Devil Is in the Details
I've just finished this game after weeks of struggling with it and after having gotten to the end and dabbled with some of the post game stuff I'm really mixed on the whole affair. To clarify, by struggle, I mean forcing myself to actually sit down and play it. Of course there were also challenging sections in the game, but something about it just failed to grab me. On the surface DMC5 is exactly what I should want. As a fan of character action games it delivers butter smooth performance (on the XB1X) great visuals and an incredibly deep combat system. On the surface.. this seems like all you would want. Well, not exactly. More than ever I am now convinced the Devil May Cry series is basically a fighting game in disguise, and I'm terrible at fighting games. While character designs are great and some of the special effects are incredibly flashy, DMC5 struggles with it's levels. For hardcore fans this is not a thing at all. Because all you really want are fight arenas right? Much like a fighting game, the backdrop is not as important as the fight in the foreground and DMC5 takes this to heart. After about the midpoint I'd say they stop even pretending to design the levels - everything is a weirdly drab demon world with the same texture and minimal creativity. I'm not that hardcore, and I actually do appreciate and to some degree need actual level design. Something to keep you stimulated between the fights. Even DMC4 which was half a game and a convoluted mess of styles maintained some sort of aesthetic.. kinda.. There were castles, weird labs, a cowboy town? The levels changed, even if it was for only half the game. DMC5 is a bit of a drab city and then demon world. It is absolutely boring.
Likewise I've never been able to fully get onboard with the DMC combat mechanics. Much like a Street Fighter, there are plenty of hidden techniques passed on from game to game that are generally not explained and weirdly enough, to a large degree expected of the player. Air juggling through jump cancels as the most basic example, or the fact that jumping up is a safer and preferred alternative to the built in dodge. I've never enjoyed the directional inputs much either. When the camera spins in a strange direction it's oftentimes hard to gauge which way is "back" to do your ground slam attack. For all the depth, and there is plenty, Dante is just a mess to play. Of course I've watched plenty of jaw-dropping videos of people seamlessly switching between all of his weapons and styles while not getting hit once and maintaining a triple SSS rank. I'm not sure what it takes to get to that level but after 20 "missions" of DMC5 I weirdly enough felt just as confused and unsure of how to actually approach combat encounters as I was when starting the game. I knew the moves, but the rules escape me. I can't seem to get a handle on how enemies will behave or how to properly break their armor.. Let me just say that Bayonetta is probably my favorite character action game and while I was never an absolute pro at it, I did feel competent and in control by the end of the game. I have rarely felt this way in DMC5 because I just can't grasp the systems for whatever reason and the game offers only surface level instructions on how to play it. I could dig through tons and tons of user tutorials on YouTube but that can't be the expectation?
Hardcore fans hate DmC and I get it. Ninja Theory did a great job of taking a franchise and modernizing it with a twist. DmC had an interesting take on a new story about the brothers, amazing level designs and a competent combat system. Tone differences aside, fans of Devil May Cry didn't really want or need those first two things. They are just getting in the way of the combat, which did not feature enough cancels and tricks to dig your teeth into. It was just a solid combat system that was fairly easy to get your head around, but it was the Mortal Kombat to a seasoned Street Fighter player.
People loved DMC5. Fans were greatly pleased with the return to form for the franchise. You had Dante! He had 4 different styles with a modifier for every weapon he got and there were a bunch of them.. and I'm happy for them. For me it felt like a very old game, with a very modern coat of paint. A lot of the menus, the way you checkpoint, the boss fights and level design were things from a decade ago and they didn't evolve one bit. The fighting is as good as ever if you liked the way it worked before, but everything around it is so incredibly boring and I found it hard to get engaged on any level. This incredibly bombastic game with some hilarious and amazingly choreographed cutscenes was so lackluster when you actually got to the gameplay. The V levels did not help things either as you stand and dodge attacks and hope your pets fight the right enemies while jamming on 4 buttons at the same time. I dunno, more than anything I continue to be perplexed by the franchise. I've never come across any other series that I wanted to like so much but I just didn't get it. I remember struggling with the combat in DMC4, coming back to it years later with DMC4:SE and now DMC5, and I still feel just as confused as to how you are actually supposed to dodge attacks or tackle bosses. It's a series that has made me question whether I even like the genre in the first place.