I know I shouldn’t but I feel I need to preface this article by stating that I have played every Devil May Cry game. One of them sits firmly in my favourite games of all time, another looms towards worst games and a third I will happily sing praises for backlash be damned. I’ve seen the highs, lows and perceived lows of the franchise. I even completed Dante Must Die mode in my younger days. What I’m saying is, I understand the tone, gameplay loop and overall point the franchise is trying to make. And with all of that stuck firmly in your head, I’m here to tell you that I didn’t like Devil May Cry 5.
Alright, that might not be strictly true. I enjoyed parts of Devil May Cry 5 but, for me, the bad outweighed the good.
Let’s start with the most important part of any Devil May Cry game, the fighting. Every skirmish in Devil May Cry 5 is frenetic, fluid and feels amazing. Combo’s flow naturally and getting the most out of every weapon and attack to build your Style Metre is brilliant. Once you get into S rank range and the adrenaline is pumping, you feel like nothing can stop you. Even if you take a hit or two, you’re back into the fray tearing up demons with every button input. The fights are brilliant and I can’t fault the addicting gameplay loop of pushing for higher Style ratings while trying out your latest toy. My issue is with everything around that.
Firstly, having three playable characters sounds like a brilliant idea. Surely it triples the amount of Devil May Cry available in the game? Three very different play styles to learn and three cool characters to experience. Well yes and no. The three are very different. Nero plays similar to his DM4 days with the revvable sword that unlocks more powerful moves depending on which level it’s on and a customisable right hand that has a myriad of different powers. Dante is the same old Dante with dual-wielding pistols and Rebellion style sword. As his narrative progresses, you unlock more and more crazy weapons for him to ply his trade of bashing demons. V is a departure from the traditional third-person action in that he has familiars who fight on his behalf. There is a bird with ranged attacks, a jaguar for close combat and a golem for big punches and even bigger lasers. V only gets involved to deal the finishing blow.
My main gripe with having three characters who play so differently is that rather than tripling the Devil May Cry experience, it gets spread instead. Playing a handful of missions as Nero only to switch to a few with V and then swap again to Dante means that once you’ve hit your flow and gotten to grips with how a character works, they are deftly taken away from you in favour of another. This means that you never feel the master over a character in the same way any of the other games have. By the end of the game, I barely knew the combos for half of Dante’s weapons, knew only a few of Nero’s arms and kept forgetting key parts of V’s arsenal. It isn’t like I played Devil May Cry 5 for a protracted period, I finished the game in under a month.
If one thing was going to define my experience of previous Devil May Cry games, it would be mastery. It is like a demon version of the hero’s journey and there is a reason why it works so well. You start with only a handful of tricks but you gradually learn how to best use each as your progress through each level in the game. Players steadily learn the intricacies of each combo and move, when to employ them and what to do in any given circumstance. Devil May Cry 4 had two characters but they were neatly segmented from each other. It was essentially, Nero in the first half and Dante in the second. This meant that by the time the switch came around, you felt like you had lived a day in Nero’s shoes and understood his abilities. This was also helped by not having a million different arms for him to equip each with different powers.
Speaking of Nero’s arms, I can see why they exist. They are a fun gimmick and look good in a trailer but there are so many of them. Since there are so many, it multiplies the issue of not having mastery over a character by having it randomly tweaked all the time. The arms don’t play a huge role and you could argue that they are meant to be on the fly alterations to your play style. And I would tend to agree if I was only playing as Nero. As it stands with two other characters to learn I don’t have the headspace to learn all the different arm names, normal power and charged power. It’s overwhelming and, honestly, I stopped caring.
Moving on to Dante, he suffers a similar issue but for different reasons. Beating demons and turning them into weapons has always been Dante’s thing and I love it. It’s what helped drive the story forward. The actual narrative of Devil May Cry games have never been to best prose, but fighting bosses and turning them into your next favourite weapon has always one of the key reasons to keep playing. Devil May Cry 5 managed to make me either dread getting a new weapon or at the very least not particularly care.
In the moment, getting a brand new weapon for Dante is the coolest thing. Nunchucks that do in three elements that also turn into a staff, who would love that. A motorbike that turns into a dual-wielding buzz saw thing, that you can also ride into enemies – possibly one of the coolest of all time. However, the game never gives me the time to enjoy these new toys. It’s always pushing me to try the next new thing before I get the chance to even begin to understand how the last one works. Dante also gets a whole new Devil Trigger in this game which gives you another bar to track, new combos to learn and new wings to admire. In principle, I love this mode. It looks so cool and when you bust it out, you feel like the most powerful demon in the room.
And there sits my biggest problem with Sin Devil Trigger, the tone. Tonally, Devil May Cry games have always put Dante in the underdog role. He triumphs over insurmountable foes who are bigger than him, have all kinds of obvious crazy powers or who have defeated him before (ala Virgil). Dante through the player overcomes these challenges and sure he has the Devil Trigger but it always felt like a flash in the pan. Devil Trigger and Sin Devil Trigger in DMC5 turn Dante into a God-like being who should have no difficulty with anything. You also seem to be able to use both far more frequently than previous games – not sure if that is true but they do seem to happen in every fight.
