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Hoboy, this one’s gonna be a thing folks. Don’t get me wrong, Devil May Cry 3 is one of my favorite games, it’s amazing and everyone should play it. Why it’s gonna be a thing is the storied history of Devil May Cry, and now DMC3 is essentially the reason it’s even a series still. It’s the story of a man who didn’t want to go down in history as “The guy who directed DMC2” and created a miracle of a sequel. That said, there’s gonna be a bit a history lesson before the look at 3 proper, you have been warned.
So, Devil May Cry had a rather interesting start. Originally, what would become DMC was actually going to be Resident Evil 4. Somewhere along the line though, due to the game’s massive shift to an action focus, the director proposed the rebranding and changes to story/character that would result in us getting our first outing with goofy yet badass demon slayer Dante, son of Sparda. I would say a fair number of people know this, but if you don’t? Well, now you do.
So what made Devil May Cry so special at the time? Its focus on what I like to call “Stylish Action.” And what Japan would eventually call “Character Action.” Devil May Cry is a game where you kill your enemies while looking as awesome as possible in the process. Mixing up your weapons to create impressive combos while skillfully dodging attacks to look like an action hero on steroids. While so many action games would be either about shooting or melee, Devil May Cry was about blending both together. Your melee weapons were the big stars of the show, but you would still use your guns to do damage while closing the gap, or deal damage from a safe distance until you saw an opening to get up close and personal for a much deadlier beatdown. All the while, you had to learn every enemy’s tells and attacks so you could avoid being hit, because being hit in DMC? It HURTS. Some mistakes are allowed, but too many and you’re very much dead. This was a game that, like Dark Souls, expected you to learn its combat mechanics and enemies inside and out. And if you did, you had one hell of an experience waiting for you. That’s basically what DMC1 was, and why I loved it so much. And on top of that, we had a cocky, wisecracking but likeable hero who was a refreshing pain from the kind of edgy person you would normally expect to be at the center of a story about “Badass who kills demons.”
So, before I go any further, I’d like to say that there is an absolutely fascinating watch here about the troubled history of DMC2, the game that could have killed the franchise. Matt McMuscles’ research is part of what made this history lesson possible, so go give him a watch when you can.
Okay, shoutout and work citing out of the way, let’s talk about what nearly killed this series. So Capcom decided before DMC1 even launched that it would be a big seller (And thankfully they were right) and thus greenlit a sequel and its development before the first game was even released! Ballsy, but unfortunately…Also kind of stupid. Capcom basically slapped together a team for DMC2 that had no involvement with the original game which was being finished up. As a result, DMC2 had no proper feedback from the first game at the outset, and had no real sense of direction. Somewhere around six months to completion deadline, Hideaki Itsuno was brought in as a replacement director, who despite trying his best, could not save DMC2 from being a mediocre game that somehow had a fanbase that liked it over DMC1. That fanbase paled in comparison to the DMC1 veterans who, like Dante reacting to an ugly statue of his dad, only had “What the hell is this!?” as a response. Everything we loved from DMC1 was basically not found in DMC2.
I won’t bore you with every last detail about why DMC2 was bad, but let’s just say every good thing about DMC1 was nowhere to be found in it. Combat just felt bad in general, with melee being impractical, lacking the same sense of speed and ability to link together certain attacks to keep enemies in a nonstop beatdown or juggle. On top of this, guns were a major focus and used way more often, whereas in DMC1 they were just one of your many tools, meant to be used alongside the rest of your arsenal as appropriate. Unfortunately, having to fight some enemies purely with guns, watching their lifebars only drain down at an abysmal rate made DMC2 far less satisfying to play. That’s basically the short version of what went wrong with 2. And six months was not enough time to fix everything that was wrong with the game, so DMC2 released to far less favorable reviews than the first.
Some directors might have just shrugged this off, and went ‘Well, I’ll work on another franchise.’ But not Itsuno. Itsuno refused to be known as “The man who directed DMC2” and asked Capcom to greenlight DMC3 and let him be in charge of it from the getgo.
What we got is what many rightfully consider to be the best game in the entire series. Everything that made DMC2 so bad was gone. What few good things DMC2 had were used again in DMC3.
