Gaming · Reviews

Devil May Cry 5 (2019)

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.

13 thoughts on “Devil May Cry 5 (2019)

  1. I thought the gameplay in DMCV was simply empowering. It’s very rare that game like this comes along so fine tuned, and it’s what I’m hoping FFXVI is able to capture albeit on a more grand scale.

    As someone who has never played these games before, I was simply confused when Vergil appears for the first time. A lot of fans seem to have been very pleased with this and even blown away by his updated character, claiming him to be one of he most badass villains around. There’s a sort of “Dante Must Die” mode available that when using Vergil makes many sections kind of a joke considering how OP he apparently is. What was your reaction to seeing Vergil again for the first time in this game, and were you surprised/pleased?

    1. DMC 5 makes you feel like a badass. When I first fired off that arm cannon, I had two associations. First, it seems to have been quite inspired by Berserk and, second, blowing some low-level grunt to smithereens with it reminded me of the shotgun in Metal Slug. A lot of those old arcade games wanted to make you feel really powerful, at least in the beginning, before the difficulty ramped up. In contrast, in modern games there is increasing soy-boyification. Did you by any chance watch footage of that new Star Wars game Jedi Survivor? The protagonist is a very effeminate man.

      Vergil used to be the main antagonist in the very first DMC game. I was quite unmoved by Vergil. In fact, I thought it was a bit lame that they reused him as the final enemy in DMC 5 as this is a cliche of this series by now. He is also the final boss in DmC.

      1. I actually played some of the first Star Wars game that Respawn developed at a friend’s house and was quite shocked at how buggy it was. The game had a pretty decent opening, but then really fell off a cliff afterwards in terms of enjoyability. Also, it is riddled with ugly characters and diversity.

        One cool thing I had fun with in DMCV was actually going into the practice mode. I was convinced that each enemy type could potentially be stun locked to death, however, it was much harder to pull off a series of guaranteed combos when other enemies were present. Did you by chance use Dante’s Royal Guard mode much? You can absolutely fuck up an enemy once you get good at the defensive aspect that Royal Guard demands.

      2. I did not much play around with the various styles and weapons of Dante. Quite frankly, I think Capcom went overboard with this character. The default weapon and moveset worked well enough for me to make it through the game. On a more general note, I think that expansive move systems are a negative. In contrast, I like well-thought out systems that logically build upon each other. DMC 5, or any of the prequels, don’t really deliver that as the focus is about a fair degree of memorization. A good example of what I am thinking of is the fighting game Samurai Shodown, either the old Neo Geo games or the more recent PC release, which is in stark contrast to the combo-heavy gameplay of most of its contemporaries.

        If you like Royal Guard, you may find Sekiro interesting to play. Would you be interested in picking this one up and going through it simultaneously? I’d recommend sailing the high seas first because there is a good chance that there is a difficulty wall in it that makes you want to drop it. Based on the little I played, I am definitely curious to spend more time on this game.

      3. Sure, if you want to do that. Preferably after I’ve dropped TotK which could take a bit. Certainly you’ve got a ways to go before you’re ready to dive into that one? I can go ahead and wishlist it.

      4. Just let me know when you are ready and we will give it a go. I will be working my way though part of the RE franchise while your Chad-Liking it up in TotK.

      5. I just checked out some gameplay compilation footage. This looks like Dark Souls + Feudal Japan. The combat actually looks a lot more engaging than the typical Dark Souls game actually. It looks as though it feels more responsive and less clunky. The enemy variety is just flat out impressive, and the graphics and art style look pretty nice, too.

      6. Surprisingly, the graphics of Sekiro are not only pretty good, the game also runs surprisingly well on potato-tier hardware. The combat is as lot more refined than Dark Souls, based on the little I have played of that franchise. I am most happy that the character does not move like he is stuck in molasses.

      7. Haha, I’ll plan on it then. Lmk how you like the RE series as you go. I just happened upon an polygon article claiming it took him 2 years and 300 hours to beat Sekiro. I also kind of like that there isn’t an extensive character customization scheme within it. Giving me too many options like that would always have me second guessing my initial build and regretting my decision. That is, unless the devs were cognizant to have a “refund” system in place such as how Witcher III allowed you to ingest a specific brew that lets you reallocate all your skill tree points.

      8. I would take anything any game journalists says about game difficulty with a huge grain of salt. Too numerous are the examples showing that those people have a hard enough time using a controller. Furthermore, even the simplest of cognitive challenges turn into insurmountable walls for them:

      9. That’s true. I’m vaguely remembering the Doom 2016 journalist review. Mostly just the child-like attempt at getting through the beginning section. It’s probably not good for business to have serious gamers like Synthetic Man critique these games.

        However, I did consult with my shmup buddy. He’s beaten all the Souls games, Nioh, Blood Bourne and Eldin Ring, yet he says that he didn’t have the patience for Sekiro and dropped it pretty early on before selling it. Something tells me this game will be a real challenge. Between TotK and Sekiro, I think my gaming schedule is pretty much maxxed out for most of the rest of this year, if not all of it.

      10. Oh, haha, that Sponge Bob video. What a dumbass. He thought he was so clever pointing out this supposedly flawed game design. You either have to be dumb or just not really used to games to not figure this out. Before the solution was presented I was just thinking, “just stand a little bit behind the button platform so that once the animation is complete and he bowls his shot, you’re perfectly squared up on it.”

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