Sunday, October 31, 2010

Devil May Cry - Or Just Really Piss You Off

I began playing Devil May Cry almost as soon as I beat Final Fantasy XII.  That was almost three weeks ago.  So what's the deal?  Did it take me 100 hours to beat the game?  No, by the time I hit the final save I was at just under 7 and a half, which means if you count continues I probably put 9, maybe 10 hours into the whole thing.  I can see how people could easily run through the entire game in 3 or 4.

The problem was that I'd play for about 20 minutes at a time, get frustrated, and quit.  A few days later I'd suck it up and come back.

This is known as the Ross Perot method.
Initially, I genuinely hated this game.  It seemed to me it was way too hard, way too cheap, and way too difficult to control.  Coming off of my last action game experience, God of War III, this seemed amateurish by comparison.  When I got stuck on the first fight against Phantom, I was ready to just call this one not worth it and give up.

Then, the game made me angry.

At which point it grew considerably less fond of me.
In some paroxysm of mouth-frothing fury and insane determination, my brain clicked into "ruthless slaughter" mode.  A few minutes later, Phantom was dissolving into a puddle of molten rock and scorpion goo.  And I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  I've played plenty of video games and fought some pretty challenging fights, but the formula Devil May Cry has worked out makes them just hard enough without being impossible to give a rush of achievement after you butcher the big bad guys.  That initial surge kept me going until the next time I got stuck.  The pattern began to repeat itself until the fits of anger were gone, replaced by a cold, steely-eyed calculation.  Sure, I'd still swear and shake my controller, but when I tried again after a loss I'd come back and react faster, anticipate more, aim more precisely. 

It was impossible to deny what was happening.  By relentlessly tormenting me, Devil May Cry was making me a better game player.

This philosophy is not without precedent.
It was after this realization that I sat down to really think about what the pros and cons of this game are. 


Devil May Cry is one of the most challenging games I have played in recent memory.  Yet as frustrating as it was to start getting into, once I got the hang of it I began to appreciate the difficulty.  This game was not going to coddle me or throw me a break.  After enough fits of rage following a death at the hands of some normal enemy or because the boss was too hard, I would come back to the same fight and struggle through it.  Then later I'd beat it with ease.  By the final time I fought Phantom, I had his tactics and attacks so memorized that I only took one or two hits through the entire fight. 

This is what a bitch looks like.
So as much as I initially hated to try and find anything right with this game, I had to admit; it was making me better at playing video games.  The difficulty is a hurdle, and while running a hurdle race isn't fun, it certainly gives a sense of accomplishment after you finish it. 

By the end, I admit that I liked it - I liked the challenge, I relished the chance to get better.  I also was able to talk with other people who'd survived the DMC challenge and had their own thoughts on the matter.  Initially, I thought I could play this game like I would God of War, and when it became evident this would not be as forgiving, I started thinking it should be approached like a Castlevania title.  That wasn't quite right either, nor was the idea that it could be compared accurately to another Capcom release, Resident Evil.  After enough discussion, however, it became clear to me that Devil May Cry was more akin to a fighting game than anything else (except for the places where it tries to be a shooter).  The game is all about quick hits, combos, dodging and blocking, and not letting your target hit you back.  Now, I suck at fighting games, but once I started approaching it like this, things came to me a lot easier.

Attempting to play it like this met with only moderate success.
On another note, as dated as it might be now, years after the release, the violence you can inflict in Devil May Cry is greatly satisfying.  It's like the developers knew they were making a bitch of a game to throw at you, so they decided to reward players for their patience with increasingly complex ways to make things bleed.  There's one enemy that's a ghost with a scythe, floating always just out of reach, forcing you to use your guns to hit it.  This can lead to several minutes of annoyance when all you've got is a set of handguns or a shotgun.  When you can let the thing get in close and then blow its face in with a grenade launcher, the maniacal laughter of satisfaction is sure to follow.

So while it makes you want to tear your hair out at times, it simultaneously rewards you for doing well.  I can appreciate that.


