Filler
The Devil May Cry franchise has always had a bit of an issue with filler. Although the first and third titles managed to balance their non-action gameplay fairly well in regards to pacing, Devil May Cry 4— along with the reboot— placed too much emphasis on “variety.” In the context of Devil May Cry, variety within gameplay tends to amount to light exploration, platforming, or some form of puzzle solving. On a conceptual level, it does make sense to vary gameplay as much as possible. After all, too much of one mechanic can lead to a game coming off derivative. At the same time, straying from core mechanics too often can give an impression of insecurity, that the development team— and thereby the game— lacks the confidence to embrace itself in earnest.
Although the notion that DMC 1 and 3 are insecure of themselves might come off as laughable to fans of the genre and series alike, it is worth noting that there is some truth to said sentiment in regards to the rest of the pre-5 franchise. While the original Devil May Cry managed to pace itself rather well thanks to its arcade-like nature, several missions made use of gimmicks that strayed greatly from the core mechanics with the Ghost Ship being the most notorious outlier.
Devil May Cry 2 might as well be the definition of filler. In a desperate attempt to make itself appear “bigger and better” than its predecessor, DMC2 places an incredible amount of emphasis on space. As a result, missions– which were once carefully built around specific set-pieces that had as little negative space as possible– not taking place on large fields with poor enemy placement. Making matters all the worse, the sequel leans in far too much into the puzzle solving elements, leaving the combat painfully under-cooked.
Even Devil May Cry 3, which is often considered not only the greatest game in the franchise but in its genre, is victim to filler. Granted, it’s on a much smaller scale and the general design of the whole game is incredibly tight, but this only makes the filler-esque moments stand out all the worse. There’s nary a good reason why Dante should have to endure a boss rush that’s tied to a puzzle right before the game’s finale. Earlier missions, as well, play up the exploratory elements of the first game a bit too much seemingly to simply prove that DMC3 is the “true” successor to series’ origin point.
While Devil May Cry 4 more or less acts as a natural extension of DMC3 gameplay-wise, it fumbles spectacularly when it comes to level design. Just about every single mission features a stage defining gimmick that tanks potential replayability to an extreme. This is to say nothing of the fact that Dante’s third of the game might as involves him not only backtracking through Nero’s stages, but fighting Nero’s bosses, giving the impression that DMC4’s back-half is little more than literal filler to pad out the game. Going into the reboot, DmC: Devil May Cry, Ninja Theory simply pushed the fourth game’s insistence on non-action elements, shining a spotlight on platforming and pure exploration.
All this is not to say that Devil May Cry as a franchise is lesser than perceived because it often uses filler as a crutch. Far from it– Devil May Cry 1 and 3 remain two of the greatest action games ever made. Rather, it’s to shine a light on just how surprising Devil May Cry 5’s total lack of filler is. While only time will tell where DMC5’s legacy will fall exactly in regards to the first and third game, it’s quite clear from a pure design perspective that the franchise’s fifth mainline entry understands exactly where the series’ fat was and why it needed trimming. It’s one thing to omit filler entirely; it’s another to comprehend why said filler should be omitted.
In many respects, Devil May Cry 5 was more or less Capcom’s chance to prove that the franchise could once again reach the same highs as DMC3. In following both Devil May Cry 4 and DmC, the series’ fifth entry needed to be more than a return to form, although a simple return to form likely would have sufficed considering the series’ fairly rocky road-map from the first game to the fifth. More importantly, Capcom saw an opportunity not to reinvent the Devil May Cry brand, but to refine it.
Devil May Cry, at its best, has always understood the need to look back on itself in order to move forward. This is best evidenced by how Devil May Cry 3 directly lifted several of the second game’s elements in order to bolster its own foundation. Although DMC5 does this as well, it more interestingly does so from a level design perspective, something the series had always been fairly complacent with. If anything, the longer the franchise went on, the more the games seemingly saw fit to include non-action elements to near extreme measures.
