Although Devil May Cry 3 wasn’t nearly as much of a commercial success as the original or even Devil May Cry 2 for that matter, it still managed to repair the series’ image completely, if not actually bolster it. Hideaki Itsuno had saved Devil May Cry and Capcom was now in possession of a legitimate powerhouse franchise with a competent team at the helm. On a conceptual level, Devil May Cry 4 could not fail. Of course, that’s just conceptually. Devil May Cry 4 will forever be a reminder of the dangers of rushing a product for release. Not because it’s a bad game, but because it very easily could have been the greatest entry in the series.
For its first eleven missions, Devil May Cry 4 is a well paced, well designed, and surprisingly well-written evolution of Devil May Cry 3. Nero’s pull and grab playstyle gives the series maneuverability that simply wasn’t present in previous titles; missions are noticeably more complex with an emphasis on platforming and puzzle solving; and the story takes a more active, layered role with clear cut arcs and themes. There’s also a noticeable spike in the writing quality coming from the previous game. While Devil May Cry 4 is just as corny as Devil May Cry 3 when it comes to dialogue, it nails its more down to earth moments with greater consistency than its predecessor in large part thanks to Nero’s preestablished relationship with Kyrie.
A romance plot played straight in Devil May Cry almost feels blasphemous with how out of place it feels with the rest of the series’ aesthetic, but the level of care put into Nero’s and Kyrie’s dynamic does quite a bit of good for the game’s narrative. As Nero’s last few missions will have him directly trying to rescue Kyrie, it’s important to establish their connection early. Nero spends the entirety of the opening cutscene rushing through the streets of Fortuna, mowing down all enemies in his path, just so he can get to his girlfriend’s recital in time. It’s a goofy premise, but it’s one that can easily endear an audience to a character. The premise is pushed even further when Nero pretends to ignore Kyrie by listening to music after he gives her a necklace at the end of the performance. Nero is all of Dante’s dorkiness without the appropriate bravado to back it up. He’s so far away from being charming that it swings all the way back around and makes it endearing.
It certainly helps that Johnny Yong Bosch is easily the best voice actor in all of Devil May Cry. While Reuben Langdon consistently delivers a great performance as Dante, Bosch is on another level entirely, giving Nero a range of emotional depth other characters in the series struggle to attain. It really is easy to overlook just how well crafted Nero is due to how much he resembles Dante at first glance. He has white hair, they have similar builds, and his quips wouldn’t feel out of place coming out of DMC3 Dante’s mouth. On a conceptual level, Nero is a long time fan’s worst fan: a watered down, almost edgy, replacement for a well-liked protagonist. He isn’t watered down, though, or even edgy. He’s aesthetically similar to Dante, but the two couldn’t be better foils if Nero was Vergil himself.
To the script’s credit, Nero is never portrayed as “better” than Dante. Nero loses both their fights, fails to finish off a single boss properly, doesn’t gain a single boss weapon, and can’t maintain a full Devil Trigger. These “failings” keep Nero a grounded character while preserving Dante’s legacy. He struggles throughout the whole game in a way that Dante never has. This is an important distinction since it’s easier to warm up to a new character when they have to earn their keep. Both through the gameplay and narrative, Nero proves himself a potentially worthy successor to Dante without ever showing him up. Nero’s arc is inherently about struggle. Specifically, the struggle to accept his demonic heritage framed through the physical manifestation of his Devil Bringer. When he finally comes to terms with it at the end of the game, it makes sense because audiences have seen Nero struggle with the demonic on an internal and external level for the majority of Devil May Cry 4. With a clear personality and arc backed by a script that goes lengths to ensure Nero is treated how he should be in the context of the DMC universe, Devil May Cry 4 molds a main character who can more than make up for the loss of Dante.
All that said, Devil May Cry is not a series that fans come to for the story. This is a series that prioritizes gameplay first, and the only way Nero was truly going to win over fans was by proving his worth from a combat sense. Nero’s style of play is arguably the most engaging and skill-based in the entire franchise. Every new mechanics Nero brings to the table is fully realized, given a considerable amount of depth, and polished to the point of gameplay perfection. Nero doesn’t make use of weapon switching as Dante does, but he doesn’t need to. Every weapon Nero has is versatile enough where any additions would have simply bogged him down. While the level of customization Devil May Cry 3 introduced for Dante was absolutely a positive, giving the gameplay added depth, it is refreshing that Itsuno chose a more focused approach for Nero.
The biggest of Nero’s gameplay additions, and the only one that didn’t already have a basis in the series prior to Devil May Cry 4, is his Devil Bringer. From a distance, Nero can pull enemies toward him to keep combos active in one static location. Although novel enough for grounded combat, it’s mid-air where the Devil Bringer truly shines. In combination with Nero’s air-based attacks, it’s theoretically possible to keep Nero in the air indefinitely so long as there are enemies on the screen. It’s this inherent verticality that Nero has that separates him from Dante in gameplay. Being able to juggle enemies in the air, and stay in the air, isn’t necessarily a logical evolution of Devil May Cry’s combat, but it’s one that opens up the action immensely. Nero’s Devil Bringer adds an unprecedented layer to the combat giving fights more variety than ever.
