Devil May Cry 5 (2018)
Capcom | Reviewed on PS4
It’s fashion, sweetie
This is my first stab at the Devil May Cry franchise. I’ve never played any of the games before, simply because I’m not particularly good at the style of combat they demand. But Devil May Cry 5 appealed to me immediately – the music, the graphics, the style. Even though I knew I was going to be utterly shite, I had to play it. And I’m happy to report that I’m glad I did. Like Nico’s signature Devil May Cry van, and questionable driving habits, Devil May Cry 5 is fast, wild, and more than a little bit unbelievable; its action careens forward, propelling the plot at breakneck speed, and just when you think the game can’t get any crazier, it does. It’s unapologetically ridiculous – the kind of game where lines like “I hope you brought the marshmallows, cause I’m bringing the fire!” are delivered with complete conviction. And… I kind of loved it. Sure, there are some issues, and the dialogue can get a bit eye-rolly at parts, but this title was an absolute blast to play. A giant, demonic tree – sustained by human blood – is taking over Red Grave City, with a seemingly invincible demon king at its core. It’s up to the Devil Hunters, Nero and Dante, at the request of the mysterious V, to stop its growth and defeat the demon king. With the variation in combat provided by these three playable characters, and compelling storyline (complete with high stakes), Devil May Cry 5 puts the pedal to the metal, and never lets up.
The devil’s in the details
Once the demon king, Urizen, kicks the hell out of Dante, and forces V and Nero to retreat, the story falls into its stride. V and Nero, along with mechanic, Nico, work their way through Red Grave City, back towards the Qliphoth, hoping to go toe-to-toe with Urizen again. When their paths diverge, V is able to find the devil sword, Sparda, and a comatose Dante, allowing them to both push forward. All three are eventually able to reach the apex, where conveniently, the story also reaches its climax. Revelations are had, boss fights ensue, and cheesy lines are delivered. Everyone parts ways as unlikely friends, and good times are had by all. Yeah, I’m oversimplifying, but I don’t want to spoil every story beat. The narrative overall was pretty solid, though I can’t really compare it to previous titles in the franchise. There is a handy “History of DMC” option on the title screen, which brought me up to speed enough to understand the basics of the franchise (thanks Capcom). The over-the-top theatrics of the cutscenes were extremely entertaining to watch, and the pacing was on point. The twist (was it really supposed to be a surprise?) of V being the human aspect of Vergil was uh, not that surprising. Did anyone – especially longtime fans of the series – really see a character called V and not think it had anything to do with Vergil? I sure hope not. Obvious-twist aside, the story had a great sense of rising tension, and a satisfying conclusion. I honestly wish it was a bit longer, I was enjoying it so much.
Nero’s storyline was certainly the most compelling – from the first scene of his arm being torn off, to the big reveal of his true ancestry, we see his character through some major ups and downs. We get to see a more down-to-earth side of him, beyond the boastful, wise-ass persona that he maintains for the majority of the narrative. Even though he’s a bit of a brat sometimes, I thought they made a genuine effort to give his character some depth. Unfortunately the other characters, main and side, were a bit flat for me. Despite the game making allowances for newcomers to the series (re: the “history” movie available in the main menu) the story does absolutely zero legwork in terms of helping the player understand the relationships between characters. There is so little meaningful interaction between anyone, and it was a bit strange.
I liked being able to see Nero helping V, in scenes that showcase some kind of connection between the protagonists. Because, honestly, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of it going on. Dante is sort of callously aloof towards everyone (especially when Trish was excised from a demon – he didn’t really seem to care… like at all? Are they not friends?) I had a hard time understanding what relationships existed between these characters. Beyond some witty bants (particularly between Nero and Nico) I couldn’t tell if these people had known each other for 5 years, or 5 minutes. For me personally, it made it a little bit harder to get invested in the overall story of the game. If it wasn’t for the strength of the characters individually, and the crazy action that kept me pushing forward, I would have been a lot more apathetic about the whole thing. I know that Devil May Cry is action primarily, and character building/narrative second, but I still think it could have showcased a more multi-faceted dynamic between the main characters and their respective squad(s).
