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Devil May Cry (PlayStation 2) artwork

Devil May Cry (PlayStation 2) review

"Style through substance"

Combat is a very interesting aspect of a game. Usually, a game's story must allow for violent conflict, fighting prowess is often the most iconic aspect of a character, and combat is the player's chief means of interacting with a game's world. Most games are defined by their approach to combat, but there are a select few games so monumental in importance that the game itself defines combat in games for years to come. Capcom's original Devil May Cry is one such game.

The combat in Devil May Cry compromises no complexity for the sake of marketable simplicity, yet one should have no trouble in picking up on everything he can do. Press the attack button three times for a combo, press the attack button twice then pause before resuming for a different one. Lock on and press the gun button to inflict minor damage from a distance, fire guns between combos to attack while repositioning yourself. Devil May Cry's mechanics are all individually inuitive but most rewarding when the player utilizes the tools at his disposal in tandem, especially with the powerful Devil Trigger state, which increases stats and grants a few abilities of its own. These mechanics are learned and mastered not through direct explanation but rather first-hand experience and experimentation as the player discovers what allows for longer combos, when to be offensive or defensive, and how to space oneself in relation to enemies in order to make the most of one's abilities.

An important part of this learning curve is the steady pace at which the player obtains abilities. This is done via an in-game currency consisting of the crystalized blood of fallen foes -- eat your heart out, Nuka-Cola! -- spent at save points throughout the game. Players can purchase new moves at their own pace and can prioritize what moves he needs most, buying attacks that suit their playstyle before picking up less essential ones. This rewards the player for observing what works best for them in combat, especially since lengthy combos grant more money dropped. The shop system makes practicing one's combat skills in optional fights worthwhile and encourages exploration to find health upgrades, caches of money, and optional items (including restoratives for health and Devil Trigger gauge), which all make the game's challenge much more manageable to those less adept at combat than others. These elements are why Devil May Cry is a shining example of how a game should progress in introducing concepts to its players.

Of course, the player will want to learn to master the combat because of the main character, the one and only Dante! Sporting a flamboyant design, a sharp wit, superhuman traits, and varied arsenal, Dante is a sight that instantly leaves a lasting impression in the minds of players. Dante's formidable traits establish that he is a man who is most certainly capable and armed to overcome even the obstacles that lie in this game, should the player possess the skill to use them well and the fortitude to persevere through difficult situations. Yet Dante possesses a down-to-earth aspect seen mostly in later games but established here through his loss of family and use of powers to run a small business focusing on helping others with problems they can't solve on their own. Dante's character is most fleshed out not by his corny dialogue but by a certain self-composure about him that lends a sense of confidence to the player, which he will need in order to complete the task of taking down Mundus, the absolute ruler of demonkind and a force capable of destroying our own universe. Dante's formidable nature sets a bar for players to meet, presents a person for players to like, and crafts a character who is up to the massive challenges ahead narratively speaking.

Dante being one of the most stylish action heroes under the sun doesn't hurt things, either. Excellent animations attribute personality to characters; who can forget the distinctive appearance of his differing attacks or the delightful taunt button? There are a variety of animations for enemies, as well; possessed mannekins jump onto Dante's shoulders and slice his neck, Sin Scissors lunge with brutal ferocity, and the Frosts and Shadows even have fatalities to shock the unexpecting! The care put into the animations is but one of many attributes that give the series its distinctive style.

Speaking of style, there is a great quality of this series that is given scarcely any recognition whatsoever: atmosphere. Good visual effects go a long way here, as does a strong art direction borrowing from various eras of architecture. Despite the game taking place on mainly a single island, environments vary from castle interiors, forests, a colisseum, distorted mirror universes created by Mundus, and an organic hell. All these places have great effects ranging from ominous lighting to opaque fog; this, coupled with the intense enemy encounters, creates a sense of wonder and dread at discovering new areas filled with engaging sights and sounds.

From the quiet rush of wind outside windows to the distant crashes of waves at the base of a cliff, from the cackles of specters to the roar of shadowy hell-beasts, from the gurgle of Phantom's lava to the crackle of Griffon's thunder, from the whoosh and impact of a Helm Breaker to the flare and crunch of a Kick 13, every sound in Devil May Cry crafts an environment or conveys the viscerality of an action. Standing shoulder to the sound effects is a fantastic soundtrack ranging from unsettling ambiance that threads a strong sense of foreboding to ecstatic battle themes that makes perfectly clear the existence of a life or death situation. Transitional music design is present and powerful here, as well, with battle themes fading in and out of the regular level music depending on whether any enemies are present. Overall, the sound design makes player interaction more satisfying and the game world more immersive.

All these positive traits return to that same term: style. Occasionally one may hear this series, as well as other games of the genre, being criticzed for having "style over substance." I strongly disagree: the flow of combat, the art direction, the atmosphere, the sound design, and the proper execution of many other elements come together to form the style of these games. The best games build their style and personality by the proper execution of integrated elements. This is not style over substance; this is style crafted by substance! And this is what makes Devil May Cry great.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (May 19, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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