Review: Devil May Cry V (2019)
Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Released March 8, 2019.
Devil May Cry V (2019) is the latest numbered installment in Capcom’s long-running series. It follows three demon hunters’ (Dante, Nero, and V) attempts to bring down a new threat: the faceless Urizen. DMCV is another hit for Capcom, following acclaimed titles like Monster Hunter World (2018) and Resident Evil 2 Remake (2019). In a landscape of open-world, cinematic games and monetized multiplayer thirst-traps, DMCV favors linear levels, exuberant spectacle, snappy mechanics, and infectious replay value. It’s all about over-the-top action, with the level designs acting as the coloring book to DMCV’s many weaponized crayons and serrated pencils.
Nero’s Punchline Devil Breaker
You don’t play Devil May Cry (DMC) games for their stories, but rather their fluid gameplay. DMCV features three playable characters, each with different playstyles and abilities. Beyond sword and gun, Nero uses “devil breakers,” prosthetic arms that grant him special abilities. The Punchline breaker, for instance, gives Nero the ability to fire his robotic arm at enemies, juggling them in the air; or, the fist can be detached and used as a hoverboard. Yeah. One breaker whips the enemy, another slows time. What’s more is that devil breakers are consumable and will “break” if Nero is hit while using them. Breakers can be purposefully exploded to deal high damage and access the next breaker from the inventory (you see, Breakers are slotted like weapons, but can’t be manually switched). That the guy with self-destructing arms is the most vanilla of the bunch only underscores the zaniness at hand.
Image of V
V inverts the aggression that animates the series. Rather than attack enemies head-on, he relies on three demonic familiars—a shapeshifting panther, talking bird, and rock golem—to fight for him. Looking like a mix of Hot Topic designer and street magician, V ambles the battlefield in black leather, perfunctorily quoting the poetry of William Blake while commanding his familiars. (Reading poetry builds V’s “devil trigger,” which summons the golem. LeVar Burton would be proud.) V compensates for his physical frailty with an elaborate dodge system that keeps him out of the fray. The familiars are unable to kill enemies, however, and this is V’s call-to-action. When an enemy goes into a weakened state, V teleports to it, finishing it with a smack from his cane. While Nero and Dante keep the tradition of in-your-face combos, V emphasizes strategic spacing.
Dante’s combat options are promiscuous. He can switch guns mid-combo, as well as swords. But Dante’s swords are not just swords, nor are his guns just guns. One of his melee weapons is a demonic motorcycle that can trample enemies under its wheels. The motorcycle can also be split in half and dual-wielded like motorized scythes. Dante’s classic twin pistols, Ebony and Ivory, return with wild new additions like the Dr. Faust—a projectile cowboy hat that wagers upgrade materials for increased resource drops. On top of this, Dante has four styles—Gunslinger, Trickster, Royal Guard, and Swordmaster—that can be changed at will, each with its own assortment of special moves, offensive/defensive capabilities, and upgrade paths. It’s really all a bit much (for me), and I’ve only scratched the surface.
These three characters can be customized with red orbs: DMCV’s in-game currency. You can purchase red orbs through microtransactions, but doing so isn’t necessary, as they drop regularly from enemies and environments. Customization expands the characters’ arsenals, giving them new ways to eviscerate their demonic adversaries. You’ll fight some gigantic and fantastically designed bosses, with some being tailored more to certain characters and approaches. The mob enemies are grotesque, consisting of writhing basilisks, undead knights, and various lizards, toads, and things with too many eyeballs. As is essential in all DMC games, stylish destruction nets better scores, with “Smokin’ Sexy Style!” (SSS) representing the gold standard of good play.
The story of DMCV is a hot ass mess of Shōnen histrionics, dudebro misogyny, and pseudo-theological nonsense. Its plot beats are window dressing for the action, connecting one battle to the next. Motion captured performances and facial animations are truly gorgeous (thank you RE Engine), but poor dialogue undercuts them. Some of this is B-movie “good” and to be expected of a DMC game. Some is straight-up cringeworthy.
V enlists Dante and Nero to defeat Urizen, a powerful demon who wants to end the world with his demonic tree. Urizen defeats the heroes in the beginning of the game, leaving them to regroup and get strong. Nero works closely with Nico, a freewheeling engineer with a hyperbolic southern accent. Nico is the only decently fleshed-out female character in the game, as she builds Nero’s devil breakers and drives the hell out of a rusty old van. When you call Nico during missions, she bursts onto the scene in style. Lady and Trish, on the other hand, are put forth as female bodies to be rescued and ogled (in that order). This is remiss, especially considering that these characters had bigger roles in previous DMC games. Outside of the supporting cast, the triumvirate of V, Nero, and Dante offer edgy one-liners and sword-crossing dogfights. At best, the character designs are rich in cosplay possibilities. DMCV is dumb—sometimes innocuously so, other times more cynically.
That said, DMCV is one of the best arcade games you’ll play this year. It’s a beat-em-up with the depth of the best fighting games, and with levels that shuttle you to fight arena after fight arena. The robust particle effects, beautiful blood-splatter, and exquisite animations are presented without frame drops on premium consoles and PC. It has the “hardcore” feel of an arcade game, as well as the assumptions about masculinity and mastery that pervade that space. Still, fans of action games like Bayonetta and Nier Automata should check this out.