My point here is power creep. Devil May Cry 5 suffers from serious power creep. Gone is the happy go lucky Dante who always appears to be the confident underdog taking on enormous demons. Instead, Dante is a massive demon himself fighting slightly bigger demons unleashing fire with every swing of his massive sword. I understand this passes the torch to Nero to be our human analogue and for Dante to take a more powerful role but, frankly, I don’t like it. Nero is nowhere near as fun as Dante and a lot of that fun is lost in favour of big stomping demon Dante.
And, when Dante is fun, it feels incongruous with the new form he has attained. I love the dance scene where he gets that hat. It is equal parts silly and in keeping with Dante as a character. However, it is isolated. In previous games, when Dante does something silly, it is as part of the story. In Devil May Cry 3 when he rides a rocket, it is part of getting to the entrance of a level. In the Ninja Theory Devil May Cry, the opening sequence of Dante getting dressed while his trailer flies through the air is him getting ready to go out and figure out what’s happening outside. The hat scene is exactly that, Dante gets a hat and does a silly dance. The game immediately moves to him going off to the next mission. It is a completely isolated sequence that could be plucked out of the game and nobody would notice.
The parts of the game that come closest to these hilarious silly moments are when you call for the Devil May Cry van to come to your location. These are stupid in all the right ways as it comes rocketing in from unknowable positions and nearly crushes your character each time. They are fantastic and one of the standout parts of the incidental narrative of DMC5. They show the recklessness of Nico and her ongoing need to make cool stuff for the boys to use. Even if you never need to buy an upgrade, you should always give Nico a call to see where she drives in from.
Speaking of Nico, let’s have a quick chat about the female characters in this game. You shouldn’t come to Devil May Cry looking for anything more than pretty boys hitting demons but over the years, DMC has added a cast of interesting, badass female characters. Both Trish and Lady were reduced to damsels in distress in this game and then plonked naked for the camera to pan across. This is disappointing from a narrative perspective and an equality point of view. There is no reason why these demons house these characters, they don’t draw on their personalities or powers in any way. They just keep them tied up naked for reasons. Nico is cool and interesting but the game goes out of its way to show her bending over in a way normal people don’t bend to pick things up. Essentially, the game tries to turn these characters into sex objects and I don’t like it. They were never this before, please do better CAPCOM.
Speaking of the overall story of this game it is pretty forgettable. Devil May Cry games have never been known for their story but they always had standout moments. I’m thinking, running down the tower and getting eaten by a flying whale in DMC3. In this, Urizen is a big bad and everyone needs to go beat the big bad. There is some focus put onto Nero and why he is even there but honestly it is missing the silliness of previous games. It ends up being silly in the wrong moments and then strangely serious. The whole thing means that the game feels overly long, which for a game that I’ve complained you don’t spend enough time with all the characters is saying a lot.
And I think having those extra characters contributes to this. We stop and start the narrative a lot and the multiple timelines are interesting in concept but only serves to mess with the pacing of events. It isn’t a bad video game story but Devil May Cry games have told more with so much less. When you think of the striking moments from Devil May Cry 3, the story isn’t much more than going to the top of a big tower to fight Virgil. Once you get there and then lose it feels like an actual low point. When you get to Urizen and lose in the first mission, only to get to him again and lose and get to him again and win and get to him again and win, it stops having any kind of impact. Characters don’t feel like they’ve earnt this encounter with the big bad and when you keep going back again and again, it loses its impact with each repeat visit.
And then if we compare Devil May Cry 5 to Ninja Theory’s DmC, you start to question what this game is even trying to say with its story. Love or hate DmC (I love it), you can’t deny that every boss encounter has a purpose and all of its thematic elements work together. From fighting the TV newscaster to the ones producing the soft drinks, it all ties together with this world. When you look at Devil May Cry 5, you fight one random demon after another some of which you are given a little context of but most are just “I am a demon and I’m angry”.
I’m not saying you need to have thematic context, DMC3 or 4 hasn’t got much, but it helps if encounters flow from one to another rather just existing because there needs to be a boss fight now.
And speaking of the boss encounters, they are boring. They are all variants on elemental themes and your main strategy to deal with them is hit them hard with your Devil Trigger moves on whatever character you have. There isn’t a lot of nuances. The only one that was remotely different to the rest is the big one you fight as Nero that you need to hit on top. The rest is more or less a person with a specific elemental power. There’s centipede or joker like in DMC3 or giant spider like in DMC1 or anything even close to any of the boss fights in Ninja Theory’s DmC.
A lot of the content in Devil May Cry 5 ticks a lot of boxes. And many of my complaints are mitigated if you plan to play the game multiple times. However, I’d argue that for every other game you have a fantastic initial playthrough that draws you into playing again. For DMC5, that initial playthrough was scattered and riddled with issues from gameplay, to narrative and tone, that I don’t have that urge.
To reiterate at the end, I loved V’s parts, there is a ridiculous number of combos (when you consider the number of weapons Dante has and his four stances, it starts to get mind-boggling), Nico was great and the game looks lovely. And a lot of what I’ve said might not apply to you. You might just want a cool hack and slash with lots of different characters, powers and weapons, and if that’s all you want then DMC5 is probably your perfect game. However, if you want more than just pure gameplay then I would recommend the Devil May Cry 3 Remaster or Ninja Theory’s DmC way before DMC5.
Remember, whatever your thoughts or options – Devils Never Cry.
Thanks for reading. If you want some more glowing reviews why not check out some of my Uncharted Retrospectives. Or for something a little different why not read about me starting Fantasy Football this year.
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