In a previous blog I talked about the early Devil May Cry games, as I was playing them in preparation for Devil May Cry 3 releasing on Switch. And now it has released and I’ve had time to dig in to it and collect my thoughts, I felt the need to follow up that last post. Much like with the previous games in this series, I have over the years given this one a couple of attempts before. Although I always had the most success with this one, I still never managed to properly crack it. While I never got past the earlier parts of DMC1&2 previously, I had played most of the way through 3 before this, but hit a wall later on. So even though this is by far the most familiar of the three games to me, it wasn’t until now that I felt like I really got on with it.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, DMC3 takes a good look at the first game in the series and successfully carries over what that game did right, and expands upon it greatly, showing that this time around it really understood what made that game tick, and how to build upon those things to make them even stronger. It takes the same fundamental control scheme, and the same kind of pace to movements, but makes it much tighter, responsive, and expressive, as well as broadening your range of attacks and abilities to boot. Yet it still manages to keep it all understandable by sticking to the same sort of logic that the original had. It works so well that the series is still using this framework today, and knowledge and muscle memory from those later games translate well back to 3 too. Although it can feel somewhat clunky to begin with, as there are some quirks to this system that were ironed out in later games, but they don’t take long to get used to and cease to be a problem. Where things really start to get interesting is the biggest new addition to the series this game makes, in the fighting styles. Or simply Styles as they are referred to in the game. So now instead of simply having a range of weapons and moves to deal with enemies, you can alter a large part of your ability set in a way that has a big impact on how you approach combat. There are six Styles in total, that range from simply adding more movement or attack abilities (Trickster, Swordmaster, etc.), to a risky block/parry system (Royalguard), and even the ability to briefly freeze time (Quicksilver). They add a whole new layer to the combat system that gives you a lot of range in how you approach challenges, and can give any part of the game a much different feel.
Honestly I'm surprised they didn't give this version a new name with how much they added.
On top of all the improvements the original version of this game made, with this recent Switch version Capcom added even more that blew open the possibilities of the mechanics and helped it fulfil the potential that it never quite reached before, by bringing it in line with the way later games do things. This version includes the new Free Style mode, which allows you to equip all your weapons at once during gameplay, as well as giving you access to every Style and letting you switch between them on the fly. Originally you could only equip two weapons of each type, and only one Style, only getting a chance to change them between chapters or at certain checkpoints. Now you get five melee and five ranged weapons at once, and access to all six Styles simultaneously, all accessible with a single button press.
Being used to this in later games, it always made going back to 3 something of a struggle. But now that it has been brought in line with 4 and 5, it is a much smoother and enjoyable experience, and makes it feel like it’s truly firing on all cylinders. Fights have a really energetic pace to them, but one that still has a focus to them in the way that characterises this series. While you have a wide range of abilities, most of them are quite specific in their capabilities. Certain attacks will only hit enemies in a certain direction, or they will knock them back or move you with a given trajectory. So to play effectively it encourages you to explore everything at your disposal and understand how it works, and how to best use it against different enemies. Free Style mode is an excellent compliment to this, as it means you will always have access to your entire arsenal, so there’s no chance that there is some trick to an encounter that you can’t work out because you just don’t have the right tools on hand. This is especially useful during boss fights, as they usually have some weapon that they are weak to, so being able to experiment on the fly to work it out, instead of having to die multiple times going through trial and error makes the encounter go much more smoothly, and more involving as a player, as you know there can’t be anything getting in the way of simply working out how to fight them. The only issue with this system is that you are still required to level up each Style individually by using them, instead of simply being able to buy levels like any other unlock as later games did. While this could potentially encourage you to use each Style more, it also pushes you towards using lesser Styles over being able to explore what more upgraded ones have to offer.
The bosses themselves are still great too, for the most part. Most of them are a good challenge that test you by being very varied, each asking you to work out some skill in a way that helps you learn and apply that to other situations. Yet they maintain a stylish flair and an organic flow to them that helps them maintain a sense of going toe-to-toe in a dynamic clash against an equal, instead of being an arbitrary puzzle where you just have to work out the solution, to then just repeat that solution in a rote fashion. It makes repeating these fights on subsequent playthroughs a joy, as you’re able to apply what you’ve learned before and master them. The best boss fights in the game are good examples of this, like Agni and Rudra, and the Vergil battles. There are a few though which are a bit more on the dull side however, like Gigapede and Leviathan’s Heart. But some bosses which I didn’t much care for first time round, I ended up liking a lot more coming back to them after, as I had a much better idea of how to approach them, like Nevan and even Geryon to a degree. Vergil is the real star of the show though. This game basically solidified the trope of the rival character in the genre, and for good reason. Having a boss that mirrors your own abilities so closely and ties the story and gameplay progression together so well is such a perfect fit for what these games try to do, and Vergil is done so admirably that he deserves to be the blueprint that later games looked to for inspiration.
This version also adds local co-op for the waved-based Bloody Palace survival mode, but I never got a chance to try it.
General combat against basic enemies is just as fun too. Much like with the bosses, most enemy types have a specific weapon or two that they are weak to, and so because you encounter a much wider range of them in a shorter space of time, they encourage you to change things up a lot more frequently. It gives gameplay this wonderful feeling of being a playground of creative chaos. It’s pure joy to be so smoothly and effortlessly mixing around all your different weapons and Styles, and it lets the more frequently neglected weapons have a chance to shine as well, given that they are no longer taking up the place of something that might be more practical. It helped me appreciate Nevan (the weapon) a lot more than before for example. While Rebellion and Agni & Rudra will always be at the top of my list, having such easy access to Nevan allowed me to realise how useful it can be in specific scenarios, and how fun it can be to use. As well as simply just learning how to use it in the first place. This new system also allowed me to appreciate Royalguard much more now as well. It helped me discover that it isn’t actually as punishing as I previously thought, and is very well suited to some of the trickier enemy types. It’s extremely useful against the spider enemies for instance, as you can simply let them come to you, blocking their charging attacks. Although, again like the bosses, despite most of them being good, there are a few duds. The flying blood bats and the infamous angel-like demons were never fun, especially on higher difficulty modes. But despite the few hiccups, generally the enemy design is impressive. So with all these different factors working together, the combat stands out as still being top tier, and can reach the same heights as the later games do with a good regularity. Enough to stand alongside them as being a prime example of why these games are so great.
