DEVIL MAY CRY 5 isn’t hiding how much it wants you back. The unwarranted catastrophe surrounding DmC Devil May Cry pushed Capcom to stop trying to reinvent its stagnating franchise and continue down the path it was already going down. Change-averse fans demanded an “out with the new, in with the old” approach and Capcom obliged with Devil May Cry 5. While the game does stick too closely to its aging roots and doesn’t push forward as much as it should, it still has a solid enough base in most regards to maintain a decent portion of its signature glory.
Fast-paced combat made Devil May Cry what it is and it appropriately takes center stage in Devil May Cry 5. Responsive controls ensure that sliding around and slashing about is inherently satisfying; a feat that is carried by its rock-solid framerate. Each Devil May Cry game’s enemy design, boss fights, and array of weapons or mechanics benefit from that framework and their collective merit is what separates the best installments games from the not so good ones. And while that can mostly be summed up easily in those past entries, Devil May Cry 5’s three different characters vary drastically in quality and make that judgment a bit more difficult than it has been in the past.
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V is the newest addition to the Devil May Cry pantheon and, frankly, the weakest of the whole lot. He only strikes his opponents to land the finishing blow and relies upon his demonic panther, bird, and monster to do his attacking for him, which is unlike anything else in the genre. Novelty, however, can’t make up for how distant and unsatisfying he is to play most of the time.
Commanding forces lacks the tactile feeling of attacking someone for yourself, which is a key part of any good hack and slash game. The projections also don’t always instantly obey your commands, further separating you from the action you already take a backseat to. Hanging back and sending orders means attacks can easily whiff since your lackeys will have a hard time judging if they should zoom in to the enemy you’re locked on to or pummel the bush 10 feet in from of it. V’s gameplay almost plays out like a real-time strategy game yet that approach doesn’t channel what Devil May Cry is good at and it shows.
Precision has always defined Devil May Cry and V just doesn’t stack up. The game oddly doesn’t punish brainless play as evidenced by how effective button mashing is, even on the harder Son of Sparta difficulty. It struggles to effectively stop the player from exploiting thoughtless methods as randomly and continually attacking charitably hands out S ranks and destroys most bosses. He lacks nuance yet the game almost never demands it from him; a failure on two fronts. It’s not outright bad as it skates by on the core fluidity of the base controls, creative attack animations, and one-on-one boss fights but its mindlessness goes against everything Devil May Cry stands for.
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Nero’s mechanics are more in line with what Devil May Cry is about and, more specifically, Devil May Cry 4. Many of his attack strings carry over unabated, giving him a comparable, gratifying gameplay loop that is admittedly a bit sparse when compared to Dante’s arsenal. However, a few late-game upgrades and slightly bigger ability pool improve his overall playability this time around despite still being limited by just a single sword and gun.
His new Devil Breaker arms are supposed to be the most substantial new addition. Instead of just grabbing enemies with a demonic hand, there are multiple different hands each with a unique standard and ultimate attack. For example, there’s one that stops time in a small area normally and stops time everywhere when charged up. But what the multiple Devil Breakers have in variety is almost overwritten by a few puzzling design decisions.
Devil Breakers are, well, breakable and will shatter when you take damage, use its ultimate attack, or detonate it to push back enemies. Most of their strategic functions get undercut by how limited they are and how you can’t easily switch between them. Burning any arm on low-level enemies is a tough proposition since you either have to buy or find replacements. Scarcity like this discourages experimentation; a feeling that runs counter to the strengths of the genre.
And you can’t switch between the arms in your loadout which is limiting given the endless possibilities swapping Devil Breakers mid-combo would have. Placing broken arms on cooldown timers and letting players change between them on the fly would help the Devil Breaker mechanic reach its full capability. The current system is solid on the surface but it only shows tantalizing glimpses of what it could have been.
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Dante is the only character that fulfills his potential and is unsurprisingly the best part of Devil May Cry 5. While he originally appears to a disappointing carbon copy of his Devil May Cry 4 appearance, the game piles an incredible amount of weapons and moves on the red-coated smartass. Dante’s impressive melee and ranged arsenal combines with his multiple returning styles to give him an overwhelming amount of options.
There’s a lot to unpack and the well-paced drip of new toys makes combat an ever-evolving onion that opens up the more you peel back. Each weapon is independently viable thanks to their expansive movesets and overall fluidity. But the game’s freeform approach to combat begs for players to think of clever ways to combine each and create some legendary, rewarding combos. It appropriately takes a lot of practice and dexterity to perform lengthy, uninterrupted juggles, but the game allows you that freedom and the snappy controls to achieve such a status.
