Our modern era of franchise entertainment demands ‘more of the same, only different’ from any long-running series. Each new installment must respect the fans that follow it, but also draw in new audiences. For many action games with ongoing narratives, that looks like what is jokingly referred to as ‘daddening’. Daddening has come to Devil May Cry 5.
The (typically male) characters in these franchise games are self-reflective and taciturn. Burdened by the weight of their actions, they question who they are as a way of defining their respective series going forward. Gameplay actions become more intricate, but also more deliberate and less varied.
If the era we are in is the ‘daddening of games’, then this period is their midlife crisis as they struggle to connect the violence they do with how they feel about it. How Devil May Cry 5 chooses to address this midlife crisis is by buying itself a motorcycle…that can split into a pair of giant, hand-held chainsaws.
With a ride like this, everyone but the driver needs to wear helmets.
Rule of Cool
That motorcycle should tell you what the Devil May Cry series is: aggressively unapologetic about its PS2 action game roots. After all, this is technically the sixth part in a story about a bloodline of half-demon ‘devil hunters’. It’s also the best entry in Devil May Cry canon to date because it understands its B-movie aesthetic. Once you do, too, everything else falls into place.
The story’s a stylish power fantasy. Nero’s arm gets cut off by a sinister stranger, but he get a custom-made set of interchangeable weaponized prosthetics. Series mainstay Dante is defeated by an unstoppable demon? He’ll unlock abilities that elevate him from the Godfather of Character Action games to Tha Gawd (no modifiers necessary).
Then there’s mysterious newcomer V, who controls unlike any other character in the genre to date. In contrast to his close-range combat contemporaries, V summons demons to do his bidding. The result encourages thinking about the battlefield as a whole, rather than catching a strike upside the head while focusing on one enemy.
Rank It Up
Swapping between these three characters who can dispose of monsters with a variety of moves, players will make their way through levels that recall Capcom’s roots in the arcades of yesteryear. Internalizing moves and combos to defeat your enemies is only part of the gameplay loop. The other half is how stylishly you dispatch them.
Devil May Cry’s lasting contribution to games is the Style meter, which ranks your skill in the battles throughout. Understandably, it can be disenchanting to struggle through an encounter only to have the in-game announcer sneer about your ‘Dismal’ performance. Most of us were satisfied leaving grading systems behind in school.
The game challenges you to get better; but provides an assortment of tools to do so. There’s the expected difficulty selection, but auto assist makes it even easier for cool things to happen at the press of a button. A training room allows you to summon every enemy type you’ve fought so far in order to develop your tactics. Intimidation becomes, hopefully, invitation.
An example of Devil May Cry 5’s encouragement: each battle ends with a slow-motion zoom similar to Tekken 7’s close matches. Both convey the sense that the game itself is in impressed disbelief over what you just accomplished, and it never gets old. So, eventually, the player becomes a sort of choreographer.
Thinking about how best to avoid dropping the stylish combo you’re racking up exposes these games as the bizarre successor to the Tony Hawk series. This doesn’t even take into account the Taunt button, a mechanic to shit-talk your enemies that more games should steal (*cough cough* Spider-Man).
Make the Grade
Devil May Cry 5 earns its mature rating in the way that will appeal to its existing fanbase…which is to say it’s just mature enough to be as immature as possible. Woven into the B-movie tone of the game are tedious tropes around the female characters, a prolonged Michael Jackson impersonation sequence, and the word ‘Savage’ as a style ranking.
That barely approaches the higher-profile problematic aspects of this game’s production. These issues do not directly affect the gameplay, but does undercut the efforts of Capcom’s efforts to make this game so approachable.
Looking at games in the genre — their own, and others — it feels like Devil May Cry 5’s dev team challenged themselves to do better. What flaws exist here should serve to cheer them on towards improving. This series took nearly two decades to become the best, most playable version of itself. To expect anything less would be ranking them lower than the capability they’ve shown thus far.
9 out of 10 triple S-ranks