Review: Devil May Cry 5
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)
Hours Played: 60+
The pioneer of the character-action genre is here in full force and flaunting a big, flashy game in the long-running franchise.
Devil May Cry is back.
There is so, so much care put into DMCV. It’s clear that Capcom wants to appease veterans of the series while drawing in new players. They succeeded in giving longtime fans a reason to come back, yet the draw for new players to dive in is mixed. But for those that decide to take the plunge, they’ll find a heavily rewarding experience with some of the coolest action gameplay seen since Bayonetta 2 in 2014.
Existing Devil May Cry fans won’t be surprised by DMCV’s core gameplay loop, seeing as it follows a standard character-action game structure. The game’s story is told across multiple missions, each one consisting of light traversal and exploration elements, plenty of combat arenas, and cutscenes that play at the beginning and end of each mission. Where things get interesting is the number of boss battles in the game.
DMCV has 20 story missions, excluding the prologue, and a majority of them end by fighting a memorable boss fight. Not all of them are winners, but I was always excited to see where the story would go next. The game has 19 unique enemies, each with its own set of behaviors and attack patterns that are fought throughout the journey. Speaking of which, the enemy designs in DMCV are an aspect of the game that I believe stands indisputably head-and-shoulders above any of the previous DMC games. Many of them stagger when getting hit by the player’s attacks, as well as gush blood after each sword slash or claw swipe. This feedback is incredibly beneficial to selling the feeling of hitting incoming enemies. This is in stark contrast to the puppet foes that Nero fought in the beginning of DMC4; the enemies there just don’t display the same level of reaction to getting hit as the demons do in DMCV. Perhaps that explains my difficulty in diving into DMC4 a couple of years ago. Anyway, the sheer enemy variety and the solid execution of each hit makes for an experience that rarely feels tedious. Their design and animations are all convincing and imposing, each one acting as a satisfying challenge to overcome.
Similarly, the character designs in this game are great. Dante is back sporting his classic red jacket, and this time wearing an undershirt, thankfully. Nero has seen a big shift in appearance since his introduction in DMC4, and it’s a much-needed change to avoid comparisons between multiple white-haired characters. The game’s third playable character, simply referred to as ‘V’, is so overtly goth that I can’t help but adore his design. He speaks in a slow, methodical pace, and his interactions with the cast are just delightful. As a whole, the character performances here are a huge step up from previous Devil May Cry games. That may not be saying a whole lot when you remember that one infamous scene near the end of DMC1, but each actor’s performance is solid enough to keep me engaged during the entire playthrough. I’ve never been a huge fan of the character Trish’s appearance, mostly because her design just screams of pandering, and she makes a return appearing more or less the same as she did in previous games. It’s a shame, considering that Dante’s appearance has seen improvement.
Like a bunch of big-name releases today, there’s a ton of detail put in each of the game’s areas; and just like the high-quality character and enemy models, I have to believe there was a ton of effort put into making each environment full of detail. The only criticism I’d levy against the environmental design is the boring, dull-grey appearance in certain early-game segments. The rest of the game makes up for it with plenty of red, pink, and a few blue-ish areas, not to mention the satisfying amount of dark-red color sprinkled throughout the journey in the form of enemies’ blood being spilled.
The combat in DMCV starts off approachable, but eventually grows into something much greater. The beginning of the game offers players control of a select few commands – attack, focus the camera on specific enemies, jump, and fire a gun. That’s it. In a combo-heavy game with 3D movement options, this is a good introduction to get players warmed up to the controls and grow familiar with their moves. The game’s potential opens up once new attacks and button combinations can be bought with red orbs, the game’s currency awarded for slaying demons. But even when players start the game with just a few attacks to execute, the game still provides a healthy level of variety to make encounters full of style. Mixing and matching attacks will raise your ‘Style’ meter, which acts as an in-game score card of how well players perform in battle. Not getting hit by enemy attacks contributes to the style meter rising, but wholly optional moves like taunting also increase it. Taunts might not be the go-to for beginners, but players that have a deep handle of the game’s mechanics will adore all of the various taunts that each character displays against demons.
Speaking of battles, DMCV even managed to make the end of each one exciting to watch. Many of the game’s encounters end once the player has defeated all enemies in a combat arena, and once the last enemy is finished, the camera will zoom in on the player character, slow down time, and play a short metal guitar riff. It’s a super-slick conclusion to many fights that highlights the feeling that the DMCV team is going for – making the player pull off intricate attacks on demons and feel incredible in the process.
There isn’t a whole lot for me to say about this game’s soundtrack, besides the fact that most of it is really, really great. The obvious standout is ‘Devil Trigger,’ a corny, catchy, fist-pumping beat that turns each combat encounter as Nero into something special. It’s perhaps one of my favorite songs from a video game in quite a long time. Everything from the intensity of the guitar riffs, to the vocals, and the lyrics making references to in-game mechanics… It’s so cheesy, but I adore its utter sincerity. There’s a reason why fans begged for the song to be played live during the 2018 Game Awards. The music that plays during battle segments when controlling Dante and V aren’t quite as memorable as ‘Devil Trigger’, but they fit the personalities of each character well enough.
One especially great aspect of DMCV’s pacing is the order in which players assume control of the action. Each of the game’s three playable characters offer unique combat styles from one another, but more or less accomplish the same task – kill plenty of demons on the battlefield. Nero gives players the most basic combat at the start, V arrives soon after to provide a shake-up to the formula, and Dante makes his appearance later to overwhelm and confuse anyone who hasn’t played a DMC game before.
