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Devil May Cry V

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I played this game more in the past 6 months than any game I've owned in the past 5 years bar Smash and maybe Breath of the Wild. Itsuno set out to make a "pure" action game that avoided the pitfalls of not just recent western action games but Japanese critical darlings like Bayonetta, Kingdom Hearts and Souls. The result is a game that is a pure room to room combat encounter affair accompanied by beautiful backdrops made with top of the line graphics and a story that is a lot more simpler and razor-focused on the franchise's core characters than it first appears. This might be a turn off to some who prefer the grander scale, interconnected world and more gimmicky arenas and bosses of previous games, but to me this is a case of the series trimming most of it's fat. 

Devil May Cry 5 tries to be the best at being Devil May Cry at it's core and nothing else. Any new mechanic and addition is here to prop up the appeal of the old systems of the previous games.  Dante and Nero come packed with new toys to play with and their old gear polished to a fine sheen. This iteration of Nero in particular is my favorite action game character I've ever controlled knocking Bayonetta off of her throne after 10 years. 

It's that ideal mixture of old and new that every sequel strives for. Even though this game tries to live up to the Devil May Cry name it never feels like it's pandering for your attention. Dante is shoved to the back half of the game yet again to focus on new characters. It seems the team feels the pain of the potential in Devil May Cry 4's half-baked concepts and sought to bring them to life. Nero has been fleshed out to a fully realized character, keeping most of his old bringer mechanics but getting a host of new arms to choose from in battle. Most of these are pretty simple in execution, like a burst of electricity or a rocket arm that will keep enemies occupied in the air, but almost all of them feel like carefully considered, worthwhile additions that might supplant a player's preferred style in a cool way. 

Keeping all this in mind the decision to tie them to a resource system and limit your ability to switch between them seems baffling and against the series nature at first, but it turns out to be another way to put pressure on the player to mix things up the same way the ranking system does. For the first chunk of the game you won't always have access to the Devil Arms you want. You'll pick whatever you can find up in levels and are forced to experiment with the combinations you get. I think this is overall a good thing though since it forces you try most of them at least once. If you don't want to engage with this system at all you'll have enough red orbs to abuse the shop system by the end of your first playthrough, so you can Punch-Line your way through the higher difficulties if you wish. 

The order of Devil Breakers is fixed to the order you picked them up in, with the game requiring you to destroy one by either mashing the self destruct button, charging up a devastating super attack, or getting hit mid-use. The self destruct button lets Nero break free from enemy grabs which lets you avoid devastating damage and the lengthy, pace breaking animations those kinds of attacks inflict on you. The super attack will usually displace a room full of enemies, turning the fight in your favor. The last one is just a way to check players who might get a little spammy with their use with a slap on the wrist, something I'm glad a 2019 game isn't shying away from. All of these mechanics made Nero's combat situations more interesting as I judged the worth of losing a toy I really liked versus escaping certain dire situations or even just dropping a cool finisher on an enemy I REALLY wanted to disrespect. 

Speaking of disrespect, taunts are back and I can do them in the air now. Needless to say I was facerolling that button.

It also pairs well with the game's replayability. Replaying chapters knowing which enemies I'm going to face and setting up Nero's load-out accordingly. Blowing Devil Triggers at the right time and moving onto the next one or screwing up and losing one too early. All for the sake of getting the highest ranks. or just picking a random assortment and seeing how that goes. That works too. 

Any series veterans impatient with Nero and V's new mechanics will get a second half focused almost entirely on Dante with some opportunities to play as Nero sprinkled in. It's similar to Devil May Cry 4 in structure but new enemies and levels to match Dante's mechanics make it feel like a legitimate second half and not just padding. Nero doesn't really fall out of focus either so it doesn't feel like Dante is upstaging him. Instead he goes on a smaller personal journey that feeds into the wider whole of the game and wraps up before the climax.

Dante is a good time to talk about how good the series tried and true mechanics really are. The style system remains a good way of subtly pressuring the player to experiment with the full roster of toys without forcing them to do it via enemy types or locked doors or some other arbitrary thing. Enemies still attack all at once so figuring out ways to navigate the arena and stay in the air for as long as you can via juggles is still important. It's a satisfying gameplay loop that I'm surprised more action games haven't tried to replicate.

A lot of Dante's moveset is compartmentalization and streamlining the mechanics of older games.His four different fighting styles have been rebalanced to the point where I can find situations for all of them and have more fun switching between them than I did before. His new Devil Sword makes it easier to juggle enemies and access his full kit without having to stay anchored to Swordsmaster, giving you a lot more freedom to play around with. A large assortment of weapons both old and new makes him a lot of fun to experiment with. He has a lot more options than V or Nero with none of the restrictions that come with either character. The sheer amount of moves and options he has when you consider ways to combine weapons with styles is intimidating at first, but once you get comfortable with experimenting every encounter feels different and you'll still be discovering new moves all the time.

In the end I preferred Nero's more straightforward style focused on resource management and decision making, but Dante isn't far behind. It actually took me a while to figure out who I preferred as I dug deeper into Dante's kit and had fun figuring out creative ways to do things that were second nature for Nero, but in the end the new guard won me over after Devil May Cry 4 left me wondering if that would even be possible. 

V rounds out the trio and I saved him for last because I really don't have a whole lot to say about him. He's one of the most charming additions to the series in terms of sheer personality and flare but being a new character he has trouble competing with the old guard who have 3 games worth of ideas to draw from. He's not very strong and makes Demons fight on his behalf, giving him a playstyle focusing on zoning and positioning. His animals attack on a delay and aren't 100% responsive which makes timing attacks difficult. His lack of moves to unlock compared to the other two characters makes him kind of a one trick pony which puts a damper on a game that emphasizes replayability otherwise. His passive style of play is a bit too different from the offense focused devil hunter family for me to get into him in the same way. I don't think any of these pitfalls were lost on the dev team though since he only gets 4 levels in the campaign compared Nero and Dante who each get double that amount. Overall I like the attempt and hope the playstyle returns in a sequel. I prefer quirky combat mechanics like this as a way to shake things up to gimmick levels of other action games like platinum. It just goes to show even the game's low points aren't as low as they could have been. 

The story is typical insane Devil May Cry fair but the emphasis is less placed on making the characters look cool and trying to dig deeper into them as people. I think it's sort of a mixed bag as far as moments that actually land go with the series natural lean toward melodrama coloring the entire experience but I appreciate the attempt. Nero feels fully realized as a character and we get some nice insight into how Dante feels about his past and what type of person Vergil might have been under less dire circumstances via V. He, along with another newcomer Nico add a lot to the game with their quirky personalities. They feel more like Devil May Cry characters than most of the cast introduced in the last game.

The only big disappointment I have comes from Trish and Lady. Their presence is largely pointless fanservice in more ways than one and I'd rather them stay out of the game entirely than waste time with such a sloppy implementation. It's a shame because I like these characters a lot but the story this game was trying to tell was about the Devil Hunter family at the end of the day and there's just not a lot of room for them. They only seem to be here so fans don't ask where they were. 

I could go on forever, but the point is that this game is awesome and I'm a little bummed that it'll probably be forgotten about when game of the year discussions roll around. It's got a cooler older sibling to worry about in the form of Resident Evil 2 alongside the usual wave of big budget western releases. I haven't enjoyed an action game this much in a long time though and it's got me thinking about the systems and decisions that hold back the genre at large from reaching these heights. I'm glad the series came back strong and unashamed of what it is while boasting a lot of new ideas, and I hope the rest of the industry is paying attention.

 

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