sunnuntai 12. tammikuuta 2014

REVIEW - Devil May Cry | PS2 | 2001

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: August 23, 2001

In 1999, Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya began work on Resident Evil 4, which at that time was in development as a PlayStation 2-exclusive. It was to star a biologically enhanced superhuman pursuing his origins, most likely directing him to Umbrella. Kamiya's directing took the game further from Mikami's vision of Resident Evil with each passing phase - for example, Kamiya felt a fixed camera angle wouldn't do the lead character's fancy moves and cool look any justice. Finally, hearing his over-the-top ideas for enemy design and the lead protagonist's general take on the world around him, Mikami bowed out of the project, wished 'em good luck, and began producing Resident Evil Code: Veronica, in which many early ideas for "Kamiya's game" were used. Kamiya rewrote the whole story, changing the scenario from Resident Evil's fight against bioterrorism to a world of demons, consciously hanging on to some of that classic Resident Evil look. In late 2000, the name of Kamiya's radical Resident Evil spin-off was finally revealed: Devil May Cry. This game revolutionized third-person hack and slash action. Every game in the genre more or less follows its standards like a guidebook. God of War and Castlevania (starting with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, the most blunt Devil May Cry carbon copy ever seen); through those games, Darksiders, and to not glorify the genre without recognizing its few failures too much, Dante's Inferno. Kicking infernal demons' asses left to right, conquering a bigger boss after another, upgrading your combos to the point of not even seeing much of your character anymore as he constantly flashes across the screen, and usually taking it up the ass towards the end for not upgrading your character properly, have been just some of these games' main draws for years. Indeed, it all started with a little Resident Evil "spin-off", a PlayStation 2 classic called Devil May Cry, to which the years have done wonders. In better and worse.

Why does the key have to be rusty?

Drew Coombs : Dante
Sarah Lafleur : Trish / Eva
David Keeley : Vergil
Tony Daniels : Mundus
Howard Jerome : Griffon / Phantom
Jonathan Mallen : Young Dante / Young Vergil

Dante is the son of a human woman, and Sparda, a legendary demon knight from two millenniums ago who fought and defeated Mundus, the self-proclaimed god of the underworld. Some time after Sparda's death, Dante's mother was killed by demons, and he was separated from his twin brother Vergil. In the present day, Dante runs a "cleaning agency" by the name of Devil May Cry, hoping that some day a case will come along that will lead him to the trail of those who destroyed his family. A mysterious woman named Trish comes along with extremely vague intentions, urging Dante to investigate ruins of a dark castle on Mallet Island, where she claims Mundus has settled in, and is planning his return.

This took way longer than expected. You'd think that after truly falling in love with the hack and slash style so many years ago with the arrival of God of War, I'd had taken a step back to replay Devil May Cry a lot earlier than 2014. I think it's the whole pile of bad memories I have in store when it comes to this game, and perhaps the sick fascination one of my best friends has on the franchise - yeah, the one that can't stand God of War, but still loves these types of games, especially Devil May Cry. Ironic isn't word enough. (He recently told me it's just that he finds Greek mythology so odd and uninteresting. I'll buy that, I guess.)

Our hero and heroine/villainess/heroine/
villainess/some chick.
What bad memories, exactly? Well, the game was one of the first PS2 games I ever bought. I remember seeing the game long before that, reviewed on a Finnish TV show focused on video games and technology (which sucks, I know), and it looked awesome. I was bedazzled by the graphics at that time, and anything with the word "Devil" or "Demon" in it was sure to catch my attention. When I heard that the lead character was some sort of a hellspawn with a sword that was bigger than his torso, two pistols and moves set to outdo Matrix (never liked it as a movie, though, I'll have you know), I was totally sold. "If I ever get a PS2, I'm getting that game." So I did. Loved it... most of it, from the beginning up to a few chapters. The combat and Dante himself were a little too over-the-top for my taste - even then - I couldn't stand the music, and when I got stuck on some boss for ages, I left the game altogether for a while, deciding it was ultimately not worth the time and effort. When I returned to it, I hacked the game to tiny pieces at a quick pace, only to get stuck in the final boss. And I mean, totally stuck, as in with my chances at an absolute zero. For some reason, I was still hell bent on beating the game; in any other situation, I would've thrown the game out the window. It's absurd to lead the player on into the final confrontation only to deliver this indirect, but obvious message: "You little fucker. How about saving all your power-ups next time? Thank you for playing! -Capcom."

