**Friendly warning: this review is extremely long.**
Dante seems to get hotter with each passing game...
Well, a few dozen or so stars have aligned, snow has fallen on the Sahara, a wallaby has given birth to triplets, and I'm still working my way through Kanon, so for once, I've gotten it into my head to review a non-eroge/visual novel/TYPE-MOON work. I don't plan to make a habit of it, but considering how long it takes me to get through those VNs, every so often I might pull one out as a tide-over.
I guess I could do something similar in scope, but quicker to watch and evaluate...but last I checked, that left almost nothing but hentai.
Yeah, I'm not quite at that point.
Pictured: Stuff I will not review.
Still, I think I'll make do on my promise from last time. I've been dealing with the vice of sex for quite a while. Why not balance it out with some good ol' violence?
Devil May Cry
This action-exploration series starring Dante, snarky half-demon slayer of evil, has been going on for four installments, three of which I've played. It is these three that I'd like to measure up and against each other.
A word of caution, though. I'll be up-front: I consider these all to be good games. Yes, that does include DMC2, otherwise widely considered to be the black sheep of the series. While I do absolutely favor one of these games over the others, the "which one is the best" angle is merely an excuse to sneak in two additional reviews. Oh, and if subdivision in a review makes your eyes water, I apologize. I also apologize for the sparsity and crap quality of the images. I'm unable to take my own screenshots for non-PC games, and
stealing borrowing others' leaves one up to the vagaries of chance. I want to get that out of the way because, as I'll mention, the art in each of these games is really good.
And on that happy note, let's get started.
The Devil May Cry games are all third-person action games which also incorporate platforming and puzzle elements. You play as Dante, aforementioned professional demon hunter, as he runs around exploring three different locations, slicing, dicing, and tenderizing various hellish hordes as he thwarts the plans of whichever main baddie is running the show. The combat is the biggest draw of the series, though, so we'll start with that.
Might need a bigger sword for this...
A couple of things to consider on this point: the quality of the actual fighting, and the creativity of the weapons themselves...which means we can sort of disqualify DMC2 already. Don't get me wrong, the swordfighting is kinda slow but pretty smooth; there is a lot of variety of technique, especially when you consider that Devil Trigger is customizable and actually adds more and cooler-looking attacks. Thing is, though...it's all for one weapon. Yeah, Dante and Lucia each get a single weapon, that just comes in three varieties and extremely little difference between them (pick the longest one for range, and you're set). Even the first game at least gave you gauntlets, too!
Speaking of, the variety aspect really favors the third game, at five different weapons (a broadsword, triple-rod nunchaku, oversized twin dao swords, an electric guitar that also summons bats, and gauntlets/grieves). The first game takes a bit of a lazy way out, at 2.5 different weapons. Yes, I'm only counting the Sparda sword as half a weapon. It's really just a stronger, cooler-looking Force Edge, that also takes away your magic and Devil Trigger abilities (Dante's ability to turn into demon form).
For the rest...DMC3 has instant weapon-switching, attack canceling (no swinging your sword and having to wait a second before moving again, ala DMC1), cooler weapon combos, and Swordmaster style to add more and more awesome-looking attacks. DMC1 has a sweet-looking but impractically long animation to switch between the Alastor sword and Ifrit gauntlets. DMC2 has a desperation mode, which makes you pretty much an unstoppable force of nature...when you're very low on health.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
Here is where the field is leveled quite a lot, as each of these games packs in some spectacularly fun gunplay. Where variety is concerned, each game has a standard trio of guns - the Ebony and Ivory twin semi-auto pistols, a shotgun, and an explosive type (a grenade launcher, missile launcher, and rocket launcher, respectively) - and one or two extras; 1 has an underwater-only needlegun and a magic-consuming energy blaster, 2 has twin submachine guns (a little redundant), and 3 has a tank rifle and a multishot laser cannon. Nothing really to complain about.