To play off of Nero’s verticality, enemies are designed to take flight more often than in previous games. Many of DMC4’s new foes have techniques that keep them in the air for long periods of time, emphasizing the importance of Devil Bringer. There are even some enemies that Nero pulls himself towards, rather than the other way around, ensuring Devil Bringer isn’t just a static technique. To go along with DB’s variety dependent on the enemies, Nero has a Buster attack where he can grab an enemy and launch into a unique animation so long as he’s not locked onto them when using Devil Bringer. In a way, Devil Bringer can be used to parry attacks and counter enemies. There are no button prompts to signify when to counter so it’s on the onus of the player to pay attention to enemy and boss animations in order to properly make use of Devil Bringer’s innate ability to counter attacks.
Outside of Devil Bringer, Nero’s main weapons are Red Queen and Blue Rose, a sword and gun combo expected of a Devil May Cry protagonist. Red Queen and Blue Rose are vastly different from Dante’s Rebellion and Ebony & Ivory, however. While both weapons can be used in their traditional manner—pause combos and directional inputs for Red Queen, juggling purposes and Style management for Blue Rose—Nero has a charge up system in place where his sword and gun can, and should, be charged up during the midst of battle so they can be made use of properly. In and out of combat, Nero can use an ability Exceed that revs up Red Queen and levels it up temporarily. Attacking with a revved-up Red Queen resets its level back down, but connecting an attack ends up doing an enormous amount of damage. The trick behind Exceed, though, is that it’s timing based, and best utilized during the heat of combat. It’s another element of reflex-based gameplay in a game that’s already demanding on one’s reflexes, but it’s one absolutely worth mastering. A fully upgraded, well timed Exceed will level Red Queen up to max immediately, making it a valuable skill to have on higher difficulties.
Blue Rose’s charge isn’t nearly as in-depth or demanding as Red Queen’s, but it still requires a fair amount of skill to utilize properly. During combat, Nero can charge up Blue Rose up to three separate tiers and then release it for a massive burst of damage. The trouble with using Blue Rose properly though comes from the multitasking it adds to the combat. In a vacuum, it’s deceptively simple in concept and execution, but in the heat of the moment, it’s another layer to an already layered experience. In many ways, that’s the best part of Devil May Cry 4’s design. It derives its complexity not from convoluted mechanics, but by how it implements several easy to understand concepts into the combat. Individually, each new reflex based command is easy enough to use. Put together, they chain into complex combos that require legitimate skill to pull off properly.
This is to say nothing of the way Nero’s Devil Trigger effects combat. Although it serves the same base purposes, as usual, Nero’s Devil Trigger is less a full-on demonic power up as it is a way of using Yamato, Vergil’s signature katana. In his DT state, Nero doesn’t transform but instead summons a spirit who wields Yamato in conjunction with Nero’s Red Queen. Yamato also greatly enhances Devil Bringer, giving it the ability to pull multiple enemies at once, and adds Vergil’s signature Summon Swords to Blue Rose’s basic shot. It’s an unorthodox approach to Devil Trigger, but it’s one that makes sense for both Nero and the overall gameplay. It’s a stylistically cool design choice, and one that fits the image the series built for itself over the past three games.
With a great script and even better combat system, Devil May Cry 4 establishes itself quite well right out the gate. Good gameplay means little without good level design, though. DMC4 features the best mechanics in the series, but how does the game actually take advantage of that fact? For the first eleven missions, fairly well. Nero’s portion of Devil May Cry 4 has the best pacing in the series. On a narrative level, each mission ensures Nero is making some degree of significant progress, with the plot moving at a steady pace. On a gameplay level, there’s seldom a mission that doesn’t give Nero a new ability, whether it just be one that works in regards to puzzle solving, or pit him against a boss. Progress is felt on every front, and there’s little to no wasted space in the actual game design.
Nero’s first mission has him fighting Dante, a fantastic start that adds intrigue to the plot immediately while also offering a genuinely surprising introduction for fans; the second mission is a lengthy, traditional stage that takes advantage of Nero’s Devil Bringer along the way and ends with a boss fight; the third mission is a standard stage that evokes DMC1’s castle imagery and leads up to Nero obtaining a new item; mission four ends with yet another boss fight; the fifth mission has Nero exploring the rest of the castle with some light puzzle solving; mission six has a boss fight halfway through, and then continues as a regular stage, a first for the series; and missions seven through eleven all culminate in boss fights with the last few stages featuring some of the best bosses and set pieces in the game. There’s only one problem with Nero’s section of Devil May Cry 4: it ends.
The moment mission eleven comes to an end is the moment Devil May Cry 4 begins to fall apart. That’s not to say it’s without merit, Dante is at his absolute best gameplay and personality wise in his seven missions, but everything that defined DMC4 up to that point goes missing. The story takes a nosedive, meandering for the rest of the game; Dante simply backtracks through Nero’s stages with a few new gimmicks thrown into the mix; the game as a whole just feels like it was designed more with Nero in mind rather than an equal compromise where Dante transitions in seamlessly. There’s no gameplay situation that Dante can’t handle himself, but there are instances which remind audiences that Devil May Cry 4 was Nero’s game, not Dante’s.
