By ArbitraryWater 27 Comments
In which, to no one's surprise, I feel the need to talk about Fire Emblem first.
What’s up everyone? I've had a bit of a weird week for video games. I went on vacation for a little while and was sorta busy with family stuff for the past few days, but even before that last week involved a lot of me watching weird late-night streams of people playing the new Fire Emblem game that won't come out here until sometime early next year. If you’ve been around this site for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m sort of a nut when it comes to Fire Emblem. I’ve finished most of the games in the series at least once, (that includes 4 of the 7 Japan-only titles), gave Awakening my Game of the Year award back in 2013 and even bought all the overpriced DLC for it. What I’ve seen of Fates suggests it is still a quality Fire Emblem-esque strategy game. It also seems to have doubled down on the anime waifu stuff that Awakening had a little bit of, which I am less than keen on but the fangirls in the forums I’ve been lurking around are very keen on. I’m very curious to see how the localizers deal with some of the more fanservice-y elements that are all over the place in the Japanese version, be it face rubbing, dress-up funtimes or maybe the pseudo-incest that can happen between your player-created avatar and their (non blood related) siblings from both families, Westermarck effect be damned, apparently.
It’s also worth noting that the game is being sold as two different campaigns based around what kingdom your character decides to side with (with a third neutral campaign coming as DLC). I’m a sucker and will inevitably get all 3 regardless of what pricing model happens (in Japan if you buy one campaign the other is discounted if you get it digitally), but I cannot say how that will fly with the rest of you. From a tactical angle it looks more interesting than Awakening did, especially since pairing-up was so broken in that game and it looks like the Nohr campaign will have more interesting objectives than just “Seize the throne” or “Defeat the boss”. Just figured I’d let you all know these important details about a game that isn’t coming out in the west for at least 6 months because I care. No, I still don’t know what the hell is up with that Fire Emblem/Shin Megami Tensei crossover thing but I’ll probably buy it.
This blog is actually about Devil May Cry 4
The existence of Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition is weird. Sure, Capcom in general is in a weird place right now (listen, I’ll defend Resident Evil Zero to a point, but I don’t really think it needs an HD update unless you want to tweak parts of the design while you’re at it), but this game is particularly weird. If you wanted an acknowledgement that the Ninja Theory reboot went too far in the direction of making a casual game for casual babies (or something, I dunno, I’d rather play that than the original Devil May Cry and its weird Resident Evil baggage at this point), I guess that DmC “Definitive Edition” that came out earlier this year and all the changes they made to make it play more like those old games would be that, right? But even beyond that, they felt the need to go back to a 7-year-old game that wasn’t universally beloved in the first place, clean it up a little and throw in 3 new characters all seemingly laser-focused on that same hardcore crowd who felt burned by DmC. It’s a weird gesture that makes me wonder exactly where the series will end up next, should Capcom actually decide to make new video games instead of just re-releasing old ones. Unless they wanna bring over Dragon’s Dogma Online. I’d be okay with that coming out over here.
Lemme start off by first saying that Devil May Cry 4 has some amazing combat, perhaps not so much a refinement of what was accomplished by DMC 3 as an expansion, especially with the extra characters introduced here. While more modern action games have managed to be technically interesting without being inaccessible, there’s something about the very mechanical, slightly stiff feeling of Devil May Cry 3 and 4 that I really enjoy. Maybe it’s because it feels sort of like a fighting game? Regardless, it’s probably best if I go through the characters one-by-one. You start the game as Nero, a white-haired bishonen who would probably be mistaken as Dante by someone not knowledgeable about the franchise. He only has one sword and one gun, but he learns a lot of different moves and has a stupid devil arm that you can use to grab and slam enemies for massive damage over and over again (and can even be used on bosses if you stun them). Thanks to that arm, as well as the way you can rev up his Red Queen sword if you press L2 right after executing an attack (haven’t quite gotten the timing yet, but I imagine if I practiced enough I eventually would) he’s sort of overpowered. Sure, his Blue Rose gun doesn’t do a whole lot, but when you can grab distant enemies with the Devil Bringer arm it doesn’t really matter. Once you get to a little past the halfway mark with Nero, you switch over to Dante, who is far less whiny and far more charmingly goofy. He plays pretty similarly to how he played in Devil May Cry 3, but can now switch his combat styles on the fly, which I’m sure would open up all sorts of combo possibilities if I was super elite e-sports crazy and could do more than occasionally switch from Swordmaster to Trickster when I need the extra agility (Unfortunately, I think most of the gunslinger moves kinda suck and I’ve never gotten the Royal