The original steals the show
Late in the PS2’s lifecycle I picked up a little package off eBay that included three games by director Hideki Kamiya: Okami, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry. The one I really wanted was Okami (and it was without a doubt the best of the three) but once I’d finished Amaterasu’s adventure, I gave the other two a go as well. Viewtiful Joe was tough but mostly fair and full of fascinating gameplay ideas, while Devil May Cry…
There’s no nice way to say it: Devil May Cry kicked my ass. I made it past the first spider boss to the fight with Nelo Angelo and just got stuck there. For the first time since the original Nintendo, I simply wasn’t good enough at a game to advance. I sold DMC, keeping the other two games for my collection.
My first real experience with Devil May Cry came with DMC 4, which some fans hate as much as DMC2 for some reason. I thought it was great. Corny and occasionally frustrating, sure, but tremendous fun. In fact, I would put it ahead of both Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 in the pantheon of current gen brawlers, but behind Castlevania Lords of Shadow and the first NG Sigma, which firmly rules the roost. So with all those challenging titles under my belt, I thought I’d give the PS2-era Devil May Cry games another chance with the HD collection.
Devil My Cry HD
Well, I finally made it past Nelo Angelo. All three times. Yes, Mr. Kamiya loved to recycle bosses even back then. In the original DMC, fights with the same bosses at least feel like different encounters due to upgraded skills or insane locations where you fight them. In fact, you can basically boil DMC down to interesting skills and locations, which is why, in my opinion, it is superior to the other two games in this collection. Both of those games—with 2 being the worst offender—focus much more on the skills than the setting, and suffer for it. We’ll come to that.
Dante is the main character in all three of these games. He runs a one-man demon removal business, and at the beginning of DMC a woman in what must be a very uncomfortable “shirt” enters Dante’s shop and attacks him. She’s clearly evil but she reminds Dante of his mother or something and he decides to go into her employ. It’s a flimsy setup for a story that hits some interesting notes without taking itself too seriously.
Devil May Cry takes place entirely on a remote island, complete with gothic castle, decaying gardens, and gladiator arena. There are also a few doors to the demon realm. You know, pretty standard stuff. It’s all claustrophobic and moody, with a pre-programmed camera that gives you all the best vistas while simultaneously hiding collectibles or secret doors, encouraging you to explore and revisit locations with new skills or items, metroidvania style.
However, all of this takes a back seat to the combat. DMC is the rare game that empowers players to do in-game all the nutso, super cool fighting moves that usually only appear in cutscenes. Dante can toss enemies upward with his sword, juggle them in midair with his handguns, then do a slashing combo to knock them to pieces before they hit the ground. And that’s just with the default weapon. Each unlockable weapon completely alters the skillset.
In some ways DMC plays more like a hyperactive version of Dark Souls rather than Ninja Gaiden. The enemies are skilled and hit hard, but they are also mostly fair, giving subtle visual or auditory cues about their attack patterns so that, if you’re paying attention and know how to prioritize, you can get through just about any fight without taking a scratch. It’s definitely a combat system that rewards player skill over grinding for upgrades. This is doubly true on higher difficulty settings.
Devil May Cry can be beaten in just a few hours and is meant to be revisited again and again like the 8-bit and 16-bit beat-em-ups of old. After such a tight, refined game (final bewildering chapters notwithstanding), it’s no wonder that DMC2, simply by being “okay,” was such a groin-kicking disappointment.
Devil May Cry 2 HD
Like Capcom’s other Resident Evil knockoff, Onimusha, the second entry in the series is easily the most reviled. DMC fans HATE this game. Then again, DMC fans also hate DMC4, Castlevania fans hate Lords of Shadow, and some Final Fantasy fans hate every FF game since VI. There’s just no pleasing some people.
Even so, DMC 2 is not great. Anywhere they could frig up the perfect controls of the original, they did. For example, the original game had you hold R1 to lock on the nearest enemy. If you wanted shift focus from one enemy to another, you could let up on R1 and run to that next target. This ability to unlock from enemies simply by releasing a button was key because some buttons did different things depending on whether an enemy was targeted or not. The DMC2 system automatically locks to the nearest enemy, so whom you are attacking actually depends more on the enemies’ movements than your own.
