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The problem is when Devil May Cry is at its best, it defies explanation. Sure you can try, and I’m going to for professional reasons. But half the game is “You have to see it to believe it” and the other half is “You have to play it to understand” and the two meet at the middle (albeit joined by some clunky loading screens) to create a relentlessly entertaining video game—one that’s self-confident, satisfying, and stylish as hell.
Imagine my surprise, that in the span of a year Capcom could make me a fan of first Monster Hunter, then Resident Evil, and now Devil May Cry. It’s an incredible run, by a company that a few years ago I would’ve said seemed listless.
In any case, this is the first Devil May Cry in over a decade—for fans, that is. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m a fan of Ninja Theory’s 2013 offshoot, DmC. But then, I was never a fan of the series prior to that point, and the controversy over the reboot largely passed me by. In any case, this is the long-absent sequel to 2008’s Devil May Cry 4.
Picking up with Dante and Nero a few years later, Devil May Cry 5 starts with the end of the world. A demon named Urizen has erected a Qliphoth in the middle of Red Grave City, a sort of bloodsucking tree that feasts on humanity. The Qliphoth has made Urizen so powerful he can even stand against Dante and Nero’s combined efforts, defeating them and plunging the world into darkness. Nero escapes though and seeks help from another demon, V. With Nero, V, and Dante combined, perhaps the threat can be averted.
Listen, by the time you hit the opening credits sequence you know that none of this really matters. I’m sure there are people devoted to the Devil May Cry lore and all its various intricacies, but as a non-fan I’m just here for a fun time, and Devil May Cry 5 is more than happy to deliver. Said credits sequence is one of the all-time greatest openings I’ve ever witnessed, with Nero and his gunsmith friend Nico flooring a van through Red Grave City. Suddenly, demons. Nero hangs out the window firing a revolver while Nico puts her cigarette out on a demon’s face. Then in slow motion we watch Nero leap through the window, flipping off cars and shooting his way through hordes of demons before slipping back through the van’s, all while Nico tries to light another cigarette and the song “Pull My Devil Trigger” blasts in the background.
See what I mean about defying description?
And it just keeps going. Every mission is book-ended by scenes so incredible, other games would be happy to have one or two of them. If a game’s quality can be measured by the number of memorable moments contained therein, Devil May Cry 5 is up near the top. It’s sometimes badass, sometimes hilarious, sometimes just silly, but always entertaining. Even V, who walks around quoting from a book of poetry so cheesy it sounds like songs I might’ve written for a high school girlfriend, goes through a remarkable character arc that had me invested in his character by a few hours in.
It’s tempting to call Devil May Cry 5 dumb, but it’s not. There’s real skill in pulling off an over-the-top action game without it feeling empty or generic, and Devil May Cry 5’s writing is some of the most deft I’ve seen since Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It’s cliche-ridden, sure, and predictable. But you always want to see what happens next.
“What happens next” is usually killing a bunch of demons, to be clear. Halfway through the review, and I’ve yet to talk about Devil May Cry’s combat—a sin, I’m sure. Suffice it to say, Devil May Cry 5 puts together an impressive triple-threat.
As I said, it’s up to Dante, Nero, and V to save the world. You’ll play as each character during the story—though it’s less freeform than it sounds. Two missions allow you your choice of character, but the rest are all locked to one. It’s pretty even as well, with each character taking approximately a third of the game’s 19 missions.
The trick is each fights differently. Dante is, well, Dante. He has swords, he has guns, and he’s pretty great at using both. As per usual, the trick is generally to catapult enemies into the air and then juggle them endlessly, thus avoiding their attacks and the attacks of other enemies below. But with Dante you’ve got a fair number of options, with his combat styles returning from Devil May Cry 4—Trickster, Royalguard, Gunslinger, and Swordmaster. These can be toggled on the fly using the D-pad, and each brings different advantages. The Trickster gives Dante dodge moves for instance, and lets him close gaps to airborne enemies, while Royalguard is focused on parrying.
Making matters even more complicated, these moves change depending on which weapons Dante has equipped. Sword? The Swordmaster style has Dante twirl his weapon, launching enemies into the air. The Balrog, which turns Dante into a boxer? There, the Swordmaster style causes Dante to break dance, spinning on his back and kicking enemies around him.
There are nigh-infinite options for combos, all with the goal of reaching that vaunted “SSS” ranking, or Smokin’ Sexy Style, which in turn helps you hit a higher rank for the level itself, which rewards more Red Orbs, which lets you unlock more moves, which helps you hit a higher rank next time, and so on.
It’s a fun loop, albeit one that benefits from playing in short bursts—I found two or three hours to be a nice sweet spot. Longer than that, and I found it hard to focus on combos effectively and usually fell back on brute-forcing fights, which defeats the whole point of playing this type of game.
