Welcome to Diary of a Hermit, a new column about games I should have played already, but haven’t! Today I’m going to talk about Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening.
HERMIT-FRIENDLY version! For people who don’t like spoilers or reading:
Devil May Cry 3 is a hardcore, fast-paced, 3D beat-em-up action game about a white-haired guy named Dante who beats the shit out of monsters because it’s cool. Featuring over-the-top action and challenging, tightly-designed gameplay, this game is a must-play for game designers interested in the brawler genre. Just… trust me on this one. That said, this game comes from the old-school philosophy of “harder is always better”, and is downright infuriatingly difficult at times. If you are easily discouraged, you may miss out on some of the best that the game has to offer. It’s a shame that Devil May Cry 3 can be too hardcore for its own good, but overall it’s worth it.
The following is for NON-HERMITS! This article may contain SPOILERS!
Devil May Cry 3 is actually one of Mike’s favorite games, and yet somehow I still haven’t played it, so I decided to start our column here. However, I have played Bayonetta, which, for those of you who don’t know, is Hideki Kamiya’s latest game and spiritual successor to the Devil May Cry series. So, in order to keep up proper hermit etiquette, I’m going to go ahead and compare Devil May Cry 3 to the game that came after it to see how it stacks up here in the high-tech future-land of 2012 AD.
An Emotionally-Charged Epic.
To start off, let’s ask an important question: Just what is Devil May Cry 3 about? I’ve never really gotten much exposure to the Devil May Cry series here in my cave, so I had the pleasure of discovering the answer to this question for myself. This game has quite a story, so I’ll summarize it for you.
Dante was minding his own business (literally, he had just set up shop in a new place, to do… something). He was about to eat a fresh, hot, delicious pizza, when suddenly demons! Dozens of them! They started trashing up the place, and it was all Dante could do to beat the ever-loving shit out of them while saving his pizza and looking awesome simultaneously. Through an incredible display of swordsmanship, acrobatics, and impossible physics, he beats them all back without a scratch… on him or the pizza.
Then out of nowhere, another demon comes and steps on the pizza.
“OH HELL NO!” says Dante (or something like that), and proceeds to rip this demon about seventy new assholes. Then he sees it: a massive tower rising out of the ground right in front of his new office. Obviously this is where the demons were coming from, so he realizes what he must do: find the bastard responsible for the assassination of his pizza, and slap him upside the head with a one-way ticket back to the hell he came from!
Along the way the saucy, red-coated Dante will go head-to-head with a creepy guy with the complexion of burnt dough, a bazooka-toting girl wearing pepperoni-red boots, and his evil twin brother, Vergil. As vergil is wearing blue, and there is nothing blue about pizza, I can only assume he is the Anti-Pizza, and therefore stands for everything Dante doesn’t stand for. The fiend.
Does that sound a little bit too ridiculous? That’s okay, the real story isn’t much more sensible than all this pizza nonsense. Those of you who have played Bayonetta will know that these types of games really don’t waste much time on stuff that doesn’t directly involve the main character smacking and slicing stuff up. When it comes to Devil May Cry 3 the real stars of the show are Dante and his blades. And boy do they kick ass.
Devil May Cry 3 is all about attitude, and Dante, as a character, is basically the personification of this attitude, and of Devil May Cry as a game. He’s full of himself, he’s a jackass to pretty much everyone he meets, and he has the fighting skills to back up his cocky bullshit. Devil May Cry is all of these things. It’s full of itself, because it constantly bombards you with crazy, over-the-top action, never apologizing for its lack of grounding or realism. The game is a jackass to you, because not only is the game quite challenging throughout, but as soon as Dante meets a huge, scary boss monster, he’ll start mouthing off. This means that, once the boss is good and pissed at Dante, you resume control, and the monster will take out his anger on you, the player. And, like Dante, the game has the top-notch beat-em-up game mechanics to back up all its craziness.
Alright, that’s enough about the aesthetics for now. How does it play? Damn fine, thank you very much. The control scheme, while obtuse for some advanced maneuvers, is consistent enough to make the game feel natural once you get the hang of it. The face buttons give you pretty much the same actions no matter what weapons you have equipped; there’s a button for jumping and dodging, one for shooting guns, one for melee weapons, and a special ‘style’ button, which is tied to the “Style” system.
