Style over substance.
I have long found the Japanese concept of style to be amusing. It always seems to be extremely over-done, yet meticulously precise. Most animoo and Japanese games possess a surfeit of style, so much so that my drab, accountant’s mind rebels at all the concentrated ridiculum. Yes, I don’t like most animoos, and many Japanese games fill me with a terrible rage. I like my stories understated, my melodrama confined to key moments, and my gameplay to feel as good as it looks.
[image1]It is, with all of these preferences in mind, surprising that I found myself eventually enjoying Devil May Cry 4, albeit in a grudging sort of way. I’ve played the first two Devil May Cry games, and found them to be tedious action games with more visual flair than enjoyable gameplay. I frankly thought of them like one of the Dynasty Warriors games, just riddled with bad camera angles and fancier moves.
Devil May Cry 4 really isn’t wildly different per se. The same horrendous camera angles that inhibit successful combat are omnipresent, opponents still punish you for needing to wrestle with annoying level design, there are invisible walls galore to prevent you from wandering around as you want to, and there are at least as many minutes spent in cutscenes as spent playing the actual game. So how could I possibly enjoy it?
As it turns out, the big thing that kept me going through the game was the boss fights. Despite baroque game design, Devil May Cry 4 nails boss fights. They’re large, free-roaming battles that really push you to play well and take advantage of every move you’ve accrued to date. Although many of the gimmicks the bosses use are recognizable from other games, they’re pulled off with a finesse and a precision that makes for extraordinarily solid gameplay.
Unfortunately, everything between those bossfights feels like a waste of time. Most of the ‘puzzles’ in the game are insultingly simple, frequently consisting of just hitting something ten times before a door will open. Another favorite is the fetch quest, wherein some key item is needed to progress, so you have to traipse about the side passages of the otherwise depressingly linear environments in order to get the unlikely key or the weird power needed to progress. Most of the intermediary fights are a nuisance at best, and a soul-draining slugfest at worst. Most offensive to me is that you spend half the game backtracking across the same ground you just covered.
[image2]I understand from friends and the rumor-mills of the internet that DMC3 was incredibly difficult. DMC4 has gone in the opposite direction, making many of the fights, other than bosses, just too easy, except when the camera leaves your shit in ruins. Most fights don’t require much real expertise beyond rolling about opponents with the dodge buttons and jamming the triangle button a lot. While playing as Nero, you get some momentarily amusing grab moves that can interrupt the flow of things, but they start to get old quickly.
During the latter half of the game, wherein you play as good ol’ Dante, fighting becomes more nuanced and interesting. Dante’s move set is more complex, and involves switching up your choice of weapon and stance fairly frequently in order to best manage the fights. Dante will appear initially weaker than Nero as he has no equivalent to Nero’s signature grab moves. Dante has a few moves, however, that make him much better at keeping foes off-balance and keeping close enough to constantly pile the damage on. Different stances, multiple ranged and melee weapons, and a wider variety of attacks makes Dante vastly more interesting to play than Nero. It’s a pity you have to suffer through about six to eight hours of doldrums before you get to Dante.
Graphically, the game is mostly excellent looking. Animations are fluid and character models are detailed; the textures look a little washed out in places, possibly due to the schizophrenic lighting of the game, and there are noticeable jaggies on many of the shadows. For the most part, though, you are not likely to notice what small graphical flaws there are, as the game keeps you in motion most of the time.
The voice acting is quite good, but I found the music to be a mix between laughable and terrible. The wannabe death metal combat music didn’t really do anything for me, and the weird quasi-choral music used for the intro movie and the pause menus was distractingly poor.
[image3]In the annals of game writing, Devil May Cry 4 should garner no praise. The storyline is thin, barely enough to provide an explanation for all the action. Basically, Dante kills the pope, and then Nero is sent to track down Dante; along the way, Nero discovers that the pope isn’t dead and that his girlfriend has been kidnapped by this undead pope. Emo ensues, Dante shows up, and then a good murder was had by all. Sadly, I’m not kidding.
Although DMC4 is a singleplayer only game, for some reason the developers decided to include an online leader board function. I’ve understood this impulse on the part of developers of story-driven (all irony intended) action games; this isn’t a replacement for multiplayer, and it’s not interesting on its own merits. Who cares who beat mission nine of DMC4 the fastest?
The reality of DMC4 is that it’s a solid game if you switch your brain off and just get into the action. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to do that; my brain is a constant, nattering companion, insistent in its will to analyze and criticize every little detail of the media presented to it. Devil May Cry 4 is riddled with too many flaws to really enjoy completely. It’s disheartening – there’s a kernel of a good game beneath all the terrible writing and poor design decisions.