The world design is a bit of an odd one though. It goes for a more interconnected structure where the whole game is mostly part of a singular location that has you revisiting areas as you open up new paths forward, in a way that is relatively similar to the first game. It’s not quite the same however, and I don’t think it quite captures that same feeling of gradually digging deeper in to a setting. Despite some points where you loop back around, and technically having the ability to move around the game world with some level of freedom, you’re still generally going in a single direction through the whole game. There are some moments when you take a detour, but it ends up feeling somewhat arbitrary, like you’re only going there because the game demands it, and that it wouldn’t make much sense to do so otherwise. But it does still create a feeling of the game being set in an actual place, just less so than DMC1. It’s something of a halfway house between the first game’s Resident Evil-like structure, and DMC5’s fully linear levels. Or perhaps more like the first step on that transition, given DMC4’s levels being like a string of smaller individual interconnected areas. I’m not so sure what I would call the best choice though. While it is nice to have the feeling that the game takes place in a believable location, instead of simply having a narrow path to funnel you down, it’s not really necessary to have that sort of structure for these games to work well, and it can sometimes be confusing not knowing where you need to go, having access to a bunch of areas that are unnecessary for progress.
The official screenshots are strangely darker than the game itself.
I played through this game four times in total. Three times as Dante, and once as Vergil. As is often the case with these games, each run provided a significantly different experience, and doing so helps put in to perspective what are the real strengths and weaknesses of the game. My first run as Dante was done on Normal, being the only option to begin with. This was a good time, learning how the game worked and fully experiencing the story. Despite having seen most of the game already, it had an exciting freshness to it of digging in to something new and finally being able to get that moment where it clicks. But it did come with something of a struggle too. To start off you are weak, and don’t have a big range of abilities, as you need to unlock and upgrade most things through the game. This does make some parts of the first run rather frustrating, as you’re at a disadvantage both in terms of mechanics and your own skills. Bosses can be really tough first time through, when you don’t have the weapon you need to deal with them, and they can much more easily wipe your health out too. This is where some of my aforementioned issues with the controls appeared. It’s hard enough trying to learn a boss that you are unfamiliar with, so trying to work out the little wrinkles of how it deals with your inputs can be the thing that ends up getting you killed.
The next run on Hard was a big step up. At this point I had unlocked mostly everything, had a much better knowledge of the skills the game requires, and had a much better grasp of the controls too. So this run was exceedingly fun. Add my own improvements to the step up in enemy aggression and health etc., it evolves the pace of the gameplay to being significantly faster, and it really gets the adrenaline pumping. The challenge increased in line with my level of skill, to the point where I felt fully in tune with the game, where I could properly explore what it had to offer. It gave me the ability to play with its systems, but in a way that still provided a good pushback that requires you to stay on top of things and not lose focus and do anything stupid. This was definitely the highlight of my time playing, and it provided a lot of moments that are up there with some of the best I’ve had with this series.
Then finally I played through Very Hard mode. This isn’t quite the hardest mode, but the second hardest. This was the point however where the game pushed beyond what I was capable of, and it stopped being as fun as before. While it wasn’t a bad time overall, for a lot of it I felt like I was out of my depth and brute-forcing it to an extent. In this mode not only do enemies get another bump in health and aggression, their placements also change significantly. This ended up making quite a lot of encounters and enemy types becoming a major hassle when they weren’t before, in a way that wasn’t a fun challenge. Like putting annoying bad enemies together in the same fights as much more tougher and deadly enemies. And since these fights were far more demanding, those control issue I had early on started to creep back in somewhat, as I found myself once again fumbling to keep up at times. While I was glad to have done it, and pushing myself to beat some parts I didn’t think I could was satisfying in a sense, by the end of it I had run out of energy for it, and so that was the point I decided to stop. I don’t hold it against the game though. Perhaps if I put in some extra effort I could’ve cracked this mode too.
A perfectly timed block is very satisfying.
My one run I did as Vergil was on Normal, between my Normal and Hard run with Dante. While playing as him is an interesting alternative to Dante, I didn’t like it as much. His move set feels very limited in comparison. Not only does he simply have less moves and weapons at his disposal, the lack of pause input combos simply makes playing as him feel less engaging and intentional, which is odd considering Vergil’s characterisation as being the far more focused and motivated sibling. I also couldn’t help compare how he plays in DMC4SE to this, where he is vastly more enjoyable. They obviously used this game’s Vergil as a base for 4SE, but expanded his abilities massively and added the concentration mechanic that embodies his personalty in gameplay very well too. I did also start a Hard run in this game after beating it as Dante, but given how much of a high that was, going back to the even more limited Vergil in comparison was even less appealing, so I left it at that.
But to end on a lighter note, through this experience with this version of DMC3, the game has now become one of my favourites in the series, and I have a lot of appreciation for it. This game is definitely where the series starts to come in to its own, and the Free Style mode is a brilliant addition that finally realises the full extent of its possibilities, which feels like taking the shackles off. Despite it not hitting the mark with everything it does, for the majority of the time it’s a thoroughly impressive game which stands up to the test of time and provides some truly joyous combat.