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LONG BLOG

Reviewing every DMC, backwards (for the first time)

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Before this month started I’d never played a Devil May Cry. Incidentally, now that I have I am 85% more cool.

The DMC franchise is a beast I’ve always wanted to tackle but never had the time. Character action games weren’t really my thing, even though I wanted to see the franchise that spun off from one of my favourite series.

The unfortunate thing is that the more I heard people talk about the series, the more I understood the later games were far superior. So I decided to work my way from the end all the way to the beginning.

And here are my thoughts on a whole whack of DMC games, starting from the end.

DMC4

“In the end, we are all satisfied.”

From that bombastic, goofy cutscene that launches your adventure, to the opening levels in the town of Fortuna, DMC4 immediately sets an amazing tone.

Like... wow.

Just to give my first impressions on the combat, these are some top notch animations. Every swing feels hefty and vast, and using Nero’s Devil Bringer exudes a brutal power.

DMC combat is like a rollercoaster, it hits specific beats in quick succession to get a reaction out of the audience.

In this case, by chaining together a variety of attacks in different combinations, you raise your style points to get more red orbs at the end of a mission.

And it’s not hard to chain combos and get high style points early on. Nero is given few weapons in his sections of the game, but you’re given a lot of moves so you have a lot of combo potential with the move set you have.

Coupled with the gritty butt-rock playing in the background, and it really makes you feel like a badass.

And DMC4’s environments are quite spectacular. I’m not sure what engine Capcom was using at the time, but this and Resident Evil 5 both feel very grainy and gritty in an intentional way.

And that all comes without a sacrifice to the level design, at least in the first half of the game. While this game may be seven years out from it’s origins as a Resident Evil game, you can still see the inspiration.

Levels loop on themselves and you get a sense that you’re exploring a location. You memorize landmarks and, while the levels aren’t too complicated and puzzley, they get you thinking enough that they’re more than just throwaway combat arenas.

That first half of the game has some amazing boss battles too, from the first boss, Berial, to the standout Angelo Credo. Every boss feels unique, moves differently and requires all different strategies.

And it really does feel amazing, at least until the second half when you switch to Dante.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with Dante. I like his style switching mechanics, where he plays a little differently between four different styles at the tap of the D-pad.

He even has some of the best cutscenes in the game. If there’s something special about the DMC franchise, it’s how seriously it doesn’t take itself. Dante just soaks up the screen time when a cutscene starts and loves every second of it. He has fun, and that made me laugh a lot.

But the level design takes a nosedive in the second half. Dante has no new levels, rather he re-uses Nero’s levels usually in reverse. The problem is that many of them are now super linear and do become throwaway chains of combat arenas.

And then you start seeing carbon copy boss battle repeats, numerous times. When people talk about DMC4 being rushed, the second half is what gives it away.

That’s not to say DMC4 is bad because of it’s second half, just that it does drag on the experience. With that said the linearity isn’t wholly a bad thing, as it lets us play with Dante in combat more.

Overall, I think DMC4 leaves a super strong first impression. If the rest of the series were like this, I’d consider it in high regard, though it could use some improvement.

DMC3

“This party’s getting crazy.”

If DMC4 set the bar high, DMC3 grabs the bar throws it into an enemy and then pole dances on it.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was a move in this game.

A prequel to the series, DMC3 is almost the perfect entry point. It introduces Dante, his family, the world and creates this bombastic tone that could hook anyone.

There’s a reason why the opening cutscene to this game has been thrown around a lot, it’s really goddam good.

And the game carries that amazing first impression with it for the rest of the game.

The main difference from a gameplay perspective from Dante in the next game and this one is the restriction on styles. In DMC4 you could switch styles at a press of a button.

In DMC3 you can only switch them in between levels or at item shops. I thought I’d disprove of this mechanic, but I dig it. Being forced to use one style means you’re going to spend longer working that style into your combat strategies.

And while I did use only one style my whole first playthrough, I immediately started replaying levels with a new one.

