Devil May Cry 5 Review
Over the top action franchise returns with a strong new entry
I remember when I first played Devil May Cry. I rented the game from our local video store and, like excited kids did back in 2001, was reading the instruction booklet on the way home to tide myself over until I could pop the game in my PlayStation 2. The booklet explained the backstory and included a profile about Dante, the demon-killing badass protagonist who loved pizza. While playing the game, my teenage angst flared as the soundtrack thundered with that early-2000s electric techno/heavy-metal sound made so popular in the Matrix. With the trench coat, leather pants, matching handguns and enormous sword, Dante was everything that spoke to the teenage boy counterculture at the time. Accompanied by a scantily clad blonde bombshell, killing demons and doing awesome stuff because it was his “job”, saving the world not because he cared but because it was less of an inconvenience than letting everything burn - Dante just seemed so cool when I was thirteen years old. Then as I got older, he seemed less cool. As I aged into my twenties, went to college and became an insufferable theatre student, Dante and Devil May Cry seemed so stupid, so childish. And now that I’m in my thirties, I realize that while the whole thing is indeed absurd, it’s also still a lot of fun.
It’s hard to review a game like Devil May Cry, narratively, because everything that’s so incredibly dumb about the game is obviously intentional. The grumbly, loner, stunted male protagonists are not a bug, they’re actually a feature of the series at this point. The plot only exists as a series of excuses for you to press the analog stick forward and kill everything in your path, and that’s the way Capcom and director Hideaki Itsuno want it. Loud, flashy, angry, and dumb - don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Does it work? Of course it works. This is the formula that Capcom has reliably been going back to time and again over the last eighteen years. Itsuno is a Devil May Cry veteran, having helmed every entry in the series since replacing the director of Devil May Cry 2 and he’s very much in his element here. Yet, it’s nice to see the series taking its biggest risk in quite some time (excluding the reboot from Ninja Theory). Devil May Cry 5 splits its frantic action between three protagonists: Dante, Nero (the newcomer from the series’ fourth entry), and the latest addition V.
The gist of the story here is that the mysterious V shows up at Devil May Cry (Dante’s demon-extermination business) and contracts Dante to kill a demon named Urizen. Urizen quickly bests the trio of heroes and with Dante sacrificing himself to save the others, Nero and V must figure out how to stop Urizen on their own. There’s a team of ladies that accompany Dante and Nero, but mostly they are there to be rescued - the exception being Nico, an engineer who works with Nero in his new mobile workshop van. It’s not great storytelling, and the overly similar locations for each mission make it difficult to call out specific highlights. In almost every stage of the game, you’re killing Urizen’s demon lackeys.
The difficulty of the enemies ramps up gradually, though I never really found the game that challenging. You start with killing the insect-like Empusa easily and then you’re introduced to flying demons, demons with shields, demons that turn themselves into invincible spiked wheels of death. There are a handful of fun boss fights, but if you’ve played any of the previous games, you know what to expect here. The plot has a few twists, but you’ll likely see them coming from a mile away and even if you don’t, they don’t really matter. This isn’t a game where you’re supposed to meditate on the meaning of family or the responsibility of power, you’re just supposed to kill stuff.
And killing is a good time. Each character has a different playstyle, though Dante and Nero are pretty similar. Both of the returning characters wield a sword and a gun, and players are encouraged to chain attacks together between melee and ranged weapons to build up their combo score. Nero’s biggest change is his Devil Breakers. Having lost his arm under mysterious circumstances, he’s been fitted for a robotic arm that gives him special abilities. There are different versions of the arm that grant different powers and after some use, the arms wear out. This means you’ll have to buy or find new arms to make sure that Nero is constantly well-equipped. But the most exciting part of playing as Nero is that you can use the Devil Breaker arm to pull enemies toward you with a grappling hook extension, extending combos by grabbing enemies and yanking them into slashing range.
While playing as Dante, you can switch between the many different weapons he picks up, each having its own special attack. While fighting, you’ll build up a meter that Dante can use to enter his Devil Trigger mode where he does more damage. The difference in weapons is impressive, though there aren’t enough missions where you play as Dante to get a good feel for everything. You’re encouraged to switch between weapons to get better rankings, but I never found enough time to get comfortable with it. Especially since a few weapons aren’t added to his inventory until the final stages of the game.
