Review: Devil May Cry 5
This game was selected as one of our January 2020 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.
There are a lot of ways to fight in video games, but how many games let you look like an absolute badass while doing it? We have a genre for that (though I’m not sure what exactly we call it), populated with titles like Bayonetta, REVENGEANCE, and of course, Devil May Cry. It’s been a long road for the series to get to this point, but it’s a very, very high point that it’s reached. Combining elements of almost all the previous games, cutting down the story to a central character conflict, and ramping up the action to preposterous heights, DMC 5 really is the culmination of decades of effort, and it shows in every polished, varied piece of the design.
Veteran demon hunter Dante and relative newcomer Nero have been hired by the mysterious V to take on a mission of unusual scope. A massive structure of clearly infernal origin is growing from the heart of a hapless city, and at the center of it is the demon Urizen. Joined by fellow hunters Trish and Lady, and backed up by the rambunctious inventor Nico, the three must battle their way inside the demon tower and put an end to Urizen. But this confrontation is only the beginning of the story, as Urizen’s unusual powers and familiar origin complicate matters. The paths of Nero, Dante, and V will cross, splinter, and combine to form a tale reaching far back into the history of the series, and providing new revelations for its major players.
Let it be known that I’m coming to DMC 5 after playing the original DMC, and the original DMC only. I missed 2, 3, 4, and the ill-fated reboot, and so more than a few references and revelations went straight over my un-stylish head. For folks like me, there is a handy video on the main menu that recaps the previous games (minus 2 and the reboot, which even the developers apparently pretend never existed) and at least fills you in on who the main characters are, if not the nitty-gritty of who killed whose relatives. From my perspective, the series has morphed dramatically over the years, leaving behind the sprawling castle of horrors on Mallet Island for discrete missions along linear paths.
We’ll talk more about levels, but the series has changed in other ways that are huge improvements. The heart of Devil May Cry is the action, and in 5 you are offered three wholly distinct ways to enjoy it in the characters of Nero, V, and Dante. Nero comes equipped with a wealth of tactical options, from his swift sword that can be revved for more damage and special moves, to his mechanical arm that can grapple enemies over to you and be launched for different powerful effects. His style is swift and high-flying, allowing you to continue combos on distant foes and mantle up the largest bosses. In stark contrast, V is a summoner character adjusted for a spectacle fighter. He has one teleport attack used to finish off wounded enemies, and three familiars taken from the bosses of the original game who do the fighting for him. It’s a wholly unique style for a game like this and one I absolutely love, managing an electric bird and a shape-shifting panther while I weave between foes and stab their essence out.
In a rather unexpected move, you don’t really get to play as Dante until about halfway through the game. In retrospect, though, I totally understand why that decision was made. If you thought Nero had plenty of combat options to keep track of, Dante has an incredible amalgamation of weapons, skills, and systems from all of the previous games. He can carry four melee and four ranged weapons, each with extensive skill lists, he has four combat styles that can be switched on the fly and impart new moves for each of his many weapons, he has two Devil Trigger modes that interact with each other, and he has a magic hat he can put on enemies. It can be hard to remember everything he does when you’re trying to parry blows, juggle foes, maintain your combo, and maximize your red orbs, and it seems like after every one of his levels you unlock something new for him.
More than anything though, it’s fun. All the chaos of enemies warping in, locking on and beating one to a pulp, remembering you have guns or rocket launchers, dodging through a storm of blades or countering a mighty slash with your own, every moment of it is thrilling, engaging, and gratifying. There are no real slogs in DMC 5, no fights that drag on too long or foes who take too much damage. Even the bosses lack that infuriating, murderous edge the originals did, with plenty of margin for error on normal difficulty and Gold Orbs on hand to keep you fighting if you’re not worried about your score. The combat is complex enough that you really have to devote yourself to it if you want to keep S ranks and above going, or want to survive more than thirty seconds on the higher difficulties. But for everyone else wanting a flashy, hilarious thrill ride, you won’t have to stress too much.
And what a ride it is! At this point, Dante and friends have perfected the art of unflappable badassery in the face of even the most formidable demons. Every one of them does the casual pace in front of deadly new foes, taunting them as if talking to a particularly unruly punk. The engine brings these characters to life as never before, with an incredible level of detail and realism for the entire cast. Enemy designs are gross and wild, and the environments tend to be just as fantastical with ruined city vistas and pulsating hell tunnels aplenty. The level design does suffer a bit around the halfway point, pulling back to very samey (if colorful) demon halls, but this is also where you get Dante to play with and he’s definitely a high point of the game. And I can’t overlook the music, which is an incredible mix of styles, from rock to classical, that fit the battles and cutscenes in ways you might never have imagined.
It’ll take you about 12-14 hours to crush your way through the game the first time, and after that you’ll have a wealth of difficulties and challenge modes to face if you need more. I’m pretty sure you will, too, whether it be more brutal combos with a motorcycle-sword, more dance numbers with Dante’s magic hat, or more hilariously bleak poetry from hopeless goth V. While DMC 5 approaches the kind of insanity you see in something like Bayonetta, it never quite reaches the same heights, instead choosing to focus on a wide variety of action and a few really choice moments. Even the story ends up being a pretty engaging tale of some of the game’s most memorable characters, rather than another romp to save the world. Devil May Cry 5 is the total package of style, substance, and pure fun that proves this series deserves to stand tall among action games.