Devil May Cry 5 does have some help though, in that you’ve got Nero and V along for the ride. Nero’s a fantastic character this time around, thanks to his new “Devil Breakers,” cybernetic arms he can swap out for new powers. The two basic ones are the Overture and the Gerbera, with the former giving him some electric attacks and the latter some much-needed mobility in the form of ballistic dodge moves. But there are weirder ones as well—Ragtime lets you slow time, Rawhide is a barbed whip, and so on. Devil Breakers also let Nero grapple onto enemies from afar, pulling either them or him in closer.
The catch: Nero can’t swap Devil Breakers on the fly. If he takes damage, the current Devil Breaker shatters and he equips the next one in his “Magazine.” Or you can purposefully shatter a Devil Breaker at any time to bring up the next. It’s a bit of a clumsy system, especially compared to Dante who can change weapons at any time, and I found myself wishing I could easily swap between the Gerbera and some of the more niche Devil Breakers. That said, there’s a lot of depth to the system and it made Nero probably my favorite character to control.
And then there’s V, the oddest of the group. V isn’t at all what you’d expect from a Devil May Cry. He’s a summoner, basically. He has three demon-pets: A vulture, a panther, and an enormous monster called the Nightmare. The panther has melee attacks, the vulture has ranged attacks, and your job as V is just to keep from getting hurt until you can deal the finishing blow. Also to keep your pets from getting hurt, as they can be temporarily downed—leaving V entirely defenseless.
It’s a weird system, because you’re not really controlling your summons. You can sort of aim them at an enemy with the lock-on system, but even then they’re prone to deviating from the plan and attacking whoever’s closest. But it’s nevertheless an interesting twist on the hack-and-slash, and feels incredibly satisfying when you get the hang of it. You can deal out some monstrous combos, especially when you summon Nightmare into the fray and it starts coating the arena in explosions and laser beams.
I also felt like V’s levels were doled out well. Every time I started to get a bit fatigued by Nero or Dante, there was a V level to break up the action with a slightly different pace. Though that does bring me to my one complaint about having three styles: Switching between them feels a bit haphazard. I can’t stress enough, they’re all very different. Sure, there are a few similarities—right bumper, hold back on the analog stick, and press “Y” is generally a launch move no matter which character you’re playing. But the way the characters move, the way they dodge, the optimal range for each, the combos, they’re all different and it takes some time to get back into the groove after a changeover. That’s doubly true in the late game. I didn’t play as Nero from mission 8 to mission 15, literally hours in between, and when I finally returned to him I’d basically forgotten all my earlier tactics. It can feel disorienting.
And if I’ve one more complaint, it’s the level design. Devil May Cry 4 was infamous for making you play through the levels as Nero, then play through them again (in reverse order) as Dante. Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t stoop to those lows at least, but there’s still less variety than I’d like. It starts strong, with some gorgeous (albeit generic) post-apocalyptic scenery—run-down subway stations and so forth. It ends strong as well, with some stunning setpieces towards the end.
In between it wears out its welcome though. For story reasons you end up in one particular environment for a looooong time, a sort-of H.R. Giger-esque demon lair with ribbed walls and sphincter doors. It’s impressive at first but the game keeps coming back to it and coming back to it, rarely adding anything new, and after a while this wondrous environment feels as played out as a first-person shooter set in a shipping warehouse or something.
The absolute nadir is Mission 13, “Three Warriors,” which is essentially six or seven empty and round rooms, connected by holes in the floor. You enter, you kill every enemy, you drop through the floor, repeat for about 20 minutes, and it’s over. There’s not even a boss fight at the end. It’s completely forgettable, and I have to wonder if it’s included only because it’s one of the two missions where you can actually choose which character to play as.
Ninja Theory’s reboot was polarizing, but if there’s any lesson I wish Devil May Cry 5 had learned from DmC, it’s that tightly-focused combat arenas can still be enhanced by being placed within inspired and creative levels. DmC’s hyper-colorful style wouldn’t really mesh with Devil May Cry 5’s tone, but there’s a best-of-both-worlds somewhere in the middle, I think.
It’s one of the rare missteps though in an otherwise excellent game. Load times could be tightened up. It’s frustrating that there’s a load time before and after pretty much every cutscene, as well as every time you go into the upgrade menu. But again, I feel like I’m reaching for small flaws here in a game that nails the majority of the experience. There are so many moments I can’t wait to see people share, see videos and GIFs crop up in the days ahead. So many moments I’ve tried to avoid spoiling here, even though they’d help make the case why you should play Devil May Cry 5.
But as I said: It really is a case of needs-to-be-seen. Like Asura’s Wrath, like Revengeance, Devil May Cry 5 is a game that delights in setting the bar high up front and then continually one-upping itself until, 10 hours later, you can finally catch your breath.