Guns, swords, demons and heavy metal – the foundation of arguably any Devil May Cry game which Capcom seemed to nail with its third entry in the series, Dante’s Awakening. At the peak of the PlayStation 2 era in the mid-2000’s, the console seemed to churn out hit after hit at a tremendous rate, from the likes of God of War and Prince of Persia to Resident Evil and Need For Speed; a time in gaming that many lovingly still herald as the golden age of gaming. In the midst of all its greatest triumphs, though, one title boldly stood above the rest as the pinnacle of stylish game design – the spectacular Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening.
The “rule of cool” is a term thrown around a lot to describe games that seem to overbear the player with gratuitous amounts of unique style, often to contribute to the substance of the material. In anime, this title was awarded to shows like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, which all exhibit immense style that is especially, and only, unique to that specific material. The video game equivalent of that would be the Devil May Cry series, a breakthrough hack and slash romp that started off as somewhat of a concept piece for Resident Evil 4. Over the years since the first game, the series has come to settle into an original style of its own, peaking with Devil May Cry 3.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening acts as a prequel to the first game, where a younger, much cockier Dante is in the initial phases of his demon-slaying business. When a mysterious, dark tower erupts from the center of his city, Dante is called into action, only to find out that his long-lost twin brother, Vergil, and a scheming dark priest named Arkham, have seized the tower and are prepared to unleash hell on the world. Dante must find a way to stop his brother as he ventures deep into the tower and up the various levels and stages, all culminating in a surprisingly heartfelt reunion. Well, by Devil May Cry standards, “heartfelt” may be stretching it.
Capcom seemed to pour a lot of effort into the gameplay this time, as its predecessors, while pretty bold and more fast-paced than your regular hack and slasher, introduced the frenetic gameplay style but never quite took it the extra step until Devil May Cry 3. The game doubled down on its roster of combos that players could pull off with ease, coupled with the vast array of weapons at your disposal to make for a well-rounded and extremely entertaining experience. Dante is able to obtain new weapons usually by way of an intense boss fight, and make no mistake, Devil May Cry 3 is an unforgiving brute of a challenge. Dark Souls be damned.
The difficulty level is largely thanks to the European port of the game that mistakably shuffled the difficulty meter, so Normal in the Japanese release was now Hard Mode. Even without its shuffle, Devil May Cry 3 prides itself on being incredibly challenging. The boss encounters are especially relentless and difficult, but do provide the game with its greatest strength. Each boss is conceptually amazing from a design point of view and wildly different enough to stand out – packed with its own vicious methods of battle – and demands the utmost patience and careful combat planning from players to succeed, despite the game always moving forward at a breakneck pace. It elevates each encounter into a game of who can react the fastest in getting the first hit, and from then on, it’s a battle of trying not to slip up in the slightest.
Devil May Cry 3 boasts one of the best soundtracks, if not the best soundtrack, in gaming. Period. Shawn McPherson’s score is a thing of legend, seamlessly blending roaring heavy metal guitars and vocals with ferocious electronic synth beats and the occasional operatic choir. The music knows when to fade into the gameplay in the moments of battle and provides plenty of helpful cues to when lurking demons enter the picture. As a collective whole, there’s not a single musical piece or song that feels out of place or unnecessary. In fact, one could even listen to the soundtrack and pick out individual songs like a traditional album. It’s very well composed and is a great testament to the importance of video game soundtracks.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is a game I find myself revisiting at least once a year. There’s so much to love in Capcom’s twisted dreamland of demon-slaying and leather-bound, silver-tongued punks that I find to be incredibly appealing from a game design perspective. The visual flare of the game is enough to win over anyone hoping to see the video game equivalent of The Matrix but on a very nightmarish, heavy metal-infused LSD trip. Devil May Cry 3 is a masterpiece and one of Capcom’s crowning achievements that will constantly have your heart rate jacked.