DmC: Devil May Cry is automatically inferior to the other Devil May Cry games, and here’s why: in 2005’s highly-acclaimed, highly-beloved Devil May Cry 3, after defeating a vampiric demoness Dante takes her power as his own, unlocking the Nevan for combat. Said weapon is a demonic electric guitar that shoots vampire bats and lightning, creates explosive shockwaves with power chords, summons columns of sparks and bats with a fleet-fingered solo, and can shift into a scythe for rapid-swinging combos. To say nothing of the fact that this is what happens when you first get it.
My brother swears up and down that the Nevan is the worst weapon in the game, but damn it if it’s not the most stylish and crazy -- and in a sense, captures the essence of both DMC3 and the series in general. The 2013 reboot, DmC, does not. It doesn’t have that stylish crazy action. It doesn’t have the trappings of the series, both good and bad. It doesn’t have the spirit, choosing to substitute its own.
Does that make it inherently bad? No. If the game can offer something substantial to latch on to, it doesn’t matter as much (if at all) if it’s something of a sideways evolution; that is, rather than continuing upwards from a certain path, it takes a step to the right and becomes something different. Potentially, something better. Something that can prove its merits as a reboot and that the end product has been in competent hands this whole time. And given reviews, that seems to be the case. High marks abound across the board; the lowest score I’ve seen is a three out of five.
So if you’re here expecting me to say “This game is terrible!” then you’re out of luck. I can’t say it. I won’t say it. Saying that means that DmC is objectively awful -- a broken mess of a game that has the risk of melting consoles with incompetence and general badness. It means that every reviewer who likes the game is wrong. So no, I won’t say that the game is terrible.
What I can say, however, is that I think the game is terrible.
But don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a game I dislike because it’s not Devil May Cry (no matter what the wall scroll of DMC3 Dante I have hanging up at this very moment suggests). This is a game I dislike because the very merits it uses to establish itself are the same that make it…well, kind of bad.
Now, let’s be real here. I’m trying to contain my rage here, and I’m trying to be as straightforward and focused and controlled as I can be. Just like with Halo 4, I’m not here to yell and scream and cry. I could, and I might before all this is over, but I just want you all to know that I gave the game a fair shake. I want you all to know that I’m maybe a little over halfway through the game, and in one more sitting or so I’ll be done with it. Will I play it again? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not; it seems like perfect fodder for a trade-in. It depends on what happens at the end of the proper Let’s Discuss post -- maybe by the end of it, I’ll find a light of redemption.
But that’s still a few days away. And in the meantime, I want you all to understand something. I want you, fair readers, to know where I come from when it comes to Devil May Cry. I want this post to give you everything you need to know, because I don’t want the Let’s Discuss post to just be wall-to-wall ramblings like “Hey, remember when the old Dante would…?” or “But in the old games, there was…” No. I don’t want to do that, at least not frequently, or unless it’s absolutely necessary. And I don't want to keep harping on points made here or elsewhere -- so you can consider this "a summation of grievances", so to speak. So let’s get ALL THE BILE out of the way now. If you want to rage, rage in the comments section below. If you want to say “hey, I like DmC!” then say so. But either way, let’s dwell on the past now so we won’t have to get weighed down by it later, all right? Are we cool?
Get it? Got it? Good. Okay, now…take a deep breath…and…let’s begin.
Since I didn’t have a PS2 until well into its lifespan (rest in peace), I never got to play the original Devil May Cry outside of a quick demo. Still, my brother held it in high regard because he’d played the game more thoroughly at a friend’s house. I remember him explaining to me how you used both a sword and guns to fight demons, and how awesome it looked…of course, given that he spoke in an awed, hushed, and uncharacteristically-optimistic tone (the same kind he would go on to use for Resident Evil 6), I didn’t believe him. So I didn’t put much stock into the series. But he did. Something about that game spoke to him in ways I hadn’t seen before. In fact, I’d argue he’s more of a fan of the old Dante -- and the games themselves -- than I am. He loves putting Dante on all his teams in Marvel vs. Capcom 3…though that’s probably because he’s a good fit on plenty of teams, as I understand it.
