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Essays 18 December 2017, 16:30

author: Michael Grygorcewicz

Intemperately devours games, movies, comics, books, TV series – everything that has a good story and doesn't run away. Also a fan of wolves, Metal Gears, brawlers, and buying old games he will never have time to play.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow of Devil May Cry series

For a game that wasn’t even planned, the first Devil May Cry turned out to be truly groundbreaking. Of course, this generated subsequent follow-ups. The history of the franchise is one big sinusoid, but that just makes the story all the more interesting.

There is a special series of video games. Its first installment proved to be such a fresh take on electronic entertainment, and met with such warm reception among gamers that it not only became an instant hit, but also generated a slew of titles mimicking the style it had invented. The idea was so fresh, in fact, that in time a whole new genre was established, dubbed “extreme combat” by Wikipedians, and known to most of us as “slasher”. Without this game, there would be no God of War, Bayonetta, the 3D Ninja Gaiden or Metal Gear Rising. The story of this game and the installments following it is indeed surprisingly tempestuous. Even more surprising is the fact that the game was the result of quite a coincidental turn of events.

Mission 0: The Living Dead

It might be hard to believe this after a brief examination of the more recent installments, but the first Devil May Cry was originally conceived as the fourth entry in the Resident Evil series. Hideki Kamiya, the mastermind behind the most famous zombie franchise ever, was asked to take the helm after a brief absence during the production of the third Resident. His vision assumed creating a high-octane action game focused on combat, where the insolent protagonist, enhanced with biotechnology, mows down legions of enemies.

Despite his best efforts, Kamiya wasn’t able to fit neither the invincible and over-confident hero, nor the combat system designed for stylish rending of hundreds of enemies, into the setting of Resident Evil (which back then was still a full-bloodied horror game). Eventually, he made a decision that the project should be rebuilt, nested in a different world, and released under a completely new name – severing all ties to everything that was limiting the creative process. Thanks to that decision, on August 23, 2001, the world witnessed Devil May Cry. And it was good.

The horror roots of the first DMC is clearly evident in the location design. - 2017-12-21
The horror roots of the first DMC is clearly evident in the location design.

Mission 1: The Devil Actually Can Cry

The game was a massive success and, since it was a PlayStation 2 exclusive, it became a title that made a significant contribution to the success of Sony’s console in the war for domination among the 6th-generation consoles. DMC (not to be confused with DmC) impressed us mainly with its combat system – it was fast, dynamic and gave you the sense of having a great power at your fingertips. At the same time, it was incredibly satisfying due to the difficulty level and the system that constantly evaluated your performance in combat. The game made players analyze the intricacies of the fights; to learn switching between firearms and melee weapons; and study the tactics of the enemies closely – at the same time, the system promoted incessant offensive. On top of that the game just looked darn impressive – you could hold opponents in mid-air for a few seconds with a barrage of bullets, or, with some practice, chain together dance-like series of dodges and attacks.

The pleasure derived from gameplay was further enhanced by the well thought-out character development system – since over the course of the game we would face the same boss a few times, we could really feel the protagonist growing a lot stronger along the progress. The game’s protagonist, Dante, was also an important ingredient of the game’s success; he was confident and cocky but also quite reticent. The locations in the game were incredibly atmospheric as well.

Players faced the same bosses a number of times throughout the game, and each fight was noticeably easier. - 2017-12-21
Players faced the same bosses a number of times throughout the game, and each fight was noticeably easier.

Booting up the first game in the series after the years is an interesting experience; especially if you’re aware of the story behind its development and the direction the franchise took afterwards. It becomes clear that the spirit of Resident Evil was retained to a large extent – in terms of the atmosphere, the game is much closer to a horror than the later installments, where the action was frenetic beyond absurdity. Some cut-scenes seem as if they were taken straight from a horror movie. Dante is also more toned-down – unlike his future incarnations; he utters several jokes throughout the whole game, being grimly somber most of the time.

By the way, the story was definitely the most disappointing part of the game: it was boring, predictable and filled with flat characters. And then there was the hilariously bad voice-over. The graphics, on the other hand, aged really well – the game was divided into small locations, which allowed the devs to fill the gothic castle with many details; even today, the place has a certain charm to it. As for the combat system, it’s still as good as it was fifteen years ago. Considering that games in general became much easier over the years, the first moments with Devil May Cry can be very challenging. And very satisfying, too.

Style score: A

Mission 2: Kill the Devil

For reasons that remain a mystery, Capcom didn’t entrust the development of the next game to Hideki Kamiya. Instead, an anonymous director was supervising the works until about half of the game was done, after which they were replaced by Hideaki Itsuno, who would stick around for longer. Unfortunately, the 2003 release of Devil May Cry 2 proved that the success of the first game was somewhat accidental and the recipe for repeating it wasn’t actually clear. Ultimately, the developers opted for quite a few changes in various areas... Most of them didn’t work.

