'Devil May Cry 5' Is Sexy, Chaotic, and Deliciously Overwhelming
It feels like Capcom found a VHS tape of an amazing B-movie from the 70s that no one’s ever seen, and remastered the thing in 4K.
Image courtesy of Capcom
Devil May Cry 5 kicks ass.
I leap from the sky, crashing into yet another room that looks suspiciously built for people to fight in, waiting for the next slate of victims to spawn from the netherrealm. One, two, three—no, four drooling husks appear. What happens next can go a million different ways.
If I’m Nero, maybe I dash in with my sword, tossing two to the sky, while pecking away at the others with gunshots, before I use my cybernetic arm to, depending on which one I have equipped, smack everything with whips, blast into space, stop time, or shoot lasers? I could also blow it up like a bomb, if I’m feeling nasty.
If I’m Dante, I could turn trickster—one of four variants that can be swapped in real-time, even mid-combo!—before dashing across the sky, then swap to my rock fists—nah, let’s use my rock feet—and dive, before switching to swordsman mode, which unlocks new melee moves, knocking them in the air, and swapping to the gun-happy gunslinger mode, popping with dual pistols. Or a shotgun? Hell to the yeah.
[deep breath] And I haven’t even told you about the hot goth, V, who refuses to do anything but walk, and summons animal to fight for them. (Kotaku’s Tim Rogers described V as a JRPG battle system in real-time and he’s right.) It’s a character whose moveset is so bafflingly counterintuitive that you’re likely rip your hair out for the first few minutes, before undergoing a radicalization that has you standing on your couch, screaming at Capcom to show some goddamn respect for V’s talents, and develop an entire game built around his pets.
In other words, Devil May Cry 5 kicks ass. It feels like Capcom found a VHS tape of an amazing B-movie from the 70s that no one’s ever seen, and remastered the thing in 4K.
I didn’t always feel this way about Capcom’s latest. For a while, I was pretty sure I hated Devil May Cry 5? Hate’s a strong word—more like, this should be my thing, but it’s not and it’s weird? At one point, I was messaging Austin and some colleagues asking “Hey, am I missing something?” The “something” was embracing the game’s chaos, and realizing the unfurled maelstrom is the point. If you’re new to the series—I loved the original, but haven’t played anything since but Ninja Theory’s still-underrated take—this may not be immediately apparent. Devil May Cry 5 is absolutely approachable for newcomers, but it’s also not tripping over itself to make sure it holds your hand; there’s meaningful tutorialization of the mechanics, but internalizing the series’ longstanding flow is only understood over time.
After spending more than 30 hours slashing my way through the zippy Kingdom Hearts III, Nero felt slow, lumbering...boring? And his mechanical arm didn’t make any sense. You can hold several arms at once, but you can’t swap between them! Arm abilities can be so radically different—a lighting shotgun blast vs. a dash that pops you in the air—that your entire approach to a combat situation might change. To use another next arm, you either need to blow it up, or it needs to break (which happens if you’re hit while using it). I was afraid to lose them—would it be expensive to replenish, and how many will I find in the world?—so I ended up not using them. That was the wrong move. This climaxed during the game’s first real boss fight, the goliath fight from the game’s public demo, where I found myself dying over and over again, unable to find a rhythm, and seeking to assign blame.
Maybe this game sucks?
I muddled through the fight, but came out the other end more frustrated than anything else, and wondering if my time was better spent returning to Metro: Exodus. But I had an idea: just start using the damn arms—blowing them up, spamming their abilities—and stop worrying so much about whether it’s the right use of the arm. That’s when it clicked, and Devil May Cry 5’s guiding ethos became clear. The overwhelming choice available to the player at all times, choices that only become exponentially more complex with expanded abilities over multiple characters, is the point. It’s less about doing things correctly, than it is doing what feels fun.
Which makes sense for a game that’s judging you as soon as combo begins—D, C, B, A, S, SS, SSS! Each letter filling slowly, as you land each consecutive blow, trying to avoid getting hit. And honestly, scratch my previous observation; the game isn’t judging, it’s celebrating. Devil May Cry 5 is not style over substance, it’s style as substance, and that approach is what pervades the cheesy grading system, the snarky but surprisingly loveable greaseball characters, its gaudy aesthetic, a nonsense storyline that takes itself seriously enough that you’re not sure what to make of it (Lore Reasons?), and the other pieces that make Devil May Cry 5 click in place.
Part of what I love about Devil May Cry 5’s madness is how it acts as a cloak. Because nearly every move in the game is flashy, even ones that erupt from tapping a single button a few times, it’s not hard to look cool while playing, and it constantly looks like you, the player, are intentionally doing these cool things in order to look cool. For especially skilled players, perhaps this is the case! For me, someone who straddles playing somewhere in-between mashing buttons and occasionally remembering a more advanced move would probably be useful, that’s less true. And yet...we both look cool? In the end, that’s what the game wants.
Devil May Cry 5 is a trip, a throwback to a simpler time, when fighting arenas of nameless demons in increasingly splashy ways was enough, and simultaneously deeply aware of modern trends, where Games Like This have been increasingly marginalized to a handful of niche-y franchises (i.e. Bayonetta) or wholly recontextualized (i.e. Dark Souls). It’s a game that makes no apologies for embracing its PlayStation 2ness, crappy platforming with bad camera angles and all, because not everything has to change?
Devil May Cry 5 is a lot—funny, sexy, weird. It also kicks ass.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: email@example.com.