Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Devil May Cry 5 is here and all I can say is JACKPOT! Devil May Cry is back baby, but maybe not how you remember it. No, we aren’t getting the adventures of Dante from the fun but tonally misplaced DMC reboot, but we aren’t quite getting the adventures of anime half-demon heartthrob Dante either. Instead we are getting an ensemble cast of super edgy boys (and girls) whose stories all intertwine.
It’s a departure from the standard Devil May Cry style, but it works so well. Devil May Cry 5 is both a game that feels refreshingly familiar while being new at the same time.
Any time a franchise reinvents itself there’s bound to be some growing pains. There are plenty of flaws in this grand franchise revival, but trust me, you’ll be too busy juggling demons in the air, peppering them with bullets, chasing them with a grappling hook, exploding them with your robot arm, and then power bombing them into the ground to notice them
A story of demons and brothers
DMC5 dabbles in a new form of narrative by telling its story achronologically, . When the game starts, Dante, Nero, and brand new hot topic pretty boy, V, are climbing up a demon tree and battling against a new foe, the Demon King Urizen.
They get their collective asses kicked.
Nero and V retreat while Dante disappears, and much of the story is spent figuring out how to get powerful enough to take this terror on. At least, that’s one side of the story.
The other side of the story ties Nero and Dante’s Brother Vergil together. One night, a mysterious hooded figure invades Nero’s garage and rips his demonic arm off, transforming it back into it’s true form, the demonic katana Yamato. He then rips a hole in space-time and disappears.
Yes, they never come straight out and say what the identity of this hooded figure is, but he sounds like Vergil, wears Vergil’s clothes, and says “I’m taking this back” when he reacquires Vergil’s iconic sword. I mean it if looks like a demonic duck and sounds like a demonic duck… it’s probably Vergil.
Thus, Nero is attempting to reclaim his arm, Dante is still trying to beat his brother down, and V seems to be controlling everything from the background.
Capcom did a great job tying these two plots together. Every mission you play shows the story from the viewpoint of a different character in a different point in time. You’ll see how one character’s actions affect the fates of others and you’ll frequently flashback to meet other DMC characters like Trish, Lady, and Patty.
What? You don’t remember Patty? She’s a little girl that Dante rescued in the DMC anime, which you can watch on Netflix if you need to catch up. Then again DMC5 has its own catch-up movie that you can access from the main menu, if you happened to have missed any other piece of DMC media.
It can be said that one of DMC5’s major weaknesses is that it requires you to have played every other DMC game to get the most out of it. It’s a shame because other DMC titles were their own variety of standalone absurdity that didn’t require any background to enjoy. But we are in a market where games like Kingdom Hearts III simply assume you have played 20-ish years of games when crafting their plot, so there’s no particular reason why DMC5 can’t do the same
Another major weakness is that it spends way too much time on the demon tree storyline. For the first two thirds of the game most of the main characters do nothing but find different ways to climb this tree and face Urizen. It takes something like 10 hours to get to the point where the greater plot kicks in. It feels like it could have been paced a little better.
Luckily, the gameplay of DMC5 keeps you engaged when the story starts to get repetitive. If you’ve played any DMC before, then you know what to expect here. You’ll be faced with horde after horde of demons, and it’s up to you to dispatch them in the most stylish way possible. If you were controlling Dante the whole time, this might get boring, but DMC5 really mixes things up with its trio of protagonists.
Nero is ostensibly the main character since the intro and ending focus on him, but you’ll play just as much with V and Dante if not more. Nero has access to his sword, which he can power up by revving it like a motorcycle, a gun that he can also charge up, a grappling hook, and a large magazine of varying prosthetic arms that allow you to do everything from firing bolts of electricity to using them as rocket propulsion.
Most of Nero’s gameplay involves managing these arms or “Devil Breakers.” You can power them up to execute devastating attacks, breaking them in the process. You can also detonate them to gain invulnerability from attacks while dealing damage at the same time. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to become overzealous and run out of Devil Breakers leaving you vulnerable and at a vastly reduced damage output.
Devil May Cry meets Pokemon
V brings with him a completely new playstyle. He only has one physical attack and it’s pitiful. Instead, he has to rely on summoned demons to do his dirty work. One button controls Griffon, his flying bird demon, and another controls Shadow, his shapeshifting panther demon. These demons hit like a truck and can combine their attacks for some easy SSStylish ranks. However, they cannot kill other demons, only weaken them. V himself must teleport to his foes and strike the last blow with his cane.
It’s basically Devil May Cry meets Pokemon, and it’s incredibly fun.
V also has access to a Devil Trigger while Nero does not. Using Devil Trigger summons Nightmare, a giant golem made of shadows to attack V’s enemies. Invest enough red orbs in him and V will even be able to mount him and take direct control. You can also use Nightmare to Kool-aid Man his way through walls to find secret hidden collectibles and missions.
Dante plays much as you would expect him to play. He has a whole arsenal of weapons and guns to choose from that he can switch between on the fly in the middle of battle. He also has four different styles to choose from: trickster, which gives him extra movement options, swordsman, which gives him extra melee options, gunslinger, which gives him extra ranged options, and royal guard, which gives him extra defensive options. He can switch between these four styles on the fly as well.