I also wanted to make a quick point about how terrible the female characters were: they were all presented as crutches, or props to support the male cast. It was a little disappointing. They’re only in the peripherals of the narrative, and they honestly don’t have much impact on the plot at all. I can’t compare to the rest of the series, so I’m not sure if its par the course, or just bad here. The only female that gets any real attention is Nico, and her character really grew on me. She’s obviously talented, and an absolute badass – I ended up loving her. But her only role in the game is to upgrade Nero’s Devil Breakers, to give him strength. Trish and Lady are barely given any attention at all. The only time Kyrie is mentioned (aside from a phone call or two) is in a really backhanded way. Nero has saved Lady from the inside of a demon (who was using her to fuel its own body) and as she falls to the ground, naked, Nico makes a comment about Nero betraying Kyrie. It’s meant to be a joke, but as Nico retreats, Nero sighs and says “Kyrie would kill me right now…” as I sit there and think, why? Because you saved this woman’s life, and she just happens to be naked? Does Nero have history with Lady? I DON’T GET IT. It’s just a really stupid moment that plays into the trope of women being petty and shallow. The whole scene just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
A poison tree
Though the story was fast-paced, and well-executed, I did find the environmental design to be a bit lacking, particularly in the second half of the game. Once the heart of the story moves to the giant demonic Qliphoth, everything starts to look and feel the same. Everything is in shades of red, and vaguely bone-like. The concept of the blood vessels, and human aspects of the tree were interesting, but it got dull after about 5 missions. I loved the earlier sections of the ruined city, and felt those designs were much more visually engaging. There is some exploration to be had, as each mission typically has a couple of hidden areas to discover. There are Gold, Blue, and Purple orbs (to get a continue, upgrade your health, or Devil Trigger, respectively) tucked away to be found, but each section was fairly linear. These issues are alleviated somewhat by the soundtrack, which absolutely slaps. The music that plays during bouts of combat was perfection. Especially “Pull My Devil Trigger” which is absurd, and I loved it. It was yet another element that made the combat fantastic, making it fun to face down a fairly diverse range of enemies.
The aptly named Death Scissors were easily my favourite because they were creepy as shit, and a bit of a challenge to fight. The Hell Judecca and Fury types were the worst – anything that can teleport away is already annoying, but the Hell Judecca’s were particularly bad. They had what seemed like hyper armor constantly, and were difficult to play around. It also spawns new enemies if you ignore it, which is swell. The majority of bosses in Devil May Cry 5 were also handled well – there were only a few that stood out to me as being designed or executed poorly. I really enjoyed the Cavaliere Angelo fight, as well as the Gilgamesh, Malphas and Elder Knight bosses. The only one I really hated was the Artemis fight – I had no idea what was going on for 60% of the time. Too many lasers, too much flying, too much going on. I didn’t enjoy it. The final boss, Vergil, on the other hand, was genuinely the hardest fight I’ve experienced in a long time. It took me multiple tries just to understand what was going on, and then a few more to actually pull off any kind of counterattack. Then a couple more to actually succeed with said attacks. Using Royal Guard with perfect timing to block his divebomb attacks was satisfying as hell. It was brutal, but brilliant.
