Devil May Cry, the kingpin of the hack and slash genre. I never really sat down and played any of these games for a considerable amount of time – I did play the original game up until the first boss - but as the recent reboot split the series’ fanbase in two (with some very ironic results) I can easily say I’ve become interested. Given that all the games in the original series are very inexpensive these days (the 1-3 HD collection cost about fifteen to twenty-five dollars and the collector’s edition of 4 only ran me a mere eleven) I’d thought I’d check these games out. Now I’m sure some will find starting with Devil May Cry 4 to be a mistake – and in hindsight it kind of was – but I wanted to start with something that was current gen since my brother-in-law rags on me for owning a PlayStation 3 and only using it to play PlayStation 1 and 2 games. Still, in a certain way, I’m kind of glad I did play this one first because nostalgia, unlike every other game I play and review, is far from a factor here.
As most know, the major change in Devil May Cry 4 is the introduction of Nero. I tend to see a lot of dislike towards Nero but I’m rather indifferent towards him. Yeah, his personality isn’t and infectious as Dante’s and I could really care less about his quote unquote quest to save Kyrie but in context it’s executed well enough. The bigger and more important question here is how well Nero handles in combat. Up until this point the only games I’ve played that really remind me of Devil May Cry 4 are Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness. However, this game has taught me that is a rather poor comparison. The gameplay in Devil May Cry is on a different, higher level than those games, especially Curse of Darkness which was decent enough despite its total lack of inspiration. Outside a few isolated spots the challenge factor seems spot on and increases as you become more familiar with Nero during the first half of the game. Before long I was comfortable despite some moves like the launcher requiring multiple buttons to be pressed.
Unfortunately, this harmony was completely shattered by the change of protagonist halfway through the game. I really wanted to play as Dante until I got to play as Dante. Seriously, the difference between these characters is a lot wider than the game’s gameplay would suggest. On a surface level this seems like something that should be commended yet it really is akin to slamming into a brick wall due to the enemy intelligence not being toned down to allow the player to ease into controlling Dante. The game seems to assume that if you can control Nero (who I was getting pretty good with) you’ll be up to the task of controlling Dante. Again, I’m sure if I had played the previous games this would have been way less painful, but it sure wasn’t fun having enemies take complete advantage of my lack expertise, exploiting every moment of weakness and not having the overpowered buster moves to fall back on.
Eventually I did find my bearings with Dante yet this did not fix the game’s other main problem, that the second half of the game feels like an afterthought. While playing with Nero everything I encountered seemed to be constructed with a purpose and the pace of the game seemed very deliberate. This feeling simply does not exist when backtracking as Dante. These proceedings come off as rushed even though there are some entertaining cut scenes along the way. I’ve read many times that the game was the victim of a somewhat botched development cycle and it clearly shows. I and others can only imagine what Devil May Cry 4 could have been had it been given the proper room to breathe.
When all is said and done I want Devil May Cry 4 to be a challenging game, much like I expect Contra games to be completely unmerciful – it’s just part of the deal. But a game needs to consider the needs of the player, especially when there is a shift that seems minor but is anything but. Devil May Cry 4 somewhat fails at this, but should definitely be experienced by anyone who is interested. Nero may not hold the same place in the hearts of fans as Dante does but the lessons one can learn from controlling another/different character in the Devil May Cry universe are invaluable.