For the fighting...each game lets you knock demons into the air and keep them up there with bullets. What more could you possibly want? For individual aspects, DMC1 lets you use magic to charge any of your guns (and automatically charges them in Devil form). DMC2 lets you switch between all four guns in-field, lets you auto-fire without being in easy mode, and packs in some stylish-looking shots (including dual-wielding shotgun and pistol, and some hidden trick shots with the shotgun). DMC3 has switch-canceling (switching between a fast- and slow-firing gun for greater speed) and some cool-looking tricks with Gunslinger style, including the ability to charge the pistols and shotgun.
Which one's best? Um...well, 1 requires you to pause the game to switch between guns. 3 requires Gunslinger for a lot of its stuff, and the guns don't seem to pack much punch on their own. 2 doesn't have a magic gun equivalent...but if you fire enough bullets at something on the ground, it will have an effect (even on bosses, it just takes more shots). Stopping power like that is a rarity in this series, and novel enough to even overshadow DMC3's ability to surf on fallen enemies and spray an area.
I'm pretty sure you're supposed to do the Matrix dodge when you're being shot at...
Advantage: Devil May Cry 2
Where these two aspects come together is the Style Meter. The games reward Dante for fighting enemies in continuous motion and with a variety of attacks...basically, the cooler Dante looks finishing off demons, the greater the immediate reward (more red, green, and white orbs per kill) and eventual reward (more style points means a higher level rank, and more red orbs).
DMC1 implements this...decently. Any attack with stopping power builds meter, from sword/punch combos, to charged shots, to even the aforementioned "knock enemy into the air and play handgun hackysack" trick. The game even allows you to get hit and keep up the combo, as long as you're quick enough. That's the key, though, you have to be quick; if you interrupt the combo for a couple of seconds for whatever reason, you start over.
DMC2 is even worse about this, as a combination of factors make combos hard to build up and even harder to maintain. A consequence of fighting in the game's typically large, open areas is that when enemies spawn, they're often rather far apart; there's a trick to use in that guns can keep the combo going (only the most powerful ranged weapons, like the missile launcher and cranky grenades, actually build the combo) long enough to roll over, but it's sort of unreliable. For that matter, you need a lot of hits to get a combo even into D-rank, let alone beyond, and the meter fades so quickly that if you miss a stroke, kiss it goodbye. And even if you manage that, getting hit automatically drops the combo...which really sucks in a game without canceling. After realizing that I'd only ever gotten above a D-ranking for style by the end of a level one time, I finally stopped worrying so much about it, enough to actually enjoy the surprisingly acrobatic combat.
And as for DMC3...in one way, it's harder to build combos, because the game forces you to not use the same move more than once or twice in a row (you can do that, of course, but they won't count for the combo). The better part? It doesn't matter what attacks you use; even at the very beginning of the game, you have at least six different methods of attack, more if you use Swordmaster or Gunslinger. Stringing together moves is very intuitive, weapon switching adds to the variety, being hit doesn't always end a combo entirely (at A rank or above, it merely drops the combo meter down to B), the combo meter drains instead of disappears...all in all, this aspect of the game is perfect or nearly so.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
A catchall category for ease of control, movement options, platforming, and camera issues. To start, all three games have at least fairly good control, so it's down to minutiae. In particular, to someone like me who started with DMC3, Dante's recovery time (between attacks) feels a little sluggish in the first game. Being able to cancel attack motions in the third (switch-canceling, jump-canceling, etc.) really adds to ease of use. Other than being slower-paced, DMC2 fell between these points.
Each game has similar advanced movement options, as well; each game gives Dante the ability to wall-jump, dodge, air hike (double jump), and glide in Devil form (using Alastor, Aerial Heart, or Nevan, respectively). In addition, DMC2 has four-direction dodging (as opposed to the normal two), devil hearts that allow quick running and true flight, and wall running, and DMC3 has an entire moveset, Trickster style, devoted to movement options (triple ground-dashing, air-dashing, wall running, and limited teleportation). It's a rather difficult deciding between the second two, as all of DMC2's techniques are immediately and always available (they don't require unlocking with red orbs, or use of a certain weapon or style), but DMC3's are cooler-looking and typically more helpful in combat.
Especially if you have godlike reflexes.
I don't really know how to judge platforming by itself, so I'll skip to the camera. DMC1: Claustrophobic and no camera control. DMC2: Very open, and with a camera that actively hates you. DMC3: Balanced areas, limited camera control. A narrow upset over 2, believe me.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
A joke category. Only DMC3 has any sort of multiplayer. The second unlockable style, Doppelganger, lets you create a shadow clone of yourself with magic, which another player can control (the first unlockable style lets you slow down time). And there's another situation where that ability comes up, too...
Just thought I'd bring it up.
Unfair Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
Let me just say, without preamble, that Devil May Cry 3 wins this category, hands down. Especially in light of the first two games, the attention they pay to background and development in DMC3 is stunning. The theme of estranged brother versus brother, Dante against Vergil, is particularly well done, from the large details of their struggle (Vergil's desire to possess their father's power and Dante's eventual motivation to stop him, and hints of lingering fraternal affection in both men) to the small. I think my favorite small detail comes during the first fight between the two; get Vergil down to half health during battle and the combination of exertion and rain finally makes Vergil's normally slicked-back hair fall into a mop like Dante's...revealing that, yes, they really are identical twins. The parallel main plot thread, involving the corrupted priest Arkham and the mysterious (human) demon hunter Lady, is similarly good, and responsible for a few genuinely surprising plot twists.
The other two games...don't even come close, really. I was barely aware DMC1 had a story beyond "Dante gets hired by some woman to clear demons out of an infested castle on a deserted island," at least until halfway through the game. By that point, the story has shifted to "Dante must stop Mundus, the devil king and longtime enemy of Sparda, from entering the human world," but even then, with only a handful of exceptions, the story works only marginally well. Well, okay, I should be fair. One of those moments was the infamous "I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with light" scene...and guess what? I think I'm the only person on the internet who didn't find that scene narmy in the slightest. The other was the whole Dante/Nelo Angelo dynamic...
I must give the game credit. That immediately got me emotionally invested in the story (though most likely because I'd played DMC3 first). Either way, the final fight against Mundus became immensely satisfying.
Devil May Cry 2 doesn't even manage that, and I found that frustrating. The story at least had potential (Dante hired to take out a corrupt corporate president seeking demonic ascension, a plot point used to much greater effect in DMC3), and there are hints all over the game that they could have had it...and dropped the ball. Some of it was due to technical problems (the voice acting, urgh), but a lot could have been much better served with a few more cutscenes and better-written dialogue. The story also has essentially no connection to the Sparda mythos, but I wouldn't have held that against it if it had managed it's own story satisfactorily.
Also, DMC3 has cutscenes before and after every mission, instead of just occasionally. Believe it or not, it goes a really long way towards building a narrative.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3.
Note: I'm gonna be ripping off my Gameplay and Technical (by including artwork and design) sections here.
Dante is, of course, the main protagonist in each of these games (that doesn't change until Nero in DMC4), but he's got some rather different characterization in each game. To sum them up...DMC1 Dante is an experienced devil hunter, self-confident and inclined to banter with his employers and targets alike. DMC2 Dante is older and more silent ("Don't talk. Just die."), though just as stylish. DMC3 Dante is a young, cocky bastard more inclined to mock his enemies.
This is probably more personal preference, but for my part, I have to call DMC3's Dante the most entertaining. Other points in his favor: he's actually got noticeable character development (as he gradually starts to take his mission seriously, due to duty and family loyalty), he's got the best taunts (versus DMC1's single, non-voiced taunt, and DMC2's unbelievable lack of taunts), and he's got a shirtless outfit.
One of two men, real or fictional, who I'll admit is attractive.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
In other words, other playable characters. This applies solely to 2 and 3, which allow you to play as Lucia and Trish, or Vergil.
Not much to talk about. Lucia has a rather different playstyle from Dante, she has probably the most fun ranged weapon in the game (cranky grenades, also used by Lady in DMC3), and her story path actually parallels and complements Dante's rather than following it (up to and including have a different final boss). Trish is just an alternate costume for either Dante or Lucia (rather than having her own path), but she plays almost exactly like a much faster DMC1 Dante and uses Sparda's weaponry, the Sparda sword and the Luce and Ombra pistols.
Vergil, playable on the DMC3 Special Edition, also handles much differently from Dante, having his own weapons (a katana, paired katana and broadsword, and a different gauntlet moveset) and style, and using magical summoned swords for a ranged weapon. Sadly, other than a different prologue and mission 1 opening, Vergil doesn't have his own path; it's just Dante's path with the cutscenes removed.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 2
Hmm...Trish on one hand, Matier on another, and Lady on the last. Yeah, I'm giving this to Lady, the one with discernible character motivation and badassery.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
In other words, general effectiveness and creativity of design for garden-variety baddies. A bit of a difficult call, this is, since enemies in general are pretty cool to watch and fight, so it's down to preferring some enemies over others. As such, I can't really speak for DMC2's enemies, most of which have names I can't remember, and a lot of which seem to be variations on "evil monkeys, skeletons, goats, birds, and wizards." DMC3 fares somewhat better. The Seven Hell variety demons are pretty cool-looking (especially the Hell Vanguard), and the other varieties of enemies (Enigmas, Fallen, Blood Goyles, etc.) aren't that bad either.
In the end, though...I gotta give this to DMC1. The marionettes, sin scissors/scythes, shadows, and *shudder* nobodies are some of the creepiest things I've ever fought.
Advantage: Devil May Cry
Again, I'll take DMC2 out of the running. The bosses are cool-looking, granted, but they sadly lack personality. An unfortunate side effect of only two of them talking.
As for the other two...another difficult call. On the one hand, DMC3 has more bosses, and they tend to have enough talking time (the ones that do talk, or have Dante talk at them) to be neat characters. On the other, DMC1 has a total of only four unique bosses (not counting Mundus, King of Hell), but I actually liked listening to and fighting them more than once; it was almost like you could get to know Phantom, Griffon, Nightmare (...okay, not Nightmare), and Nelo Angelo. Of course, neither game is perfect in this regard; DMC1's Nightmare is incredibly frustrating, and DMC3's Gigapede is kinda boring, and the Leviathan's Heartcore is just a chore to fight.
In the end, it comes down to this.
You will not forget this devil's power...!
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
The artwork gets better with every game, and the animation is easily the most fluid I've seen in any game, so a passing grade to each for that. In the end, it's down to two sound qualities and a couple subjective qualities...
Not something the Devil May Cry series is known for, I'll admit. And really, the quality only varies between average and ear-clawingly awful. Devil May Cry 1 tends to sit firmly between these two extremes...with some exceptions. Dante's banter with the bosses is all right, and while the lines before and after are lovably cheesy, Griffon's death scene, with him asking Mundus for a last surge of power to finish off Dante, then begging and screaming as Mundus kills him, is horrifying. Not horrifyingly bad. Horrifying.
Unfortunately, Devil May Cry 2 simply fails at this. For only having four voices throughout the game (not counting the one-off Trismaya), they manage to pack in enough awfulness for at least twice that number. Whether it's Dante really not pulling his lines off, Lucia stumbling over her Arabic-Mexican-Kurdish-French-Italian-Russian accent between breaths, Arius whining every line (and whining even worse when he's losing), or Matier's...huh. Okay, so really, Matier's acting is decent, and the old lady's actually kinda fun to listen to. Which doesn't really make up for one thing.
Devil May Cry 3, however, manages to remain firmly average pretty much throughout. Dante's voice is pretty good, as are the enemies, Lady, Jester, and Arkham, and Vergil's voice, while hammy, still manages to be entertaining (and his in-combat lines are chillingly good).
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
Music, on the other hand, is something all three games do spectacularly. The atmospheric pieces fit very well, and the boss themes are almost universally awesome. DMC2 lags a little in fight music, compared to DMC1's "Public Enemy" and "Lock and Load" or DMC3's "Taste the Blood" and "Divine Hate."
Then again, "Wings of the Guardian" does fit Lucia...
Gah, I'm not sure I can make this decision!