In any case, he ordered an old copy Devil May Cry 2, and that was my first experience with the series. Not exactly a good jumping-in point, given that it’s the unloved black sheep of the franchise…but for what it’s worth, I don’t have any major problems with it. I wouldn’t say it’s a good game -- at all -- but you could do a hell of a lot worse. Of course, that’s probably because I barely remember a damn thing about it besides unlockable Diesel-brand costumes, spending ten minutes on a boss because I could only circle-strafe and shoot, abusing Dante’s super devil trigger, and the hero riding off into hell at the end of the day. Acting as an apologist, my brother was quick to note that DMC1 Dante was much funnier, and the original game was definitely a step-up.
You’ll forgive me, then, if I was less-than-excited for DMC3. My brother, of course, couldn’t stop talking about it (in the same sense that I couldn’t stop talking about Kingdom Hearts 2 once upon a time). He was convinced that it would be awesome, and while I can’t say his enthusiasm made its way into me by osmosis, I won’t deny that some of the pre-release trailers and cutscenes looked kind of cool, if a little foreign to my pre-stylish crazy indoctrination. But once the game got into our hands…well, it was good. Great, even. It was cool. It was funny. It had some surprising emotional depth to it. But most of all, it had the Nevan. The game made a fan out of me, to put it simply; hell, for years after its release I would boot up the game just to play through the Vergil fights. I even wrote a poem about playing the game once, full of references to the Rebellion and its classic move, the Stinger.
So I didn’t mind at all when DMC4 came creeping up -- and even less when I got to try it out. Now, I know it’s gotten a lot of flak over the years, but…honestly? I don’t see the issue. Is it on par with DMC3? That’s arguable, but even if it isn’t it’s not a bad game. Is there backtracking? Yeah. Not enough bosses? Yeah, I suppose. Weaker story, in a game with a supposedly-weak story in general? It’s been a long time since I’ve touched it, but I can see the issue; Dante gets shelved for an uncomfortable amount of time so newcomer Nero can live out an episode of Bleach. But it’s fine -- and several YouTube clips suggest that there’s more to latch onto than most people give the game AND the series credit for. But even with that in mind, what’s important is the gameplay -- and the gameplay, in my eyes, is fantastic. As good as DMC3; good enough for beginners and combo-lovers alike, with enough time and focus.
So that’s my history with Devil May Cry. I went from a non-believer to someone who not only respected the franchise, but has mild adoration of it. It’s not exactly Shakespearian, and it’s not exactly an all-inclusive club, but I don’t think it was ever doing so poorly that it needed a reboot -- especially with so many plot threads, possibilities, and future evolutions that could have come from a direct sequel in DMC5 (though whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate, given Capcom’s current…uh, let’s call it “status”.)
So what’s wrong with DmC? Is it worthy of the rage it’s garnered? Well, yes and no. This is not a game I can recommend in good faith to anyone, and I have to disagree with reviewers on several points. That said, I think that this game can find an audience and fans (even if I’d disagree with them too), and I don’t think it’s the world-ending awfulness some people would suggest. It just goes without saying that its biggest failing is that it’s not a real Devil May Cry game. Not even close. And sadly, these look like things us gamers will just have to get over; I’m going to go ahead and assume the worst-case scenario, in that DmC will meet its sales goals -- by virtue of publicity, brand recognition, and more than a few coins thrown in its direction -- and Devil May Cry’s sideways evolution will become the only path Capcom wants to pursue. If that’s the case, then it means that the most important elements we as gamers so value will be lost. Such as…
1) The awesomeness.
There’s no denying that most of the awe-inspiring moments in the franchise come from the cutscenes -- something that can be seen as a flaw if you’re the type who’s turned off by all the best action happening out of your control. But for what it’s worth, there are at least a dozen cutscenes that are extremely memorable just because of how bonkers they are. The Nevan cutscene from the start of this post? Just one of several examples in that game alone. And DMC4 takes it up several thousand notches.
This is an element that, in several hours of DmC’s time, has been almost completely missing. There’s that cringe-inducing sequence where a nude Dante gets dressed in slow-motion -- and while it’s not exactly ideal, it DOES show creativity and willingness to go all out in terms of presentation. But that’s it. That’s the most I’ve gotten out of the game, and six months from now will be the cutscene I remember most…well, barring the opening, but I’ll get to that. What’s important is that in exchange for random acts of madness like karate-chopping a malfunctioning jukebox or holding a rose between his teeth, the most New Dante does in cutscenes is run around, jump, or fall off of things. It’s not exactly exciting stuff.