Guard parry timing down). Alas, having to share the spotlight means his arsenal is a bit lacking. While I like the Rebellion sword and the Gilgamesh gauntlets just fine, I never really figured out the Lucifer weapon, which summons a bunch of phantom swords that you can detonate on command. It’s like the Nevan guitar in 3, inasmuch as I’m sure you can do bad things with it, but the “how” part is less straightforward than the other ones. While I don’t dislike him (or any of the characters, I think they’re all fun), he’s definitely not as broken as Nero can be. But those two squares were already in the game when it came out in 2008. How do the new guys fare? Quite well, thanks for asking! Vergil has his own campaign and plays a lot like he did in DMC 3 Special Edition, complete with all the teleporting/summoned sword craziness you’d expect. He has several new moves on top of those, obviously, but his biggest addition is the “concentration gauge” that fills when you don’t take damage, miss attacks or run around aimlessly and boosts your damage when it gets high enough. It’s a neat mechanic that rewards a more calculated approach to combat without directly hammering on any more mechanical complexity. Then there are Lady and Trish, who have their own campaign that splits along the same lines as Dante/Nero. Lady is basically Dante’s Gunslinger style on steroids, with only a slow (albeit powerful) bayonet for melee. Otherwise she’s all about guns, juggling between pistols, a shotgun and her trusty rocket launcher, all of which can be charged for a ton of damage and general murder funtimes. Throw in a grappling hook that acts like a less broken version of Nero’s arm and she has a lot of fun tools to work with. It’s almost disappointing how straightforward Trish is by comparison, having the Sparda sword which resembles Dante’s rebellion and hand-to-hand attacks that resemble Gilgamesh. That’s not to say she isn’t fun, or can’t do some bad things with her lightning trail divekicks and sword throwing insanity, but of all the characters she’s probably the least crazy.
Unfortunately, I wish I could stop with me talking about how much I love the combat and the new characters. But alas, the core problems that plagued Devil May Cry 4 when it came out 7 years ago are still there. So I totally played this game on 360 like 4 or 5 years ago, but never finished it When I played through this special edition, I was immediately reminded why. The structure of this game is straight up poor. So you start the game as Nero, obviously. He runs around for 12 chapters, solving boring “puzzles” and engaging in semi-frustrating platforming between fights before Dante shows up. As Dante, you go through the exact same levels, but backwards, fighting most of the same enemies and the exact same bosses you just spent the first 3-4 hours fighting, occasionally engaging in boring “puzzles” every now and again. Then, once you reach the last two chapters, you go back to playing as Nero and engage in boss rush where you fight most of them again. For a third time. The last boss (who himself is a repeat) is sort of a joke, credits roll and heads are scratched. It’s a bummer. Perhaps a victim of the rising cost of game development during the last console generation, it’s basically half a game stretched out to fill a full one. While Dante is still a whole character with plenty of crazy moves between his 3 weapons, 3 guns and 4 styles, it’s fair to say he sorta gets the shaft in favor of Señor Brasa Diablo. You get his last weapon, Lucifer, two chapters before you switch back to Nero and you get the bonus Dark Slayer style (where he uses the Yamato and has a couple of Vergil’s moves) on his last chapter. I guess I’m more willing to excuse that, given that the game is meant to be replayed, but it hardly fixes the problem if the last thing you want to do is deal with more repetition.
Thankfully, the combat is rrrrrly good, right? Right? This game has made me think about how much crap I’m willing to tolerate in a game if a certain aspect of it appeals to me on a fundamental level. I’ve shared my admiration for the undeniably Japanese, undeniably flawed Dragon’s Dogma before, along with the uncompromising Temple of Elemental Evil and the “Interactive Novel pretending to be a video game” that is Planescape Torment. So, if anything, some of my favorite games are fundamentally flawed in one way or another and I imagine some of you have similar feelings about other games. It’s pretty obvious why DMC 4 got the mixed reception that it did. Your enjoyment of that game is very decidedly tied to how much you’re willing to tolerate middling level design and repetition for the sake of interesting combat. But if it’s interesting combat you want, Bayonetta 2 doesn’t have to make that compromise and neither did Devil May Cry 3. I’m still enjoying plucking away at the Vergil and Lady/Trish campaigns a few missions at a time, which suggests I can tolerate that repetition to a degree, but I’m not sure if I’m going to mess with the higher difficulties all that much. I’d rather just replay DMC 3 or something. Still, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy my time with DMC 4. $25 is just about the right price and the new additions are all fun. I just wish the icing around the combat cake was *better*, to the point where I’m not sure where this game might end up come Game of the Year. Ah well. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to self-justify my purchase of Final Fantasy Type-0 by saying I’d rather play that than Lightning Returns.