How many games have the potential to make it to the top, to really blow us out of the water? Having realized the apex of combat time and again within its own generation, Devil May Cry stands as the greatest action franchise. Its legacy put forth the revolutionary Style Gauge and made rival characters an action game must amongst other cheeky quirks. However, it’s when the lens is cast on everything but action that the series begins to fall apart. If it accounts for the flair and failings of its predecessors, the upcoming Devil May Cry 5 could finally break into legendary status and become more than just an action game. The series has just a few reoccurring problems that need to be addressed if we’re to receive the mythical “complete package”.
For starters, the lack of a true protagonist
I would classify three separate Dante iterations existing within the original DMC universe. Not actually different characters, but different enough in demeanor and presentation that they could just as easily be different people.
#1. The RE 4 protagonist of the original.
#2. “Dark” Dante of the 2003 sequel.
#3. The cartoon action-hero of three and four.
Devil May Cry featured a charismatic dork who delivered every cringe-worthy line with a breath of unshakable confidence. This original Dante was fun, but it wasn’t effortless, he was a bit stiff but that gave him a degree of power and fierceness to him that shed the game’s Resident Evil 4 roots. By the end, we know him as a goofy powerful character without much room for comedy and self-parody because all the humor comes through with absolute seriousness. He’s not perfect but instead of a refinement of Dante, Capcom opted for disassembly.
In Devil May Cry 2 we got a version of our protagonist that is largely disregarded by both fan and Capcom alike. Here we have an exaggeration of the power from before, here we have a stoic serious arch-type. He has got some cool lines, but it is not where the series needed to go.
DMC 3 Dante’s Awakening instead chose to exaggerate Dante’s other half, the confident dork, presumably to juxtapose him against Vergil for a Red v. Blue dynamic. It works great because Vergil is there, not so great when he’s not. With no one to act as a foil, we got an exaggerated comedic recklessness as seen in Devil May Cry 4. Top it off with Nero’s inclusion and we got protagonists that have the style but lack the substance. DMC 5 needs characters complex enough to move a serious action story forward, this is likely Dante’s final outing so let’s give him a great send-off. Someone needs to take the reins and cement themselves as the true hero moving forward.
The Devil May Cry franchise has a history of delivering barebones games, the only exception being DMC 3. The original is a true classic, but the story is quite minimal. Levels are sometimes laughably short, and bosses are recycled to a ridiculous degree. Devil May Cry 2 is a mess all over with a clear lack of polish that puts it at the bottom of the series.
DMC 4 is the most egregious example of this. Beyond the insane combat available in DMC 4 and its more recent Special Edition release is barely half a game. A single playthrough sees players going through the same levels twice and fighting most bosses thrice. The story is token at best and less even if playing with the alternate characters Lady/Trish and Vergil.
This series is the King of combat, but it doesn’t even get a chance to deliver in other departments. We’ve seen what the series is capable of in Devil May Cry 3 but now we need Capcom to start delivering in the other areas. Story, varied enemy types, no boss recycling, it’s not too much to ask.
Not enough “Devil”
A closer look at the franchise shows wandering aesthetics that further complicate the series’ identity. The original was a horror influenced action game that resulted in a threatening atmosphere where Dante could cut down demons in style. Its setting maximizes on horror themes such as the towering architecture of Mallet Island, cramped dark environments, and the demonic enemy types. A perfect example would be the “bloody puppets” which look and move like creatures in a horror game. The gothic nature of DMC 1 really makes the original a standout with its unique blend of themes that made traversing the game memorable.
We see a similar design decision in Devil May Cry 2 but it serves more as an example of what not to do with horror action theming. Nevertheless, it tried to keep that original aesthetic intact.
DMC 3 began to focus more on spectacle which resulted in horror being dulled down in favor of less threatening environments and monster designs. It has some highlights with several surreal environments and especially the trips into the demon realm, and this transition is good. It still looks demonic, not horror-infused, but in line with the aesthetic tradition of Devil May Cry. It has some hiccups, Dante’s outfit, enemies that don’t bleed but turn to glass and dust, however, it still works for Devil May Cry.
Whereas part three still resembled something demonic, DMC 4 abandoned its roots entirely with the transition into “Angel May Cry”. It’s incredibly clean and looks great, with levels and art dropping anything resembling horror. Missions primarily take place during the day, enemies don’t bleed but spew out mist, and with the “holy city,” it all comes across as mellow action.
No more “Angel May Cry”, the series needs to tap into its horror heritage. Luckily, info on DMC 5 suggests its going in the right direction. I just hope they don’t screw things up, a little less dust and mist in the daytime and a little more blood in the night.
We still haven’t seen Devil May Cry reach its full potential. If the combat is going to be phenomenal then Capcom just needs to get everything else in good order and you got a 10/10 experience. The action has been wonderfully tooled for player expression but is inconsistent in just about every other department. DMC 2 is not so great, part 4 is fun as hell, while 1 and 3 are classics. But not the “whole package”, not everything it could be. Maybe, just maybe, Devil May Cry 5 will not only be an exceptional action game but a legend of the medium for years to come? God knows it’s one of the few that can be.
Jason R. Rocha