I’ll get into this a bit later, but for now let’s talk about…
2) The levity.
I have a confession to make. I didn’t play as much of DMC4 as I could have, because I preferred playing as Dante instead of Nero. That was probably because I played on my bro’s file, and he had a weird button configuration to maximize Nero’s damage potential and combo ability, but I just liked Dante more than Nero. It certainly helped that between the two, Dante was the more exciting -- and funnier -- character.
This is probably the clincher -- both for Old Dante, and for the New. See if you can spot the difference.
I won’t deny that the original Devil May Cry games were silly -- but then again, that was the point. That was a part of the charm. More often than not, they were intentionally hilarious; Dante was a guy who loved to have fun, and that shone through in the cutscenes AND the gameplay. He was having a blast, and he invited the players to do the same.
DmC Dante, on the other hand…well, I’ll just say this. That’s probably the funniest cutscene in the entire game, but I’m laughing for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think I’ve even cracked a smile since then -- except when pointing out obvious plot holes and idiocy, but I’ll get to that. Let’s move on to…
3) The emotion.
People are always eager to point out how awesome the old games were (“Remember that time Dante used a motorcycle like a pair of nunchucks?!” they might say). But if there’s one thing that DmC has drudged up, it’s the presence of thematic merit and pathos that the series pulled off with surprising regularity. And after looking at a few YouTube clips, I’m inclined to agree. There are some simple, yet powerful moments in there, and a depth that most people might overlook on a first or even second glance. Looking back at DMC4’s opening, there’s almost a haunting beauty to the proceedings. Am I just being manipulated by the music into thinking it’s affecting? Likely. Am I just looking back fondly on it because of nostalgia, loyalty, and disillusionment with DmC and the industry as a whole? Possible. But you know how to judge for yourself? Watch this.
What does DmC have? I can tell you right now that it starts with another cringe-worthy cutscene (which I wouldn’t recommend watching if there’s anyone around...though in retrospect the same applies for that other video I linked). But I can also tell you that -- in my eyes -- the love angle falls flat, the themes are skewered, and the characters are arguably less believable than their “too Japanese-y” counterparts. It would have been all right if they were going for that, or if the developers were winking at the audience the whole time. But they’re not. DmC is supposed to be taken seriously, and defenders will argue that “Devil May Cry never had a good story to compensate.” That may very well be true, but here’s the thing: if you’re doing a reboot of a much-loved franchise with the intent of making it a serious, praise-worthy story, then you’d damn well better make a good story. And that’s all I’m going to say on that. Let’s switch to talking about…
4) The challenge.
In terms of skill level, I’m in a weird place when it comes to games. You would think that I’m an unbeatable god of destruction in the digital realm, but I’m not. I’m really not. I’ve got fingers like lead; I’m slow, I panic easily, and I’m surprisingly slapdash in my practices. And don’t expect me to do anything useful in a shooter.
I guess I do all right, all things considered; you could argue I do better than most, particularly in Smash Bros. or PlayStation All-Stars. (Or Tekken 5.) But if you expect me to be some kind of Devil May Cry lord, I’m not; frankly, I don’t know how I even cleared a level, given that there are players who can effectively FLY by manipulating the game mechanics. Enviable stuff, to be sure, to the point where there are “True Style Tournament” videos all over YouTube. Even with that in mind, and even with the high difficulty the series is known for, I will argue to hell and back that Devi May Cry has never been a game that locked out newbies. It’s possible to die, and quickly -- Dante’s always had a glass jaw, up to and including Marvel vs. Capcom 3 -- but as long as you keep your wits about you, use your tool set effectively, and use the occasional item, there’s no reason why you can’t clear the game on the standard difficulty. So in that respect, I don’t understand why people say “This game is too hard.”
