Keeping it SSStylish.
Check out Nadine Pacis’ work on her blog Game Progression.
When Devil May Cry was first released, the world of gaming was straightforward. Most of the titles were single-player experiences that lasted around 10 to 20 hours, tops.
Fast forward to 18 years, and it’s a very different world now. The most popular titles are now battle royales, games-as-a-service titles, loot shooters, and other lengthy and multiplayer focused titles. Even traditionally single-player games now have multiplayer segments packaged with it. And if they don’t, the titles are often massive pieces that will take you more than 20, or even 30 hours to complete.
So the return of Devil May Cry, a hack-and-slash single player game that’s usually not even 15 hours long to complete, is one that is both unexpected and much-awaited. But much like many games brought back from the past like Resident Evil and Kingdom Hearts, Devil May Cry has left a legacy that many of the more seasoned gamers crave for in a time where games are either massive or multiplayer or both.
Let’s talk about that before getting to the meat of this piece.
A Primer On ’00 Hack & Slash Games
Devil May Cry has such a rich legacy. The series is one of the top-of-mind titles when you think about the hack-and-slash genre. While it may not be the first, its critical and mass popularity during its peak paved the way and set the bar for future hack-and-slash games. When you think of games like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, and even old school God of War, it’s hard not to think of or reminisce Devil May Cry.
The focus of Devil May Cry is your ability to chain combos while being as creative with them as possible. The series is considered one of the tougher games to complete not because it’s infuriatingly punishing like Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but because of the way it challenges you. Your main objective is not only to finish the game as fast as possible but also to finish the game as stylishly as possible.
Generally, the game grades you according to the moves you make. The more intricate your combos are, the higher your grade. The game also rewards you if you don’t take any healing items and if you collected a high number of orbs. It’s a game that’s literally all about the journey rather than the destination. The games also have increasing difficulty modes unlocked with each finish, encouraging you to keep playing even after you’ve reached the ending.
Styling & Profiling
Above all else, what also made Devil May Cry iconic was its memorable protagonist: Dante. Dante is a half-demon half-human bounty hunter of sorts who solves demonic problems with over-the-top flair. He prefers to kick down doors rather than open them like a normal person should, and doesn’t care even if it were his shop’s own doors.
He likes to taunt his biggest enemies like they don’t have the potential to crush him in battle. He also likes riding rockets as if they were surfboards. Perhaps the only trait that grounds him is his love for pizza and heavy metal. He’s the man every guy with a PS2 wanted to be.
He was gaming’s very own James Bond or Tom Cruise – except with no subtlety or ability to woo women at all.
There isn’t anyone quite like Dante, and there isn’t anything quite like Devil May Cry. Which is probably why in the eighteen years of its existence, Devil May Cry has spawned four titles, a reboot, a few cameos in other video games, an anime, two light novels, a manga series, and potentially an animated series courtesy of Adi Shankar, producer of the Castlevania series on Netflix.
And so with the impending return of the beloved yet niche franchise, let’s examine Devil May Cry’s legacy by ranking the Devil May Cry games from the worst to the best:
Devil May Cry 2
Devil May Cry 2 is arguably the weakest in the series. The infamous sequel to the original Devil May Cry just felt like it lost its soul all of a sudden both in terms of gameplay and in terms of Dante himself.
Remember when I said that gamers loved him for his cool factor and his fun personality? Capcom nixed that in this sequel. A lot of fans didn’t enjoy such a drastic change from the cocky and loud Dante to this brooding and quiet version of him. And his female partner, Lucia, unlike Trish, wasn’t exactly memorable either.
It didn’t help that the Lucia gameplay had you go through the same thing with very few changes. Many, including yours truly, felt that this was a very empty version of Dante and it was difficult to find any interest for him and Lucia at all.
The gameplay didn’t even make up for it. It felt lacking and less challenging from the original Devil May Cry. While it maintained the need for a smooth flow of attacks for a good score, it wasn’t exactly stylish or difficult as expected.
Dante felt slower, the enemies felt weaker, and the weapons felt awkward to wield as well. The camera angles and the more open arenas also felt off. And even the boss fights were a snooze fest.
Of all the Devil May Cry games out there, Devil May Cry 2 is the most difficult to love, even as a Devil May Cry fan. But what’s frustrating is that Capcom didn’t seem to learn not to deviate from the original formula, when they came out with the next game on the list.
DMC: Devil May Cry
The notoriety of the reboot would probably have some predict that DmC would make it to the bottom of the list. But as much as I felt violently betrayed by Ninja Theory’s vision, the end result is an okay hack-and-slash game if you strip away the DmC branding.
It’s fast, it’s brutal, smooth, and stylish. It’s got bells and whistles and flair. The level designs are fantastic and I would love to see more of it. The combat is a little more simplistic, and it doesn’t have the difficulty of most Devil May Cry games, but it definitely feels better than Devil May Cry 2.
So, yes, Ninja Theory did alright in terms of combat and gameplay. Everything else though? Yikes.
