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Backlog Challenge 2014 - Devil May Cry

There was a point when trenchcoats were unironically cool.
There was a point when trenchcoats were unironically cool.

Devil May Cry


Animated GIFs of lusting after pizza; Action ballets saturated with smarm; The word "cuhrayzee." These constituted most of my impressions of the Devil May Cry franchise for some time, and considering my growing appreciation for the over-the-top character action genre it helped to spawn it seemed like as good a time as any to go back to its roots and finally see what I'd been missing out on all this time. Based on my admittedly limited knowledge going in I expected something along the lines of a rough-around-the-edges Clover/Platinum action title, maybe something not terribly unlike a simpler God Hand with swords.

Was I ever wrong.

All hopes aside, I can say with confidence that one thing I definitely didn't expect was a survival horror-style camera, but there it was, mocking me at every possible turn. "Oh, you were trying to jump to that moving platform? Let me just swing around to the other side of the room mid-leap." "Do you like all those pillars in the room? Me too! Let me just zoom in on that one for you. Oh, were you fighting? I didn't notice."

I'd heard at one point that this started life as a Resident Evil game and was reworked during development, but even without that piece of information going in I think I'd have been able to connect the dots after a few minutes of play. Besides the infuriating camera, backtrack-heavy exploration and arcane item retrieval to solve environmental puzzles were lifted straight from the RE playbook, and even if the infamous tank controls aren't in use the player/character interface is surprisingly clunky for a title leaning so hard on its action. I'll admit I'm not always the best at games like this, but when dodging and rolling actions are available and recovery from the overwhelming majority of enemy guards is twice as long as the time it takes them to retaliate I start to question their point.

Really, most of the shortcomings I noticed while playing this stemmed from the game's inability to break free from its original mold, and where this was most frustrating when it came to trying to marry survival and action sensibilities through interface it was most disappointing when applied to the narrative. DMC hangs on to that early PS1 so-bad-it's-good B-movie quality of acting just enough to keep anything from being too serious, but in its attempts to veer more towards the badassed it loses a lot of the ham and cheese that made the initial Resient Evil FMVs so charming. Glimpses into later entries in this series assure me that this is one shortcoming that gets adjusted for (and HARD), but here I was left wanting.

It wasn't all bad times guiding Dante through a castle full of evil marionettes, lizardmen, and giant lava spiders, though. Unpolished as it was, I could see the foundation of many titles to come in DMC's combat system, more than anywhere in the upgrade paths for each weapon style. I tend to favor quicker, lighter characters and barehanded fighting styles, so this time I found myself confronted with the unique dilemma of Ifrit, a pair of fiery gloves that favor slow, powerful roundhouse strikes. This led to uneven expenditure of red orbs on skills as I bounced between fists and sword, unable to settle on a style favoring my mechanical or aesthetic tastes. I have no one to blame but myself, but there it is. Pity me. My life is pain. ...stop laughing.

The more I reflect on the original Devil May Cry, especially based on the promises of what's to come both in its own series and its genre, the more it comes off as an uncut diamond. You know its potential by word of mouth and there's just enough hewn from the surface to give you an idea of what it could be, but on its own merits it has a long way to go. By a combination of action game rustiness and the above technical shortcomings I floundered my way through Normal difficulty, comforted only by awareness of the game's difficult reputation and some judicious use of health items. Every recommendation assures me that DMC2 is best left skipped, so when I come back to the series - which I hope to be relatively soon - it'll be with number 3.

CHALLENGE: cleared (Normal difficulty, 2 hidden missions)