I was a big fan of the original Devil May Cry (2001), which was one of the stand-out titles on the PlayStation 2. It was not quite as ground-breaking as Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube a few years later, but it was still a very impressive game, with over-the-top action, stellar art design, very impressive set pieces, and excellent controls. The sequel (2003) was widely panned, so I skipped it, and the third game in this series (2005) came out late in the PS2’s lifespan. I thus missed it. Devil May Cry 4 (2008) I played briefly on the Xbox 360 but dropped as I was busy with some other things at that point in my life. The backtracking in this game was simply a lot less interesting than exploring London’s nightlife. After DMC 4, the series seemed to have run its course. There was an attempt to reboot it, with the help of a Western developer, with DmC: Devil May Cry (2013). This is not nearly as bad a game as the Internet wants to make you believe. I actually played through it one or two years ago, enjoying my time with it. It is good but the game mechanics do not hold a candle to DMC 4. The announcement of DMC 5, which was eventually released in 2019, was a big surprise, as it was widely believed that Capcom had abandoned this IP.
The story of DMC 5 naturally pretends that DmC does not exist. Well, the story of DMC 5 should just have been a vehicle to move the action forward but it is taken far too seriously by the game. In short, a “demonic tree” pops up and you get to the bottom of it, fighting demons along the way. You need a lot of suspension of disbelief. DMC 5 is the inverse of your typical Sony triple-A release where you suffer through gameplay to get to the next cut scene. Here, you skip through the story to get to the next gameplay section.
If you have never played a Devil May Cry game, DMC 5 may take a bit of effort. When I played DmC, I was surprised how quickly I got used to the control as my experience with previous games largely carried over, and the same was true with DMC 5, at least for two of the three protagonists. (Yes, the game makes you learn three different move sets!) In any case, there is also a general flow to the gameplay which you need to get used to. In short, two of the three characters you get to play are very mobile. You need to learn crowd control, baiting the enemy into attacking, and effective way of attacking or counterattacking. If you land a hit, you should be able to turn it into a combo. There is a bit of a learning curve and if you struggle with the controls, you can enter a practice arena.
There are three protagonists: Nero, V, and Dante. Nero and Dante you meet in the prequels. V is a new joiner, and he is probably the most bizarre character I have encountered in a Japanese action game, so this says a lot. He is an emo who walks with a cane, and fights via proxies, meaning that he summons demons who fight for him. You can increase an attack gauge by making him read from a book. Did I say this character is bizarre? The gameplay is worse, though. When you play him, you only need to hammer attack buttons to beat the enemies. This even works in boss fights. My biggest criticism of DMC 5 is the inclusion for V. There is a story justification for him, but it is weak.
Nero is easy to play as due to the new mechanical-arm gimmick. He is very fast, and you will probably quickly adopt to the rhythm of slashing enemies with your big sword, followed by blasting them in the face with your Mega-Man inspired arm cannon. There are other mechanical arms later in the game that ape other weapons, such as a drill or a whip. Overall, it’s an interesting mechanic, but you can probably see that the actual gameplay is quite complex. It is worse with Dante with whom you can use different weapons that may completely change how you approach fights with the enemies.
The main story is broken up into 20 missions. My gaming sessions are normally not longer than about 90 minutes, and that is enough time to make it through three missions. After that much time you probably want to take a little break as it can be a bit monotonous to fight the same kind of enemy over an over. Granted, there is a fair amount of variety, but you will nonetheless encounter early-game enemies up until the very end.
There are a few boss fights. Unfortunately, Capcom pulled a classic God-of-War move and put the visually most impressive boss fight at the start of the game, which I have embedded below. This is the fight against “goliath”. There is nothing in the game afterwards that comes close to it. This was a bit of a let-down. I can think of two or three other bosses I found visually interesting, but they did not vow me like the aforementioned one. Boss fights are a tad too long, but this seems to have been a deliberate decision, i.e. you need to learn the patterns to beat a boss instead of just flailing around. Yet, it is possible to cheese yourself through the game thanks to “yellow orbs” that fully restore your health. Instead of resetting the fight, you continue just where you had left off.