Speaking of replaying, you’ll want to do that with DMC3, because it gives you so many cool weapons and styles there’s no way you’ll be able to try them all on your first playthrough.

Each weapon feels powerful yet different from the others. I couldn’t blame people for abandoning Rebellion, Dante’s signature sword, for Cerberus, the three-headed ice nunchucks or Agni and Rudra, the twin-talking fire and wind blades.

Or Nevan, the electric guitar that transforms into a scythe and shoots electric bats. No, I’m not making that up, and yes, it’s super fucking stupid and I love it.

And you’ll be using these sick weapons and styles in one of the best locations in the series. Temen-ni-gru, the tower where you spend the bulk of the game, is the peak of the series’ level design.

Levels offer engaging combat arenas with different geographies. You also traverse the tower back and forth often, so you start to piece together it’s layout quickly.

By the time you’ve scaled to the top, you’ll have traversed every room multiple times. And when the layout of the tower starts changing, you have a grasp on it because you’ve already spent hours exploring it.

So the combat is amazing and the levels are stupendous, but that ignores the fact that DMC3 has some bat-shit crazy bosses.

From the first major boss, Cerberus, to the iconic fights with your brother Vergil, this game is filled with some of the most well-balanced yet challenging bosses in an action game.

Some of them are better than others. A few suffer from having poorly-telegraphed attacks that are tough to avoid, but it’s a relatively minor problem.

My only small gripe with DMC3 is that Temen-ni-gru is very grey, and while the series is known for it’s gothic architecture, some areas do begin to blend together visually late in the game.

And I am very pleased to say DMC3 is the peak of the series in almost all regards, especially after what came before it.

DMC2

“Let’s go all the way to hell.”

Y’know, I gave DMC2 one hell of a chance.

I pushed out all the negative stuff people said about it, and walked in with only the experiences of the last two games behind me.

And that did not prepare me for the garbage fire I experienced.

Gone is the in-depth combat that requires skill and reflexes to develop style. Gone is the series’ signature gothic architecture and looping level design. Gone is the goofy style and cheesy action that made people love Dante.

Although you’ve probably heard all that before. It’s no secret DMC2 is a black sheep for the franchise, and for good reason.

But what makes it so bad?

From a mechanical perspective, DMC2 is a mess. Gone are pause combos (pausing in between attacks to do alternative combos), which means your move set for 90% of the game will be the same four-swing attack.

Even the attacks you do unlock feel underwhelming. 

In the prior games Stinger’s attack animation makes Dante swoosh across the whole arena, plunging his sword into the enemy with a mighty thrust. There’s a ton of effects applied to make the attack feel powerful.

DMC2’s Stinger is a limp thrust. Dante takes one or two steps forward and gives the enemy a nudge. That’s it.

Combined with the fact Dante has a soft-lock on which is impossible to ignore and frequently makes you miss attacks, it makes the combat super frustrating.

And that really just the tip of the iceberg of DMC2’s problems.

Levels are linear, enemies are dry and boss AI is braindead to the point where I think one boss doesn't actually have any real attacks.

The number of bosses I beat by spamming pistols from a distance is both depressing and egregious.

That’s without mentioning that the game just feels incomplete. Dante goes from one area to the next without any explanation, with cutscenes just dropping you in places without saying why.

At one point a helicopter comes, picks you up, drops you off at an oil rig, you blow up the oil rig, and then the helicopter picks you up again.

It’s never explained. There’s no one you know in the game who would own a helicopter, and in fact it seems to imply the helicopter is owned by the bad guy which makes zero sense.

(Side note: I know there’s a second campaign with a new character, but I hated playing this thing so much and I really doubt a second character will fix my issues with it, so I’m not plugging in that second disc to find out)

The running theory is that DMC2 was not originally a DMC game, but had Dante and other DMC-elements crafted on when the first game became popular.

I’m not sure I buy that. To me, what happened to DMC2 was that they thought the first game was popular for different reasons than it actually was.

So let’s dive into the reasons of why the series got so popular in the first place.