Dante, V, and Nero all benefit from the game’s incredible replayability. Even though it can cause the early levels to feel like a bit of a slog, the number of purchasable upgrades and new moves come out at a steady enough clip to always give players something to strive for. And the game has enough upgrades to dole out over multiple playthroughs, which is perfect for its approach to difficulty.
While the normal setting isn’t nearly as hard as its predecessors, the tougher modes get a bit more challenging as stronger enemies appear earlier on and more resilient bosses execute new patterns. Remixing the core content like this livens up the game since it gives players a new look on what is essentially the same experience. And this steady increase in difficulty is set up in a way to train players for the punishment that lies in the game’s extreme modes that hack and slash games are often judged by. Devil May Cry 5 not only has the responsive mechanics to survive under that duress, but it also is paced cleverly enough to prepare players for those trials if they put in the effort.
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Even though the replayability represents Devil May Cry at its peak, it still doesn’t overwrite how safe is and how little it has learned from other games as well as its underappreciated reboot. Most environments are flat, cliché locales that fail to match the liveliness or ingenuity of DmC’s memorable stages. Grabbing enemies doesn’t cover as much distance as it should nor does it allow you to pull yourself to your enemies. Aside from the moves in Dante’s Trickster style, dodging isn’t just one button and air dashing is still frustratingly not an option. Platforming is also still an afterthought and most bosses, while exhilarating, don’t tie into the narrative and are random beasts you kill just for the sake of it.
While DmC was melodramatically crucified for its take on the series, it did improve the franchise’s aging formula in a few ways that the subsequent entries should have incorporated going forward. Devil May Cry 4’s aging foundation was the reason Capcom handed it off in the first place and to completely ignore DmC’s advancements is as petty as it is unwise. Instead of being a healthy mix of the two, Devil May Cry 5 has chosen to spitefully walk the path of its numbered entries with few modernizations in fear of poking the beehive once again.
Its narrative also appears as though it was partially constructed with this timid development plan but that’s not the biggest of its problems. The game abruptly begins and it takes a bit to explain itself, but it turns out that a demon named Urizen is trying to harvest blood through the hellish Qliphoth tree to produce a fruit that yields incredible power to the being that eats it. V, Dante, and Nero take it upon themselves to power up and stop this seemingly unstoppable force.
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It’s told out of chronological order but easy to follow thanks to the helpful timeline on the loading screens. However, that doesn’t always make it enjoyable to follow as almost every single character is an annoying chud that clogs up every scene with a barrage of unfunny quips. Nero’s newfound snark is a pale imitation of Dante and their merchant, Nico, repeatedly forces horrible jokes in almost every line.
V is cringe personified as his regular poetry slams are edgelord nonsense delivered in the most insufferable tone. Griffon, V’s bird, also has a ton of repetitive barks and awful one-liners that sound like a bad impression of Nolan North trying to do an even worse impression of Gilbert Gottfried. Dante is still the same wise ass but, since it is his schtick, he gets away with it. The incredible and simply stunning character animation makes each mesmerizing to watch but no amount of great animation can make most of the cast more tolerable.
Even though its plot twists are incredibly obvious because of how overtly the game drops hints, those later revelations make up the game’s best narrative bits. It does borrow some of the conflicts from the past installments but they are just different enough to avoid being a direct copy.
But there are bigger issues with the storytelling as a whole. Rather than dish out a narrative evenly throughout each level like DmC, stages are just plot-free strings of arenas with a couple of cutscenes at the bookends. By returning that poorly paced formula, it shows how little Capcom learned from Ninja Theory’s storytelling expertise.
Learning little from DmC might be all some disgruntled fans need to hear because the insufferable backlash to that reboot is what has shaped Devil May Cry 5 into what it is. Whether willing or not, it pressured Capcom into reverting back into its old habits and creating a more direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4. While this means it has archaic narrative habits, lifeless level design, and missing features, it also means the game has excellent combat, extraordinary replay value, spectacular boss fights, and one of the best versions of Dante to date. Its reluctance to properly evolve keep it from being the king of its genre, but its commitment to its stylish and responsive mechanics still makes it one of the best hack and slash games, crown or not.
GameRevolution reviewed Devil May Cry 5 on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher.