Before I start, a small announcement. This article will be the first of a (hopefully) long-running series of game reviews. The goal of "Reloading the Save" files will be to bring back games I played years ago and remind everyone of why I once loved, and still love, them with all of my gaming heart. Each choice will be a game that I feel became a landmark in my video game-playing journey, one way or another.
So, if you like what I'm doing, look for future installments periodically. I hope to make this a regular thing. That being said, forgive me for my little interruption.
You might say the devil made me do it.
Tears of Joy
It's a dark and cold night in December of 2001, just one day after Christmas. A young boy sits down in front of a brand new Playstation2, the box it came in still in the corner of the living room. A message flashes on the screen: "WARNING! This game may contain scenes of explicit violence and gore." But the 11 year old child in front of the screen ignores the fact that the game is rated "M" for "mature," and he presses start.
That was the day I played my very first Playstation2 game,
Devil May Cry.
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Originally intended to become Resident Evil 4, Capcom developed the game when they took it in radically different directions in the early stages of its creation. Devil May Cry is considered a pioneer of the next-gen gaming software, being the first monumentally successful hack n' slash adventure game in the 3D realm. It is considered the progenitor of stylistic action combat games, inspiring such popular titles as God of War, Bayonetta, No More Heroes, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Indeed, most action combat games are often compared to the Devil May Cry series when they are reviewed by critics.
That may be some indication that it's friggin' awesome.
Having recently purchased the Devil May Cry HD Collection (linked above), I had the opportunity to revisit the memories I made over ten years ago playing the first game. Always a nostalgic and emotional experience, retracing my gamer steps allowed me to do two things. First, it allowed me to be impressed with the game all over again, reestablishing for me everything that makes the game a legend in the industry. But not everything ages well in the video game world. The second thing it allowed me to do is see just how the game was a fantastic parent for games today, but really can't fit in with the new generation.
The Devil May Cry
If He hears this dialogue.
There's a few things that Devil May Cry is known for. But not all of these things are necessarily good. For one thing, the game's dialogue is atrocious. Both in design and delivery. From start to finish, the voice overs will insure you'll see more of the inside of your eye sockets than the actual cutscenes. There's a lot of things in DMC that are done so well they stand the test of time, but you can definitely mark the plot and the script as exceptions to those things.
The cheddar-flavored premise of Devil May Cry centers on a young man named Dante (based on the author of the Divine Comedy). But Dante isn't just a man; he's also half demon! This of course means he basically has super powers. At the very least he has superhuman strength, speed and resilience. Seriously about that last one; the guy is impaled more times than your average pin cushion in this game. He doesn't even seem to feel it anymore after a while.
See what I mean?
But despite his half-demon heritage, Dante resolves to spend his life hunting down and eliminating demons all around the world as a hired service. Business is slow for a while (guess there isn't much demand for demon busting in the big city), until one day Dante catches a lucky break. A beautiful woman shows up at his office and decides to try to kill him, impaling him with his own sword--as is customary--and throwing a motorcycle at him because...well, why not throw a motorcycle at him? After all this, she marvels at his ability to live through stuff like swords through the chest and exploding mot
So begins Dante's great journey of predictable plot elements and cheesy one-liners.
But obviously Dante didn't decide to hunt down every member of his daddy's side of the family because it was a fun way to kill time. It turns out that his very human mother was murdered by demons when he was young, and he's out for revenge. His journey takes him to a huge, eerie castle because, well, where else would the king of evil reside but a giant, creepy fortress? In any case, you, as Dante, then begin your spree of demon slaying. You fight hordes of formidable foes and a handful of gigantic boss monsters until you come to the big cheese himself.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, let's just say the main antagonist has a rather obvious connection to Dante's past. And that woman that became Dante's friend? Spoiler alert: she turns out to be untrustworthy. I know. It shocked me, too. Clichéd as hell (ha) plot points aside, the real cheddar flavoring comes not from the game's predictability, but the atrocious voice acting.