DMC1

“I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with light.”

I started this series knowing I was beginning at the highest point and making my way down.

Still, I walked into DMC1 with some expectation, largely due to how awful the sequel was.

And I’m stepping out with a mixed opinion. While I think the game has some amazing high points, it muddies itself with some dated mechanics that create an unfriendly experience for the player.

To start off, I’m mixed on the combat. While it set the stage for the entire character action genre, it feels sluggish in comparison to later entries.

Which is to be expected, and not something I’m too upset about. Even with attacks coming off slower than you’d want, they still feel really good most of the time.

There’s some big changes to the style system though that I think could be updated. In DMC3 onwards upping your style required you do a variety of attacks quickly. If your style was dipping you could zip over to an opponent with a Stinger or bring an enemy to you with the Devil Bringer, or use a ranged attack to keep your combo going.

In DMC1 the style system cares way more about speed, to the point where I don’t think it factors the variety of attacks.

Issuing relentless barrage of attacks against an enemy brings your style up quickly, but if you pause for even a second to dodge or move to a better position your style can drop from an S to a D.

I know the style system became better developed as the series went on, and if they ever updated this game, that would be one of the first things I’ve change.

Well, maybe not the first.

I do want to think DMC1 is a good game. The castle and island are a great setting that set the tone for the series. They embody and birth the series’ best habits for level design.

And the bosses are really fun, at first. They quickly make the player realize mashing buttons won’t get you anywhere. The first boss, Phantom, isn’t that hard once you get to know his patterns, but if you rush in you’ll immediately be crushed.

It’s just a shame the difficulty is wildly all over the place. The beginning of the game sets an incredibly high difficulty wall that would block off most newcomers. It settles down for several hours before re-emerging in the closing missions.

There were several points where I wanted to quit, and came damn close, because of how frustrating the game could be.

And the problem is exacerbated by a broken checkpoint system that comes from a bygone era.

In DMC1 when you die you use up a yellow orb. If you run out of yellow orbs, you have to reload a save. You can buy yellow orbs from the shop, and they remain fairly cheap throughout the game.

But to keep playing, what is a relatively challenging game, you need to spend your cash on yellow orbs, meaning you won’t be spending money on valuable upgrades and moves.

And without a style system incentivizing you to try new moves to raise your style ranking, there’s not much point to purchasing new attacks, aside from stinger and a couple others.

I mostly stuck with the same three or four attacks the whole game, using my red orbs to purchase healing items and yellow orbs to stay afloat.

Granted, a second playthrough resolves a lot of these issues. Knowing where a lot of the blue orb fragments are to increase your health means you'll be dying less, and just general knowledge of how to play the game makes for a smoother experience. I've already started replaying DMC1 and my second playthrough is far more enjoyable than my first.

The game also has a problem with repeating bosses. I don’t mind one boss returning, offering new challenges each time. Nelo Angelo is that boss, and each fight with him is a pleasure because he fights differently each time and develops a relationship with Dante.

But the game gladly recycles every boss up to three times, or more. In fact there’s a boss who has a move where he teleports you to a different combat arena where you fight ANOTHER REPEATED BOSS. And once you defeat it, you resume the original boss battle. And then you fight that one two more times!

It’s needless padding that shouldn’t exist.

Thankfully these are all issues that can be fixed.

First off, the game needs to be completely rebalanced. Enemies need to hit less hard, but drop less healing items. The yellow orbs/checkpoint system should be reworked, as well as the style system, to fall in line with later entries.

And that’s all you’d need to turn an adequate entry in the series into a great one.

It’s a shame because DMC1 has so many bright moments, you just have to fight to see them sometimes.

DmC

“I’ve got a bigger dick.”

Y’know, I often hear people comparing DMC2 and DmC: Devil May Cry when talking about the worst game in the series.

And that just baffles me because DmC is far from the worst. In fact, I think it’s one of the better entries.

Now, I won’t bother talking about the story, the characters, themes or tone, which I think are mostly hot garbage. They’re bearable at best, and an adorable reminder of our shitty emo phase from high school at worst.

