11-years have passed since the last true Devil May Cry game was launched. In the span of time since 2008 we got a reboot of the franchise in the form of the oddly named DmC: Devil May Cry, a game that I actually quite liked but that did not go down well with fans. Finally, though, we have a true sequel in the form of Devil May Cry 5. Nero and Dante are back and ready to kick some demonic buttocks. It’s time to welcome back Devil May Cry and watch as it retakes its throne.
Things kick off with a new demon named Urizen invading the world. We pick up with the returning Nero heading straight for the new threat, only to find that even the legendary Dante is getting his ass handed to him by Urizen. Indeed, Nero and the mysterious new character V abandon the scene, leaving Dante to battle alone and buy them time. From there the story jumps time points quite a bit, explaining how certain characters got to where they are. It’s a story structure that I’m not a huge fan of usually, but it works quite nicely here and serves to keep certain revelations hidden until later.
A large part of Devil May Cry is V, a brand new character with a visual style that immediately sets him apart from Dante and Nero. He’s thin, young and walks with a cane, showing his physical weakness. None of the other characters are sure about his motivations, whether he’s trustworthy or what his ultimate goal is. Discovering V’s part in the story is a lot of fun.
Another new character is Nico, a mechanical genius with a southern drawl who is helping Nero out. She’s an interesting addition to the cast and at first I didn’t like her brash attitude, but over time she grew on me and became like an older sister to Nero. Since Nero’s girlfriend from Devil May Cry 4 only pops up via a couple of very short phone calls Nico serves as a nice foil to bounce Nero off of, something he was missing in the prior game.
Nico is the source of one of the best running gags I’ve seen in a game in years, too. As you battle through the levels you stumble across telephone booths, and these can be used to ring up Nico. It doesn’t matter where you are, Nico somehow manages to come crashing in with her chunky van, ready to provide all the upgrades you could need. Every phone booth comes with its own unique cutscene of Nico somehow breaking up through a concrete street, or flying off a cliff edge only to stop inches from your face. It’s hilarious, utterly bat shit crazy and truly brilliant.
Yes, the franchise’s unique flair for comic insanity hasn’t been toned down at all and that’s perfectly fine with me. The opening sequence with the returning Nero and Nico makes that crystal clear, involving a spinning van, multiple demons and a feat of physics defying badassery. Meanwhile, Dante might have matured a little and definitely shows his experience, but he’s still a goofball at heart who refuses to miss an opportunity to poke fun at demons or even perform a Michael Jackson dance routine.
It’s a style unique to Devil May Cry that can sit wrong with some people. The writing juggles complete insanity, physics defying cut-scenes and complicated family drama. Make no mistake that with four prior games in the series Devil May Cry 5 tells a tale for the fans, though a newcomer could fumble their way through it. With a lot of very confused looks.
Speaking of the story itself, it’s…good. The quality of acting, the cinematography in the cutscenes and the uniquely Devil May Cry tone all combine to create one hell of a level of presentation that frequently left me with a huge grin on my face. There are some amazing story beats along the way that fans will love, but the ending left a lot to be desired in my eyes, especially as it seems to forget the mass destruction and human death that has occurred. With that said, the ending credits were a hell of a moment that I think will sit nicely with a lot of fans.
Both Lady and Trish make a comeback, appearing at various points throughout the storyline. They seem to have been kind of shoehorned into the game, though, having no real effect on the plot, no moments of substance and aren’t even shown getting to kick demonic arse. Perhaps their roles will get fleshed out in DLC down the line, but for now you could easily remove them both from the plot without it making a difference. It’s a real shame to see them included but ultimately wasted.
But Is The Fighting Any Good?
Let’s get into the good stuff, though, because while the complex family drama of Devil May Cry is thrilling it’s really the franchise’s incredible combat that we all keep coming back for. When I was younger it was Devil May Cry 3 that blew my mind, opening up a whole new realm of what gaming could be. I have no idea how much time I spent learning the systems or replaying the entire game. But since then no other action game outside of Bayonetta has managed to spark that same passion as Devil May Cry 3 did. Until now.
The basics of the combat systems remain; instead of overly complex chains of inputs to pull off moves, it’s more about rhythmic taps. For example, hitting Y,Y, waiting a split-second then hitting Y again will unleash a different combo compared to doing it without the pause. Advanced moves are pulled off by holding down the lock-on button, plus a direction and either the melee or ranged attack.