Devil May Cry 4 is an excellent game on a purely mechanical level, but it suffers immensely thanks to its abundance of filler. While there are very legitimate reasons behind the backtracking in the campaign’s second half, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s all mainly filler. Well dressed filler, but filler nonetheless. DmC: Devil May Cry which, admittedly, has the benefit of being a finished game over DMC4, puts too much stock in its non-action elements making for playthroughs that often go by far too slow for their own good. What makes the filler damning isn’t so much their presence, but the nature of the franchise. Devil May Cry is a series built on replayability.
Were it not for Bloody Palace, it would be legitimately tiring returning to Devil May Cry 4 with the same fervor some fans return to DMC3 with. Even the first game understood that its foundation was one built on replayability. By the time players would reach Dante Must Die, the puzzles and exploration would no longer be a problem because they would, logically, already understand the solutions. With Devil May Cry 4, however, and by extension DmC: Devil May Cry, this same workaround simply doesn’t work due to the fact that puzzles, platforming, and exploration are just too time-consuming for their own good. The more time a player spends away from the core gameplay, the less the core gameplay gets a chance to leave as much an impact.
Which is ultimately what Devil May Cry 5 excels at over the rest of the series. From the start of the prologue to the very end of mission 20, there is not a single moment that stands out as explicit filler. Though platforming sections still have their place, particularly when playing as Nero, they neither outstay their welcome or ever take away from the core combat. In previous games, platforming sections would genuinely be their own sections. As per the rules of basic level design, they would connect to other areas, but not without taking their own chunk of time. Now, they’re quick, easy to maneuver, and most importantly, optional more often than not.
This philosophy towards filler is put on full display in mission 15, Nero’s last stage before the final boss. A level with multiple branching paths, players can either opt to take on an obstacle course of sorts that features its own rewards, (such as a Gold Orb, Blue Orb, and Trophy,) or simply take on a gauntlet of enemies. In a previous entry, Nero would likely have been forced to endure the obstacle course spliced in with the enemies, but Devil May Cry 5 cleverly, and correctly, chooses to make any perceived filler optional.
Which in itself is something very much worth taking note of. Content that would be seen as filler when mandatory becomes far more appealing when made optional. Aside from a few bonuses, there’s genuinely no harm in avoiding Nero’s obstacle course. If anything, the fact it can be avoided makes the prospect of clearing it all more appealing. Its optional nature also means Capcom can up the difficulty of the course without cannibalizing the mission’s pacing. The closest the series had ever come to this philosophy before was with Devil May Cry 3’s 18th mission where Dante could earn a Blue Orb shard by clearing the boss rush in its entirety. DMC5 sees that approach and takes it to its natural next step.
It isn’t as if this approach makes missions shorter, either. In previous games, removing the filler would trim levels quite a bit, but Devil May Cry 5 simply uses more action scenarios. Where a platforming challenge or puzzle would once rear its ugly end, more enemies take their place. Mission 16 with Dante essentially plays out like one gauntlet after the next with only some light platforming to serve as a pace breaker. Even then, pulling off some of the trickier platforming sections will net the player with bonuses along with extra fights.
Of course, removing the filler doesn’t suddenly make Devil May Cry 5 the Alpha and the Omega of the hack ‘n’ slash genre. Filler or not, DMC5 struggles with its own difficulty balancing on Dante Must Die and never quite manages to find the right pacing when it comes to playing as Nero, V, or Dante (although the emphasis on Dante in the back half is absolutely the right call from a design perspective.) Ultimately, though, those problems aren’t all that major of problems. If anything, they’re far lesser than Devil May Cry 4’s second half; DmC: Devil May Cry’s insistence on dedicated platforming sections; and Devil May Cry 2’s everything.
By simply keeping the focus on the combat, Devil May Cry 5 is perhaps the easiest game to replay in the series. Not because it’s easier than previous entries (a topic for another day,) but because players are never subjected to content they clearly aren’t playing Devil May Cry for. When it comes down to it, no one plays DMC for the platforming or puzzle sections; at least not solely for them. The core appeal has always been the action; the combat; the spectacle of it all. Not every mission in DMC5 is a hit, but the majority are, more so than any other game in the series save for the third. That in itself is a testament to how tightly designed Devil May Cry 5 is. Devil May Cry 5 is not the reinvention of the wheel, but it’s more than just a return to form: it’s a refinement.