No, I didn't throw the game out the window. I swallowed every inch of rage I had in me, every curse I had in store. For some odd reason I really can't pinpoint, I reset the game in total peace, started over, and started collecting power-ups for the final battle from the very beginning of the game. It's amazing how quickly I got through, and in one single sitting; it's like I was possessed. I used all my power-ups on that fucker - some really cheap-tactics gadgets there, but I was beyond caring at that point - and beat him in under 30 seconds. HA! Then, of course, I realized that it wasn't actually the final battle, but everything from there on out - those glorious 15 minutes - is a breeze compared to this fight. After the credits, the game urged me to try the game out on Hard. I smirked, cringed, smirked, then cringed a bit more, shut down my PS2, and literally laughed and jumped out of insane joy. I put the disc back in its box, and it never left it again; it was an exciting experience, but not a masterpiece. Devil May Cry was one of the many games I ended up selling some years later in absolutely desperate need of money (my ex-girlfriend's idea, she could've just loaned me those few euros but I guess she saw an opportunity she couldn't refuse...). Well, later I saw the game for a decent price at GameStop - might as well been my old copy for all I know - and I was generally in a better financial situation, didn't have any money on me at that moment, though. That's when I decided I wanted all my old games back, and I was going to start with Devil May Cry, 'cause even if the game was a disappointment, it was a very important piece in the construction of one of my favourite styles of action, and despite being so painful(ly difficult), it was clearly the best game out of all the PS2 games I ever sold. I went back a few days later, it was gone - all that was left on the PS2 shelf was a bunch of old EA Sports games and some ill-fated racing jamborees. Karma.

Perhaps partly in promotion of the 2013 reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise, as well as just for keeping with the recent trend, the first three Devil May Cry games were remastered for the PS3 and Xbox 360 as Devil May Cry HD Collection in early 2012. By this point, I had started to really dislike the franchise. I was not impressed by Devil May Cry 4, not at all. It's been so long that I can't really say what bugged me the most about it, but I'm guessing it had something to do with how much better a game like God of War II was from every aspect, and the latter was a God damn PS2 game! Also, back in the day, Devil May Cry 2 already felt like a really strange and off-beat game compared to the first one (that one's up next, as you might've guessed). Devil May Cry 3, that one I skipped completely (or have skipped, for now) - didn't need more than a few promo shots to determine that the game was way too over-the-top for my taste. Anyway, the Devil May Cry HD Collection seemed like a good purchase - I could get the first game back, and who knows, maybe the two other games will turn out good after all? I just couldn't make that purchase, but one night, I was browsing the PSN, and even though I'm not a fan of digital releases of retail games, they had a good offer on the collection (under 15 €), and it was then I figured that well, not even the first game's so good I'd must have it in physical form. And here we are - it's been ten years since I last played Devil May Cry. Some of my views have changed, some remain as they ever were, and the poor remastering does extremely little to hide the game's age. One thing I must say right now, though, is that I have no idea what my 20-year old version was thinking when he said the first half of the game was good while the second one sucked. It's pretty much the other way around, for reasons closely relating to atmosphere.