DMC 5 is a relatively short and really fun game. It took me around ten hours to make it through it on the “human” difficulty setting, which is a tad on the easy side. I died just two or three times, and one of it was due to me experimenting with the controls. Another time was due to the camera messing with me. The harder difficulties are known to offer a stiff challenge, though.
I have quite a few criticisms of this game, so it probably says a lot that I still think that DMC 5 is worth your time. What you notice at first is that the color palette seems quite limited. Everything is grey, purple, black, or red, with an exception at the beginning. As a minor spoiler, you only enter broad daylight again towards the very end of the game, so this was clearly an artistic decision, but none I agree with. The level design is bland. You traverse a lot of long corridors, with the occasional branching path. Sometimes, you just run from one fight to another, but for some reason both battle areas need to be connected by an empty corridor. I think that the visual presentation is overall lacking. Nothing in DMC 5 comes close to the absolutely beautifully rendered cathedral in DMC 4, for instance, and even the standard corridors in DMC 4 look a lot better than anything in DMC 5. Essentially, it looks as if you are making your way through oversized arteries or various body orifices. That you enter various openings that are shaped like sphincters or vaginas — I am not making this up — is thus only fitting.
One feature of the game is that by pressing the L3 button you get a hint where to go next. When this was introduced, it seemed superfluous, but after experiencing the later levels, which are often quite insipid, this was simply necessary. You can end up in a circular battle arena with an entry and an exit. As battles can be quite chaotic, you would not necessarily know which way to go and could accidentally run the wrong way without this hint feature. A better solution would have been to improve the visual design to better guide the player, though.
A minor nitpick is that the textual story recap between missions is often too long to be read. It’s just a brief paragraph but if you have an SSD hard drive, which most people probably have by now, the next stage will be loaded too quickly. It would have helped if you had to manually confirm starting a stage but this is also awkward, so it may have been better to leave the story recap off altogether.
The game mechanics are quite complicated. It is basically like a modern fighting game with an excessive amount of moves, styles, weapons, and combos. Probably you will only focus on a very small subset of possible moves and stick to them. Nonetheless, switching between protagonists can be a bit awkward. There are only very few missions where you can pick between two or three of the protagonists. In most cases, the game makes this decision for you. However, if you have gotten used to one character, it can be a bit jarring to then switch to another, in particular if you have to play as V. I think that Capcom cut have cut a lot of the game, making it better overall. Without V and with a smaller and more focused move set, I think this would be a superior game. Alternatively, the story could have been adjusted to allow you to pick one of the three characters and stick with your choice. I would have much preferred that over the existing system.
In terms of game play, other minor quibbles are that the platforming, which you sometimes have to do, is tedious. Also, I was quite annoyed by some teleporting enemies which you cannot easily get a hold of. This lead to a few very protracted fights but there may be an easier way to deal with them. Granted, this was only an issue with one of the three protagonists as the others have effective means to deal with them.
Some of the scenes I found very cringe-worthy. There is a bizarre weapon, a hat, for one of the character that consumes the currency you collect during the game. Upon acquiring this hat, the protagonist performs a Michael Jackson-like dance, which made me wonder why Capcom lets boomers design their games. There surely are a lot of younger gamers out there who are completely missing this cultural reference. This is is what is looks like:
The worst part of this game is that Capcom put microtransactions into it. You need to upgrade the protagonist’s abilities by unlocking various moves. This happens via using “red orbs”, the in-game currency you collect in stages but also get from defeated enemies or as a bonus at the end of a stage. If you think that progress takes too long, which you very well might, considering that one playthrough is not nearly enough to unlock everything, the game not so subtly points you to its online store from which you can acquire red orbs in exchange for cold, hard cash. This may be acceptable in a shitty “free-to-play” mobile game but it rubs me the wrong way when such options are added to high-profile PC and console games. Note that the game does not make it clear to you that you will be fine even without many of the more advanced moves. Instead, you get to watch looping videos that show you how cool the various moves you can unlock are.
Despite all the criticism, the gameplay in DMC 5, with the exception of V, is so good that I still had a lot of fun with it. I intend to put some more hours into it. There are few games that give you this much control over a character. You have so much flexibility that you can develop your own style, albeit there surely are some choices that are objectively better. If you find action games just the least bit interesting, I would recommend checking out this game.