So instead I want to dive into how the game is mechanically different from the prior games and why those changes matter.

One of the most immediate changes to any DMC fan is how smooth the combat is. The DMC games have always controlled well, but DmC simplifies the controls, at least at first.

Launchers now have their own button as opposed to being a directional input. Attacks flow seamlessly across weapon types, making it so you can easily combine a sword attack with an axe swing.

Pause combos also cross over to other weapons, meaning you can swing your sword twice, pause, and then use the axe for a devastating followup.

And your base move set is extremely diverse. By mission three you have your mainstay sword, a scythe for crowd control, an axe for heavy hitting and two key movement abilities.

And those movement abilities, Angel Lift and Demon Pull, provide so much environmental control. Angel Lift pulls you over to an enemy while Demon Pull drags them to you. Combined with Stinger, you have an absurd level of control over where you and your enemies are in combat.

In fact, between all those control options, including not only a dodge, but an angel dodge and demon dodge, I’d say there’s too many options in combat. It can be overwhelming to have all these abilities, to the point where many of them likely go unused.

Which is good because you only need a few to get high style points. The style ranking system returns and is way friendlier than it used to be. By the first mission I was raking up SS ranks, something I rarely did in the prior games.

By the third mission I was getting SSS ranks in most fights. I’m no slouch in DMC games at this point, but I’ll admit I’m not an SSS player. The style meter is way too lenient with what it considers stylish play.

But overall the combat is extremely strong, giving a pretty faithful continuation of the type of gameplay we saw in the prior games. If this game were only judged via its combat mechanics I’d call it a really solid DMC game.

Unfortunately that’s not the case, and DmC suffers in other categories that drag it down. While the environmental design is phenomenal, with some of the prettiest skyboxes I’ve seen in a video game, the level design is pretty weak.

Levels are really just chains of flat, round combat arenas with some lukewarm platforming in between. The game attempts to make some cinematic moments with glorified quick-time events in later chapters where you need to whip your way across chasms or exploding bridges, but I’m not sold on those parts.

While there is some degree of exploration, with collectables, keys and secret missions, none of them are hidden too well. It doesn’t take much exploration off the main path to find what you’re looking for.

Secrets that are well hidden are often hidden behind doors you can’t unlock, because early missions lock off content behind weapons you get later. Meaning you have to replay missions to get all the content.

While I’m not opposed to this in theory, I’d rather the game hide secrets well and make me want to replay the game rather than forcing me to.

But overall I don’t think DmC is a weak game. In fact I think it’s really strong, and while I can now see why people weren’t on board when it came out, I think it’s got some great moments and excellent combat mechanics.

Ending thoughts

While I had some excitement for DMC5, I’m stoked now. Having experienced this franchise to its fullest I think this series capitalized on its potential and its influence can be seen in a lot of places in this industry.

I like the idea of having a cool protagonist who’s badass, not because he drinks, smokes or has lots of sex, but from the principle of just being cool.

Is he a 13-year-old’s version of being badass? Yeah, a lot. But I appreciate it’s dedication, and there’s something adorable about its cheesy acceptance of that fact.

Having played it in reverse, I can see why the later entries in the series are more adored than its earlier ones. While I think DMC1 has a lot of great moments, and I’m already planning to return to it real soon, I think it’s a harder sell to most people than its followups. Maybe after DMC5 comes out they can make an updated port, or even a remake. Capcom seems into those these days.

It’s been a wild ride this DMCember. I explored castles demons, I ate pizza, learned I hadn’t realized my full cool potential and I kicked demon ass.

And I’m happy I finally did learn more about this series because it really feels special, like each entry is a labour of love from someone who really enjoys these types of games.

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About Casus Gamingone of us since 7:55 PM on 10.17.2015

The word 'amateur' is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to me as a human being.

I'm a writer and a video game player, with that last one taking up way too much time out of the first two.

If you like From Software, Persona and have a hard-on for retro shooters and the N64, I think we'll get along.