Sure, let's take on a giant tarantula in a narrow
corridor. Let's.
Many critics once said that Devil May Cry's intentional, superficial resemblance to Resident Evil serves the game good, but puts Resident Evil to remarkable shame - I even heard one critic say that he was more fascinated with the playable demo of Devil May Cry that came along with some versions of Resident Evil Code: Veronica X, than the main game itself - since Devil May Cry is so fast, and Resident Evil so slow. Well, it was fast. Really fast, and smooth - not today, though. Dante isn't quite as agile as time has made us remember, and surely not as much of a fast runner. But, that's besides the point, and it's not that disturbing. Neither are the dated graphics, or the poor quality of the remastering. It's the style of the game - I just played Bayonetta, and Devil May Cry is much closer to my home in terms of presentation, but the dance music drives me nuts in a game like this all the same. And all that jumping around like a (demonic) bunny on dope and being so "damn cool". A huge sword nails you from chest to floor, you just rise up like nothing's happened. This guy's half-demon, I get it, but some small semblance of pain would only be realistic considering you die in the game so damn easily. Same goes for getting impaled by three burning stakes, or my favourite, falling from space. But, the award for worst part - again - goes to the music. Which, however, changes completely for the second half of the game, to much more bearable of its kind, and some epic choirs come along too. It's like a whole different game from a certain point onwards, and it becomes much more playable. Seriously, and more of a gothic horror game than an all-out, Japanese demon bashfest. The transition is remarkable - I didn't get it when I was younger, but now that I do, I could almost call Devil May Cry a positive surprise. Although I already played it long before I even thought of doing video game reviews, or knew much about modern video games anyway.

The change in atmosphere helps a lot more than one could ever imagine. After the first couple of missions, I had decided that the game was so dated in its genre, so clumsy, so ugly and sounds so horrible that I should just leave it and review it based on my earlier takes on it. It turned out that I didn't remember half of it, and like I said, back in the day I didn't even notice how much better it gets, after just a few upgrades and when that change in atmosphere comes along. To keep up with "tradition", I ended up playing through the game in one single sitting. Quite a feat from someone who hasn't played a game as hard as Devil May Cry in ten years, I'd say. However, you have to keep in mind that I've experienced just about every Devil May Cry follower there is. I'm more than used to this sort of game now, it comes naturally. Still, I had trouble with the final boss (luckily I was wise enough to once again keep collecting those power-ups from the very start of the game) - and much more trouble with the second-to-last boss than I ever had. Now that's because of a purely technical issue, which has long since been harvested or at least worked on - every action gamer's favourite, the camera.

The camera in Devil May Cry is absolutely horrible, there's no going around that pure fact, and when it comes to the camera, it never gets any easier to cope with it unlike all the other flaws that come with age. The odd thing is that the game is drawn in full 3D, meaning the camera doesn't really have to be fixed to a certain angle as there is a whole world around Dante, so I don't see why they couldn't make the effort to improve the camera for the remastered version. Another technical issue arises in sound mixing. It's really hard to hear what the characters say amidst the noise - there are no subtitles, except for the monsters who speak in a low-frequency garble that's ironically more comprehensible than human speech - not nearly as hard as to determine these guys can't act for shit. The quality of the voice acting - if you happen to actually hear the lines from time to time - is guaranteed Capcom quality circa 2001. You be the judge. Not as bad as the first Resident Evil, not by a long shot, but in that area nonetheless; somewhere between Nemesis and Code: Veronica.

Surely inspired by Castlevania just a little, went
on to inspire Castlevania just a little bit more.
By default, Dante carries a basic sword called Force Edge, and two handguns dubbed Ebony and Ivory. Shooting the pistols happens just like in classic Resident Evil, by holding R1 to draw the gun, and another button to shoot. R1 also works as part of certain combos; the curious thing is that you only need a couple of buttons for every combo you are able to acquire in this game. Combat's really simple and easy to learn, a bit sticky nowadays, sure, but on the other hand, in these times that combat in games in totally out of control - *ahem* Bayonetta *ahem* - it's nice to have a bit of traction and solid ground beneath your feet every once in a while. In time, Dante gains a few more weapons; none of them are exactly useless, nor do you absolutely have to use a certain weapon from time to time. It's more about preference, although sometimes you might find a certain weapon has incredible effect on certain enemies. For example, I had no idea that the Ifrit (a pair of fiery gauntlets) could do so much more damage on those annoying Wolverine-lookalike pricks that come along in very late stages of the game than your sword. Or, I just didn't want to see the potential - I'm more of a sword type. Actually, come to think of it, I didn't use the Ifrit at all back in the day. Like it was to become standard, you can buy new combos for each weapon from the "Watcher of Time", who regularly shows up during missions and you're able to visit his emporium upon each mission completion.

