Devil May Cry 5 is full of cool new ideas. Back in the hands of Capcom’s internal studios after interim caretakers Ninja Theory divided opinion with 2013’s 2edgy4u DmC: Devil May Cry, the series has never looked in better shape. Capcom has clearly listened to fan feedback from the doomed reboot and gone full circle, making a game set later in the canon than any other Devil May Cry game to date.
By moving the timeline forward, Capcom has been able to bring a wholly new character into the frame – V. The newcomer (the third playable character in the game after Dante and Nero) is a complete breath of fresh air for the series and operates unlike anyone we’ve ever played with in a character action game before.
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In the past, dual protagonists Dante and Nero have gone through their fair share of arms – both figurative and literal. Dante has had weapons built around guitars, gauntlets, suitcases, nunchaku, and more besides, all giving him different kinds of mobility and combat choices through five previous games. Mixing up firearms and melee, Dante is a solid generalist who’s main draw is letting players adapt to enemy deployments and tactics on the fly.
Nero – who has only appeared in one previous entry – changed up the game with his Devil Bringer arm which allowed him to zip to enemies or bring them to him, depending on their heft and weight. He could grab enemies and use them as shields to absorb blows, disarm creatures by snatching items off them… even break attacks in progress by using his Buster uppercut at the right time.
So, in its sixth entry, Devil May Cry needed to do something new. It needed to introduce a moveset that sat between Dante’s rushdown approach to combat and Nero’s zone control setup… better yet, Capcom could introduce a whole new character.
A new fighter joins the fray
Enter V. The awkwardly named, poetry-reciting emo is accompanied by two familiars in battle: a bird and a panther. These characters are controller by the two face buttons that correspond to Dante or Nero’s weapon and firearm attacks, and can be mixed up with nudges of the directional stick as you input your moves.
So far, so familiar (no pun intended). But what makes V so different is that he needs to be kept out of the action – he has very little offensive capability himself. Hitting Circle/B will have him finish off enemies, but otherwise he’s a commander – sitting behind the front lines, directing his magical companions to do his dirty work for him.
Anyone that’s ever played a 2D fighter will feel immediately at home with V: he’s reminiscent of Ferra/Torr in Mortal Kombat X, Ken and his dog Konomaru in Persona 4 Arena, or Carl Clover from the BlazBlue series. Android 17/18 in Dragon Ball FighterZ and the relationship between character and Stand in JoJo’s fighting games cover this idea, too. Certain corners of the internet call these ‘dividual’ characters: fighters that need you to think of spacing and setup for two on-screen sprites, rather than one.
It’s no surprise, then, that the game director in charge of Devil May Cry 5 - Hideaki Itsuno – has history with 2D fighting games, cutting his teeth as a designer on Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior’s Dream and going on to work on Street Fighter III, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Rival Schools – eventually directing Capcom vs SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001 and Darkstalkers.
“I have never really thought about that, but yes - there’s definitely something to it!” laughs Itsuno when we ask if his experience working on these games - especially with ‘dividual’ characters – has influenced the design and feel of V in Devil May Cry 5.
“It’s especially true in the thinking behind execution of the spacing…” He pauses for a second, turns to DmC 5's producer Matt Walker and laughs. “You know in SNK’s Samurai Shodown, you had Galford his dog, Poppy, and Poppy would do its own thing… [to control that character properly], you had to understand what the spacing is, and be aware [of your button presses]. So yeah, there’s absolutely an element of that coming into Devil May Cry 5 and the kinds of 3D action games I make.”
Itsuno laughs again, points at us, and shouts “GO POPPY!” to emphasise the point. Walker jumps in, adding, “I’ve always really loved those kinds of mechanics myself, too. I think even looking into Dante and his Royal Guard… you can see that kind-of parry which, you could probably say, comes from Street Fighter III and that massive risk/reward dynamic you’ve got going on in there."
“Incorporating those escape and evade mechanics in the game is a tricky thing to do - yes, it can be hard to pull of because you have to know the timing, you have to know the moves – but if you can pull it off and you’re at an advantage… there’s really no other feeling like it.”
DmC is back and better than ever
And that’s particularly true of V. Whilst tricky at first, V really comes into his own as you nail the spacing, rhythm and combo potential of his attacks – it's a rhythm fighting game veterans know all too well. With streaks of lightning or blasts of energy, the bird can crowd control mobs whilst the panther rips into armoured foes. Whether you’re charging attacks on the ground whilst interrupting enemies on high, or using the panther to occupy heavy-hitters whilst you get the bird’s area-of-effect blast ready to go, V is – instantly – a Devil May Cry classic in his own right.
The creatures V summons sort-of remind us of Bayonetta and her hair-powered demons: they’re silky smooth, sleek and black (and don’t abide to the laws of physics). When we asked Itsuno if he’d taken any inspiration from the half-sibling series, he shook his head.
“No, I’ve not really taken any inspiration from Bayonetta,” he explains. “In fact, it’s interesting. This project is a Devil May Cry game, right? That’s what it needs to be first and foremost, so that’s what I focussed on. In fact, I’ve never even played a Bayonetta game!”
We found that surprising. The gameplay in Devil May Cry 5 feels so much pacier and immediate compared to other numbered entries in the series. This is the first game in the series to be built using the RE Engine – the power house toolkit that has powered the brilliant Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2 Remake – so perhaps it's no surprise that the game feels a little different. Itsuno, however, believes that the game is closest to Devil May Cry 4 in terms of overall feel – that's the foundation that the programming team worked from when it took to building the first PS4/Xbox One-era game in the series.
“We based the balance and the speed of the combat on Devil May Cry 4, as it happens, so we don’t feel the combat in itself is much quicker than [other Devil May Cry games]," Itsuno tells us. “However, we have rethought what happens between battles, and the process of going from battle to battle is something we’ve wanted to improve. So there’s more going on in-between fights now, and no area is in the game without purpose. There’s a purpose to everything you see in every level. Perhaps that makes the whole game feel slightly better-paced – even during the battles. I think it creates better momentum overall.”
He’s right. From what we've seen of it so far, the flow in Devil May Cry 5 works better than any other Devil May Cry game that has come before it. There are still puzzles, there are still sadistically hidden orbs and secret levels to sniff out, and there are still angsty, raucous cutscenes to punctuate all of the action – all of it with that punky energy the series has become iconic for.
In leveraging the technicality of fighting game systems and planting those bones into the body of the most stylish 3D action game out there, Capcom has bottled lightning here. Devil May Cry 5 definitely has the most to offer core players out of all the games in the series to date, and we don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest it could be the most fun we’re going to have from an action game in 2019.
Fighting game fanatics, action game aficionados, Devil May Cry stans, and anyone that just likes over-the-top, joyous good fun… brace yourselves. You’re in for the ride of a generation.
Devil May Cry 5 is out on March 8 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.