I appreciate the subtle political commentary of DmC: Devil May Cry: Featuring Dante From the Devil May Cry Series.
This particular entry in the long-running series posits a hypothetical universe where humans are brainwashed by propaganda and twenty-four-hour news stations. The shocking plot twist is that the people who orchestrate and pull the strings of our twenty-first century global society are demons, and it is even implied that the demons may be evil.
That is when I am thrust into the shoes of the new and improved Dante, also known as “Donte”, and it is in this moment that I wonder if Ninja Theory predicted Ugandan Knuckles. But suddenly, and without warning, Dante looks up at the succubus and he says “Fuck you!”, to which the succubus says “Fuck youuuuuuuuuuu!”, and I wonder why this did not win the Academy Award for SSSensational Writing.
But as I wonder out loud whether this particular version of Dante is merely a rejected Far Cry 3 character, channeling the soul and spirit of the repulsive brodude gamer that defined the Xbox 360 generation, I simultaneously imagine a hypothetical course of events where the Capcom corporate board instructs the hard-working individuals at Ninja Theory to design a game that will appeal to the inferior American gamers, a final retaliation and assault for the war.
Nevermind Pearl Harbor though, because you see, Devil May Cry revolutionized videogames by introducing the “style” meter, which is a roundabout way of saying that “your score resets after every fight”. This means that you must change up your wide array of killing implements and your techniques on the path to being “stylish”, the perfect psychological incentive to hand-wave the fact you can beat these games with like three moves.
So why do we play for style if it is frivolous? Because it is kind of like the time that I was playing Diablo III and all the damage numbers were popping up on the screen, I grow louder and more orgasmic as the numbers get bigger and bigger, until finally, my package explodes into a billion points of damage, the perfect digital manifestation of my real-world physical capabilities, and it is in this moment that I feel accomplished and invincible.
I guess I am suggesting that there is probably some sort of thrill in being judged, and what better way to simplify this judgment for the masses by quantifying it with a number or a letter ranking? It’s kind of like that episode of The Simpsons where the elementary school went on strike, and Lisa Simpson was begging her parents to grade her, to rank her, to judge her mercilessly. Lisa would love Devil May Cry, she may even be playing it right now.
Or perhaps there was an age in a long time ago where one of my primitive ape-like ancestors would punch the grizzly bear in the face, knocking it dead to the ground, and he would continue to pummel the bear’s corpse, up until he hears the thunderclap from his God above, declaring His follower’s day-to-day activities to first be “Brutal!”, then “Anarchic!”, then “Sadistic!”
But as I document this course of events, I think of how God Hand also had a ranking system, and in that particular game, cool things happened when you were “stylish” enough to attract the true rage and fury of your opponents, they would proceed to fight harder than they ever have in their life. And there was even that shoot ‘em up, Battle Garegga, where every time you fired a bullet, the game would get louder and madder, your enemies would shoot even more bullets, and the whole heap would become even more poorly-designed.
Which is to say that these games would not only judge you, but they would react accordingly, they would respond with obstacles in the path of your skillful and stylish endeavors. But for every Left 4 Dead that rewards your mastery with increasing anger, we have yet another Devil May Cry game where there is marginal difference between becoming a real-life anime hero, calmly working through an armory of weapons as I brutalize the demons, and mashing the square button as though I am playing the greatest Arkham game yet.
My enemies show no difference in their passion and fury, and it seems that when it comes to “style”, the only difference is my ranking and position on a frivolous leaderboard that I do not give a fuck about.
So in the absence of a meaningful ranking system, we must look at what Ninja Theory continues to do best: They create 3D models in the computer program and then place the texture files on top of their sculptures, creating what the layperson would call “graphics”. And to their credit, these “graphics” are actually pretty good. One half of the game is the gothic architecture from Bayonetta, probably stolen from Hideki Kamiya himself, and the other half of the game is the Bowser levels from Super Mario 64, only today, they have the computer technology to render backgrounds.
So perhaps a normal human being could enjoy these sequences and moments, I could soak in the array of colors as I use Dante to travel from one painting to the next. But the thrill in videogames, much as in life, is the energy and the effort that you put into mashing the buttons, until you have become successful in conquering a fictitious and imagined world, screaming “you will never be worthy of my seed” as I destroy my girlfriend in Mario Kart and she breaks down into tears.
And while we do not believe that difficulty is the end-all of a videogame, the simple fact is that there is never a single moment of DmC: Devil May Cry on the Hard difficulty that is as difficult as anything you will see in the first level of Devil May Cry 3. I think this to be particularly embarrassing, considering this was a period in videogames where difficult games were once again being successfully marketed to the public, turning videogames into the Dark Souls of interactive media.
But perhaps you are one of the children whose pride and purpose in life comes down to the fact you are very, very good at Devil May Cry 3. What was mostly effortless for me is not enough for you. You are screaming that I did not beat this game on its very hardest difficulty, that I did not play the game for one-hundred consecutive hours without taking a single hit, nor did I beat the difficulty level where if you die in the game, you die in real-life.
It is in this moment that I take my real-life katana and my real-life handguns off of my real-life wall, the one with the real-life posters of my favorite iDOLM@STERs, and I challenge you to come study the blade. I only have so much patience for the buttons and the sticks, particularly in a game like this, because they are an inadequate medium to convey my real-world mastery of the multi-weapon combo attacks and air-dash moves that I used to fight off the bullies in high school.
That is probably why the children love these games, because they have never activated their real-life Devil Trigger in order to defeat the entire football team. But I also suggest you do not need to be a master of pressing the plastic buttons to recognize that the scoring system is frivolous, that this particular Devil May Cry game is significantly easier than its predecessors, or that its particular version of Dante is an obnoxious fuckwit.
So if I was working for IGN when DmC: Devil May Cry had come out, there is no question in my mind that I would have given it a very low score, perhaps the lowest score that site has ever handed out, somewhere in the range of a seven or an eight. But the timeline where I provide my galaxy-brained commentary for IGN is never going to happen, so I can only assume that the geniuses at Ninja Theory have done it once again.
First, Heavenly Sword. Then Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. And then years later, they created something vaguely resembling a videogame by the name of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. One-out-of-four is not bad at all, and it is in this moment I rank DmC as Ninja Theory’s very best effort. Seven-out-of-ten, it’s okay.