Review: Devil May Cry 5 - Rely on Horror

Review: Devil May Cry 5

Devil May Cry 5

As a series, Devil May Cry means a lot to me. Playing Devil May Cry 4 in middle school, discovering the HD Collection in high school, and playing DmC my senior year cemented a lifelong love of challenging action games and stylish characters. It’s a series that introduced me to some of the first stories in games I really cared about and gave me an addiction for fast-paced hack n’ slash action.

It’s safe to say I had high expectations going into Devil May Cry 5. From Bayonetta to the Souls-like craze, to even 2018’s God of War reboot, the character action genre has gone through so many iterations since Devil May Cry 4, I began to wonder how Devil May Cry 5 would fit into a modern gaming landscape. Turns out, it fits pretty well. Refined combat mechanics, tight controls, loads of replay value, and a heap of polish all combine to make Devil May Cry 5 the defining character action game of this console generation.

Devil May Cry 5 sees the return of series protagonist Dante and Devil May Cry 4 protagonist Nero, along with a mysterious new character named V. Together, the trio must topple a demon king who seeks to use the Qliphoth, a tree that feeds on human blood, to create a fruit that will make him invincible. It’s a simple setup, but Devil May Cry 5 uses it to evolve the series’ storytelling in fascinating ways, though the result isn’t always satisfying.

Devil May Cry 5

I know better than to write off Devil May Cry 5‘s storytelling outright due to the game’s crazy action or anime trappings; while the series has a rep for obtuse lore and a disjointed timeline, Devil May Cry is still capable of some incredible storytelling when it takes the time to flesh out its characters. Touted as the end of the “Sons of Sparda” storyline, Devil May Cry 5 really serves as an intersection of the entire series thus far. The first game to sequentially follow up a previous title, Devil May Cry 5 isn’t just a sequel to Devil May Cry 4, but also has strong ties to Devil May Cry 1 and 3, and even canonizes the Devil May Cry Animated Series for the first time in a game.

Not to spoil anything, but this consolidation is probably Devil May Cry 5‘s greatest storytelling strength; direct references to prior events, enemies, weapons, and more aren’t just found in cutscenes, but in enemy files and unlockable documents as well. There is even canonization of Tony Redgrave, Dante’s original name when the first game was still in development almost two decades ago. All of these little touches are clearly the work of passionate developers appealing to fans, but it never feels like pandering in the wake of a fan-panned reboot. Instead, it serves to make the Devil May Cry universe more cohesive than ever before.

Devil May Cry 5

Playing out over the course of a single day, the story includes flashbacks for several characters intended to flesh out their motivations and backstories. Devil May Cry 5 puts a heavier emphasis on storytelling than previous entries, blending comedic scenes and more serious moments well, though the script and some line readings can come off as strange. New characters like Nico and Griffon get the most humorous lines, and while most of them land,  the few that fall flat can be pretty awkward. This seems less like inept writing and more like an issue with translation, but Devil May Cry 5 gets the job done where it counts, and sports the series’ strongest writing.

As a culmination of an entire series full of lore and loved by fans, Devil May Cry 5 sticks the landing in closing a door on one chapter and leaving room for more in the future. Well, mostly. The game does a great job of expressing deeper themes of legacy and inheritance, with multiple characters struggling against the weight of their own past ties. Combined with the copious references to William Blake’s poetry, particularly The Poison Tree, which deals with feelings of repressed, murderous rage, Devil May Cry 5 makes great strides to bring the series storytelling to modern thematic standards.

Devil May Cry 5

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come together as cohesively as I would have liked. With multiple flashbacks, switching character perspectives, and a need to be familiar with Devil May Cry lore to fully understand the dramatic weight of some moments, it’s not a story for everyone. As a fan, it worked for me, delivering moments that legitimately gave me chills. But for series newcomers I can see the investment being a problem. Without going into spoilers, I also found the last hour to be a bit underwhelming, and although the post-credits cutscenes alleviated some of my complaints, it feels less like a definitive ending than an open door to future content.

I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the story in a Devil May Cry game, but that’s because it’s full of characters that are important to me and many others. For the most part, Devil May Cry 5 does right by those characters and delivers one of the series’ best narratives to date, even if it ends on an uneven note. Fortunately, that’s about the only negative thing I can say about this game.