The gloomy castle, with its thick atmosphere, was replaced with modern cities and factories, where the players were pitted against bosses, who seemed to had been created without much thought, such as a haunted tank, a haunted chopper or a haunted house. The locations became a lot bigger, but at the expense of the detail. The most flagrant, however, turned out to be the decision about scaling down the difficulty. The game was not challenging at all, and hence quickly became boring.

Lucia, the second playable character, offered a bit different combat system than Dante. - 2017-12-21
Lucia, the second playable character, offered a bit different combat system than Dante.

The first game earned the players’ respect, being really tough to beat. The second game was degraded to a walk-in-the-park level of easy. The developers couldn’t have caused a bigger misfire. To add insult to injury, the only element that was questionably underdeveloped in the original game – the plot – wasn’t better now. In fact, some argued that it was even worse, since Dante lost all of his smugness. Under the barrage of such shortcomings, neither the additional playable character, with her own, alternative storyline, nor the remodeled combat system were able to water down the bad impression. Devil May Cry 2 is still considered the worst installment in the series.

Ever since it came out, I tried giving it a chance at least three times, but each approach ended very quickly and my strong resolution to finish all these games in chronological order was quickly shattered. When at last I had to do it (before writing this piece) and after I promised myself that I wouldn’t back down this time, the game didn’t seem all that bad. The case still stands – mutated military equipment is still rather a horrible joke than a good boss, and the plot seems even more ludicrous, but the combat system isn’t half that bad. Unfortunately, there’s still that difficulty: hours of exterminating legions of enemies make it feel more like a pest control sim than a genuine slasher. I’m not going to argue that it isn’t the weakest link in the series – the thing is that it’s not as bad as to actually justify skipping it when doing a full playthrough.

Style score: C

Mission 3: Awakening and rebirth

Bad reviews were not reflected by the sales figures, though, and the series was able to keep on going. This time, Itsuno’s team approached the matter more seriously, analyzed all the things that fans loved in the first game, and all the things that didn’t click in the second one.

The size of the locations was reduced in order to restore the balance of quality and quantity. The gothic atmosphere also made a big return. The difficulty was cranked so much that it made DMC 1 blush. The combat system was further modified; the players were able to choose between different styles – either focusing more on dodging, sword fighting, defense, or shooting. Most notably, though, the devs also decided to let Dante’s buoyant side out of the cage – he became a charming, arrogant punk, who didn’t lose his sense of humor in face of the fiercest monsters.

And someone finally took some effort to create a coherent plotline, which maybe didn’t win the game any awards, but at least offered a nice story about dysfunctional siblings saving the world. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (2005) was the model DMC – filled with outrageously spectacular cut-scenes, over-the-top weapons (like that guitar-scythe thing!) and the utterly sassy protagonist. The world fell in love with the newest installment, the result of which was the release of the special edition a year later, which slightly downgraded the difficulty and added a few other gimmicks, such as the ability to play as Vergil – Dante’s brother.

Deliciously over-the-top cut-scenes, weapons and combat made everyone love DMC3. - 2017-12-21
Deliciously over-the-top cut-scenes, weapons and combat made everyone love DMC3.

The special edition was also the first time the series debuted on PC. And it wasn’t a particularly successful debut, which I understood all too well when I decided to try DMC on this platform. Not only was the animation stuttering on a modern computer – it was impossible to run the game in fullscreen, and the overly sharp textures made the game look awful. It also apparently confused the button layout on my gamepad, swapping the left and right analog sticks, forcing me to use an external app to mend the issue.

I wholeheartedly advise everyone to spare themselves the trouble and just get the HD remaster for current-gen consoles. Still, underneath the landslide of technical issues hid a great slasher, which even today offers an incredibly satisfying, deep and compelling gameplay that remains one of the crown achievements of the genre. Basically the only thing I don’t like about the game is the amount of backtracking – apart from that, and despite being a decade old, Devil May Cry 3 is nearly a perfect slasher.

Style score: SS

Secret Mission 1: A Trip to Japan

Riding on the wave of DMC 3’s popularity, an anime series based on the franchise was launched in 2007. Unfortunately, the TV show wasn’t as successful as the game – for an adaptation of the game which became popular mainly due to exaggerated combat sequences, the anime Devil May Cry featured embarrassingly few action scenes and the plot was too mediocre to make up for that. That’s too bad, because in terms of visuals, it really was something – especially when some fighting finally did happen – and the theme to the title sequence is still among my favorite pieces of OST.