One-liners are probably what Dante is most known for throughout the entire series. Along with being impaled, it's sort of his calling card. But in the first game, the things he says are so tasteless one has to wonder if it was intended for comic value. Such one-liners include the following gems:
"Flock off, featherface!"
"Don't come any closer, you devil!"
"You may have her face, but you'll never have her FIRE!!"
Those are just probably the best non-spoiler ones I can come up with from recent memory, but believe me when I say there is a ton of them in this game. It's not all about what is said, though. Sometimes the cheesiest thing about the game is how these terrible lines are delivered. Want a good example? Below is the most well-known (and most widely parodied) line in all of Devil May Cry; the (alleged) death of Trish.
"I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIIIIIIGHHHHHT!" Yeah. It's kind of like that.
I swear when I was a kid, the voice acting didn't seem so terrible. I even used to mimic the game's one liners with friends at school, talking about how cool Dante's storyline was. But now that I'm older, I've either learned the difference, or the campy voice acting of Devil May Cry just no longer fits in with the current gaming expectations. Either way, you can imagine the glee of my 11 year old self.
"Flock off" sounded much more catchy back then for some odd reason...
A Playground Full of Devils
But you can forget about idle hands.
The Devil May Cry series has a reputation among hardcore gamers. It is well-known for a few reasons, but two of them are what make it one of the biggest influences in the industry: intricate combat mechanics and an intense difficulty level.
This game is not easy. It will have players whining, yelling and yes, wanting to throw their controllers through their television screens sometimes. Even on the Normal difficulty, enemies will give you a run for your money, and on harder difficulties, they will require the player to actually master dodging and reading enemy attack patterns just to survive a minor battle. The learning curve in Devil May Cry is also a little bit ridiculous. It'll take days of practice for most people just picking up the game to be able to get through it, perhaps even on Easy Mode. Even when I played it again recently, I had to abuse in-game items just to manage through it, having lost all the skills I once worked hard to develop as a young gamer way back when.
Once you beat it on Normal, you'll feel like you've pushed yourself to the limit and breathe a series of relieved sighs after the credits start rolling. Then you'll prop yourself up to Hard Mode and feel like a masochist if you can even manage to make it through the game at that point. That's not even the worst that Capcom throws at you. I'll put it this way; the hardest difficulty in Devil May Cry is infamously called "Dante Must Die" mode. I'll get more into that later.
You might be asking that, if the game is so ridiculously hard, how can it possibly be fun? Wouldn't it just be extremely frustrating to play a game where the learning curve is steeper than a water slide to Hell itself? The answer lies in the game's trendsetting combat system that creates a real sense of visceral skill and style as the player hones it. Remember how Dante is half demon and is really strong, fast and hard to kill? You get to take advantage of all that to kill demons while performing superhuman feats.
Find out the hard way, or flock off.
Demon blood has its perks for our hero. He can jump really far, and even sort of float while he's shooting in midair. He can also survive a fall from any distance, and jump across ledges normal humans can't. Dante also has superhuman strength and speed, being able to smash enemies into pieces with sufficient damage, and able to slash his heavy sword at speeds impossible for a human. He can send enemies that are heavier than him flying with some attacks, and cut through pieces of furniture or statues as if they were made of butter. You have a lot of power to counter the game's intense difficulty with.
You might have noticed in the video that sometimes Dante has a blue or orange aura around him. This is the true power of being half demon. The game calls this "Devil Trigger". When certain qualifications are met (and this is very early in the game), Dante has the ability to activate the Trigger whenever the player wants.
Besides that, Dante can gain more skills as the game is played, either for his weapons or for his Devil Trigger effects specifically. You are also able to increase his maximum health or Devil Trigger duration by purchasing different colored orbs. These things don't come cheap, however; a player only gains red orbs--the games form of currency--by killing demons or getting high grades on the mission. That's another unique system of Devil May Cry: the rating system.