Joking aside, taking control of Dante is where most players will either stick with or fall off of DMCV. Dante is given access to all four of his ‘styles’ from the start, each of which come with a number of hidden mechanics that aren’t explained all too well by the game itself. It should be mentioned that in certain prior DMC games, the four styles at Dante’s disposal weren’t available to switch between at will. Players had to select just one before the start of a mission and stick with it until the end of that mission. This was changed in DMC4, where Dante had access to all of his styles at once. This is true once again in DMCV, where Dante is given free reign over all of his styles, even mid-mission, making for a profoundly confusing experience for those unfamiliar with his moveset. To make things worse, upgrading each style doesn’t include a specific explanation of what exactly was improved, leaving it up to the player to see how their moveset has evolved. In highly technical action games like DMC, it’s crucial that players are informed on the basics of how to utilize each action at their disposal. The explanations for Nero and V’s moves are handled well enough, but in the case of explaining Dante’s play style, the game falls short. This may not be an issue for series veterans, but for newcomers, playing as Dante represents a steep cliff that not everyone will be able to climb.
Perhaps this is the fault of cramming all of Dante’s style abilities from prior games into one big, slightly clumsy package. By default, switching between each style is accomplished using the directions of the control pad, which results in an awkward experience of removing your thumb from the control stick in the middle of combat. I have to wonder if cutting some of Dante’s moves and incorporating the rest of his attacks into two, or at most, three styles would have made for a slightly more forgiving learning curve. However, I have to give the game’s director Hideaki Itsuno and his team at Capcom proper credit – giving Dante access to all four styles at any time is a bold move that is sure to appease series veterans.
With so many attacks at his disposal, it’s insane to think Dante could have anything else to unlock. However, this isn’t the case – Dante, Nero, and V all have plenty of upgrades to earn throughout the journey. Red orbs are doled out at a healthy pace with plenty of opportunities to level up at a satisfying pace. It’s nearly impossible to fully upgrade every character during their first playthrough, so thankfully, DMCV rewards those who stick around for round two. I’d argue that playing this game’s story a second time is even better than the first go. More special moves are at the player’s disposal from the get-go and they have a deeper knowledge of the game’s nuances, making for more confidence when shooting for higher style ranks.
As a disclaimer, it should be mentioned that DMCV contains in-game purchases in the form of buying red orbs. While microtransactions in full-price games are never ‘okay’ in my opinion, in the case of DMCV, you’d be forgiven for not realizing they’re in the game at all. I don’t even remember how to access the purchase screen while in-game.
On the topic of items, the extra goodies earned for playing through the DMCV story mode are a special treat. There is unlockable concept art, data logs, a music player, and best of all, an in-game model viewer of every single prominent character, enemy, and boss that appears. The viewer functions similarly to the model viewer in Resident Evil 2 Remake (2019), and since both games are high-profile Capcom titles built on the RE Engine, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – but it’s a very welcome one. Each model also comes with a data log describing who they are and what role they play in the game’s story. When I think of games that go above and beyond in providing players with value, it’s additions such as these that stand out in my mind.
Since this review is coming many, many months after the game’s March 2019 release, I can touch on one part of the game I was obsessed over for a little while – the Bloody Palace. It’s a great challenge to test your combat knowledge using all of the skills acquired throughout the main story. While it’s a great time overall, and its inclusion as a free post-launch update is great, the mode isn’t without its faults.
The Bloody Palace is a challenge arena that has players choose one of the game’s three characters and battle through 100 rooms of enemies in one life. Each room contains the same type and number of enemies across multiple playthroughs, so memorizing what to expect from each encounter will only take a few attempts. This is both good and bad; I would love to see a randomized Bloody Palace that switches up enemy variety so that each room is different from the last, but despite that, this mode is tough to put down.
Every 20 levels of the Bloody Palace features a boss fight from the main story that allows players to suspend and resume at another time. It’s a shame that there aren’t more frequent boss fights, perhaps every 10 or 15 levels, considering the number of bosses that can be fought in the main story. But the biggest problem facing the Bloody Palace is how similar each battle is from the last, and how quickly some of them can be completed. Some arenas, including some battles found in the latter 50 levels, can be completed in less than a minute, if that. While it can feel great rapidly blasting through levels, some of it ends up feeling more like busywork than trying to survive a gauntlet.
Most unfortunately, the battle music starts over from the beginning when entering each arena of the Bloody Palace. This is a huge bummer considering how incredible the battle music of DMCV is (it’s incredible)! I have to imagine there’s a better solution to this issue than starting the music over from the beginning each time, because hearing the same intro over and over can quickly grow tiring. Perhaps it’d be better if the music’s volume was lowered during arena transitions, and quickly picks up the volume upon entering the next challenge. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here. The point is, the Bloody Palace is a great, fun time, and an awesome addition to include for free to all players, but it’s not perfect and could use refinement. It seems as if Capcom is finished with additional content for DMCV, but we can hope they fine-tune these aspects to make the Bloody Palace even better.
Devil May Cry has never been known for having the most compelling narrative. That said, DMCV succeeds in delivering a fun, often goofy, character-driven story that gave me a good reason to root for the heroes. I wish there was a bigger focus on Lady and Trish’s involvement, as their actions don’t really contribute much of anything to the plot, but overall, the story is fine. There are enough callbacks made to previous games in the series without being obnoxious. DMCV feels like a proper, well-constructed love letter to the fans while inviting a new audience to join in the fun.
The overall package found in Devil May Cry V is a strong sell. By packing in three unique characters with wildly different move sets, more than four difficulty settings, a bevy of unlockable extras, and a bonus survival mode, my time spent with DMCV lasted much longer than I expected. For the average character-action game fan, Devil May Cry V is a must-play. For anyone apprehensive about learning various button combinations, the game is rather forgiving on lower difficulties – but the challenge that veterans seek in order to reach SSS rank remains intact.