Dante’s “Styles”, which can be changed before missions and at special places in-game, alter the special ability that the ‘style’ button triggers. If Dante is in Trickster mode, the ‘style’ button will make him perform a swift dodge. Swordmaster mode allows Dante to perform a whole new set of melee moves and combos, Royalguard lets you block attacks, etc. It ends up feeling like you’re equipping one superpower at any given time, which is awesome, and the fact that you can level up your weapons and styles over the course of the game is also rewarding.
This brings me to the main difference between Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. While Bayonetta certainly feels similar, Devil May Cry is actually much more about problem-solving than its modern cousin. You could hack, slash, and button-mash your way through Bayonetta for the most part, so long as you kept an eye on the enemy and dodged their attacks with good timing. This means that, while Bayonetta’s gameplay is mostly about determining how you want to fight, Devil May Cry 3 is about determining how you should fight.
If you go into a Devil May Cry boss fight the way Bayonetta goes into a boss fight, swinging your sword like a maniac, and dodging whenever you hear them yell out their next attack, you’ll find that the game can’t quite keep up with your ninja reflexes. Every action in this game takes a certain amount of time, and players must be more predictive and careful about what attacks they choose and when, lest they get caught in the middle of a combo, and wind up taking a massive amount of damage. As a result, boss fights require much closer study of their behavioral patterns and the player must often use both logic and creativity to overcome them. Most of the time this works quite well, and when it does it’s exhilarating.
In general the enemies are quite well-designed from a gameplay standpoint. Visually some types of enemies can get a bit lost in the shuffle of creepy scythe-wielding baddies, but their moves and the combinations of enemies you encounter can be very clever, engaging the player in surprisingly tactical combat scenarios. This is exhibited at a genius level late in the game when Dante finds himself on a chessboard, fighting an army of chess piece-themed enemies. It’s nothing short of a revelation, the way this game managed to boil its own mechanics down to their very essence, and illustrate them by adapting the mechanics of chess to a 3D beat-em-up action game. This encounter is easily the best lesson in beat-em-up game mechanics I’ve ever seen, and any game designer with any interest in the genre MUST see this battle for themselves.
Unfortunately nothing lasts forever, and eventually all the explosive attitude of the game kind of peters out for a while. There’s a plot twist about ⅔ of the way into the story, after which the tone of the game changes. I found this disappointing, as Dante just seemed awkwardly tame for a while after that point, not to mention Jester’s crazy antics disappear entirely. Devil May Cry 3 works hard to keep you on a demon-killing high, but the later parts of the game are a bit of a buzzkill, and so it’s during this time that the game’s flaws become more noticeable.
While Devil May Cry 3’s emphasis on problem solving makes the game more challenging and tactical, the execution can sometimes be described as a misfire. In order to force you to solve combat-based problems, the game will frequently give bosses powerful moves while giving you very few good ways to deal with them. Each boss is a set of problems, and the solutions to them can be oddly specific, and God help you if you don’t figure them out.
One boss in particular that bothered me was Beowulf, a giant… thing that likes to smash Dante a lot. I had found that going in close and dodging his swings carefully was effective, but only as long as he wasn’t moving. Once he became mobile, I found the safest thing to do was to pour bullets into him while keeping out of the way of his ranged attacks, until he decided to park himself near me again. However, once his health is low, he performs an attack in which he sprouts angel wings and throws a bunch of his feathers at Dante, causing a massive amount of damage. I was using the Trickster Style, so I figured that the special dodge move would be a good way to avoid this attack, but no. Nope. I could find literally no way to avoid that attack once he decided to use it. The only way I survived was by leaving the battle, equipping the Royalguard Style, and using the special block to prevent damage. It was very jarring to have to change my entire style of play for this boss because of exactly one of his attacks. The game does this from time to time, making some of your moves completely useless to force you to fight the boss the way you’re ‘supposed to’ fight it, and there’s a fine line between a challenging puzzle and a bothersome roadblock.
