""Pardon our mess; this series is undergoing renovations.""
Following up a success like the original Devil May Cry is a herculean task. The combat of DMC1 reached greater heights than almost every game made in the near two decades since has bothered to aim, for, so how do you top that? It doesn't really help when you miss out on much of your original staff (including your director) and you have a vicious deadline to meet. Thus, a very troubled development resulted in Devil May Cry 2, a game that suffers from the massive shadow of its predecessor at least as much as its own flaws.
The primary mistake of this sequel is the simplification of the combat. In DMC1, protagonist Dante deftly wielded a sword and a set of gauntlets, each with their own set of moves and multiple combos. In DMC2, all melee combat is now delegated to one basic combo, opting to go the (rather trendy these days) shallow route of vaporous stat-altering equipment to atone for the vast amount of lost gameplay depth. Worse yet, most moves are already available from the beginning of the game, removing essentially all progression and driving force of the campaign. Furthermore, the wide arsenal of guns, however varied, carry much more utility than melee combat, so your primary method of engaging enemies will be prioritizing who to target and firing away as you avoid counterattacks. As cathartic as just blowing away demons with dual SMGs can be, the combat is less engaging than the original title's furious combo-driven system, descending into a Souls-like spin cycle of firing away and dodging, minus much of the urgency in that series. The result is more a Tomb Raider-ish strafing-focused shooter than a revolutionary combat title, and it isn't as bad to play going in with this mindset. At least when the camera isn't bugging up, anyway.
A problem that hurts the game no matter how you look at it is is the level design. DMC1 sported both outdoor environments that allowed for various methods of approaching combat but mostly claustrophobic indoor battles that demanded quick reaction to prioritize enemies in relation to your proximity. In DMC2, some of these remain, but there are many vacuous outdoor conflicts that demand less skill than the close encounters in the original title. In summary, DMC2 is a very simple game with very little depth to offer, the antithesis of DMC1's unmet challenge to the game industry. Most of what's wrong with this game stems from just the two problems of the level design and the tedious combat, but they're big problems. While DMC2 fails as a standalone game and as a sequel, it did accomplish something important, and that was iteration and attention to details that would prove to be vital to the series down the line.
Despite not being as inspired as the first entry, DMC2 still holds up in many regards relating to audio-visual design. While the color palette is more muted than the previous title's, character and areas designs are still unique among action games. Environments vary from abandoned towns and cities to ruins and an oil rig, and a plot point two-thirds through the game allows for previous environments to become twisted, warped versions of themselves. Returning to these altered locations shows how far you've traveled and how dire the crisis at hand is becoming while adjusting areas enough to not be too backtracky, a concept that would be further explored and refined by the transforming Temen-Ni-Gru tower in DMC3. There are also memorable setpieces, such as a chase sequence ascending a flaming skyscraper culminating in a rooftop battle against a possessed helicopter. Although some level transitions are less than smooth (apparently Dante can just teleport to where he needs to go even if it's a distance a way and he shouldn't know how to get there), the variety of locations helps makes proceedings more interesting than they could have been. If there's any strength that this sequel somehow manages to improve upon its predecessor, it's the music. One of my all-time soundtracks, Devil May Cry 2's music continues the series's legacy of atmospheric and beautiful melodies mixed with intense battle themes. Hard not to enjoy oneself to these.
Thanks to the competent art direction, DMC2 keeps the flame of the original's style alive. For instance, though Dante is now a stoic character who has only a handful of shining moments in the uninspired plot, his animations are at least as good as DMC1's in regard to movement. While attack animations are less memorable, Dante has many fluid animations for recovering from enemy attacks, scaling walls, and the like. Dante's DMC2 Devil Trigger states are perhaps the best in the series; normal DT looks like the lead of Asura's Wrath with bat wings and also chain guns attached to his wrists. Objectively speaking, that is metal. When at low health, there's a chance for Dante to enter Majin Devil Trigger, a yet more formidable state in which he is invincible, can destroy even bosses quickly, and even open black holes to another dimension or something. That's metal, too! Oh, and Dante takes out the villain, a Heihachi-lookin' alchemist who doesn't know how to die with dignity, in spectacular fashion.
In the interest of increasing variety and gameplay depth to the series, DMC2 introduces what is now a mainstay of the series, the feature of alternate playable characters. The system is rather prototypical here, though, with the other main character, Lucia, being difficult to utilize well with her unconventional attacking methods. She does have some original levels to play through, which is appreciable. Dante's partner-in-demon-hunting Trish is by far the best character since she plays like DMC1 Dante, but the effort to unlock her will likely surpass any enjoyment to be had in playing the same levels as an improved character. Still, the effort to include multiple playable characters is one that would be yet more appreciated in time -- are you seeing a pattern here?
Devil May Cry 2 most graciously attempts to exercise the most crucial aspect of a game, communication, by implementing such features as a visible lock-on icon to highlight you you are targeting and visible enemy health bars to better inform who to target, though the latter feature has been inexplicably omitted from future entries. Another odd but welcome one-time inclusion is a medallion that lets you customize stats and incorporated slow motion to gameplay to an extent, with slow-motion being further implemented into gameplay in DMC3 and a customization system similar to the medallion apparently to be included in the upcoming DMC5. Therefore DMC2 is important in the sense that it experimented in minor fashions to make major improvements in future entries.
While Devil May Cry 2 is objectively worse than its predecessor in the most crucial respects, it wasn't nearly as bad as an effort by a new development team could have been, and it was enough to keep the series alive to accomplish greater things. It could even be considered a fine game if judged in vacuum free of the comparisons one could make to better works, but, these days, there are so many great games being released that one can afford to be picky. It isn't as if any of us have the free time to take advantage of the great, let alone accommodate the mediocre works from yesteryear, so DMC2 doesn't have nearly as much to offer newcomers as the other games do. Time hasn't been kind to DMC2, but DMC2's efforts to refine and experiment with the little things to improve the series have made it kind to time.
Community review by Follow_Freeman (June 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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