The controls in this game are not ideal.  They're far from the intuitive one-touch controls other games had been offering me before this.  It's not that they don't make sense - after a few hours with the game you can do pretty much everything by reflex - it's that they don't often respond quickly enough to make a difference.  When I'm furiously ordering Dante to turn around and deal with the ghost behind him that's almost dead and he insists on turning back around immediately to fight a different one, there's a problem.  Devil Mode is great with Ifrit, which you can only use at the hand-to-hand range, but trying to aim your long-distance attacks is inaccurate and often a waste of the precious Devil Meter mode.

Do not conserve this, it makes the game so much easier.
 Beyond that, or perhaps as an extension of that, there's a gross discrepancy between the amount of damage Dante can dole out and what he can take in return.  When the normal enemies you have to plow through to get to the boss are slicing off significant chunks of your health with every hit, the game is a little cheap.  If the controls were smoother, this would not be such an issue.  As it is, when Dante is wailing on one enemy and I'm trying to turn him around to fight the one throwing knives at him and he just won't do it, the fact that the knife-thrower is taking off a tenth of his health bar in one hit is upsetting.

There's a fine line between hard and stupid, and Devil May Cry toes that line more than once.


The worst part about this game is the camera.  It doesn't rotate quickly, it often lets enemies hide out of your range of vision, and won't follow the things you're trying to hit.  When you're in a fighting game, or 3D platformer as this tries to be, seeing shit is pretty damn important.  Nothing frustrated me more, in the final estimation, than the god-awful camera angles this game is saddled with.  Playing Devil May Cry is like, at times, trying to shoot something behind you with only your passenger side mirror as a targeting system.

Objects in mirror may be nowhere fucking near where you think they are.

But besides that element, which obviously I got over since I beat the game, there's the plot.  I won't harp on this because it's evident to everybody.

This story is stupid.  The voice acting is stupid.  A lot of this game that isn't the combat is stupid.


Griffon, a boss that I enjoyed a lot, goes down and with his last breath, begs the big bad guy, Mundus, to give him enough power to strike down Dante.  Mundus does indeed show up, and uses his power to fry Griffon instead.  Why doesn't he just evaporate Dante? Usually when the bad guy strings the hero along towards confrontation, it's because they want them to inadvertently do something which will lead to them obtaining their ultimate goal.  No point in the game offers this as an explanation for Mundus's actions - he can apparently obliterate anything on the island at any time, but just chooses to let Dante keep getting closer to him.

Also, after Griffon dies, Dante gets angry at Mundus for killing his own servants.  Dante!  This guy called on Mundus because he wanted to kill you.  Mundus just saved your life.  I know Griffon was the most enjoyable boss (varied attacks and long-range battling made it more than just timing and pattern recognition like with Phantom or Nelo Angelo) but seriously, you fought him three times.  That's not enough contact to develop Stockholm Syndrome.

"He's just misunderstood," thinks Dante.  "He needs my help."
And, major spoiler ahead -

Nelo Angelo, the demonic version of Dante, turns out to be none other than his long-lost brother Virgil, whom he thought had been dead this whole time.  This is made evident only after Dante has dealt Nelo Angelo the final blow.

And they never talk about it.

"That's weird, the amulet the guy I just killed was carrying belonged 
to my brother, whom I thought was dead.  What a crazy coincidence!"

I could go on.  Let's not get into the absurdity of the opening sequence or the painful voice acting towards the end.

Alright, so maybe I harped a little.

In the end, Devil May Cry did win me over.  I'm glad I played it, and I do intend to continue on to play the other games in the series now.  Also, after I finish these, I might just pick up God of War again and see how badly I destroy it after having this as a sparring partner.

Until next time, keep playing.


Gay Gardener said...

Must say, you summed up DMC perfectly in your review of it. I have always felt the same way about it. DMC 2 is worse with gameplay in my opinion, but 3 is pretty good.

David Pratt said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! I'm playing DMC 2 now, I'm looking forward to getting into 3, which everyone tells me is the good one.

Ayn said...

"Trish, Devils never cry!"