Like its characters, Devil May Cry 5 spends a lot of time reflecting on a legacy. In terms of gameplay, this means revisiting the series gameplay roots and taking what worked in Devil May Cry 1, 3, and 4, and throwing everything else out, while still innovating on the series’ strong core gameplay.

Devil May Cry 5

Nero, Dante, and V all have entirely unique combat systems to master. Nero, having lost his Devil Bringer arm early in the story, receives a huge gameplay overhaul with the new Devil Breaker system. With 8 different types of Devil Breakers that unlock over the course of the game and a new loadout system, it’s a fantastic addition that greatly expands Nero’s moveset from the modest offerings of Devil May Cry 4. Even after three playthroughs, I’m still discovering new moves and combinations, and I’m sure dedicated S-rank hunters will spend plenty of time uncovering all the hidden depth of this new system.

Dante returns with his four signature gameplay styles, each of which can be upgraded and switched between on-the-fly. While much of his default moveset is similar to past entries, Dante’s weapon selection is stronger than ever, and Devil May Cry 5‘s loadout options allows for lots of player choice. Gone are middling weapons from Devil May Cry 4 like Pandora and Lucifer, replaced with the lightning-chainsaw-demon-motorcycle Cavaliere, and a new spin on Devil May Cry 3‘s Cerberus, among others.

Devil May Cry 5

There isn’t a single bad weapon in the bunch, but some players won’t want to use them all. Thankfully, Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t force players to scroll through each weapon in the middle of a fight and instead allows them to take whichever they want into battle from checkpoints or pre-mission. If you want to just have a sword, but all four guns, it’s possible. The ability to mix-and-match gives plenty of replay value and incentive to experiment, and results in the best-playing Dante yet.

Finally, there’s V. Unlike the other two characters, V doesn’t directly attack enemies, instead relying on the raven-like Griffon and feline Shadow to weaken enemies, allowing him to finish them off. It’s a fascinating take on traditional Devil May Cry combat. Forcing players to keep distance between V and enemies means focusing less on mid-air combos and more on the ground game. I was unsure what to think after V’s first mission, but once I got the hang of his devil trigger, which summons a colossal gooey demon named Nightmare, and upgraded the demon’s abilities, V quickly became a worthy complement to Dante and Nero.

Devil May Cry 5

Combat is the core of Devil May Cry 5, and despite switching between three separate characters over the course of the game’s 8-10 hour campaign, each character feels incredibly polished. Dodging has been improved and feels more responsive than in Devil May Cry 4, resulting in less frustrating hits during hectic battles. Parrying enemy attacks also feels more accurate, and despite more realistic animations, weapons are fast and impactful thanks to fantastic sound work and visual feedback. As with most non-fixed camera action games, there are occasionally problems with camera movement in fights, but clicking the right stick recenters the camera, meaning this is almost never a problem. Devil May Cry 5‘s combat is full of incredible depth and polish, and is the best the series has ever played.

Like Devil May Cry 1 and 3, the game takes place mostly in one location: the Quiploth-infested Red Grave City. The city itself is a return to Devil May Cry‘s horror-survival roots, with eerie deserted streets and fantastically moody lighting throughout. My favorite detail was the desiccated bodies of civilians, harvested by the tree, frozen in the streets. Devil May Cry 5 harnesses plenty of gothic visual influence, often feeling like an aesthetic successor to Devil May Cry 1‘s Mallet Island with its muted color palette accentuated by vivid, colorful hues.

The game also injects a fair amount of horror into its enemy designs, breaking from Devil May Cry 4‘s more colorful, angelic roster. The enemy designs in Devil May Cry 5 are often bizarre, featuring grotesque amalgamations of various animals and forms. For example, the main grunt types have the bodies of giant bugs, with musculature resembling human sinew, and faces appearing shaped like three screaming skulls. My personal favorite is a late-game encounter with a creature resembling a giant bird fetus with human teeth. It’s clear that the art team pushed themselves creatively, and it’s very much appreciated; I spent quite some time looking at the detailed 3D models of enemies in the menu.