Dance with the devil
Though immensely enjoyable, it took me a long time to get used to the combat in this game; I found it extremely challenging in the first few hours. I definitely struggled with Nero the most, even though he was probably my favourite character (V being a close second). His combat has a lot going on: the Devil Breakers (all of which do different things), the sword combos, and the Exceed mechanic were a lot to think about. While trying to time your button presses to pull off certain combos, you also have to be pressing L2 (Exceed) with good timing to rev Nero’s sword, Red Queen, to get extra damage and style points. Then you add the Devil Breakers to the mix. I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t use these as much as I should have. Mostly because I loved Gerbera a lot, and stuck with that one as often as I could. Gerbera offers a more effective dodging option, which I felt like I needed. I also liked Punch Line, Overture, and Helter Skelter. There is also no way to change the order of the Devil Breakers manually (which I thought was odd) so whichever order you pick them up is the one you’re stuck with. You can use L1 to break your current selection, and cause a lot of damage, but you have to weigh the potential risk of not finding another arm for a while (when you begin the game, you can carry a maximum of 3). The game is pretty generous in placing them around the world, and you can buy them from Nico’s shop, so this normally wasn’t a huge concern. I spent a lot (A LOT) of time in The Void, practicing Nero’s combos and trying to get everything down to muscle memory.
V was an easier character to use, and I found his unique combat style to be refreshing. V himself is quite weak, and needs to stay as far away from the demon hordes as possible. Instead, you’ll be using his minions, Shadow and Griffon, to deal enough damage for V to move in for the finisher. You can also summon the colossal Nightmare, a golem creature that deals insane amounts of damage, once V’s Devil Trigger is full. It can be replenished by defeating enemies, and more quickly when V reads from his book of poetry; he’s a big Blake fan, which is a smart choice (though based on his aesthetics, I expected him to be a Poe kind of guy). It’s the greatest, most emo thing I’ve ever seen, and I was all about it. He looks like he’d be a fan of My Chemical Romance and The Used as well. V also has the best taunts, featuring manic laughter and violin-playing. It was easy to get high style points with V, and I enjoyed his sections a lot – they were a welcome change of pace.
Dante is the final character you unlock, and I enjoyed his combat as well – I found his difficulty to be somewhere in between Nero and V. While Dante also has a lot of options in the four styles (Trickster, Gunslinger, Royal Guard, and Sword Master) and array of weapon options, it was easier to pick one, and stick with it. I liked the Royal Guard style (which focuses on deflecting attacks) for boss fights, but it did take a while to get the parry timings down, and I didn’t use it much outside of those big fights. I went with Trickster/Sword Master almost exclusively, and used the sword, Sparda/Dante, and Balrog pretty interchangeably. Until I unlocked Cavaliere, that is. Once you unlock a literal motorcycle for a weapon, there is no other choice – it’s illegal to use anything else. Though Cavaliere is slow, it does so. Much. Damage. It also makes it very easy to get style points. Combined with Dante’s two Devil Trigger options (which activates his Demon form) I had no issues piloting Dante to S rankings. And let’s be honest, style is the number one priority here.
Devil May Cry 5 is easily one of the most polished action games I’ve ever played – the attack animations, slow-mo closeups, and small additions for flavour (re: taunting) are well implemented. With the sheer variety in weapons and movesets, each character’s playstyle options feel virtually limitless. Though the game is technically a hack and slash, it doesn’t feel like one; through each combat encounter, you’ll be thinking about new and creative ways to string together combos and be as stylish as possible. Its a clever way to dissuade you from thoughtlessly hammering buttons. I just wanted the disembodied man to tell me I had Sick Skills! It makes the combat in this game feel like one of a kind. The story packs a real punch, but also nails the balance that I feel the entire game embodies – the heavy-hitting, genuine moments of emotional turmoil, and the visceral, campy quality of the dialogue and combat. The fun, and the weighty, so to speak. Nero’s triumphant “Fuck you!” when he uses his Devil Trigger still gets me every time. Utter brilliance. I can’t get over how phenomenal the soundtrack is. The ridiculous pleasures of gutting demons left, right, and center are honed to perfection in this title, with the huge array of combat options, spread across multiple playable characters. Through all the macho bravado, and demon-slaying, Devil May Cry 5 is, at its roots, a solid experience. I can definitely see myself going back to try out the higher difficulties (mostly because I already am). I still have a lot of room to improve on the combat spectrum. Consider me a fan of the series – I’m all in for whatever comes next. I’m still gonna need someone to explain that Dante dancing scene though.