‘Devil May Cry 5’ – Hell is much too Serious to be Taken Seriously
If you don’t count the spinoff/reboot DmC developed by Ninja Theory, 2019 marks eleven years since we last had a proper entry in the Devil May Cry series. That’s a long time to wait for loyal fans but thankfully Devil May Cry 5 is a return to form and more importantly, almost everything about those original games has been improved.
Developed in-house at Capcom by a team of series veterans, Devil May Cry 5 is sprawling, infectious, inventive, ambitious, and downright thrilling. The momentum never lets up from the second the prologue begins and for roughly 15 hours and exactly 20 missions, Devil May Cry 5 is electrifying. Director Hideaki Itsuno and his team have delivered quite possibly the goriest, craziest, most eye-blowing (there’s a lot of eyeballs), chunk-spewing, head-exploding installment of the series yet. Propelled by non-stop, over-the-top action, geysers of blood and fetishistic metamorphoses, DMC5 must be
played seen to be believed. It’s spectacular, irresistible, unapologetically juvenile and totally fucken insane – a mesmerizing piece of art that experimentally pushes the series to daring new heights.
Hell on Earth
For a game that revolves almost entirely around frenetic action, Devil May Cry 5 features a surprisingly engaging story that weaves its fair share of twists and turns while also leaving plenty of room for meaningful character development. That’s not to say these characters are fully fleshed out, but by the time the credits roll, Devil May Cry 5 does an admirable job in at least explaining their motivations, past traumas, and their relation to one another. What starts out simple enough, eventually introduces a tangled mystery that should have most players invested, regardless of their familiarity with the series.
Set five years after the events of Devil May Cry 4, DMC 5 takes a non-linear approach in storytelling and jumps back and forth in time with events viewed from multiple vantage points. Dante and Nero are back, along with the mysterious V with the goal of destroying a demon named Urizen who has planted an enormous demonic tree that is draining the city of Red Grave of all its blood. When the assembled group fail in their attempt to stop Urizen and are forced to retreat, the demon king captures Lady and Trish, turning them into cores for the demons Artemis and Cavaliere Angelo. A month later, Nero returns to Red Grave after being outfitted with deadly prosthetic arms made specifically for him by series newcomer, Nico. Along with V, set out on a quest to stop the demon Goliath, who is seeking Qliphoth for its fruit – a fruit which gives whoever consumes it, the power to rule the Underworld.
It sounds dark and depressing but thankfully Devil May Cry 5 never takes itself too seriously, often shifting toward delicious camp and interjecting playful quips, zippy one-liners and zany interludes like Dante’s impressive Michael Jackson impersonation. It helps, the story is genuinely funny at times and supported by fine performances, impressive motion capture and an overarching tone of jaunty good fun!
Over the course of the game’s twenty chapters, the relationship among the three men becomes increasingly complicated. Sibling rivalry, daddy issues, and dark family secrets push the narrative forward and each of the three main characters is given just enough screen time; just enough flashbacks and just enough dialogue to make their motivations clear. For a game as bloody and violent as this, there are plenty of emotional beats and just enough human spirit to sell itself. And even if like me, you don’t recognize the nods to many of the series’ most iconic moments, you’ll at least walk away understanding what makes each of the three main characters tick.
What drives a story more? A strong plot or good characters?
The Devil May Cry franchise is known for its stylish fighting and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Devil May Cry 5 looks and feels very similar to the original series. This time around, players take control of three characters, each with their own unique and creative playstyles. Devil May Cry’s poster child Dante has four fighting styles in total (Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royalguard) and can even wield a demonic motorcycle that transforms into two chainsaws creating a bloody spectacular setpiece when in battle. But while Dante may be the star of the series, he’s somewhat overshadowed by his two counterparts.
Devil May Cry 5 begins by first putting the player in the shoes of the one-armed, silver-haired demon hunter Nero who wields a giant sword, a pistol, and disposable prosthetic arms called Devil Breakers that give Nero access to an assortment of special abilities depending on which Devil Breaker he is carrying. Of the three men, Nero is arguably the most fun to control thanks to his rebellious nature and grappling hook. In contrast with Dante’s laid-back attitude, Nero leaves you caring about each character because he himself cares.
