ScreenCritics Sam takes time out to explore how the ‘Devil May Cry’ series has redefined what it means to be a stylized video game.
Believe it or not, the first Devil May Cry released for the PlayStation 2 originally started off as a blueprint for Resident Evil 4. When Capcom realized the drastic departure from the survival horror game play of their acclaimed horror franchise into more atmospheric, fast-paced style, they inadvertently created somewhat of a groundbreaking hack and slash title. This kick started the beloved series that gathered an entirely new fan base who preferred breakneck swordplay, infinite ammo, and most importantly, a particularly unique style that redefined the very meaning of “style over substance” in gaming.
Devil May Cry launched in 2001 fresh off the new capabilities of the PS2, and was an immediate hit with critics. Following the story of Dante, a wise-cracking, very acrobatic human/demon hybrid who owns a demon-hunting business, it covered his journey to a strange, ominous castle (think Castlevania) in search of why a busty blonde burst through his doors and tried to kill him. Well, that’s the just of the story, including a basic revenge tale as old as time itself, but despite the very colorful cast of characters and an admittedly thin plot, it favored over-the-top style (“over the top” may be putting it lightly).
The selling point of Devil May Cry came from its ridiculously bombastic action and incredible flare, taking hints from the action in The Matrix and Japanese animation and incorporating it into Dante’s fighting style. The game favored intense, extremely stylish combat that often bordered on being somewhat of a cartoon. While it’s sequel, Devil May Cry 2, toned down this style in favor of trying to tell a more mature story (which backfired considering it is the worst reviewed of the series), it wasn’t until Devil May Cry 3 that the series really showed its true colors and pushed the boundaries of style.
Devil May Cry 3 is admittedly one of my favorite games of all time, so I might be a bit biased in saying that it’s the most stylish game I’ve ever played to date. The fluid burst of action immediately made it clear what kind of game Capcom wanted Devil May Cry to be all along. Dante, a much younger, more sarcastic bloke, confronts his diabolic twin brother and a scheming evil priest when a huge tower mysteriously rises from beneath the Earth. The game mostly consisted of you scaling this colossal tower and slinging insults at the odd enemy, but it came down to some of the most memorable, outrageous boss fights I’ve ever played.
From the opening sequence and initial battle to warm you into the game, there was plenty of spectacular action to behold and, rightfully, suspend all disbelief. Dante is attacked by legions of demons, and, being an immortal demi-god himself, puts as much effort into killing them as swatting flies while eating a slice of pizza. He uses the demons as surfboards to glide across his floor, laying damage to the others with a joyous sense of detachment from reality and death. Clearly this game was never meant to be taken seriously, but it somehow managed to balance a compelling story with equally mind-blowing game play mechanics.
Devil May Cry 4 followed a similar pattern, this time putting players in the shoes of Nero, an angsty but relatable Dante look-a-like trying to save his beloved princess from the clutches of the underworld. It didn’t exactly break the same ground that its predecessor did, but it managed to perfectly encapsulate the over-the-top zaniness of the series, complete with ridiculous combat and enough amazing slow-motion effects to give The Matrix a run for its money. Capcom seemed confident in the world and universe it created with the series at this point, and while admirable effort was put into making a worthy narrative, die-hard fans knew that was not the reason they returned to the game with each iteration.
Capcom rebooted the series in 2013 with a whole new coat of paint, changing Dante’s appearance and the chronological narrative of the series’ core. While the story didn’t sit well with fans, it was generally well-received anyway for its immense style and newly implemented gameplay to make it seem fresh, still feeling like a true Devil May Cry game at heart.
So what makes the Devil May Cry series completely redefine style over substance? While there was certainly enough meaty substance put into the later entries in the series, it attempted to match its outrageously over-the-top style with a narrative that sometimes relied too heavily on the whimsical nature of Dante to take itself too seriously. And that’s exactly what one should expect going into a game involving narcissistic demi-gods eating pizza, listening to industrial metal music, and defying all laws of physics in the process.
There’s a certain charm to the identity of Devil May Cry that many would agree certainly withstands the test of time as it’s not bound by overly complex storytelling or fleshed out characterization past “good guy is good, bad guy is bad” tropes… but it creates a style so defining to the series that it’s now a staple to expect the bombastic, loud, and fast-paced action that Devil May Cry as a whole has become known for. In fact, it’s quite ironic that Devil May Cry once started out as a game in a survival horror franchise that pretty much reinvented sluggish, slow-paced action. The true horror is where Capcom expects to go next with the series and whether or not this style will overstay its welcome.
P.S. The soundtracks for these games are badass, especially Devil May Cry 3. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.