Games giving a letter grade wasn't something new to the industry at the point of this game's creation, but it was certainly taken to new heights. While you fight, you will be given a grade based on how long of a combo you could string together, how often you can dodge attacks and how often you vary your abilities. If you were to play the game, you'll notice a word in the top right while you fight the enemies. This word indicates the "grade" scale in the game. It ranges from "D" (Dull) to "S" (Stylish). And it isn't just for battles either. Every mission will give you a letter grade as well based on how fast the mission is completed, how much damage the player avoided, how many enemies were killed, and how little items were used. Players get a bonus of red orbs based on their mission grade.
Since red orbs are used to beef up Dante's skills and overall stats, doing well in the game matters. If you just scrape by and don't learn how to fight well with Dante's abilities, you're going to have a harder time getting through the game simply because you won't be able to buy as many upgrades.
This sounds like it sucks, but think about it. It means that you feel much more accomplishment if you can practice until you can pull off moves with style. I can't tell you how many times one might dodge a massive fireball to the face, or parry an enemies slash that would otherwise kill you and then counter with a
Remember we talked about Dante Must Die? Well, things change in that difficulty. Only real masters of all of Dante's moves and abilities can hope to finish the game on this mode. On DMD, your enemies have Devil Trigger just like you do. If you can't kill them fast, they enter that mode and become the stuff of pure nightmares. This coupled with the fact that getting hit once or twice on DMD even with maximum health means death, makes it the true test of a player's skill to get all the way through. I have yet to manage the feat, but I'm still working on it!
One thing is for certain, once somebody beats Devil May Cry on every difficulty, they've immediately won some respect among gamers who have tried it. There's something about a game that can push you to your absolute limits, force you to put all your concentration into it, and try and try again that makes it gratifying to beat. And if it wasn't for the game's intricate and seemingly boundless 3d combat, it would probably simply be known as the most frustrating game of all time. It's good enough that even today, the combat would still live up to the standards created by newer, more complex games (including future games in the series).
Of course, it helps that the player has a lot of control over what weapons they want to use. By the end of the game, they will have 4 different guns to use as ranged weapons, and 3 different "devil arms" that grant Dante super powered combat moves and Devil Trigger. Which weapons the player uses and how they mix things up is entirely up to them, and all combat flows incredibly well, so most things one does feel stylish and cool. It really set the bar high for any games following within the next decade, and even continues to do so.
The Verdict? 8/10
Still worth it.
Okay, so yeah the game is harder than diamonds and has voice work you can spread on crackers, but it is still a landmark for the industry. In a time where games were appealing to a new generation, with games typically targeting a younger demographic, Devil May Cry shook things up. And sliced into them.
It wasn't afraid to bring back difficult gameplay, but in such a way that it would be worth the effort. With combat mechanics that had reached a new level of over-the-top style and empowerment for the player, it contains a satisfaction like few games offer when the player gets things right. As for the voice acting, well, perhaps they made it so extreme and dramatic just as the gameplay is extreme and seems to disregard the laws of physics.
Since games were in a heyday of campy voice-acting and plotlines (this game stemmed from Resident Evil, after all), I think the ridiculous dialogue is something that can be overlooked for the sake of the game's never-before-seen cutthroat combat. The cutscenes may be far from visceral by today's standards, but--as crazy as it seems--were perfectly acceptable ten years back, and the mechanics are so polished they still stand up today.
The bottom line is that the game is still a blast, despite being from the past. To this day, I recommend playing it. Slugging through the crazy hard battles and coming out on top after infinite trial and error is a retro charm this game offers in droves. And it's as fun now as it was the first time I popped it in on that night all those years ago. I would even say it was a little scary when I was 11 years old.
But the only thing to be afraid of now is terrible one-liners and a plot I could've written back then. The rest continues to prove itself as something every respectable gamer should be exposed to, at least once. This game may not be perfect by today's standards but it holds its own.
Devil May Cry is still a fantastic game.