There is a respectable roster that features some returning enemy types, all of which Devil May Cry 5 uses to create challenging, memorable encounters. In another refinement from Devil May Cry 4, there aren’t any enemies like the Blitz or Faust that can be a pain to fight and put a hard stop to whatever combo you’re in the middle of. Of course, various enemies require different tactics, but they’re all smartly designed to keep the action rolling while keeping the players on their toes.

Devil May Cry 5 is a gorgeous game from start to finish. Capcom’s RE Engine is putting in some serious work on a technical level, and this might be the best looking game to use the engine so far, including the fantastic-looking Resident Evil 2. Environments are full of depth and detail, and textures are phenomenal across the board. I don’t think I’ve ever seen leather look so good in a video game.

Running at a consistent 60 fps on my standard PS4, Devil May Cry 5 maintains the series’ cinematic flair for action-packed cutscenes and gameplay. Like Hellblade before it, Devil May Cry 5‘s incredible use of motion-capture conveys a broad range of subtle emotions that bolsters the stories’ more impactful moments.

It’s worth noting that the only technical issues I had occurred with the game were during cutscenes. Across my three playthroughs of the game, I had one cutscene drop significant frames for a few moments and had voice acting de-synch in two cutscenes. These issues can likely be resolved with a patch, and were the only small scuffs on an otherwise incredibly polished technical experience.

One of the key ways Devil May Cry 5 innovates on the series’ formula is level design. Taking notes from DmC: Devil may Cry, level design is primarily linear with several hidden paths and areas for collectibles and secret missions. Gone are the backtracking and puzzles from previous entries, but that doesn’t mean it’s a more boring experience for the loss; even with simpler level design, Devil May Cry 5 is a hard game to put down.

By alternating between three playstyles, and constantly rewarding player progress with new weapons and abilities, Devil May Cry 5 uses fantastic flow to keep players invested. With plenty of secret mission and collectibles to seek out, as well as elusive S ranks for all missions and four unlockable difficulties, there’s a reason to come back for more.

New to Devil May Cry 5 is the cameo system, which records player data and shows it during other players’ games. So if you play one level as Nero, you can see another player’s V fighting in the distance. More than once I saw recordings of myself fighting as a different character, though I suspect that was simply due to a lack of recordings available before launch day. At the end of a level, you can give the player a “Stylish” ranking if you liked their performance, which rewards them with a Gold Orb the next time they start the game. It’s a strange little piece of set dressing, but as an experimental feature in an otherwise single-player experience, it’s interesting enough to be noteworthy.

I should also note that Devil May Cry 5 has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years, not just for its quality but for its breadth. Each of the main character’s themes compliment the action perfectly, with Nero’s Devil Trigger being a standout. Several tracks in various menus add jazz and country-inspired flavor to the soundtrack. The orchestrated score is also exceptional, highlighting key story moments with aplomb. Like its gameplay and art design, Devil May Cry 5‘s soundtrack is strong not just because of variety, but because of how well crafted every individual element is.

In writing my review, I struggled to come up with a score that would represent my experience with the game. Eventually, I thought of Resident Evil 4; flawed, and not for everyone, but still a masterpiece due to tight gameplay design. Devil May Cry 5 is similar in a way. Though its story is much better than Resident Evil 4‘s, Devil May Cry 5 shares a level of craftsmanship rarely seen in modern gaming.

On nearly every level, Devil May Cry 5 is a masterpiece of an experience. The series signature gameplay has been refined to modern standards, and despite roots in early 2001 action games, it’s the tightest the series has ever played. Three playable characters, each of which are satisfying to learn, make for a varied experience that can be hard to put down, and harder to master. Creative art and enemy design, coupled with beautiful graphics, guarantee that Devil May Cry 5 is a constant feast for the eyes. To top it all off, Devil May Cry 5‘s features a fantastic, memorable soundtrack and loads of replay value.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how Devil May Cry 5 would live up to the standards of classics like Devil May Cry 3. I was worried about the story, aged gameplay, and a potentially drab art style dragging down the experience. I’m glad I was wrong. Despite some reservations about its conclusion, Devil May Cry 5 is a game worth experiencing purely for the quality of the gameplay and the incredible polish on display. Devil May Cry 5 sets a new high bar for the series and is the definitive Devil May Cry experience.

10 out of 10 stars (10 / 10)

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