The lock-on system is the only thing that I feel warrants some criticism. Firstly, having dodge mapped to lock-on + the jump button takes some practice to get used to. But the real issue is since camera direction affects inputs you need to learn to figure out your character’s direction relative to the enemy and alter your inputs to match. For example with Nero press lock-on + back will execute an upwards sword slash, but if Nero is facing left then you need to press lock-on + right to pull off the same attack. It’s a difficult system to grasp and in hectic fights it’s hard to quickly discern which way you’re facing.
But outside of that problem the combat in Devil May Cry 5 is simply sublime. It’s fast and fluid, challenging but fair and packed with depth. This is easy the best the series has been in my eyes, though I don’t claim to be a pro when it comes to stringing together insane combos. Only time will tell as veterans of the franchise slowly unpick every little mechanic, move and enemy. But personally I was enthralled with the old thrills of juggling enemies between sword and guns, and the mechanics that Devil May Cry 5 brings to the table.
Old Dog, New Combos
Nero is the first character you get to play as, so we’ll start with how he handles himself in a fight, shall we? His style is immediately familiar having only been slightly tweaked from Devil May Cry 4. All the combos I learned still worked and his ability to drag distant enemies toward himself ensures you rarely ever don’t have something to smack around. Nero only has a few basic combos with his sword, but he also retains the ability to rev said sword up, boosting its power and letting you unleash some fiery destruction.
Nero comes packing some new tricks, though, in the form of mechanical Devil Breaker arms created by Nico. There a bunch of different arms that you can equip which add special new moves and abilities, completely altering the way you handle fights. The Punch Line, for example, is a rocket powered fist that can be launched to harass an enemy or even ridden around like a crazy skateboard, while the Rawhide unleashes a whip for some tasty crowd-controlling attacks. There are bunches of different arms to choose from, and for each level you can take a selection of them with the game automatically swapping to the next one if you break the current one.
Speaking of breaking the arms, that’s where the most interesting mechanic comes into play; If you get hit while using your arm it will shatter. It’s a fun risk vs reward concept that forces you to employ each arm thoughtfully. This is especially true of the charged abilities that every Devil Breaker possesses. If you manage to successfully execute a charged Devil Breaker it will shatter after just a single use but the trade-off is a lot of damage and a boost to your style rating. Get hit, though, and the arm is lost.
In other words, the Devil Breakers are a fantastic addition to the combat that bring bucket loads of extra depth to Nero’s combat style. I initially worried that I might find myself favoring one or two arms, but over the course of the game I happily used the entire selection.
Next in the roster is newcomer V who offers up a radically different fighting style never seen before in the franchise. Unlike Nero and Dante he doesn’t have the power to fight demons personally, so instead he uses his demonic familiars to fight on his behalf while he hangs back, only leaping in to deliver the killing blows with his cane.
On the ranged front V has Griffin, a demonic bird that will launch balls of electricity at enemies and can even summon pillars of lighting.
For the melee side of things there’s Shadow, a black panther whose entire body can alter itself to form deadly weapons, such as a spike spearing out from Shadow’s head or turning himself into a whirling guillotine.
Finally, there’s Nightmare, a colossal demonic golem who can only be summoned by activating V’s Devil Trigger. There’s a fantastic detail that I love here; Shadow will crash in from the sky, basically face planting the ground, but other times he’ll wreck something in the process and that is the only way certain secrets can be found. Anyway, Night is comparatively slow, and you don’t control him directly, at least not without purchasing a certain upgrade.
When using V combos work the same with rhythmic taps needed or directional input to perform certain moves, but I found myself button-mashing with V whereas Nero and Dante I didn’t. This is because V needs to distance himself from the fight to stay protected, making it trickier to see the action and hit the right inputs. Personally I’d say V is the least interesting of the three characters, but his levels do offer a nice change of pace.
Finally, we arrive at Dante, the legendary demon hunter whose cocky attitude won over so many gamers. Neither Nero nor V, as good as they both are, come close to how Dante feels to play. Firstly Dante starts off with two mellee weapons and two ranged weapons which you can switch between on-the-fly, letting you create insane combos. Along the way he’ll pick up even more weapons, including a badass motorcycle that splits in half so that Dante can use the spinning tyres to grind enemies into the ground The fluidity with which you can swap and combine weapons is simply stunning, adding a wealth of depth to the combat as every gun, sword and Balrog brings with them their own selection of special moves and tricks.