While DmC was supposed to be a reboot, the game barely felt like it was Devil May Cry game. Its entire identity felt stripped away. Capcom and Ninja Theory should have already realized from Devil May Cry 2 that a drastic change to the icon that is Dante would definitely incur overwhelming backlash. Sure he was cocky much like the original Dante, but his style and demeanour was jarring.
Fans were torn over this darker and edgier Dante. Even beloved nemesis Vergil managed to be even cornier in this game. And many of the dialogues were so bad, they were close to turning into a meme. The negative backlash gave a strong and firm message: Dante is a big old cheesy goofball, and we like him as he is.
Until this day I maintain that if they just released this with no ties or history at all to the original Devil May Cry, people would have enjoyed this a little more. Instead, Ninja Theory shipped this with a big f*** you to the fans of the original series and made things worse.
Devil May Cry 4
Why couldn’t Capcom just stick to the original formula? When Devil May Cry 4 was released, it was considered one of the better sequels in the series and much like its predecessor, it stuck to its roots. It brought back the challenge and the essence of Devil May Cry. It was fun, fast, fluid, stylish, and perhaps even more over-the-top than expected.
It brought out a new character called Nero, a younger and slightly more emotional version of Dante, with a different array of moves compared to him. With the two protagonists, there was a vast range of moves and combos that you can pull off which made the game feel fresh while maintaining its key elements. Also, the boss fights in this game were some of the best in the series.
Mind you, there were some parts of the game that also felt iffy. For example, much like Devil May Cry 2, you had to go through some of the bosses twice, once as Nero and then as Dante. The arsenal also felt a little limited.
But because of the overall gameplay coupled with scenes such as Dante and Agnus pulling a Shakespearean play out of nowhere, or Nero suddenly obtaining Yamato thanks to his devil arm (Is he really the son of Vergil?!), Devil May Cry 4 was ultimately deemed a strong Devil May Cry game that fans and critics enjoyed.
It was made more enjoyable too with the release of the Special Edition version for the new generation of consoles. The game brought out Trish, Lady, and Vergil as part of the playable characters which allowed for so many replays because you were either a fan of the three characters, or you didn’t mind pulling off a different set of moves and perfecting them on the same enemies.
Devil May Cry
There’s a reason why the first Devil May Cry sits in the second place of this list. During its time it simply was one of the best action games out there, and it brought to life the hack-and-slash genre. The original Devil May Cry started out as a Resident Evil game starring a mysteriously powerful man named Tony. (Tony Redgrave soon became a pseudonym of Dante for the manga.) But by the end of the conceptualization, the game was just too cool to be a horror game sequel.
Turns out it was good that they strayed far from the Resident Evil concept after all. It delivered some of the best, smoothest, and most ridiculous moves back then. Sure it was difficult, but the outlandish and adrenaline-fueled combos you can string together was what made it fun to play over and over again. Critics lauded Devil May Cry for having an evolved yet challenging combat system.
Fans also had a blast playing as a character that was as fun, cool, and carefree as Dante – who was a clear contrast to the demonic and gothic backdrop from which his story plays.
And so it was a formula that many wished Capcom would just stick to.
Devil May Cry 3
The most difficult Devil May Cry stands on top of all the series entries. Devil May Cry 3 took the original Devil May Cry to a whole new level. Made to serve as the prequel to Dante’s story, the Dante featured here is perhaps the flashiest and noisiest of all other versions. His younger-self prefers to be shirtless while donning his iconic red leather jacket.
But on top of the tighter and more fluid action was the proper introduction of a fan favourite, Vergil, Dante’s more reserved evil twin brother. He’s arguably one of the toughest bosses to defeat in the series and even beyond it. The emotional story between the two not only gave more weight to Nelo Angelo in Devil May Cry 1 but also proved that yes, Devil May Cry can have a great plot line as well.
In the special edition version of Devil May Cry 3, Vergil becomes playable and has an entirely different moveset from Dante. Vergil is trickier to control and is more refined than his callous twin brother.
With this sequel and its special edition, Dante and Vergil have cemented their popularity and have become a staple in Capcom’s universe. They’ve appeared in games such as Marvel vs Capcom 3. And Dante’s costume even shows up in the latest Monster Hunter.
Simply put, this was the title that had fans begging for more.
So Where Would Devil May Cry 5 Sit At?
Which all leads us to the upcoming Devil May Cry 5. Despite the hype that’s building up prior to its release, Devil May Cry 5 faces a challenge. Can it prove to stay relevant in a very different era from when it was at its peak? Can it be more than just a nostalgic trip for the followers of this franchise?
And while there will always be a demand for hack-and-slash titles, can it drive up that demand even more? Time will tell. But the reality here is that the series has already stood the test of time.
After 18 years, people are still craving for it. So if Devil May Cry 5 can evolve its original formula and provide an amazing over-the-top experience, then maybe it still won’t be as talked about as these massive multiplayer titles, but much like it has in the past, it can not only spring forth new titles but also provide unique memories that people will continue to yearn for.
You won’t remember that you got a chicken dinner one year from now on. But you’ll definitely cherish the memory of a white-haired man in a leather jacket splitting a motorbike into two and using them as chainsaws.