There is also a new and most welcome dodge button, which was missing from the first game (I suppose you could argue that DMC is about relentless offense, not dodging or blocking). Plus the dodge button allows you navigate the bland, brownish levels more quickly. BUT! Whatever you do, do not press the dodge button next to a wall. Dante will run along the wall like in Prince of Persia, and then leap violently away from it. This doesn’t sound so bad until you realize just how many narrow walkways and platforming sections there are in DMC2. The wall run will often catapult Dante right over the edge of said walkway, which wasn’t all that easy to get to in the first place because of the terrible camera, thank you very much! *HUFF, HUFF*
Otherwise, combat is serviceable but forgettable. It’s like they disassembled the brilliant and iconic system from the first game to see how it worked, then couldn’t figure out how to put it back together before the second game shipped.
DMC 2 is even shorter than the original, and even more focused on multiple playthroughs. There is a female character with a pretty cool, if completely incongruous, design, who is unlocked after you finish the game once with Dante. And there’s at least one more playable character after that one. I don’t really know, to be honest. I finished the game with Dante and moved on, as you probably should, to DMC 3.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening HD
Evidently the western version of DMC 3 was an update of the original Japanese release, the most puzzling revision being that the new Normal difficulty was actually the Japanese Hard difficulty. Games frequently get tweaked between their Japanese and western releases, but it’s often to make them easier, not more difficult.
Whatever the reasoning, DMC 3 is undoubtedly the hardest of the lot, often crossing that ticklish line between tough and unfair. In fact, I think it’s reasonable to say DMC 3 cheats (I felt the same way about Bayonetta). The camera frequently hides enemies, almost all of whom employ some kind of powerful, long-distance attack that is basically impossible to avoid when you can’t see them charging it up.
Furthermore, about half of the time the cutscenes introducing bosses end with the boss flying angrily at you, which is cool until the screen transitions to gameplay and you realize the boss really IS flying at you with the result that you lose a third of your lifebar before you even start the fight. Some bosses also initiate a massive area-of-effect attack near the end of their own lifebar, so if you’re close to death yourself, you can look forward to replaying the whole fight over again.
I’m honestly not sure why DMC 3 is held as the highest standard of the series, let alone the whole action genre. The story is a prequel to the first game and, while more in depth, is the same old 80’s horror movie tripe. Making matters worse, young Dante is less a loveable rogue and more a smug, unbearable dick than before, and the main bad guys are in turns hilariously nonthreatening and relentlessly flat. The only interesting new face is “Lady,” an angsty t(w)eenage girl with a rocket launcher who hates Dante but is fighting his same enemies in parallel for her own reasons.
Still, in terms of that all-important combat, DMC 3 is certainly the deepest of the franchise so far, including 4 and Ninja Theory’s 2013 reboot, DmC. Thankfully, it is also streamlined from the second game, slipping some of DMC 2’s poorly executed moves into four “styles” Dante can choose from. The dodge move, for example, is part of the Trickster style, and is much more helpful this time around. DMC 3 also has the largest variety of boss battles in the series, partly because many bosses actually become part of Dante’s arsenal when defeated.
Level design improves hugely over the second game too, without ever reaching the genius of DMC 1’s small but expertly designed world. And even though the developers saw fit to give the player some camera control this time, you will likely never use it. The programmed camera gives the most impressive view of the different stages, and altering the camera angle will rarely fix the problem of off-screen enemies.
However, despite my bellyaching DMC 3 is a challenging and satisfying game, and I will undoubtedly play it again someday with one of the unlockable characters such as Lady or Dante’s brother Vergil. However, if I ever want a quick dose of DMC action, I will unhesitatingly pick up the first game rather than this one.
So let’s recap: DMC 1 is a signature Hideki Kamiya creative triumph, right up there with Okami and Viewtiful Joe (and better than Bayonetta); DMC 2 is a generic, forgettable action game that never manages to be definitively good or bad; and DMC 3 is a flashy upsizing of everything that made the original great without ever surpassing it.
In terms of value, DMC 1 or 3 were already fantastic standalone games on the PS2, and the fact that both of them (plus DMC 2 for posterity) are included in this package makes it a complete no-brainer for anyone who likes hack and slash games and doesn’t mind a little challenge.
Or, as Dante and his brother might say, "JACKPOT!"