While Devil May Cry was a major success and defined the action genre, Devil May Cry 2 was a disappointing flop. Hideaki Itsuno was brought on as director for the last few months of the development of Devil May Cry 2 to try to salvage the disaster. Fortunately, Itsuno felt so bad about Devil May Cry 2 that he took on the role of director for Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening to make up for it. Itsuno and his team went on to make one of the greatest action games of all time as Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening lives up to the legacy of the original game. Fast-paced action, stylish combos, an engaging story, and a variety of playstyles culminate into the experience that is Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening.
Ultimately, the most crucial element to the Devil May Cry series, and all action games, is its combat. The genre lives off of the high-octane, adrenaline pumping, gripping battles. Luckily, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening surpasses all expectations in this regard, and blows both of its predecessors out of the water. Dante’s moveset is similar to the original Devil May Cry, but with a few extra elements. Most notably, there are 4 different “styles” the player can choose from that greatly alter how the game is played. Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royalguard are the 4 main styles that the player can delve into, as well as the Quicksilver and Doppelganger specialty styles that become available later in the game. Trickster focuses on evasiveness and dip, duck, and dodging out of danger. Swordmaster goes all in on offense, allowing the player to extend their combos. Gunslinger is all about amplifying your firearms. And Royalguard is primarily about parrying enemy attacks and striking back. As you play as a certain style, you will level it up and unlock more abilities in that category. The interesting thing to me is that styles are tied to a single button, meaning that switching styles only minimally changes the controls, but that one button drastically changes the pace and style of gameplay.
Other than the addition of styles, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening has a few other improvements to combat. A wide array of weapons is added to Dante’s arsenal as the game progresses. New melee weapons and firearms add even more variety to how the game can be played. Furthermore, you can equip 2 melee weapons and 2 firearms at the start of each mission and switch between them at will. This allows for some incredibly intricate combos as you switch between your weapons of choice. There are also a few mechanically complex techniques that can be executed such as jump cancelling to further increase a player’s mastery over the game. Another seemingly minor improvement is the clarification of the style gauge. Devil May Cry is all about racking up big combos and watching your style meter increase, and with this game there is a style bar that you can watch increase and decrease depending on your actions. In previous games, you would only see the overall grade and not the meter filling up. This addition provides much needed clarity and lets the player understand how the combo system works.
It is obvious that Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is a marked improvement over its predecessors in the realm of combat, but what about the other aspects? Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening makes a huge leap forward in the storytelling and narrative in the series. While it remains to be lovably cheesy, its use of only 4 key characters and their encounters is worth looking forward to. Dante, Vergil, Lady, and Arkham all have vastly different motivations and ideas of what should be done with a sealed demonic power. As these characters progress through the demonic tower, their clashing motivations make their meetings all the more memorable. The level design is infinitely better than Devil May Cry 2, but I consider it weaker than the original Devil May Cry. Most of the game is spent climbing and exploring a tower. You repeatedly revisit areas and loop through the entirety of the tower two or three times. The major issue that I had was that it was occasionally confusing to find my way around this gargantuan structure. The tower constantly shifts and changes from level to level, so you never really get familiar with its layout. Also, there were a few platforming sections that did not really fit with the rest of the game.
A staple to the Devil May Cry series is the challenging boss fights. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening maintains this tradition, and many of the game’s best moments are contained in boss battles. First and foremost, there are 20 missions total in the game and 14 boss fights. The developers went out of their way to include as many fights as possible. Even better, the vast majority of these clashes are well-designed, challenging, and memorable. Only two or three of these fights can be considered weak by comparison. Unfortunately, the penultimate boss is an unmitigated mess with a host of issues. Its an ugly, amorphous blob with hard to read attacks. Worse still, the control scheme changes in the second half of the fight, so you have to relearn how to play the game on the fly. Luckily, other than this disastrous globule, most of the other boss fights are enormously enjoyable and the pinnacle of the series.
While Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening redefined the action genre, it is not without its own faults. One of the biggest downfalls of this game was its enemy design. Enemies fall into 2 categories in this game: combo fodder, or annoying. Combo fodder are enemies that pose very little threat to the player and exist primarily for the player to unleash their fury with little retaliation. Annoying enemies are enemies that give the player small windows for attack or just kind of get in the way. Ideally, enemies in action games should be a healthy mix between these subsets. They should be strong enough to fight against the player a pose a very real threat, but they player also gets opportunities to unleash devastating combos against the enemy. The original Devil May Cry struck this balance superbly, every enemy had a few tricks up their sleeve that the player needed to be aware of. You could absolutely demolish hordes of enemies if you knew how to, but a misstep would lead to taking some punishing damage. It’s a good thing that combat in Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is so inherently fun, or fighting the massive amount of combo fodder enemies would grow tiresome quite quickly.
The other issue I have with Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is something that has been embodied throughout the whole series, and I would consider it a double-edged sword. I am talking about the replayabilty of Devil May Cry games. These games are made to be replayed a multitude of times, and are generally considered better on subsequent playthroughs. This is because you keep all moves, styles, items, and upgrades as you progress to higher difficulty levels. On the first playthrough of the game, you will most likely only master 1 of the 4 styles and not be fully upgraded. But as you keep playing, you master the games systems and test out all of the tools in Dante’s arsenal. Furthermore, you get the option to play as Vergil after beating the game once. On one hand, this replayability is fantastic as it allows players to keep playing after they beat the game. However, I think many people generally do not replay games so soon after completing them. Maybe a few years later, but by that time you will have mostly forgotten how to play the game and would have to start fresh anyway. Moreover, the first time you play the game you are missing a lot of features since you are not fully equipped. It is an obviously intentional design choice that has some merit, but also some hefty drawbacks.
Its difficult for me to decide which I like better: the original Devil May Cry or Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. The original had better level and enemy design, and it was an innovative game at the time. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening builds off of the success of the original, but its addictive and gratifying combat make it a contender for best in the series. Either way, it is evident that Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening redefined what action games could be. Even with some notable flaws, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening remains one of the greatest action games ever developed.