When this game was initially released, it passed me by. When the sequel came out, I was more aware of it, but I don't remember biting. When the sequel to that came out, which is apparently a prequel to this, I think it's safe to say that I was definitely on board with Devil May Cry as a concept, and hopelessly inept at playing it.
Because I did play it. At some point, I owned Devil May Cry, and potentially DMC2 and/or DMC3, but I barely got into any of them owing to my inability to grasp their gameplay. I wanted to see more, but couldn't, so didn't.
Fast forward to the present and Devil May Cry 5 is showing itself off, and still, I sit here looking at the series, rather than playing it. In some form or other, I own most of these games. I've clearly not got a clue what it means to 'game', and must actually be nothing more than a collector.
Let's change that. Let's fire up the PS2 with Devil May Cry and start from the beginning.
Oh, and in case you need warning:
Where have I seen that before?
Huh. Guess I sold my original DMC at some point and replaced it with a Trial Edition that came bundled with Resident Evil: Code Veronica X. Because that makes sense. Good job, me.
I suppose we can at least use this to see what DMC was like before release, assuming it was based on a pre-release version of the game.
Our handful of missions starts with Mission 2, with a clear objective: Open the door. I'm damn good at opening doors - it's the whole 'look stylish while wiping out demons' thing that I'm not too hot on.
You'll have to squint to see it in these blurry screenshots (I really ought to go through the emulation settings with a fine-toothed comb one of these days, and actually make my life easier), but DMC is all about the swagger. You play as Dante, a devil hunter, making sure the return of the big bad Mundus doesn't go according to plan, thus saving the world like every other video game protagonist.
Only Dante does so in style (he's supposed to, at least. I'm not the most stylish here, clearly). His move set is mapped primarily to Triangle for the use of his rather large sword, Alastor, and R1 and Square for his iconic dual-wielded pistols, Ebony and Ivory, and with the game split into separate missions, you're scored for each section based on how cool you were to look at.
This Trial Edition doesn't, but the main game does, and mixing up attacks to dunk on your opponents looks fantastic when the controller is in the right pair of hands. In mine, it's just a lot of basic combos and spamming bullets, but it feels pretty good.
What doesn't feel right is fighting with the camera, against opponents you can't see clearly, who can even hit you from off-screen, which is always fun...
Devil May Cry uses 3D environments but with a fixed(ish) camera, like Resident Evil. The similarities are quite obvious when you learn that DMC was set to become RE4 until it went too far off the rails and was spun off into DMC, and the hold-overs are there for all to see and for some to moan at.
Thankfully - by God, thankfully - tank controls haven't made their way over to DMC, with Dante moving where you want him to move, how you want him to move, albeit with a slight catch. If you're running into the screen, you can hold forward on the stick, as you'd expect.
When the camera switches 180, to now show Dante's face, you can continue holding forward and Dante will move forward, but now your controls are effectively mirrored because you're controlling him relative to a different camera angle. Stop, let your thumb off the stick, and control reverts so that now you need to hold down in order to run out of the screen. The transition is jarring and looks a little silly, and good luck if the camera switches in the middle of combat...
In this section, I was locked in a room with three ghostly figures with whopping great big scissors. Locking onto them isn't a problem. Fighting them was tricky, mostly because I didn't dodge anything and didn't read the signs of when to attack correctly, but also because the damn camera kept turning me around as I crossed from one side of the room to the other.
As far as giving players a taste of what Devil May Cry is, this Trial Edition is pretty good. In between the missions, I was able to upgrade my move set for dirt cheap, to really see how stylish Dante can get, and I was even up against giant floating skulls at one point. Underwater, for some reason. DMC makes very little sense, and none of the story has been told to me by this point.
It's the kind of demo that gives you an idea of how difficult the game can get too, as my eventual undoing was down to this vicious cat-thing. In a neat touch, he's heavily featured in DMC5, as an ally. Shame I'm on the wrong end of it here.
Further Fun Times
Disappointed with this difficulty spike, I headed to a full version of the game. When I said I own many of them in some form or another, I meant it, as I have the Devil May Cry HD Collection on my PS3. Why didn't I start with that? Screenshots: Can't get 'em. Wanted to try PS2 first. Had to update my PS3 after months of inactivity. Take your pick, they're all true.
The HD Collection uses slightly different controls if memory serves, and looks damn fine by all accounts. It's not a great looking game, and the HD Collection serves to highlight how strange early PS2 titles looked rather than correct or remake anything, but it's perfectly playable and play it I did.
There are changes from the Trial Edition, notably a bloody huge lava spider and more expensive skill upgrades, but the most significant addition of all (present in the original full game too) is Easy Auto mode.
Unlockable by dying early on in your travels, this difficulty makes the game easier (duh) and the moves more automatic (less duh). Dante's move set feels like that of a fighting game. You've got to push sticks in specific directions, and alter your timing to trigger different stages of a combo, for example.
When going through it, actively trying to pull off some of the moves, I wasn't having much luck. I could launch enemies into the air, but do little but watch them fall back down. On Easy Auto, the moves are apparently chosen based on circumstance, and they'll usually be the flashy ones you can't pull off. The result is that you rake in the stylish points by doing little more than pressing Triangle a few times.
It was, as you can imagine, precisely what my lazy arse wanted to see.
The game wasn't a walkover though - it still kicked my arse and ran me close to death a few times. I've currently only played until the end of the Black Knight fight, clearing Mission 4 of however many there turn out to be, and he was close to winning on account of my insistence on being able to complete the game by spamming Triangle and Square and not by dodging, for example.
Plotwise, just look at the opening cutscene to see how not only how seriously it takes itself, but how stylish it is. Devil May Cry just oozes something that makes me want to watch, and want to invest time in. The actual story could be an absolute joke, and I don't think I'd care because of how good it the game looks in motion - with that ever-present caveat of 'when played by professionals'. It's funny I say that because I know for a fact I've watched a complete playthrough of DMC. I must have not been paying any attention.
I don't think the combat is unapproachable, and getting good will come in time, of course. I don't think I'll have the brains to chain together insane sequences of combos, or maybe even the patience to get through tough boss fights, though easy mode might win out in the end.
The one sticking point I might have is how very Resident Evil-like it is. The camera, the puzzle solving, the way the game is just laid out. It's clear where the design cues came from, but, importantly, it's clear to see where DMC takes things in its own action-heavy hack and slash direction.
The series will get better, but the style had to come from somewhere. Play Devil May Cry some time, with the HD Collection being my go-to choice.
After being convinced to take the game in its own direction, rather than attach it to the Resident Evil series, it was rewritten with influence from the Divine Comedy epic poem, written by and starring Dante Alighieri.
Devil May Cry, developed by Capcom, first released in 2001.
Version played: PS2, 2001, via teenage memories.
Devil May Cry Trial Edition, PS2, 2001, via emulation.
Devil May Cry HD Collection, PS3, 2012.
Version watched: Devil May Cry HD Collection, PS3, 2012 (Super Best Friends Play)