The difficulty doesn’t come from the game itself -- at least not as much as one would think. The difficulty comes from cranking up the difficulty -- and with it, mastering all the nuances needed to become a true Son of Sparda. You don’t need to know anything about Jump Cancels or Just Inputs to play through or enjoy the other Devil May Cry games; they’re just things that (phenomenally) enhance the length and fun of each installment...well, barring DMC2, but I’ve heard there are videos out there for it. And even if you don’t know or can’t use all those nuances, you can still do reasonably well if you give it a shot. With time, you can even do this:
The same applies to DmC, but on a far lesser scale. Is it hard? Well, there have been times when my HP hit low levels, but I wouldn’t say it’s because the game is difficult at all (at least not on the highest-level difficulty unlocked at the start). The general consensus is that the boss fights are a letdown compared to previous games, and I agree with that. I’d also like to suggest that most enemies don’t pose as much of a “threat” as they do “annoyance”, which is also something I’ll get to later. But for now I’d like to say this: the mechanics -- the devil chains chief among them -- are far easier to grasp than they’ve ever been. The problem is that they’re also far easier to exploit, to the point where I feel like if I wanted to (and if my slow brain would allow it), I could hit most of the enemies with infinite combos. It was while I had an enemy in an airborne attack loop, an unending string of sword slashes and grapples, when I thought to myself: Wait a minute. It shouldn’t be this easy for me to make such long combos. I can barely do a combo in Street Fighter IV; how am I doing so well here?
The combat, I think, is problematic -- and I have yet to fully explain why. But the biggest problem with DmC, the one element that it absolutely had to nail yet remains missing throughout, is a simple one.
5) The style.
You know, I feel like I’m being a little redundant here. I know I shouldn’t have to say things like “In my opinion” or “In my eyes” or “I think” every time I say something, but I feel compelled to. It should be implied that all this is my opinion, but I always imagine there’s going to be the one guy who finds this blog, pops his knuckles, and starts writing scathing comments if I so much as dare to express myself. But for a moment, I’ll drop the pleasantries. And for a moment, I’ll gladly welcome your scorn, you hypothetical hater you.
Devil May Cry -- the third installment especially -- defined the “stylish crazy action” genre. Is it silly at times? Yes. Is it nigh-incomprehensible at times? Sure. Is it full of absurdity that wouldn’t be out of place in one of Otacon’s greatest fantasies? No doubt. But Devil May Cry had style. The games were unapologetic in the trade of ass-kickings. It kicked your ass if you weren’t careful. You kicked its ass by taking the tools given to you and spinning around your ice-spewing nunchucks, or hitting enemies with a string of German suplexes. And even if you kicked its ass, the game kicked your ass right back with cutscenes implying some level of mania in all parties involved.
We may have games like God of War or Ninja Gaiden that aspire to be like Dante’s Ass Kicking Jamboree, but let’s be honest: they’ll never hit the mark. (It took several years to even come close via Bayonetta, and that was spearheaded by the creator of Devil May Cry.) Dante was this wild and crazy, walking natural disaster who loved to make wise, eat pizza, and have fun with his fights and his life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a scowling, increasingly-unappealing mass murderer like Kratos or a blank slate surrounded by anti-gravitic mounds of fatty tissue like Ryu Hayabusa. I want to keep having games that take lessons from Devil May Cry. I want games that aren’t afraid to go all out with their style. That’s why we love games: because of their style.
No, scratch that. We love games because of style, yes -- but more often than not, it’s thanks to their creativity. The style that Devil May Cry exudes is a result of that creativity. Vision. A will to push players’ minds as well as fingers to places they never thought possible. And it wasn’t just a motion handled in cutscenes or weapon variety (though there WAS that); players got to experiment to their hearts’ content, getting as much or as little out of the mechanics as they wanted. The games were like an ocean; you can play around on the beach, building sandcastles and splashing around in the waves. Or you could go all in and swim or dive as far as your body and mind would allow. Whatever the case, there was always something to look forward to. The next cutscene. The next fight. The next boss. The next stage. You were always looking forward with childish glee.
With DmC, that creativity is in serious jeopardy, if not gone already. Say what you will about Devil May Cry’s story -- any of them, 2’s included -- but I would, and likely WILL argue, that the story never got in the way of enjoying the game. Not in the way DmC’s story does. The combat is there, but there are some major concessions that I can’t overlook. The spirit is gone, replaced by a great heaping load of nothing. And Dante?
…I know you can’t see me right now, but as soon as I thought about it I just dropped my forehead into my palm and shook my head.
So. Now you know where I stand. And now you know what to expect when the proper discussion begins. Look forward to it sometime in the next week or so. Also, part 3 of the Majora’s Mask discussion should (hopefully) be up sometime tomorrow.
So that’ll do it for now. See you guys around. I, uh…I need to go stare at some clouds or something. Maybe that’ll cheer me up.