Update: Vergil’s Downfall, an epilogue of sorts to DmC, has been released! Check out our review of Vergil’s Downfall.
A reboot can be a tricky thing to pull off well. In one hand, you have the factors or debilitations that necessitate the re-establishment of a known franchise. In the other, you have the pillars of the franchise, factors that make the franchise what it is. A successful reboot ushers in needed new ideas while respectfully leaving the old ones intact. Change too much, and you have a new product entirely—it forces fans to adopt an entirely foreign concept into canon. Conversely, change too little, and well, what’s the point of declaring it a reboot? In the case of Devil May Cry, one of Capcom’s most beloved franchises, a reboot was not only a good idea—it was the right idea, and a very successful one to boot.
A re-imagining of the Devil May Cry series really has been a long time coming. It’s important to truly understand the series’ accidental roots, and observe the direction it was headed before it was reborn. The original Devil May Cry began its life as what was originally going to become Resident Evil 4. When RE4’s directors decided to move in a different direction, what was left over was a project all its own—Devil May Cry.
Because it started as a survival-horror game, the original DMC plays a lot differently than any other title in the series it sparked. Devil May Cry was an instant classic because it faithfully maintained the constant dread and building terror often found in survival horror titles, while allowing players to bring all manners of pain to foes via the game’s stylized and action-heavy combat system. The gothic and demonic environment and enemies were counterbalanced by the player character, Dante. In addition to wielding an enormous sword and an iconic pair of pistols, Dante was armed to the teeth with sarcasm and oft-hilarious one-liners, including the infamous “flock off, featherface!”
The insta-success of the original DMC churned dollar signs in the eyes of Capcom’s leadership, and a tragically-rushed follow up title was released soon after. Devil May Cry 2 saw Dante adopt a much darker tone, and removed all the survival horror elements that made the original so unique. What was left was a standard hack-n-slash affair and a tragically subpar one at that—the game’s difficulty was significantly lessened and the combat system was far less refined.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening partially returned the series to its roots; Dante was yet again entertaining, the environments were more confined, and of course, the game was hard. It also focuses on Dante’s twin brother, Vergil. The game was a prequel to the original Devil May Cry, and was executed very well.
The final game in the original DMC arc, Devil May Cry 4, shifted the focus from Dante to a new protagonist—Nero. This young hero’s claim to originality was a demonic-looking arm and a more brash personality than even Dante could muster. DMC4 was by no means a bad game, but by this time in the series, the usual DMC formula had gotten rather stale.
Enter DmC: Devil May Cry. For this reimagining, Capcom outsourced development of the game to a Western game studio—Ninja Theory. In doing so, many elements that Devil May Cry had incorporated—concerning both gameplay and story—were drastically altered. And to tell the truth, it is exactly what the series needed.
For one, Ninja Theory has come to say outright that this is not the same continuation as DMC 1 through 4. At best, it is an alternate storyline. To cement that, they changed Dante’s and Vergil’s origin story. You see, in the original canon, the twins were half-human, half-Demon—their father was an ultra-powerful Demon called Sparda, who rebelled against his kin out of pity for humankind. In DmC, Dante and Vergil are ‘Nephilim,’ or half-Demon and half-Angel.
Another major change, and one blatantly fought against by dedicated fans, was that of Dante’s appearance. He had traditionally been given white hair with a long, red coat—a combination that had become something of an icon. In DmC, not only is Dante notably younger, he is black-haired and wears a wifebeater/white long coat combo. What’s more is that while the original Dante was a balance of collected-yet-semi-antagonistic, the new Dante is much more rash and possessive of the qualities of a youthful renegade. He does, however, maintain the wit and sense of humor that made his original incarnation so identifiable. Vergil has also been redesigned, and is a much more prominent figure than before. Although he again has silver hair, Vergil is now the leader of an underground rebellion called The Order, fighting demon kind at every turn. While Dante is a man of the streets, frequently seen with booze and loose women, Vergil is a technological genius, and a reserved-yet-extremely idealistic person.
The new main character introduced in DmC, Kat, fulfills a tradition started by the first Devil May Cry of having a female supporting character. While previous gals in this role—Trish and Lady especially—have been quite over the top, Kat is constantly vulnerable and is in very real danger helping Dante and Vergil throughout the game. She is a very likeable character, and one I hope to see in future installments, should there be any.
DmC: Devil May Cry retells the story of Dante’s war against Mundus, the Demon-King, which was the primary plot line of the first Devil May Cry. However, instead of being set in a long-forsaken castle, it is set in a demonic urban city called Limbo. Mundus himself has been reimagined—he has a human façade, in the form of a very high-powered businessman, whose funds have him secretly controlling the city of Limbo. Recognizing this threat and igniting the time of action, Vergil sends Kat—his top agent–to recruit Dante to his cause.
