A prime example of poor understanding of your consumers is the case of DmC: Devil May Cry. This game started development in 2010 as a reboot to the character action series Devil May Cry. What is odd is that the previous entry, Devil May Cry 4, was released only 2 years prior and was commercially successful. Despite this, Capcom outsourced their production of the series to a western studio in an attempt to sell better to a western audience. I will not get into too many of the details, but essentially DmC: Devil May Cry was a reboot that nobody wanted, and was made with the express purpose of changing what people loved about the series. It’s a well-made game, but it simply clashes with fans’ expectations.
The most obvious and vitriol-inducing change was to the main character, Dante. His appearance shifted dramatically. His signature long white hair and red duster were done away with, and new Dante sported a black leather jacket and short black hair. This gave Dante a grungier, more punk look, which is in direct conflict of what fans expected of Dante. The far more frustrating change to Dante however was to his personality. Our goofy, cocky, pizza-loving action hero had been changed to edgy hedonist. His classic one-liners became crass and hard to take seriously. New Dante’s “I don’t care” attitude reeks of an immature teenager, as opposed to the fun-loving, half-demon mercenary he had been previously known as.
Not only was Dante changed, but all of the backstory and characters were also modernized. Dante and his brother Vergil are now Nephilim, half angel and half demon hybrids. The main antagonist, Mundus, is no longer an omniscient and mysterious demon-king. Mundus and his followers are demons who use debt, media, and mind-controlling substances to subdue the human populace. Through these means, Mundus keeps people passive and under his control. Honestly, this modernization is actually pretty interesting. Devil May Cry games have never been known for their stories, they are often overly cliché and cheesy. DmC: Devil May Cry actually has an interesting plot, but it is dragged down by its poorly written dialogue and unlikable characters.
Lovable characters can carry a poor plot, but bad characters can ruin a good plot. I discussed why I dislike new Dante, and similar issues plague the rest of the cast. Flat jokes and flippant attitudes run rampant. The writing is at best forgettable, at worst it can be difficult sitting through the cringe-inducing dialogue. It’s a shame because the actual plot isn’t terrible. Dante and Vergil team up to recount their past and take down the demon-king who seeks to control the world. There are pretty obvious allusions to modern corporatism. Soft-drinks poison the mind and make people weak, the media spouts lies to propagate Mundus’ will, and Mundus controls the population through money. It’s fairly heavy-handed, but it’s a good story by Devil May Cry standards.
The strongest aspects of DmC: Devil May Cry are its world and level design. Instead of demons running rampant through the world, they are instead confined to the realm of Limbo. Limbo is a plane of existence that is parallel to the real world, and Dante is constantly pulled in and out of Limbo. The realm itself is living, and desires to exterminate the intrude. It will spawn demons and manipulate the world to impede you. Roads, buildings, and the environment around you gets torn apart to obfuscate the path forward. The living Limbo is an incredibly engaging game mechanic that allows for some unique level design. Furthermore, the enormous set pieces and action sequences are breathtaking.
The one big flaw with the level design is its overreliance on platforming. Devil May Cry games have always contained a few platforming sections, and they have always been the weakest parts of the games. DmC: Devil May Cry revolutionizes the platforming mechanics and actually makes these sections far more tolerable. Dante now has grappling-hook functions to bring platforms closer to him, or to launch himself towards platforms. Unfortunately, platforming sections are far too common and quickly become a nuisance. Down time is always needed between high-octane action sections, but a large portion of this game is just jumping between platforms. I’d estimate half of the game is spent platforming. This is unacceptable for a game that is primarily an action title.
The undeniable heart of any Devil May Cry title is the action. Not unlike the rest of the game, DmC: Devil May Cry changes many aspects to the classic formula. Admittedly, I am not very good at Devil May Cry games or combo-based fighting games in general. In previous titles I never tackled the highest difficulties and I barely scraped by. My end of mission scores were often As, Bs, or Cs; I rarely got an S-rank. Interestingly, I played DmC: Devil May Cry on the highest available default difficulty and received an S-rank or higher in every single mission.
In an attempt to reach a larger audience, the combat was undeniably simplified. There are no more alternative styles to play with and master. Weapons themselves have far less combos to learn and string together. The style meter no longer decreases unless you get hit. Essentially, every aspect of combat was dumbed down. It is incredibly easy to receive and maintain a high style ranking regardless of how skilled the player is. The move list has culled many combat techniques which drastically reduces the creative and stylish combos that could be performed. The combat is not necessarily bad, but it will be strangely simplified to returning fans of the series.
While the combat was made significantly easier, there were a few features that improved upon the established formula. The most obvious inclusion was the ability to hold down a button to change weapons. In the midst of combat holding down the left or right triggers will transform Dante’s weapon to an angel or demon weapon. This makes switching weapons during a fight remarkably smooth. Quickly swapping between Dante’s standard sword, angel weapons, and demon weapons is fluid and opens up possibilities for longer and more stylish combos. Additionally, Dante can pull enemies to himself or pull himself towards enemies. This added mobility allows the player to maintain the pace of the fight without ever having to slow down.
Other than the simplification, there are some other issues with the combat. With the accessibility of the angelic and demonic weapon variants, there were also corresponding enemies. These color-coded adversaries could only be damaged by their respective weapon types. Red enemies can only be hurt by demon weapons, blue enemies can only be hurt by angel weapons. This defeats the purpose of the ease of swapping weapons. It is meant to facilitate switching weapons mid-combo to create new combos, but instead you become limited to a single weapon. Worse still, these enemies would interrupt your combos and the flow of combat if struck with the wrong type of weapon. The color-coded enemies do nothing but halt the action.
Furthermore, DmC: Devil May Cry has no dedicated lock-on feature. This is an absolutely baffling decision for a 3D action game. It is a pain to try to focus on a single enemy as the game schizophrenically decides what target it wants to aim at. This is especially frustrating when dealing with the color-coded enemies, as it there is no reliable way to single them out and use the correct weapon. Dealing with flying enemies is similarly rage-inducing as getting the game to target them is a war of attrition. Lastly, Dante’s signature guns, Ebony & Ivory, have been substantially weakened. In prior games these guns would often be used for chip damage or to maintain a combo. Since you don’t need them to maintain combos anymore, they only serve as damage. Unfortunately, the damage they deal is pitiful.
Overall, DmC: Devil May Cry is not a strictly terrible game. It undoubtably has its shortcomings in gameplay and characterization. Realistically, the games biggest issues stem from the fact that it is a Devil May Cry game. There was a deep misunderstanding of the fanbase of these games as Capcom vied to gain traction in the west. This backfired spectacularly as DmC: Devil May Cry upset loyal fans and will permanently remain a stain on the legacy of the series. If it weren’t a Devil May Cry game, it would be a decent game. Unfortunately, it just left a sour taste in my mouth.