But that’s not all because Dante still has access to his four different styles of fighting see in the previous games, except now he can also swap between those on-the-fly as well. Trickster is all about evading, whereas switching to Gunslinger opens up new ranged attacks including an awesome dash into an enemy before unloading a shotgun blast into their face. Royal Guard is a defensive style that lets you block incoming attacks before unleashing a counter with extra energy. But by far my favourite is Swordmaster which adds a host of new attacks and abilities to your melee weapons, bolstering the combo options massively.
Frankly, it’s a bit fucking insane. Learning to juggle the various weapons and styles available to you in the middle of a fight is daunting at times, but once you start to get the hang of things Dante’s abilities become astonishingly dense. I’d recommend spending some time in the Void, a space where you can simply practice combos against static enemies. Dante definitely needs the practice to really master.
There are a lot of mechanics within the combat to be discovered and learned, too. Parrying, for instance, is never mentioned in any of the tutorials or on the skill list. I feel like talking about any of the others would be akin to a spoiler, but suffice to say there’s a lot to be found within the combat, and probably stuff I haven’t even glimpsed yet.
You could simply blast through the game by mostly button-mashing, but that would be ignoring the central pillar of combat: being stylish. Like the series has always done it will grade you during every fight, dropping your rank for employing the same combos over and over and for getting hit, while bumping you ever closer toward the coveted SSS ranking for chaining together moves, abilities and weapons. Getting those SSS rankings is so immensely satisfying, like being told by a usually stoic parent how proud of you they are.
Replay Value, and Being Too Generous
The Devil May Cry games have always drawn players back in for multiple play throughs and Devil May Cry 5 knows this. When you fire up the game for another run you get to keep all the unlocked skills and abilities, and the designers have included lots of little details. Boss fights are the best example because with new tricks up your sleeve there are whole new ways of approaching them, plus the developers even added special animations. The first boss outside of the prologue can be blasted into a tower, something you couldn’t do at first.
A problem I did have with the game was its generosity with Gold Orbs. These little babies let you immediately restore full health and Devil Trigger upon being defeated. You’ll get one every day just for logging in, plus there are more to be found within the levels and even more to be earned by other players rating you Stylish after the multiplayer sections, which they’ll always do because there is no reason not to. By the end of my first play through I was swimming in Gold Orbs which made being defeated meaningless. To that end I just stopped using them so that being beaten was a proper punishment.
However, looking at it from a different perspective the abundance of Gold Orbs does help newcomers to the series or people who struggle with the intricate combat systems. If a particular boss is irritating a player they can brute-force their way through by spending some Orbs.
Once you get through the first run Son of Sparda difficulty unlocks and here the game somehow becomes better. The default difficulty of Demon Hunter is fun, but by the standards of the Devil May Cry series it’s surprisingly easy. Son of Sparda manages to strike a much better balance with its Gold Orbs and feels like it should have been unlocked from the very start so that veterans of the series could jump straight in. If you beat Son of Sparda then you have even more difficulties to test your skills against.
A Few Little Problems
If there’s one area I feel the game could have improved it’s in the level designs. I don’t take issue with the linear, tight levels because a game like this thrives on the ability to dictate pace, but the developer’s seem too content to funnel you through boring environments with only the occasional interesting view spicing things up. Underground tunnels or just red pathways get used far too much.
I’m also not keen on the inclusion of microtransactions. As you fight through the game you get Red Orbs that can be used to buy upgrades or to revive you if you go down in a fight, and in a greedy move Capcom have included the option to buy Red Orbs with real cash. They’ve used the excuse of “player choice” but that holds no weight whatsoever. Thankfully the game’s economy is generous, handing out both Gold Orbs and Red Orbs aplenty, so I never once felt like I was pushed toward buying Red Orbs. Still, there’s no justifiable reason to include microtransactions.
On the technical side of things Devil May Cry 5 runs superb on my PC, easily maintaining 60FPS while look bloody great doing it. The lack of 21:9 support is a shame, though, and I did have constant screen-tearing that I couldn’t get rid of, even after using V-sync, the framerate lock option and forcing V-sync via the Nvidia panel.
So it isn’t perfect, but then again, what is? The issues I have with Devil May Cry 5 are small and almost impossible to care about because of just how damn good the combat feels. It’s practically orgasmic. Devil May Cry 5 is simply one of the best pure action games of all time, and is easily in contention for Game of the Year. It channels the feel of an old-school PS2 game without ever feeling dated or weaker for it. The depths of moves on offer, the fluidity with which it can all be chained together and joys of chasing the elusive SSS sparked the same excitement in me that Devil May Cry 3 did all those years ago. Except Devil May Cry 5 is better. It is truly, truly fantastic.
5 out of 5