The situation is made all the more disappointing due to just how outstanding Dante is from a mechanical standpoint. He can switch his Style on the fly and can have six weapons equipped at all times leading to some of the most engaging combat in the franchise. DMC4 Dante takes Devil May Cry 3’s base and outright masters it. If Nero’s main combat gimmick is verticality, Dante’s is just sheer variety. So why is it disappointing? Because Dante deserves better in this state. A character this mechanically refined shouldn’t be backtracking through stages blatantly designed for another character, he should have his own set of missions where his playstyle can truly shine.
This is to say nothing of the fact that Dante’s weapons don’t share the names of the bosses he finishes off. As Devil May Cry 3 establishes explicitly, bosses that turn into weapons keep their namesake. The three-headed Cerberus becomes the nunchaku “Cerberus,” the kickboxing Beowulf becomes the gauntlets “Beowulf,” and so on and so forth. This is a trend that Devil May Cry 4 drops entirely. Even the Devil Arms Dante gets from the bosses don’t resemble them. Gilgamesh has absolutely no connection to Echidna and Lucifer couldn’t be further from Belial. While it makes sense why Dante would finish off Nero’s bosses, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective, knowing he was originally slated to have his own set of bosses just sours the experience all the more.
As sad as it is to see the level design take an enormous hit in the character shift to Dante, it is still possible to have fun in the second half thanks to just how mechanically sound he is as a character. It doesn’t excuse missions twelve through eighteen, not in the slightest, but it does keep them from being outright bad. What can’t be salvaged by Dante, however, is the story. Even though Devil May Cry is not a plot-driven series, Devil May Cry 4’s narrative was doing a great job at fleshing out the universe, developing Nero, and actively moving toward a climax. With Dante at the helm and a fully developed one at that, all that’s there for him to do is rescue Nero. There is a progression building up to control switching back to Nero, but it doesn’t feel as deliberate or as smooth as all the build-up done in the first half.
It’s hard to believe Itsuno and his team would mess up this badly after clearly learning from their mistakes during Devil May Cry 3’s development. DMC3 wasn’t just an improvement from Devil May Cry 2, it was the logical next step in the franchise’s evolution. Nero’s first eleven missions, and Dante’s playstyle, seem to imply that Devil May Cry 4 was meant to follow that same design philosophy, but something clearly went wrong along the way. The only logical explanation is that, following the lucrative critical success of Devil May Cry 3, Capcom rushed Devil May Cry 4 out the gate to capitalize on the franchise’s newfound goodwill. In very few ways should DMC4’s shortcomings be associated with the development team. Along with following a title that was quickly establishing a legacy as one of the greatest games of all time, Itsuno and his team were working with new hardware. All things considered, Devil May Cry transitioned magnificently from the PlayStation 2 onto the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
On just a conceptual level, all the ideas in place make sense. Of course Dante would take over as the main character at some point and of course, control would go back to Nero for the finale. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s obvious the dev team didn’t have time to flesh out Dante’s section before release. It’s fine that Dante fights the same bosses as Nero, that was a trend that was established all the way back in the original Devil May Cry, but it’s not fine to have Dante just play through the same stages, except in reverse. Backtracking is not inherently bad despite the negative reputation it tends to get, but it isn’t handled well in Devil May Cry 4, because there was no way it could be handled well in a scenario where it was rushed for release.
Devil May Cry 4 is a series that demands a level of care and attention to detail to work. It needs to be treated with respect from a development standpoint which Capcom clearly did not care to do. DMC4 simply cements Devil May Cry as a series plagued by developmental issues. The original Devil May Cry began development as Resident Evil 4; Devil May Cry 2 wasn’t even a Devil May Cry game originally and Itsuno was brought on too late to save the project; Devil May Cry 4 was rushed at what seems like only halfway through development. That’s what stings most. Had DMC4 been rushed near the end of its natural cycle, it would have been disappointing, but it would have yielded are far better result with a Dante campaign that potentially felt wholly unique. As it is, Capcom pulled the trigger on the project far too early resulting in a well produced and designed first half followed by a haphazard second half with an identity crisis.
Even Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition, which had the perfect platform to fix DMC4’s issues, squanders its chance by simply adding new playable characters into the mix. Granted, Vergil, Lady, and Trish all play phenomenally and were clearly crafted with a level of care, but Special Edition nonetheless doesn’t fix DMC4 outside of a few balancing tweaks. Regardless, whether one plays Special Edition or the original release doesn’t matter, as both are just different versions of the same incomplete game. Does this mean Devil May Cry 4 is bad or not worth playing? Not even close. DMC4 is the gold standard when it comes to combat in the genre and Nero’s first eleven missions are proof that DMC can still evolve in a tasteful, exciting manner. DMC4 is disappointing, but disappointment isn’t an outright absence of quality. In many cases, disappointment comes from the fact that quality is present, just not properly utilized. Devil May Cry 4 is a good game that very easily could have been amazing had its potential not been robbed by a rushed release date.
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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