The highlight of the game is V. Looking like Kylo Ren finally discovered Hot Topic, Devil May Cry 5’s newest addition is exactly how the series should be growing in 2019. As opposed to the trench coat with too many buckles and affection for pizza, V sports a leather vest and reads from a book of poetry. The older you are, the more you’ll probably hate his personality, but it’s an absolute blast to play as him. As opposed to swinging swords and shooting guns, V uses three summoned creatures to fight his battles. A wise-cracking crow is his ranged option, a shape-shifting panther is his melee attacker, and when his Devil Trigger is charged, a giant golem creature called “Nightmare” leaps into the battle and wrecks the enemy. Most of the time, you’ll want to keep V away from the battle, but once enemies are nearing death you’ll need to teleport to them and use his cane to deliver the finishing blow. V is an absolute blast to play, a true evolution of the Devil May Cry combat with a nice twist. I just wish there was more of him.
Each character has their own missions, but occasionally you’ll be given an option about who you want to play as, and I almost always chose V. There’s also an online component that allows other players to jump into your game as the other characters. For instance, if you’re playing as Nero, someone else might be in your game playing as Dante. At the end of the mission, you can give the other person kudos for their style, though this feature is more interesting in theory than in practice. When you see players in your game it looks a little off and you’re often fighting different enemies, so it’s not like they help or hinder you. One could argue this is a good thing, that adding a more involved multiplayer component to Devil May Cry 5 might have ruined one of the few games that’s almost entirely a single-player experience, but it still just looks off.
It also led to a frustrating bug that prevented me from being able to progress in the game. Having killed all the enemies in a stage, accompanied by two other players assuming the roles of Dante and Nero, I couldn’t continue to the next fight because the game seemed to think I was still in combat. I had to restart a few times to get it right, first trying to restart from the checkpoint, then having to restart the entire chapter. There are also some annoyingly long loading screens that occasionally made me wonder if the game had crashed.
In between missions (the only time you aren’t ruthlessly killing something), you’ll have some time to upgrade the character you’re playing as. You can only upgrade that one character, so if you’ve got your eyes set only getting a special attack for Nero, but you’re playing as Dante, you’ll have to stash some red orbs (acquired by killing demons) away for the next time you’re playing as Nero. I don’t love the upgrade tree in Devil May Cry 5. It’s serviceable, but I rarely found any moves that I was itching to have. If you’re like me and the upgrades don’t strike your fancy, you can always pour some of those red orbs into acquiring blue orbs or purple orbs; blue ones extend your life, and purple ones improve your Devil Trigger meter. Lastly, you can also purchase golden orbs, which allow you to continue after fatal damage with refilled health and full Devil Trigger.
The game looks alright. The RE engine has proven itself more than capable in Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2. The character models are expressive and well detailed, from Dante’s stubble to V’s deteriorating skin. The issue lies in the art direction itself. Devil May Cry games have always had a familiar aesthetic, but this one is playing it super safe. Most of the game takes place in the same, large demon hive, and by the 8-hour mark, I was rather desperate for something different. The game could really use a change of pace as it barrels towards the finale, but it always is just more of the same. The music is better; each hero has their own battle music that is keeping with their character - Dante gets heavy metal screamo, while Nero gets the game’s main theme, “Devil Trigger”. There is a lot of atmosphere and moody undertones one would expect, but I was hoping for a little bit more.
The game is on the short side, but I actually prefer that. I enjoyed Devil May Cry 5’s 10-12 hours as they felt condensed and well-paced, and stretching for time wouldn’t have helped anything. You can definitely get more out of the game by trying to perfect it. For the missions that offer you a choice of character, you can replay them to see how the experience varies. You can spend a lot of time working through the campaign again, trying to earn a “Smokin’ Sexy Style” rating, or explore to locate orbs to improve your gauges. There are also secret missions that can be found that provide the best challenge the game offers.
Devil May Cry 5 is a strong new entry in the series. It’s disposable action nonsense, but it’s fun, the kind that you’ll find yourself playing for hours, desperately trying to earn a better ranking in each fight, honing your combo skills. The game manages the impressive task of returning to the familiar tone of the series after a ten-year hiatus, while also adding fresh ideas that are invigorating. As I’ve grown up with this series, my feelings on it have grown as well; I’ve found it awesome, stupid, and then awesomely stupid. Devil May Cry 5 is more of all of those things - it has all the subtly of a fireworks display, all the substance of a fast-food hamburger, and shameless fun - that’s all that matters with a game like this.