"In their efforts to show off how much they know, more than a few Capcom enthusiasts are quick to point out that Devil May Cry was originally intended to be the fourth official Resident Evil. Not only is this statement irrelevant (and possibly false) but it’s also misleading: Devil May Cry mirrors the Resident Evil series neither in play nor in pacing. "
In their efforts to show off how much they know, more than a few Capcom enthusiasts are quick to point out that Devil May Cry was originally intended to be the fourth official Resident Evil. Not only is this statement irrelevant (and possibly false) but it’s also misleading: Devil May Cry mirrors the Resident Evil series neither in play nor in pacing.
Devil May Cry’s inspiration might instead have been the obscure PlayStation game Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman. Johnny, the absurdly uncharismatic lout that posed as hero of Rising Zan, mixed a deadly brew of Japanese swordplay and Western gun-slinging in his vain efforts to earn fame and recognition as the world’s ultimate “Super Ultra Sexy Hero”. Johnny was measured and ranked at the end of each level based on how sexily and stylishly he eliminated his incoherently babbling opposition; players were rewarded for not only defeating all opponents but for defeating them in flashy, smooth combinations of blade and bullet.
Capcom stole all of these ideas and, being a talented studio, built a great game around them. Part of Capcom’s success can be attributed to Devil May Cry’s romantically stylish hero: Dante (no last name), a silver-haired knave who never lets his ruby red trenchcoat get in the way of his flashing blades or twin custom pistols (cleverly dubbed Ebony and Ivory). This cocky blend of Bruce Lee and Blade possesses more than enough power to back up his lovably fearless taunts, mostly because he's the half-demon and presumably half-human son of some legendary dark knight named Sparda who decided to stop being dark and instead uphold all that is holy and righteous, yea verily. The introduction tosses a few more preposterous names at us, but the important thing is that Sparda waited 2000 years to have a child, miraculously coinciding with bi-millennium theory: “every two thousand years, a great evil will rise and must be stopped by humanity’s champion”. The task of dispatching the heinous demon now falls on Dante’s broad shoulders because Sparda died. I think. The wicked lord of darkness killed and/or kidnaped Dante’s mother and brother, but Sparda's final fate is never revealed.
We’re introduced to Dante answering the phone at his detective agency, but things quickly get more exciting when a young woman wearing very little busts through the wall on a motorcycle. Hoping for more reaction than a smarmy “whoa, slow down baby”, the underdressed lady stabs Dante, lifts her motorcycle over her head and throws the massive bike at Dante’s face.
This sort of thing you don’t often see in games.
After making up, Dante and his new love interest head for a remote castle on an abandoned island. Forget the story; you won’t hear any more of it until the seventeenth level. Seventeen! Devil May Cry is a long game -- twenty-three missions in all -- and, although most of it takes place in this single crumbling castle, detours to an ominous ghost ship and the literal bowels of hell (with pulsating veins and gooey floor) keep the adventure stylishly unpredictable. Despite primarily taking place in a single large environment cluttered with secrets, puzzles and traps, the game is divided into linear missions of various length -- some as short as 3 minutes, some as long as 15. Clearly defined goals along the lines of “obtain the Staff of Judgement and return it to the Judge of Death” are assigned to each mission. This is different from the open-ended nature of Resident Evil or Onimusha, in which players find an Eagle Crest and hang on to it in hopes that it might eventually be useful. Devil May Cry doesn’t allow players a chance to acquire useless trinkets; anything unusual that Dante discovers is immediately crucial to completing the mission at hand. This de-emphasizes problem-solving but stresses combat and speed of play.
Due in part to its unorthodox pacing, it takes a few levels for Devil May Cry to get its groove on. It’s clear that Capcom intended to focus on action, which is part of what makes the early levels so tedious; there isn’t much action. From the red carpet staircase to the stone statues to the tiled floors, the castle’s opening moments evoke nostalgic memories of Resident Evil’s mansion; unfortunately, the first few levels also incorporate Resident Evil’s infrequent enemy encounters. Dante spends most of his time shattering tables and suits of armor to uncover red orbs (used as currency to purchase equipment and additional skills). This does not bode well for a game that rewards sexy slice-and-shoot killing!
By the fourth or fifth mission, it all gets better. Soon enough, Dante can’t step into a room or corridor without being beset upon by blood-drenched shotgun-wielding marionettes, blood-spitting reptiles or ethereal, cackling witches snipping at Dante’s head with enormous rusty shears. Whenever danger beckons, a metal rock medley superimposes itself over the ominously ambient chamber music; after the battle, the rock music fades away with the banished ghosts. While not as intricate as Phantasy Star Online's dynamic music (with multiple interlocking versions of each theme to represent varying degrees of danger), the contrast in musical styles is still an interesting mechanic that never failed to grab my attention.