Additionally, the pacing of the action can be more of a pain than it should be. When Dante has finished slicing an enemy, and won’t dodge because he still has another fraction of a second of recovery time, it’s hard to not feel like the game is just being arbitrarily unresponsive. This probably sounds like a small gripe, but when you’re up against one of those bosses with very specific patterns, and it looks like Dante’s ready to jump, but he won’t jump, it can be infuriating and kind of ruins the magic. To be fair, this is less a game design issue and more a feedback issue, in that Dante should look more like he’s recovering when he’s still recovering. This is exacerbated when enemies are designed to perform combos on you.
Combos? In My Single Player Brawler?
I can hear the fighting game fans out there groaning, and I know this isn’t an unusual thing, but bear with me. I’m not opposed to combos as a mechanic, I’m just not a fan of the execution of that mechanic here. You see, the way combos work is by rewarding a player with extra ‘free’ attacks when they create or take advantage of an opening in combat. However, when a player is the victim of a combo attack, they are forced to sit there and take the abuse because the game prevents them from escaping.
This is not fun.
Now, this works in fighting games because combo systems are an incentive to encourage players to make riskier moves when fighting another human opponent, and well-matched players will take turns trading blows and combos. In a game like Devil May Cry 3, however, there is no human opponent. This means, that, while delivering a combo is fun for the player, receiving a combo is fun for nobody. Not a living soul is having fun. I understand the theory behind it: that the player should be multi-punished if they leave themselves open for a nasty attack, but I never felt that the extra punishment added to the experience, regular punishment should have done just fine.
But Wait! There’s More of the Same!
So, finally managed to kill a boss you really don’t like? Glad you can get back to the fun part of the game? Well, that’s too bad, because this game has a mandatory boss rush segment, where you must fight (almost) all the bosses again, but harder! So these complaints that I’ve been making about the unfun bosses: make them double. Maybe these were sort of standard back in 2005, but I, for one, don’t miss them. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with fighting bosses again for challenge, but it’s stupid that I should have to get stuck in the story because of a boss I’ve already defeated and hate fighting. Unless they’re bringing something new to the table, boss rushes should be kept aside for a special challenge mode.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I were not to mention the worst offender of the bosses: the final fight with Vergil. Now, I’ve been playing video games a long time, so obviously I recognize that the final boss is supposed to be the most challenging, or at least the most intimidating, but Vergil takes it too far. He’s supposed to be a means of having Dante fight himself, and so he can combo, he can dodge, he can even use Dante’s “Devil Trigger” ability, where he becomes faster, more powerful, and regenerates health.
This wouldn’t even be a problem, except that Vergil does everything Dante can do times three. While Dante can (and actually needs to) perform combos on Vergil, the evil twin frequently counters Dante’s efforts with his own combos. Dante can dodge, but even with a fully leveled-up Trickster Style, Vergil is able to warp to Dante’s position whenever he feels like it. While Dante can use Devil Trigger for about 15 to 20 seconds, it seems like Vergil’s Devil Trigger wears off whenever he gets bored of regenerating health. Vergil leaves very few openings, to the point that it feels like he’s just going easy on you whenever you get a chance to smack him around. I wouldn’t be surprised to find players rage-quitting at the very end. I admit, I almost did myself.
Argh! Phew. Seriously, Though, It’s a Good Game.
I know I’ve talked a lot about how frustrating Devil May Cry 3 can be, but believe me when I say that it’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t blame you for not making it all the way through, but the experience is an incredibly rewarding one. At its best, Devil May Cry 3 will make you feel smart, it will make you feel badass, and it will make you see just what video game brawling is all about. Game designers especially can’t afford to miss this one. Just like Dante, Devil May Cry 3 can be a pain in the ass to everyone it meets, but it’s one hell of a stylish bastard.
I’m rating this game 6/8 slices of pizza. It’s too cheesy and delicious to resist, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the last two slices, and passed out from food exhaustion. That, and I still like Bayonetta better.
MASTER MIKE SAYS: I’ve played this game through Dante Must Die mode with both Vergil and Dante. Adam is a big baby. With diapers.
Thanks for reading! In our next episode, I will join Zidane and his band of merry outlaws as they desperately try to escape the hideous visage of Queen Brahne, in Final Fantasy IX!Devil May Cry 3 is playable on PlayStation 2 and PC. It has also been released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of the Devil May Cry HD Collection. Played the PlayStation 2 version (Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening Special Edition) for approximately 23 hours. Completed the story on Normal difficulty, and played around with Vergil mode for a bit.