From the opening lines, it is apparent how much thought and care Ninja Theory has put in to ensure the reboot isn’t so much a reboot, as it is an ‘evolution.’ Yes, it is a ‘parallel universe,’ and yes, this isn’t the same Dante we used to know—but that’s a good thing. At its core, this is still Devil May Cry.
Gameplay in DmC is very tight, and very cool. This new installment borrows bits from the best aspects of the previous games’ combat engines. Fighting in DmC is fast, frequent, flashy, and very fun. DmC continues the style points concept found in the series’ previous titles, with a ranking system ranging from D through S. The control scheme feels natural and is somewhat easy to master. As Dante progresses through his journey, he will unlock more weapons and styles of combat. ‘Devil Arms’ have been a series mainstay, and they continue to be featured here. In fact, Ninja Theory has done a wonderful job incorporating them into the flow of combat. In previous games, the game would have to be paused to change weapons. Not so in the reboot. Thanks to Dante’s infamous sword Rebellion being reimagined as well, he now can change weapons on the fly. Holding down the L or R trigger will transform Rebellion to either an Angel or a Demon weapon, respectively. There are multiple weapons for each type (including firearms), which can be flawlessly cycled through by using the D-pad. This means in one single combo, Dante can attack an enemy or group of enemies with several different weapons, one right after the other. This takes some skill, but is immensely satisfying to pull off.
Another big change Ninja Theory brought in is the focusing on platforming elements. Previous games in the DMC series had bits and pieces of platforming, but NT’s vision has platform-jumping as a central concept to the game. Each mission has at least one dedicated platforming sequence, and it works quite well. Several of Dante’s combat abilities double as tools needed to traverse these sequences, such as using his Demon/Angel powers to transform his firearm into a whip, which is used to navigate hard-to-reach platforms. There are some times in the game’s platforming segments where the camera will betray you. Since there is no lock-on feature (none in combat or exploration), your view can be skewed at times, creating some jumps that shouldn’t be as difficult as they are.
One series staple that Ninja Theory allowed to say was the Devil Trigger feature. Dating back to the original DMC, this is a powerful mode Dante can invoke once he reaches a certain point in each game’s story. When under the influence of Devil Trigger, Dante’s appearance becomes more demonic and he gains immense attack power, moves much faster and recovers health. Though the mode itself is left largely intact, it is very interesting to note that when the new Dante Devil Triggers, he morphs into a figure not unlike his previous incarnation—his hair turns silver and grows longer, and his coat becomes a deep blood red, just like his predecessor.
The game’s pace is well thought out, although the main campaign does run a bit short. It is not the longest Devil May Cry title, though it is by far the most polished and aesthetically pleasing. The new art direction for the main characters is vibrantly brought to life by well-done graphics and spot-on music. The visuals are the best the series has ever seen, though they aren’t anything special when compared to other games out right now. The replay value is considerably high. Even though there’s only a certain amount of missions, completing them on higher difficulty levels will unlock more challenging modes. These are near-impossible to complete, and are only there for the truly hardcore. Case in point, ‘Hell or Hell’ mode, in which enemies are supercharged and Dante dies in only one hit!
DmC’s music, however, is something you might find in any of the other Devil May Cry titles. The game’s soundtrack is heavy metal driven, which is in no way a bad thing. Demonic death metal suits DmC’s action-oriented gameplay like a glove, and only serves to deepen the game’s atmosphere.
One aspect I did love is how the city of Limbo is out to kill Dante. Half of the aforementioned platforming sequences are initiated by the environment tearing itself apart to try and trick Dante into falling into a bottomless pit. That, or openly antagonize our hero. There is one part where, after just slaughtering a squad of demons, Dante faces a wall and giant ghastly letters begin to spell out, “F*** YOU, DANTE!” Gotta love demon-ragewalls. There’s also a supporting villain by the name of Bob Barbas—an obvious jab at real-life Bill O’Reilly. Whether you take offense to Bill-bashing or not, you’d be hard pressed to admit that Barbas’ encounter mid-game is easily one of the coolest boss fights in recent video game history.
It is that kind of in-your-face attitude that succinctly sums up the new incarnation of Devil May Cry. Ninja Theory has taken a classic-yet-overdone game series, and evolved it into a wickedly delicious gem of a video game that a new generation of gamers can sink their teeth into. It is a bit jarring to see the old canon of DMC suddenly end—especially for some of us that have been around since the series began in the early 2000’s—but rest assured, Devil May Cry is in good hands. This is rebooting done right, and the future of this dark series is very, very bright.
Christopher A. Carlson
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DmC: Devil May Cry Review,