V, on the other hand, is a frail poet shrouded in mystery who commands a demonic condor with the power to control wind and lightning and a panther who can morph into a spear-like form to lunge at enemies. The latter (Shadow) attacks at close range by inflicting melee attacks, while the former (Griffon) fires projectiles from a distance. V is also accompanied by a third familiar named Nightmare, a giant black demon made entirely out of a demonic fluid who can inflict ridiculous damage for short bursts of time. At first glance, V doesn’t seem as fun to control as Nero or Dante given that he must rely on his three companions to inflict damage on his enemies, but it doesn’t take long to realize that controlling V and his three familiars adds a welcome change of pace to the combat, made all the more rewarding by having to teleport V to deliver the final blow.
Unfortunately, the three ladies in Devil May Cry 5 don’t have much to say or do, most notably Trish and Lady who make an appearance as the damsels in distress, only to be quickly captured, later saved and in one case, stripped completely nude for no reason whatsoever. Luckily, the chain-smoking gunsmith, Nico helps lighten the mood with her sense of humour as she drives around town selling our heroes weaponry. Nico may not get as much screen time as the men at the center of the story but when she does, she comes across as a headstrong, intelligent businesswoman with a positive outlook on life, no matter how many bad cards she was dealt.
Of course, every great story has a great villain and Devil May Cry 5 is no exception. One of the best things about the game is Urizen, a colossal humanoid demon who appears multiple times in the game, each time, reinventing himself. Devil May Cry 5 has plenty of other nightmarish creatures to fight as well, and there are few games out there that can match the intensity of these boss fights. A special mention must be made for the final boss (no spoilers here), who doesn’t just provide the story’s final twist but also represents the toughest challenge.
The Devil is in the Detail
Like past installments, Devil May Cry 5 focuses intensely on combat making it a nonstop visual assault, but for a game blood-drunk on its own artful excess, Devil May Cry 5 is also a character-driven game, and without these characters, I’d argue it would be just another hack-n-slash outing that leans towards monotony. It’s not just that you have three very different warriors to control. It’s not just that one of these three characters comes with three additional characters to also control. It’s not just that Dante, Nero, and V all look so incredibly stylish and each has a unique fighting style – but I’d argue that each cutscene brings with it a much needed momentary break from the chaos unraveling onscreen. For a game in which the camera struggles to keep up with the action, these characters are the heart, soul, and center of it all. Personality goes a long way and despite some poorly written dialogue, Devil May Cry 5’s characters are a blast to watch.
A story certainly needs a plot but what makes a story even more interesting is who it’s happening to. Devil May Cry 5 will never win a Pulitzer but the developers went out of their way to create some of the most impressive cinematic cutscenes in order to spotlight their cast. And it’s in these cutscenes that the skills of the artists truly shine. The amount of detail in the character work is truly remarkable and at times, Devil May Cry 5 gives Hollywood a run for its money. The opening slow-motion credits sequence alone is worth applauding as Nero and co. move about the frame as the titles artfully blend into the environments.
Of course, it helps that Devil May Cry 5 is indeed a gorgeous game. It represents a huge leap in visual complexity for this series and is another brilliant outing for Capcom’s RE engine. They say the devil is in the details and every detail, from the motion capture performances right down to the facial expressions – to the blood-soaked apocalyptic ruins of the gloomy Gothic European city landscape to the intestinal corridors that transport our heroes deeper into the pits of Hell – is nothing short of spectacular! I especially love the cinematic lighting, the subtle shadowing, the reflections off wet surfaces and the urban graffiti covering the city’s walls.
Perhaps I’m still in that honeymoon phase, mainly because I just finished the game and mostly because Devil May Cry 5 is about as exciting as video games get, but as it stands, Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of the year so far, second only to Resident Evil 2 (another brilliant outing by Capcom). I’ll be curious to see what is written about this game long-term as I surely expect some pushback from longtime fans. Regardless, despite being one of the most hyped action games of the year, Devil May Cry 5 does not disappoint in the slightest even with the ridiculous amount of high expectations going in. One thing’s for sure, Capcom is back and I can’t wait to see what other surprises they have in store for fans in the near future.
- Ricky D
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