Devil May Cry is indeed mission-based, unlike its most successful follower God of War. Unlike in just about every game that followed Devil May Cry, you may explore the castle freely as much as the plot development allows you to, on each mission. You can return to any cleared spot at any time, assuming it's not crumbled to pieces or there's not a dimensional rift or anything of the sort. If the mission complete screens weren't there to break the game into levels, the game would indeed look a damn lot like Resident Evil. Exploring often bears fruit, as enemies respawn all the time and you can grind 'em for red orbs, which are used at currency at the Watcher's place. Or find a secret mission - which became known in this genre as trials or challenges. These secret missions are often extra-hard, extra-irreverent challenges that would be out of place if they were placed in the plotline, something the developers cooked up for fun using the game's engine, like trying to lure two monsters into killing each other with their extremely damaging, reckless attack, or jumping along a stairway of laughing skulls (fffffFFFFUUUUUUU!!!) to reach a minor collectible. At much fewer times, they're really easy, to cut the player some slack and offer 'em some condolence for finding these missions in the first place.

I've said something about "shotgun to the face"
before. Not sure what it was, but it was most
certainly a compliment.
However, everything you do has a price, paid with your pride. Each mission is ranked just like Resident Evil games have given you a rank at game completion for ages (and for some mighty odd reason, mission completion since Resident Evil 4...), the two determining factors being mission time and amount of red orbs gathered. Every minute you spend exploring, doing secret missions or doing just about anything that does not directly relate to the main task, is a step towards a worse rank. That's already pretty much where we natural explorers calmly say "fuck the rank". The red orbs might need a little more explaining. In short, the more enemies you kill, the more orbs you get. The more you explore (ironically), the more orbs you get. But there's more. You get the best result in red orbs by trying to pull off the best possible combos. Which basically means that you should avoid the use of firearms as far as you can, get up, close and personal with the enemies and stick your sword (or fist) up their ass at a rapid and unbroken pace until you hit rank S for Stylish. Don't hate yourself for not getting those combos, they're extremely hard to keep running.

What makes combos easier, along with your life, is a very neat feature by the name of Devil Trigger, which you'll acquire in the second mission of the game along with a new sword. Each successful hit, be it to a smashable object or a smashable demon skull, fills a bit of your Devil Trigger meter, and when there are at least three icons lit up, you can unleash Dante's inner demon and simply let it rip. You are very tough to hit in this state, your health regenerates all the time, and your combos are at least twice or thrice as effective. Do not spare this widget. Do not underestimate it. In later genre games, these "rage modes" are pretty much used as last resorts - at least I use them as such - but in Devil May Cry, Devil Trigger is a must. You won't survive without it. If you do, stop playing games. There's simply not enough challenge in this world for you.

There are no puzzles in this game - you just fetch items and you don't have to guess where they're used as the game pretty much holds your hand when it comes to key items and their usage. I wouldn't even note this if it wasn't for the stupidities and inconsistencies carried over from Resident Evil (but since there were actual puzzles, you could see past these). These sound much stupider said out loud, though. The first door Dante sees, he says it's locked and he'll need a Rusty Key to open it. Uh, we're all out of stock when it comes to rusty keys, how about a brand new one? No? Well, here's my old car key, it's at least a bit rusty. Good enough? Has to be - the only specification for the key was that it has to be rusty. This is my actual first reaction from a decade back, when I saw that door for the first time. It doesn't hold any relevance to the review, but I figured I'd have to explain the headline. Sorry for the distraction.

