Devil May Cry 5 Review
Devil May Cry 5 brings style without substance
Capcom has been on something of a franchise-revival kick lately. Resident Evil 7 and especially Resident Evil 2 are still relatively fresh in people’s minds — now, we turn to Devil May Cry. This on again/off again franchise is built on over-the-top action gameplay. And, in case you forgot, we last saw Dante in the Americanized reboot called DMC. Even though I liked that game, I must acknowledge I was in the minority. Now, with Devil May Cry 5, the original developers are back — but not everything is quite as stylish as it was before.
Getting the band back together
Devil May Cry 5 takes place sometime after the fourth game in the series and completely disregards the existence of DMC. Dante is back to being his older, grey-haired self. When a mysterious tower emerges in the middle of town, he has to team up with Nero (a returning character from Devil May Cry 4). If the premise sounds a lot like Devil May Cry 3, that’s because it hits a lot of the same beats.
Just as before, you’ll be progressing through missions, watching crazy cutscenes, fighting demons and, of course, battling enormous bosses.
Having three characters at your disposal — rather than just one — changes not only the pacing, but the gameplay itself.
Neo, Dante, and V become playable during specific missions and on occasion you can choose which character to pilot. Dante plays a lot like his Devil May Cry 3 and 4 incarnations, but this time he has the ability to swap between four different combat styles at will (gunslinger, sword master, royal guard, and trickster).
Nero is back with his sword that can be revved up to increase its attack power, along with two different abilities. He can grab enemies and pull them towards him or he can slingshot himself into them. Early in the game, he loses his arm and uses new “devil breakers” designed by newcomer Nico in combat. Each devil breaker has a specific function tied to the circle button; however, they can break if you are attacked while using them. It’s a clever idea, but sadly, you can’t swap freely between the arms like Dante can with his weapons — though you can buy them using red orbs or find more in the field.
V is the most non-traditional character in the lineup. Instead of fighting directly, he summons three familiars to do all the work. The catch is that he must finish off every enemy personally with his cane.
The game certainly has style to spare; I’d argue that the strongest aesthetic upgrade here is the new dynamic soundtrack. The music that players during combat changes and grows louder the better you play.
Each character has their own specific upgrades and skills to purchase at the greatly expanded shop. The shop — and the ability to spend real money in the game — was a polarizing point before Devil May Cry 5’s release, and it’s one I want to discuss further.
Spending your way to success
As is tradition in the Devil May Cry series, you’ll acquire red orbs by finding them during missions or earning them afterwards to spend on upgrades and items. You’ll quickly notice that there are no healing items or devil trigger recovery ones to buy. Instead, your options are to buy the series’ extra lives known as “gold orbs.” You can find them in the field or can buy one at the shop.
If you die during a mission, you can spend a gold orb to get back up with full health and trigger or spend red orbs to get some health back. It’s important to point out that the cost for red orb revival goes up with each use.
Instead of using red orbs for purchases, the game allows you to spend real money to acquire everything as well. There are also bonus costumes and aesthetics that can only be purchased with real money. You are free to replay missions as many times as you want for more red orbs, and the bonuses for finishing missions at higher grades will pay for most of everything. However, with three different characters to buy upgrades for, the developers have things kind of specced towards you spending real money.
For my play on Devil Hunter (Normal difficulty) I did not need to spend any money to get the skills and upgrades I needed.
Speaking of skills, my big problem with Devil May Cry 5 involves the lack of skill across the board — both in terms of skill required to succeed, and being rewarded for displaying improved skill.
Devil May Cry 3 is one of my favorite action games of all time; so much so that I wrote about it in my book “20 Essential Games to Study.” The main reason was how technical the game was with the various weapons, and how it left it up to the player to create their own combos and strategies.
Devil May Cry 5 does not approach that level of technical play at all. It seems like with this fifth entry, the mandate was to try and earn as many new fans as possible, and to do that, everything has been simplified.
Gone are the multiple combos for every weapon. Each character gets the same standardized command list of moves to use. Even V with his summons still has the same style of combos. Instead, the complexity is about being able to switch between each character’s different weapons to chain combos with. Dante fairs the best out of the three thanks to his four styles and total of eight different weapons he can use. I had some weird issues getting some of the combos to work — as they are all based off attacking and then waiting a split second to trigger the combo.
Despite being main characters, both Nero and V do not get anywhere near the same amount of moves to use. Nero’s devil breakers were a good idea, but it was an odd decision to not let you swap them in and out during play like Dante’s weapons. The fact that they break if you’re attacked while using them is a high risk/high reward mechanic that can lead to players just hoarding them due to fear of losing them entirely.
Sadly, there are further aspects of Devil May Cry 5 that have been simplified to the point where I think they negatively impact the overall experience.
Devil May Cry 5 features some of the most boring missions in the franchise to date. Gone are the impressive visuals of DMC, and the variety of challenges from Devil May Cry 3. Several missions were nothing more than arena fights, or just a single boss.
The pacing of the game is also off due to the three-character structure. The concept is that you are playing one story starring the three characters, but the missions themselves determine who you can play as. If you’re getting into a good groove with Nero, you may find yourself now playing as V.
I wonder if it would have been better paced if the game just kept to three mini-campaigns for each character.
There’s another issue here that rears its head again, and which has been something of a bugbear throughout the series. The camera.
The biggest threat to Dante and his friends isn’t demons or the end of the world, but the camera. The camera system in Devil May Cry 5 constantly got stuck on environments — and even enemies — making it hard to properly see what’s going on. I had a lot of troubles getting the “change lock-on” command to work which is tied to L3. When enemies began to move a lot faster, the camera could not keep up with them.
The reason why the camera is so troubling is how defense moves work in the series. You don’t have a dedicated dodge button in Devil May Cry 5; you dodge by pressing jump + left or right on the analog stick. However, the dodge is in relation to the character’s position on the screen. If the camera is displaying the action from an awkward angle or decides to turn suddenly, you won’t be able to dodge; you’ll jump instead.
This comes up frequently during boss fights, which in a shocking turn, may be the worse ones since Devil May Cry 2.
The Devil May Cry franchise has prided itself on interesting and challenging bosses to test the player’s mastery. With Devil May Cry 5, these bosses are some of the most basic battles I’ve seen — even being simpler than the first Devil May Cry.
Bosses frequently repeated the same attacks and animations and were more “sword-spongey” than genuinely interesting to fight. Several battles ended so quickly that I honestly thought that there was going to be a second phase to them.
This culminated with the final battle which is a throwback to one of the best encounters in the franchise. Instead of being a test of skill, the entire battle was mechanically driven — where you could only hurt the boss after select attack patterns. This wasn’t something I expected to see in the Devil May Cry franchise, and it didn’t feel satisfying.
Lest my litany of criticsms above give you the wrong impression: Devil May Cry 5 is a welcome return to form for the most part. This is especially true if you’re a fan of the pre-DMC games. However, if you were hoping for a novel approach to gameplay, then you may find Devil May Cry 5 feels like it represents several steps back. Sadly, the magic we saw with both Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2 isn’t here. I’m eagerly awaiting another entry in the series to see more significant improvements.