The Greatest Games: Devil May Cry 5 (2019)

Devil May Cry 5 (2019)
Developed by Capcom

Devil May Cry just might be gaming’s most inconsistent franchise, but Capcom managed to finally land another outright success with the most recent entry. Devil May Cry 5 has everything fans could have wanted from a follow-up to DMC3, without the shoddy level and enemy design of 4. DMC4’s greatest improvement was the ability to instantly transition between Dante’s four combat styles, a feature which finds a new home here. In a genre all about switching up your attacks, any additional option is fantastic. Devil May Cry 5 feels as smooth and expansive as they come.

DMC5 hits a special niche by having three diverse protagonists, forcing the player to adapt to their unique styles between missions. Nero returns from DMC4 with his fun abilities to quickly shorten the distance between himself and enemies. Dante has a few new tricks, but his familiarity is key to making this a true Devil May Cry experience.

The true highlight here is the third protagonist, V. In a genre all about getting up in enemy’s faces, Capcom came up with the ingenious idea of integrating a summoner. V comes with three familiars who do the fighting for him, though he is always forced to deliver the killing blow. Until that moment arises, you have the option of getting some distance and reading from a book of poetry by William Blake, an action which increases your devil trigger meter. The controls all work very similarly, with the attack buttons giving commands to the familiars. It’s a total innovation that never feels out of place, adding a distinct layer of strategy around your relative positioning.

Devil May Cry has always played with the idea of ‘cool,’ with both Dante and Nero precariously straddling the line between dorky and cool in their over-the-top gestures. V, meanwhile, feels like an effortless success. He’s what everyone who ever shopped at Hot Topic wishes they could be. His weird tendency to recite Blake in every possible situation perfectly contrasts with and sometimes builds upon the series’ tendency toward quick banter. Like Vergil back in DMC3, V acts as a perfect foil.

A cool new feature called the cameo system changes up a few missions. As the three characters’ stories intersect, you will sometimes see what the others are doing. Instead of this being a simple background event, these are other actual people playing another mission. This seamless multiplayer integration is a neat touch, and two missions end up being full-on cooperative.

Outside of these new features, Devil May Cry 5 is a continuation of everything we loved about the series. Excellent gameplay, terrific enemies and level design, and a somewhat cheesy story serving a much more effective central conflict – the only thing missing from DMC3 is the thoroughly excellent bosses, but few games have ever compared to that, and those DMC5 does have are still great. V is enough of a change of pace to make up the difference.

Devil May Cry has always served as the preeminent Character Action Game series, and the fifth entry’s excellence means DMC3 can stop carrying that load all by itself.

The Greatest Games: Devil May Cry 3 (2005)

Devil May Cry 3 (2005)
Developed by Capcom

The transition into 3D gameplay was a challenge for many developers, but there’s always something magical about playing the first game in a series that really gets it right. The first Devil May Cry is certainly a good game (and that’s not nostalgia talking – I played through this entire series for the first time in 2020), but its fixed camera is an obvious relic from when it began development as a failed attempt at the next Resident Evil. Unfortunately, what works in survival horror won’t necessarily be the best option in another genre – especially when many of the controls are contextual based off the character’s relative position. Despite this, the seeds of a great series were obvious even then.

After a major blunder in the form of Devil May Cry 2, Capcom came back with what felt like a total refinement of what the first game promised. Though the original laid the foundation, Devil May Cry 3 defined what would become known as the Character Action Genre. A controllable camera was key, but an extra emphasis on weapon and attack variety really highlighted the style meter.

Where more traditional action games can sometimes devolve into running up to an enemy and mashing the attack button, DMC3 rewards you for changing up the pattern. The meter’s constant depletion encourages frantic action while a single hit resetting the meter requires grace. Combat thus demands your total attention, a constant juggle between attacking one enemy, avoiding the others, and changing up the way in which you are attacking. Your options are diverse enough to make this seamless; an enemy moving in for an attack can be the perfect time to combo your current target into the air, a dodge and attack mixed together in one fluid motion.

A great combat system is not enough alone; Devil May Cry 4 made several improvements, but 3 reigns supreme because it simply has better enemies to use that system against. The game is constantly barraging you with new enemy types, all requiring new patterns to combat; there’s never a routine option to safely fall back on.

Even better, pretty much every boss fight here is phenomenal. Cerberus, Agni & Rudra, Nevan, Beowulf; each requires a totally unique approach. This game perfects the hard but fair boss fight; everything’s so fun that getting to fight these bosses a few times feels more like a gift than a punishment for failure. When you finally figure out the trick to take out something like Agni & Rudra, it sticks with you.

Standing above all of these is Vergil; the Devil May Cry series enjoys tossing the bosses at you again and again as you near the end, but nothing is more satisfying than the way Vergil evolves between stages. The first encounter passes as a simple sword fight with a few neat tricks; a perfect change of pace from the giant monstrosities you usually face. But that final boss fight flips everything on its head; the super-powered devil trigger ability which has been the saving grace during these difficult fights is finally used against the player. The evil twin is a common trope for boss fights, but few make you feel quite so powerless in the face of your own abilities as Vergil.

The gameplay is far from the only stylish feature of Devil May Cry 3. The original game is ‘cool’ in that early 2000s video game way, the type which falls quickly into cheese to anyone outside of edgy teens. Devil May Cry 3 ramps this up in the best way possible, going so hard in over-the-top cheesiness that it somehow wraps back around to being cool in its own odd way. Dante perfectly straddles the line between suave and dorky. He literally does a front flip while riding a motorcycle up the side of a tower.

Even beyond its phenomenal string of boss fights, the conflict between Dante and Vergil is one of the classic video game rivalries. Vergil is the perfect foil, cool in all the opposite ways. His calm and collected presentation suggests a quiet confidence in his abilities; he doesn’t need to show off for us to be impressed by him. They really feel like two sides of the same coin, further highlighting the familial nature of the conflict.

Plenty of games ooze coolness during their cut scenes only to fall back on bland presentation as soon as they hand over control, but Devil May Cry 3 perfectly integrates its aesthetics into the gameplay itself. Though games continue to evolve visually, DMC3 is a perfect representative of the moment when action games moved into the modern era. There have been many imitators, some better than others, but nothing will ever reduce Devil May Cry 3 to a mere nostalgia piece. The gameplay is too smooth, the boss fights too fun for this to not hold up as a true video game masterpiece.