A mysterious, relentless dark knight that
plays a pivotal part in the original series' storyline.
So, red orbs equal to money, green orbs to health, blue orbs increase your maximum health, purple orbs increase your Devil Trigger limit, and finally, yellow orbs allow you to return to a checkpoint whenever if and when those demons get the best of your ass. Here's another problem. Even if you are given a "second chance", often it's not much of a chance. Let's say you spent all your power-ups on a boss, simply trying to figure him out. Well, you did, and then you died, to be brought back to life. You start at the nearest checkpoint, all fired up and ready to go, but even if you just learned the boss' ways inside out, you feel you need those certain power-ups. The power-ups are still there since this is a checkpoint, so what's there to worry about? That's where you're wrong, slick; the game also saves the state of your inventory whenever you die, meaning you have to go at it without the power-ups you just had (in the case of the Vital Star health tank, you can only buy one at a time anyway, and they're not found from the field). So, either you backtrack your way to the Watcher and spend all of those orbs you've saved up for new combos to those same damn power-ups as ever (some of which get more expensive towards the end), or make the even more painful, but sometimes more practical choice, and reset the game back to the beginning of the mission. So be prepared. It's a tough game. Although at least one boss is much easier than I remembered, there are also bosses that are way harder than I remembered, and that last one is really, truly, one God damn bitch. Cheap tactics for even cheaper tactics, eye for an eye! Fuck! Yeah! ...Got a bit carried away, there.

Seems I got carried away even more, as this review turned out much longer than I would've ever expected. I would also never have expected that after clashing through dozens of Devil May Cry followers - most recently the "Devil May Evolve" game called Bayonetta - then returning to the original article ten years after I laid it to rest, that it would shine even this brightly. It's still a very good game, but it has technical issues, clearly some issues with gamers in general as it keeps fucking them up the ass, not with legitimate challenge, but unfairly difficult statements at unfair points of the game, and the literally insane audiovisual style of the game's first half, just the kind of shit that Bayonetta's presentation is all about besides sex, is just not my thing. I have to point out yet again, though, that it was the first half of the game I liked back in the day, while I disliked the second half which is clearly better in every way. That marks quite a change in opinion, or at least vision. Hell, I might've just got excited for Devil May Cry 2. Oh yeah, and when it comes to Bayonetta vs. Devil May Cry, the pitting of two of Hideki Kamiya's favourite children that led me to finally review this game, I must say that even though it's venomously bitten by the fangs of time, Devil May Cry takes the slight, ultimate win for what it started, and how genuinely addictive it still is at its absolute best.

+ Lots of legitimate challenge despite the utter unfairness of certain late stages
+ An effective dual-wielding combination of pistols and melee weapons, with the chance to upgrade both - the first one of its kind; a fucking awesome idea in terms of immersive gameplay
+ Just about a dozen other, amazing genre-defining concepts that may have been improved over time, but they originated here; secret missions, Devil Trigger, etc.
+ The presentation of the later half of the game is just what I expected from the game when I first about it...

- ...The presentation of the earlier half isn't; it's littered with horrible techno and dance music, one-dimensional over-the-top action, and even the missions are not on the same level of quality; can't believe I preferred this half of the game back in the day!
- Just as a sidenote (doesn't affect the rating of the original game), I have to say the PS3's high-definition remaster looks extremely poor in comparison to what other HD classics have looked like
- The camera is outright terrible, impossible to work with
- Bad, not to mention badly recorded voiceover work
- I have tried enough and read enough different walkthroughs to dare to claim that the final boss is nearly impossible to beat without certain power-ups and especially early knowledge of their need, so you can afford them in time and know not to use them recklessly

< 8.5 >

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