That part. The section in a video game that you remember with brief intensity and repulsion when thinking of playing it again. The Ashley escort missions in Resident Evil 4. The Fade from Dragon Age. Any sewer level. We all have our own examples, and for some reason, I associate this phenomenon with character action games most of all. Even absolute classics like Bayonetta have a few that parts, like the missile shmup or driving sections. Somehow, some way, Devil May Cry 5 completely lacks any such moments. Perfect pacing, amazing character balance, and a story that went just far enough to string me along make it one of the most enjoyable action titles I’ve ever played.
Let’s back up: Devil May Cry 5 has some big shoes to fill. DmC: Devil May Cry is still a sore spot for series fans, and was a major departure tonally from other games in the series. An attempt to appeal to Western audiences via outsourcing (to Ninja Theory) lead to some pretty serious audience backlash. So Hideaki Itsuno is back to try to rekindle the faith with a more traditional sequel to the much beloved Devil May Cry 4. If DmC is pop punk, Devil May Cry 5 is gothic post-rock: brooding, tempered, and groovy as hell.
Starting with the obvious: the combat is phenomenal, and I mean this equally for each of the three playable characters. Nero’s Devil Breakers, when treated as the disposable demon-deleters they are, are intensely satisfying to use. V’s summons, while a bit unwieldy at first, ended up being my favorite way to quickly liquify rooms of enemies. And of course, there’s Dante, who’s arsenal and moveset are so varied that if you visually mapped their possible combinations it would look like the roots of a mangrove tree. The cast is balanced across the entirety of the game such that you’re always being challenged. While I wished I had more time with each character consecutively, I felt like it was a good compromise to keep things fresh.
What struck me most while playing Devil May Cry 5 was how freakin’ good it looked. When I think “character action game,” I think of some well-animated action overlaid on some boring, textured box with some bloom and poorly modeled props thrown in for good measure. The flatness and “budget” feeling of similar games is completely gone here, and the RE Engine allows for beautifully rendered levels, each with diversity and interesting geometry abound. From swinging between broken buildings floating in a canal to traversing a Qliphoth-infested sewer (that doesn’t suck), a single level will take you to more diverse locales than like-minded titles do in entire acts. All in smokin’ sexy 60 frames per second.
Making your way through the game’s beefy story will introduce enemies at typical beats, new abilities right when you’re feeling wimpy, and bosses that challenge but never overwhelm. Things are held to tradition with Red Orbs being used to purchase upgrades, items, and even continues. Missions are structured typically, with a boss waiting at the end of each level. This is all to say there isn’t much fluff here, and it’s perfect. There’s enough innovation in the form of Nero’s temporary Devil Breakers and V’s summons to keep newcomers engaged and let veterans try their hand at mastering (and breaking) new systems.
A character like V in a series so known for backlash against drastic departures from its core philosophy was a… bold choice. I expected to think he was mostly silly, what with his poetry book always close by and Adam Driver cadence. What I got instead was an endearing weakling who just loves his animal friends and had me gushing at his dumb attempts at trying to be cool.
Playing as V was a highlight for me, and I never expected to be saying this but the way the team has handled a “ranged” brawler should set a new standard for similarly designed characters. Using familiars, V can attack enemies at range with a melee-combat cougar, a projectile-firing bird, and a giant blob that looks a bit like Mega Man’s Yellow Devil dipped in black goop.
Sadly, the goodwill I have for V is lost on the supporting cast. Besides Nico – the Southern-tinged gunsmith and constant source of hilarity – Trish and Lady feel like fanservice in every sense of the word. They serve almost no purpose to the overall plot and feel like they were thrown in out of obligation to check a box on the “sequel to DMC 4 list.” This isn’t to say their inclusion is a bad thing, I just wished they’d been given roles to justify it. At least Lady spends about a fourth of her screentime nude, I guess.
After clearing the game on “Devil Hunter,” aka “Normal mode,” I dipped into “Son of Sparda.” Rather than retreading ground, Devil May Cry 5 wastes no chance to increase replayability. Late game enemies are introduced into the mix from the start, and everything is re-balanced for your new abilities (which I won’t spoil here). You even collect snapshots of every uniquely defeated enemy for Nico’s van. Playing this difficulty completely dissuaded me from going back to lower ones, and I’m honestly a little worried not everyone will experience what I consider to be an objectively better version of an already amazing game.
Altogether, Devil May Cry 5 is more than a worthy sequel – it’s one of the best action games I’ve ever played. Extra modes, multiple characters with unique skills, and a plethora of difficulties are going to keep me, and many others, coming back for a long while. I admit to not being the most diehard DMC fan – the games largely passed me by – but for whatever the series holds next, I’m on board.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. A copy was provided by Capcom.
A character action game with three characters, all of which are unique and fun in their own right, is a crowning achievement in design. Beautiful, stylish, and with depth that I feel compelled to conquer, Devil May Cry 5 gives back what you put in.