...wait, yes I can. There's a key element to a truly great piece of video game music. Sure, it's great when a piece of music fits a situation well enough that it blends in to your consciousness, just like it's great to listen to a soundtrack on its own afterward and discover the gems within that you hadn't noticed. But what of when these things combine? What about a piece of music that is so well-written that it somehow blends into a scene, but forces you to notice at the same time? A piece that fits a given scenario's emotional and technical aspects to the point where it, for lack of a better term, resonates both while you play and whenever you listen outside of play? These are the crowning pieces of any game.
In light of this, I'm going to nominate the second and third Vergil battle themes from Devil May Cry 3 as the series' crowning pieces. The speed metal beat of the former along with "The Twins Fight" motif, and the latter's complete symphonic orchestration (the only DMC fight music that I know to do so), are nothing short of phenomenal.
Advantage: Devil May Cry 3
...actually, how exactly can I judge this? I mean, DMC2 seemed a little easier to play, but it actually felt harder to play well. DMC1's difficulty seemed artificially inflated by the fact that it incorporated a combined save and lives system with the yellow orbs. DMC3 made things a little easier by having a level select system right off the bat, meaning it's possible to go back and practice or grind for red orbs/style points, and the special edition adds in the gold orb system, a callback to DMC2 where you can continue from any point in a level, with items that can instantly revive you after death.
A contentious judgment, to be sure, and it made more sense when I was just comparing DMC1 and DMC3. If you've read between the lines of my visual novel reviews, it's probably pretty obvious that I become immersed very easily (if not, it's going to become extremely apparent in Kanon). As such, even DMC2 was an immersive game, if only for the standard reasons (when playing, you tend to shut out the outside world) than the merit inherent in the game itself.
DMC1 and 3, however, are far more immersive, but follow very different design philosophies to reach that point. DMC3 increases immersion by, to put it in a nutshell, making you feel like the baddest motherfucker to ever live. The whole game seems based on the idea that the cooler you look, the more into the game you'll be, and it succeeds very well at this, though there are a couple of sticking points. This approach is more vulnerable to player skill, as you need to have learned to play at least semi-decently or play lower difficulties (this was harder in the original North American release of DMC3, which notoriously had the difficulty levels pumped up). Also, the approach can clash with the standard story immersion, as this game packs in more cutscenes than any of the others (though in some cases, this is far from being a problem).
Nowhere, however, is this idea communicated better than the ending credits. Where DMC1 had standard ending credits with a near-James Bond movie design sequence, and DMC2 had scenes from the game itself, DMC3 lets you control Dante through the whole ending song ("Devils Never Cry") in one last massive slugfest with a horde of Seven Hells demons (finishing off 100, including the Hell Vanguard at the end, unlocks a secret final cutscene...).
The first game, on the other hand, goes for the more atmospheric immersion. The claustrophobic corridors of Mallet Castle, while making it difficult for the camera, really do communicate a sense of nervousness and apprehension, one that the enemy and level design complements very well. 3 actually does make some pretensions towards this type of atmosphere, but unlike the first game, the visuals come off as more impressive than tense, and most of the enemies are cool-looking rather than frightening. I'm not a fan of horror, so I found even this comparatively mild game as a whole to be rather nerve-wracking to play. And trust me, play long enough, and the opening chords of "Psycho Siren" will train you to jump in terror, because you're about to get skewered by a shadow...
Advantage: Devil May Cry 1
Ha. Fooled ya, didn't I?
And the winner is...blank.
I told at the start, didn't I? All three of these are fun games. While it's blindingly obvious that I favor Devil May Cry 3 over the others (it's one of my favorite games of all time, in fact), I don't intend to cheapen Devil May Cry 1 or 2 any more than I have to...or any more than I already have, considering how cramped this review is.
Therefore, I'll just leave you with this half-review, half-retrospective: this series is farking awesome, and I look forward to playing DMC4 some day. In the meantime, I have to finish the second half of Kanon and sue the Vanilla Series for false advertising. Ayame never even appears near a body of water, let alone in a swimsuit...