The anime looked nice and had good music. There, we’ve pretty much exhausted the list of its pros. - 2017-12-21
The anime looked nice and had good music. There, we’ve pretty much exhausted the list of its pros.

Style score: D

Mission 4: A New Generation

People awaited the fourth installment with multiplied anticipation – first, because gamers were already crazy about Dante, and second, because it would have been the first game in the series released for 7th-gen consoles, which at that time were merely starting to show their true potential. The first showcases of the game promted some sneering among the fans due to the change of the protagonist, which was admittedly a left-field move – Dante had to give way to Nero, who was essentially just the younger version of the former. Either way, it seemed that a worthy successor to DMC 3 was in the making.

And that’s exactly what the game was. Thanks to utilizing the capabilities of PS3 and X360, the graphics were dazzling. A demonic hand, furnished for Nero, introduced a breath of fresh air into combat, and those who were missing Dante got their old bud in a playable form at some point in the story campaign. The plot was still kind of flat, but the mayhem of combat and Dante’s impertinence totally let you forget about that. Backtracking was back and even worse than previously – before facing the ultimate boss, players had to come back all the way to the first location. Last year, a reedition of the game was released for current-gens, enhanced with a handful additions, among them three new playable characters.

DMC4 was a worthy follow-up to 3. - 2017-12-21
DMC4 was a worthy follow-up to 3.

When I first launched the fourth DMC, having played the three previous games, the differences that I found most striking were, on one hand, that much brighter colors were used, and on the other, that there was a certain fidelity to the series’ legacy: there was a ton of enemies straight from the original Devil May Cry here. Then there was the balance of difficulty – probably the best in the series; it doesn’t immediately throw players at the deep end, allowing them to learn the basics during the initial missions, but then it noticeably increases in time, to eventually reach the level where you can really tell it’s a DMC.

The game introduced a few minor mechanics, which made the gameplay much more approachable, and which you instantly miss if you go back to the previous games: free camera and the minimap. The backtracking can really be quite annoying, but not to the point where you’re willing to give up the entire game. It’s a perfect continuation of the series, which isn’t regarded as highly as the 3 only because it wasn’t so revolutionary.

Style score: S

The Timeline

If you’d like to finish the subsequent parts in the right order according to the games’ timeline, you’d have to forget the chronological order of releases. The list is as follows:

1. Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition – Vergil’s story;

2. Devil May Cry 3;

3. Devil May Cry;

4. Devil May Cry: The Animated Series;

5. Devil May Cry 4 – the story of Nero, Dante, and the two characters added in the enhanced edition: Trish and Lady;

6. Devil May Cry 2.

Mission 5/Mission 1: Restart

Devil May Cry 4’s sales were more than satisfying, but the game also met with critical acclaim. Many eyebrows were hence raised when Capcom announced that an English studio called Ninja Theory – known for Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Oddysey to the West – would carry out the production of the next installment. The board of the Japanese company wanted a new direction for the series and their European partners delivered just that in 2013, with a total reboot of the series.

This time, the players were taken to a world more similar to ours. However, it had succumbed to the rule of demons, which Dante along with a resistance movement had to overpower. The dramatic change of the game’s style, and especially the new Dante, stirred the blood among the fans. That was probably the main reason why DmC: Devil May Cry wasn’t as much of a commercial success as DMC 4.

The new take on the series found appreciation among the reviewers, but not so much among the fans. - 2017-12-21
The new take on the series found appreciation among the reviewers, but not so much among the fans.

And that wasn’t fair, because the game was really good – the combat system was top-notch, the graphics had definition, and the plot, for a change, made sense. What harmed DmC the most was the fact that it was… a Devil May Cry. The game would have managed on its own – instead, the disappointed fanbase gave it a lot of bad rep. Last year, a remaster of DmC was released for 8th-gen consoles – PS4 and XONE.

Style score: B

Mission 6/Mission 2: The Future

After DmC failed Capcom’s expectations, the series has virtually disappeared. The Japanese publisher assures the players every once in a while that Dante will eventually make a comeback, but so far we’ve seen nothing solid. Some excitement was raised this November, after a leak that said we can expect an announcement of Devil May Cry 5 fairly soon, but no such information was confirmed by Capcom.

According to an anonymous source, the fifth entry in the series will most likely be announced during the next year’s E3. The action will allegedly take place after the events from Devil May Cry 4. Players will get three playable characters, among them Dante and, most likely, Nero. The world is supposed to be a bit more open and the combat smoother, with more enemies trying to kill you at the same time. How true is the info? It’s hard to judge. One thing is for sure – it’s been a while since the last DMC was released, and it would appear that it’s about time the Devil cried once again.

Michael Grygorcewicz | Gamepressure.com

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