Although a nice touch, music isn't what you're supposed to think about during the battles. You're supposed to concentrate on eliminating the Satanic goat-masked Death Scythe and his infernal companions before they harvest Dante's head from his body, and you're supposed to do it in super ultra sexy hero style. Wielding either the lightning sword Alastor or the punch! kick! fiery Ifrit gauntlets, Dante tosses enemies in the air and juggles them with dozens of bullets; or Dante hurls his blade into an enemy's fleshy chest and punches them in the head while they're still impaled; or Dante simply pulls out his grenade launcher and pops one in the vile maggot's face. Ammo is unlimited, after all.
Taking pages from the books of Legacy of Kain and Onimusha, defeated enemies release various forms of soul energy: red for money or green for health. The sexier your slaying style, the more orbs obtained and the better your end-of-level ranking. This unfortunately means that good players acquire lots of money to buy new skills and increase their power while poor players earn very little and can't afford to improve Dante's statistics, but poor players should just stop sucking . . . or kill the same creatures several times over to earn enough money to pay for health-replenishing items. According to rumor, Devil May Cry even insultingly offers an "easy automatic" mode to people who perform really badly.
For skilled gamers, Devil May Cry offers a lot of choices. In one of my favorite scenes, the hero pauses as he hears a sound behind him in the corridor . . . and then an enraged flaming spider chases Dante down the corridor while spitting fireballs and tearing the stone walls apart. Dante can either dive through a door to escape or he can face the demonic arachnid head-on to earn hundreds of Red Orbs. The latter option requires a lot of skill but it's also a lot more fun.
This chase scene works so well in part due to the cinematic camerawork. Although Devil May Cry’s backgrounds are fully three-dimensional, Capcom still hasn’t abandoned the fixed camera angles from past games; while Dante runs from the smoldering spider, the camera is tilted at a fixed angle. This technique is often used in movies to subconsciously instill fear or uneasiness, and it works very effectively here.
The cinematics also crop up in brief visual scenes interspersed throughout the adventure. When Dante completes his mission and appeases the bronze Judge of Death, our hero is impaled by the sinister statue's sword. An ominous chorus chants as Dante’s body levitates, blood dripping down the crackling sword’s blade. With a disgusting splurch, the sword -- hilt and all -- passes through Dante’s tender flesh, tearing through layers of skin and muscle. Then . . . a moment of disorientation. Dante reaches out his hand, shielding his reawakened eyes from the light . . . and grasps the blade with renewed vigor and enters a technorave display of martial arts mastery!
This sort of thing you don’t often see in games.
Although atmospherically effective, the camera occasionally hurts the gameplay. When Dante finally faces the flaming spider atop a magnificent stained-glass skylight, he can either fight head-on or he can run in circles and trick the enormous beast into leaping through the fragile window. Each time the spider lands, it cracks the glass just a bit, eventually shattering the skylight and falling to a gory skewered death. Unfortunately, the camera angles during this battle remain focused on Dante’s back. It works well when Dante directly confronts the spider, but it’s inconvenient when Dante tries to lead the spider towards the outside of the arena, because Dante can't even see his opponent! If the camera remained at Dante’s back throughout the entire game, this would be consistent but, during some other scenes in the game, Dante can’t see what’s in front of him. Fortunately, Devil May Cry's targeting system is so effective at overcoming the occasionally inconvenient camerawork that you might not even realize it has a targeting system.
Although camera issues strike an indelible mark across what should have been one of the greatest boss encounters ever, the fixed angles only seriously affect combat in the Dante Must Die! mode which is, not surprisingly, a secret unlockable difficulty mode that most people won't even attempt to play. In this version of Devil May Cry, every enemy gains the ability to "Devil Trigger"; if not slain quickly, even the lowliest bugs grow fearsome spines and demonstrate new Dante-killing abilities. It's a rush, but it's extremely difficult and the rewards -- aside from the sheer thrill of surviving -- are small.
But playing games shouldn't always be about unlocking additional features. Just enjoy the game. With multiple difficulty levels (that drastically change gameplay mechanics) and unlockable skills, Devil May Cry makes sure there's plenty of opportunity to experiment. If excitement and atmosphere aren't enough, you could play just to hear what is perhaps the worst-delivered lamentation of all time, an ill-conceived line that I can only speculate was meant to tug players' heartstrings. Don't worry; the following final boss encounter, a final boss encounter that surpasses anything ever seen in any Resident Evil, puts the PS2’s Emotion Engine to proper use. It may be slow to reach greatness, and even then it may never reach perfection, but Devil May Cry is still one of the best action-adventures on the PS2.
Community review by lilica (January 19, 2005)
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