Devil May Cry – a review

A game store recently opened up in my hometown, a place that didn’t have a lot of prospects for game shopping up til then. I quickly became friends with the owners, and so when my mom went shopping for Christmas presents there, the guys took a gamble and recommended I might like the Devil May Cry trilogy. They apparently know my tastes better than I know myself.

Devil May Cry is a game that, though console-based and exploration-focused, seems embued with the spirit of an arcade game. You play as Dante Sparda, half-human, half-demon, who became a (seemingly self-proclaimed) Devil Hunter in order to get revenge on the one that killed his mother and brother. Then one day a lady named Trish hires him to go to an island and stop the dark god Mundus from being resurrected.

And that, right there, is most of the plot. Like an arcade game, the twists are few (And you’ll probably see them coming, though I won’t spoil them here) and things stay pretty straightforward from beginning to end. There aren’t even that many cutscenes, and the ones that exist aren’t very long and can be skipped by pressing Select.

If you think that’s a criticism, you’re flatly mistaken. Arcade games rock, and its nothing short of awesome to know that the spirit of such games survived onto the Playstation 2. And even though the cast of characters don’t have much dialogue, you’ll still get to know them thru gestures and body language–especially Dante, who is nothing short of the most awesome video game hero of all time. Picture this: You go into this dark castle, who knows what lurks in the shadows, there’s danger around every corner and you never know where a possessed puppet or a giant bug or whatever is gonna turn up. Sounds like the stuff of nightmares… and in walks Dante, slicing and shooting his way through the legions of hell. Dante has come to dominate the world of heroism that Doom Guy began to reveal. But Dante isn’t just a one-dimensional badass in the mold of Duke Nukem or your average DC Comics character. He respects the foes that deserve respect, he cares about those he should, he’s capable of seeing things from a wiser and more philosophically-advanced perspective than your average two-gun goon. And he’s flawed. His sheer humanity makes his accomplishments not only endearing, but triumphant. Not bad for a guy who isn’t even fully human.

Standing against Dante is the dark, gloomy environment of Mallet Island, or more precisely the castle and some of its surrounding environs. The game itself has trappings of Resident Evil-like Survival Horrors and Metroid like exploration platforms, but as I said, it leans heavily towards playing like an arcade game. Indeed I can’t help comparing Dante to Capcom’s earlier hero, Strider Hiryu. For some reason, the game is divided up into “Missions,” even though you’re free to backtrack and explore the island (the parts of it you’ve opened up, anyway) no matter what mission you’re on–the Mission screens mostly just serve as a save point and to remind you what you’re trying to do at the moment. The game is entirely linear and the level design is a lot like how Capcom always did their NES games–the areas are linear and its always clear where you’re supposed to go, but sometimes if you mess around you can discover a secret that’s just a little off the beaten path.

And again, all of this is a good thing. I love straightforward clarity in a day and age where practically every video game ever has an almost required-by-law “what the frack am I supposed to do” moment. I like that I can beat the game without having to go to GameFAQs or buy a strategy guide. That’s not to imply everything’s in plain sight–upon beating the game I discovered I missed some blue orbs (life bar upgrades) and eleven of the twelve “Secret Missions.”

I also like the combat system. Oh my god, this is the game that Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time only wished it could be. The combat is nice and varied, putting Dante in intense situations where either he can get his head beaten in, or else he can whip out his swords or his guns (all of which have unlimited ammo) and try his best to blast thru, do amazing combos and generally beat the everloving snot out of all the creepy crawlies that dwell in the castle’s demonic depths. And if he’s trying his best and that isn’t enough, early on he gets the ability to use “Devil Triggers” which turn him into a super-powered demon for a short time. There’s also a shop system, where Dante can trade orbified demon blood (yeah) for items, a longer life meter or a longer Devil Trigger gauge so he can hulk out for longer. He can also buy new special moves. In general, there’s enough combat techniques and enough variety of enemies to keep you entertained, and unlike in Prince of Persia, the combat never overstays its welcome–most of the monsters die quickly, and unless they’re bosses you can usually just run past all the monsters anyway (though you won’t get money if you do).

I’m afraid I’m probably making Devil May Cry sound easy. Let me dispel that misconception right now: this is probably the hardest game on the PS2. Unless you’re the kind of guy who can get through the Strider games without ever using a continue, this game is going to challenge you, it may even frustrate you at times. I mean yeah, there’s some RPG-like upgrade mechanics, Dante has unlimited ammo and combos he can perform on demand and a Devil Trigger state he can go into as long as he has enough magic (which refills by fighting, so yeah) but if you get careless, and think you can just coast through, you will get your butt handed to you sooner or later. This is not a game where you can get careless or keep spamming a certain attack over and over and hope to win.

If the challenge does prove to be too much though, don’t fret: There’s an unlockable Easy Mode, which is more along the lines gamers this generation are probably used to. At first I thought Easy Mode was pointless, because the thing is Devil May Cry isn’t like other games where the “challenge” is all based around how much damage enemies do or how long their life bars are, there’s real, actually thought-out design involved in it. Easy Mode makes a lot of adjustments that seem minor on the surface but actually make a huge difference. Enemies are replaced with other enemies, there are some bosses you never actually fight, and the actual controls are changed slightly as well (that last part was the one I liked the least, as I actually thought Easy Mode’s way of automating a lot of attacks actually made then harder to do). That being said, when I played what I would do is get as far as I could on Normal Mode, then whenever I got to a hard part I would go through on Easy Mode to give myself an idea what to expect and help plan out my tactics, so I found it to be a good companion piece.

Oh, and once you beat the game, it unlocks a Hard mode. My god. At least you get to carry your weapons, special moves and life and devil gauge upgrades into it though.

So now is the part where you ask “Gee Edmond, is there anything wrong with this game, or has Capcom made the ultimate interactive experience that will never be toppled ever?” Well, there are a few niggling complaints.

The main complaint I had is that there is absolutely no way to control the camera. Granted, 98% of the time the camera was just where it needed to be and showed me what I needed to see, but there were a few times where I was fighting blind and had to guess, and you’d be amazed how soon that becomes second-nature.

Some of the bosses are kind of obtuse as well. The first time I fought “Phantom” (this giant spider or scorpion-like thing with a stone body) I had no idea what I was doing, how or whether I was even supposed to hurt him, and died a lot just because. That was one of those times where I re-fought him in Easy Mode and realized what I could do.

My only other complaint is that you get two core melee weapons, Alastor and Ifrit, and I find these two unbalanced–Alastor (which you get very early) is super-awesome and grants you access to some special moves and techniques that are not only good for combat but also general exploration (indeed I’m not sure how some of the Blue Orbs can be gotten without it). Ifrit, on the other hand, has a lot of purely-combat techniques that in my experience usually had too many drawbacks to be useful. There’s one for example where Dante does a really powerful uppercut, but there’s like a two-second delay upon entering the command and usually all that happens is he gets hit and the command is canceled. Outside of one puzzle, I never really saw much reason to use Ifrit, so I didn’t.

As you can see though, the flaws don’t distract from the sheer fact of Devil May Cry‘s awesomeness! And that game store talked my mom into not just getting me one game but the entire trilogy (oh, sorry, there’s four of them now)! And apparently, there’s an anime, manga and a pair of novels as well! Hooray for discovering a franchise while its still young and hasn’t yet gotten unwieldy!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think its time I popped in Devil May Cry 2.

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