Devil May Cry 5 is just a few months away. After almost nine years of silence (no I don’t count DMC Devil May Cry, that’s hardly a Devil May Cry game) we’re finally getting a brand new entry in the beloved action series! And with the HD ports having been released on the current platforms just earlier this year, now is the perfect time to reflect back on the games before while we look forward to what’s to come.
Now, let’s set a few rules. First: I won’t be comparing these games to the games that came after them. For instance, I can’t compare Devil May Cry 1 to 3. Sequels are supposed to build on and improve on the foundation left by the game before it, so comparing them to what’s to come is hardly fair. For this, I’ll be looking at them as if the later games don’t exist.
I also won’t be reviewing DMC: Devil May Cry. While I personally don’t think it’s a bad game, I do think that it’s not at all a Devil May Cry game. For this little retrospective, I’ll only be focusing on the four main entries of the series.
With that in mind, let’s start this off with the game that started it all: Devil May Cry.
The original Devil May Cry is an odd example of age souring a game. Large parts of the game still hold up, and it’s still very fun to play. But that fun is marred by poor camera angles, a hilariously bad story featuring some of the funniest dialogue on the PS2 (dialogue that you’re supposed to take seriously) some truly ugly menus and a confused tone.
Let’s start with the simplest and funniest aspect: the story. And be warned: if you haven’t played this over-a-decade old game yet, there will be spoilers ahead.
Dante is the son of Sparda, a legendary devil that turned against his time and sealed the Underworld away. He runs a little business called ‘Devil May Cry’, which specializes in slaying demons so long as the client knows the password. One day, a woman who looks just like his dead mother named Trish appears and hires him for a deadly job: defeat Mundas, the lord of the Underworld, just as his father before him did.
After making his way through a castle that apparently has a gate to the Underworld (which is information that is never communicated until you’re actually standing at the gate near the end of the game), Dante is betrayed by Trish, who reveals that she’s been working for Mundas the entire time! Mundas then uses Trish as a hostage, and Dante struggles to save her, and Trish then betrays Mundas to save Dante. The two defeat the lord of the Underworld, Trish apparently gains humanity somehow because she can cry, and she and Dante leave the island. Partnering up, the two rename the ‘Devil May Cry’ to ‘Devil Never Cry’ and end the game by heading off to slaughter some more demons.
I’m going to be honest: the story is really bad. None of it flows naturally, you never know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it for any reason more specific than ‘Kill the next boss’, and there is no natural character development whatsoever, instead simply deciding to change Trish’s character on a dime rather than a natural arc and completely ignoring Dante. On top of that, the dialogue is hilariously bad, even for a PS2 era Capcom game.
Do I hate it? Not at all. It’s so clunky, poorly written, directed and animated that you can’t help but laugh. It feels like you’re watching a movie like ‘The Room’ or ‘Birdemic’. It is bad, yes, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. I haven’t laughed this hard at a game in a long time.
But to be fair, a story is never the main focus of a video game. That should be with the gameplay, right? Well, yes. And luckily, Devil May Cry’s gameplay still holds up… for the most part.
Gameplay in Devil May Cry is incredibly simple. Dante has two different weapon archetypes at his disposal: Devil Arms and Guns. Devil Arms are the basic melee weapons, and there are two varieties: the three different swords and the Ifrit gauntlets. Guns, on the other hand, have a much longer list and greater variety.
The Devil Arms are the most lackluster thing in the game. Three of them are copy-pastes of each other with different particle effects and models, with the only unique one being the Ifrit Gauntlets. Two of them, Ifrit and Alastor, have a small list of upgrade-able abilities that give them different combat capabilities and give extra powers for the Devil Trigger ability, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The guns, on the other hand, have much more variety. By the end of the game, if you look thoroughly enough (don’t worry, it’s not hard), you’ll have access to Dante’s dual pistols, a shotgun, a grenade launcher (my personal favorite) a needle gun (which is the only weapon that can be used underwater), and a demonic laser pistol (which would be my favorite if it didn’t suck away your Devil Trigger gauge). Each one has benefits and downsides, so which one you use really boils down to personal preference.
Dante also has access to a powerful super-form: the Devil Trigger. While in this state, Dante takes on the form of his father Sparda, and he fights with increased speed and damage and gains regenerative healing abilities. It’s pretty fun to use, and it can certainly sway the balance of a difficult boss fight.
Now, earlier I mentioned the needle gun and that it only works underwater. This goes into what may be my least favorite gameplay type: the underwater sections. When Dante goes underwater, you’re placed in a first-person perspective in which you can only move by mashing a designated button to swim forward. It’s clunky to control, but it is made a little more bearable thanks to the needle gun making quick work of all the enemies in the water. Seriously, that thing is stupid overpowered.
There’s also one other type of gameplay, but that one doesn’t appear right until the end of the game: the bullet hell shooter. See, during the final battle with Mundas, Dante goes into a super Devil Trigger mode and takes to the skies. Then later, as he and Trish are escaping the island, the two fly a plane out of a cavern. This also suffers from some clunky controls (why the fuck is it inverted?! I get that’s how planes work, but it’s just unbearable to play!), but it’s decently fun to play.
The bulk of the gameplay is spent wandering the castle, slaughtering monsters, gathering different power ups and currency (red orbs) in order to buy more upgrades, and fighting bosses. It’s plenty fun and easy to do, but there is one major thing dragging the combat down:
The camera. Which leads us to the game’s confused tone.
See, Devil May Cry uses a fixed camera angle system much like the early Resident Evil games. Some of them work well, but others make the game very challenging to play. At worst, you won’t be able to see your enemy or gauge the distance of a jump, which can make fighting and platforming very annoying. Though in regards to the combat, the lock-on feature works reasonably well.
Here’s what I mean by the tone. See, the fixed camera angles worked so well in Resident Evil because that was a horror game. Having the camera remain fixed and beyond their control added to the sense of helplessness and lack of power. Thanks to the camera angles being beyond your control, you never knew what was coming next, and it kept you on your toes the entire time.
Devil May Cry, on the other hand, is not a horror game. It’s an action game designed to make you feel like a bad ass. But the fixed camera angles, ominous music (outside of combat, which then becomes bad ass rock music) and placement of enemies feels like it’s trying to invoke fear out of the player rather than empower them. The game is trying to make you feel powerless while trying to make you feel powerful. As such, you never really know how to feel when you’re playing, which can pull you out of the experience entirely.
Aside from the confused tone, the game also suffers greatly from aged models and cutscenes. I played with the Devil May Cry HD Collection on Steam, but I felt like I was playing a 4:3 PS2 game stretched out to fit a 1920:1080 display. While it’s not so bad in some places, as most of the environments have been updated and the models, while clearly still being the PS2 models, have been updated to look less fuzzy. All the pre-rendered cutscenes on the other hand… those clearly haven’t been touched a bit.
All in all, Devil May Cry is a hard one to judge. It’s still very fun to play, but so much of it has aged pretty poorly. If you haven’t played Devil May Cry before, I can’t say to ignore it, as it is still important to the future of the series (as it is the first one). But I can say to not expect a masterpiece. It’s clunky, ugly and hilarious, but it’s still a ton of fun to play.
Hopefully the same can be said for the others.