Different characters, different abilities
Dante has access to two different Devil Triggers, one which slightly increases his attack power and regenerates his health and one which greatly increases his attack power but doesn’t regenerate his health. Each of these forms comes with attacks and abilities. If you can’t tell, variety is the name of Dante’s game.
It’s actually interesting how each of these characters feel completely different. When you play with Nero, you are largely playing a resource management game, not only by managing your Devil Breakers but also by finding time to charge your gun and build up exceed charges in your sword. V, on the other hand, plays this interesting ranged game, running away and avoiding enemy attacks because he is so fragile. Dante’s fighting style is pure aggression, but to get the most out of it you have to master several different weapons all at once, which can be a handful.
DMC5 keeps itself feeling fresh by frequently changing the character you control. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do so evenly. You play as Dante a lot in the back half of the game, enough to make him feel repetitive. Meanwhile, V isn't featured at all in the last third of the game, which is disappointing because his playstyle is the most unique. Luckily, the possible promise of DLC characters like Vergil, Lady, and Trish will keep the game feeling fresh far into the future.
The red orb economy and microtransactions
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room, microtransactions. I want to preface this by saying that I had a ton of fun with DMC5. I binged it from start to finish in a day and have continued to play in New Game + modes on harder difficulties.
A while ago, Capcom announced that you would be able to purchase red orbs, the primary experience resource in the game, through microtransactions. I theorized that this might give them incentive to make your abilities absurdly expensive and I regret to inform you that I was right.
A few basic abilities only cost about a thousand red orbs but everything else costs tens to hundreds of thousands of red orbs. By playing well you can average about 10-20 thousand red orbs a mission, but even then you’ll find yourself unlocking one or maybe two new abilities each time you visit a shop. By the time you beat the game you won’t have unlocked even 25 percent of your characters’ full ability list.
On one hand, this means that there is always something to strive for. You’ll be unlocking new abilities even after completing the game several times over.
On the other hand, this means that your move-set will be largely restricted through most of the game. The whole point of DMC is to have a crazy move-set that lets you create wide and varying combos, so you aren’t really playing the game until you spend a bunch of red orbs.
This is where microtransactions come in. Spend some money and you can start playing the game the way you want to right now. That’s not all. Pre-order the game and get a bunch of red orbs. Play the demo and get more red orbs. Get more orbs via daily login bonuses. You can even spend red orbs to continue when you die. It honestly feels like you are playing a mobile game sometimes.
It doesn’t ruin the game. Like I said, it’s an incredibly fun experience even with the oppressive red orb economy. The game even makes sure to throw free abilities your way every couple of missions to give you a few new toys to play with. You’ll even get brand new mechanics in the final boss fight which will stick with you through all subsequent playthroughs.
I just can’t help but wonder if the general experience curve would have been much smoother and more enjoyable if Capcom didn’t give in to the temptation of microtransactions,
Sexy super stylish look and sound
The presentation of DMC5 is nearly perfect. I don’t think I have seen a better looking or sounding game this year.
Let’s start with audio. The soundtrack is amazing, full of rock and metal that you’ll want to listen to even when you aren’t playing. I have actually heard several people blasting the main theme “Devil Trigger” out of their cars while driving down my street before the game was even out!
Get higher ranks in battle and the soundtrack gets louder. This evokes nostalgic memories of being an asshole teenager blasting your music in your room to drown out the sound of your parents.
The voice acting is also fantastic. All the franchises classic voice actors have returned and they give stellar performances. From the unrestrained cockiness of Dante, the try hard personality of Nero, or the “look at me I’m so deep I read poetry” personality of V, every voice actor perfectly nails the character they are portraying. Even so, you can change the audio to the original Japanese voice track, if you really want, but the English voice track is fine.
The graphics are also fantastic. Animations are fluid and eye catching. Enemy models are appropriately disgusting. I had more than a few nightmares about the demon insect Empusas that you kill by the thousands. Special moves are a feast for the senses. There’s something phenomenal about power bombing a demon so hard his head explodes, seeing the gore shoot out of his neck, hearing the thud of his body against the ground, and feeling each impact rumble through your controller. Heck, you even get to hear some sound effects through the Dualshock 4’s speaker if you are playing the PS4 version.
The only thing I can complain about is the environmental design, where flaws are partially linked to the plot. You spend way, way too much time in the demon tree Qliphoth, and unfortunately nearly every part of it is the same greyish black spikey corridors. You get to wander around some cities in the beginning of the game and some weird demon realms at the end of the game that look fantastic but every other second is spent wandering through the same, boring, spikey demon tree.
Devil May Cry 5 is fantastic
If I take a step back and look at DMC5 as a production, there’s plenty of problems. The pacing is off, the environments are repetitive, the microtransactions are annoying, and the story feels a little small and centralized compared to other DMC titles.
But do any of these problems matter?
Not one bit.
DMC5 is an adrenaline filled, over-the-top, absurd action experience, just like DMC games should be. Frankly, that’s all any DMC fan should need.
It’s a game that lets you ride a demonic praying mantis before skewering it’s brain with your cane. It’s a game that lets you kneecap the grim reaper before shooting him five times in the back of the head. IT’S A GAME THAT LETS YOU DUAL WIELD MOTORCYCLES WITH CHAINSAWS FOR WHEELS!
If that last sentence didn’t sell you on Devil May Cry 5, I don’t know what will.