So, as a prequel, Devil May Cry 3 focuses heavily on the conflict of Dante and his twin brother Vergil, which was a minor plotpoint in DMC1. In DMC3, it’s not just a plotpoint, it’s the entire plot of the game, and learning what turned Vergil into what he was at the end of DMC1. And this is honestly one of the most important aspects of the game, in my opinion. The story in DMC1 was passable for what it was, and in 2 it was virtually non existent. DMC3 on the other hand has Dante’s character development and his conflict with Vergil as a major focus of the entire game, giving us a chance to actually see what makes the twin half demon brothers tick. It also had a much more developed supporting cast, where the side characters have just as much importance, instead of feeling like pointless additions that add nothing like Lucia did in DMC2.
The opening cutscene is narrated by supporting character turned regular cast member: Lady. We learn of the story of Dante’s father, a demon who rebelled against his own kind to protect humanity, and sacrificed his power in the process. He had two children before his death, the twins Dante and Vergil. But there’s no brotherly love between the two, as said opening shows them in a duel that leaves Dante impaled by his brother’s sword. Then we learn this fight is actually a flash forward, as the game itself begins proper in Dante’s office, with the phone ringing right as he’s gotten out of the shower.
So, brief touch on DMC2 again, sorry about that. In DMC2, the cocky, smart mouthed Dante we loved? He was gone. Thankfully, DMC3 is a prequel, and we’re getting a younger, even cockier Dante than what DMC1 had. So they basically took what we loved about him, and turned it up to 11. And it would define his character in all future games as well, which I love. Seriously, some of Dante’s moments in 5 are just absolute gems, but that’s for another review.
Our first shot of Dante is taking a seat at a desk, kicking his feet up to knock his phone receiver into his hand so he can let the caller know he’s not open for business yet. Already, we’ve been shown this is not the boring, stoic Dante from 2. And it just gets better, as a man in black tells Dante he has an invitation from Vergil…The invitation comes in the form of several scythe wielding demons that all proceed to stick said scythes into Dante at the same time. Dante proceeds to kill one of them with a punch that knocks said demon into a wall and disintegrates him (Okay he becomes sand, but details)! And then Dante proceeds to casually walk over to the jukebox, dragging the rest of the demons still holding their scythes CURRENTLY IMPALED IN DANTE along for the ride. And then after a few bits of the jukebox not working, Dante punches it to life and proceeds to deal with the rest of his unwanted guests in an action sequence that frankly? Can’t be described in words. So here’s the footage of it, courtesy of ShindaDesu’s youtube channel:
For those of us who felt let down by DMC2? This moment flat out told us: “Dante isn’t just back. He’s better than ever.” And after the amazing cutscene beatdown, a second wave of demons comes in as we’re told “Now it’s your turn.”
And that’s when the next bit of magic happens. That’s when you know this game’s going to be good: The fact Dante’s back to being what he was in the first game’s gameplay, also turned up to 11. To explain: You have two primary means of attack: You melee weapon, and your guns. Both are bound to their own attack button, so you can seamlessly mix the two up in combos without having to press a button to change what you’re using. Melee weapons have different combos, depending on if you delay your next attack in certain parts of a combo string. For example, you could do three swings, or do one swing, delay the next button press for a moment and then start swinging again rapidly for an entirely different combo on your starting sword. Many melee weapons also get special attacks you can cancel into by mashing the attack button during a specific combo or attack animation. Guns? Well, guns are simple. Press the button to shoot, rapidly usually. In some cases you might hold the button to charge up a shot, but usually it’s “press button and shooty thing starts shooting.” But not content to just stick to what worked in DMC1, DMC3 adds a new layer with the Style Button. At the start of each mission, you get to pick a Style for Dante which is essentially a sort of character class. Depending on that Style, the Style Button will have different results: As a Swordmaster, it adds an additional set of moves for your melee weapon bound to the Style Button. On Gunslinger, it’s the same idea but for guns. Trickster turns the Style button into an evasion and mobility tool, while Royal Guard lets it block attacks with properly timed presses, and then dish out counter-attacks with additional timed presses.
It’s the fact it took what worked on DMC1 and heavily expanded on it that makes DMC3’s combat such a treat. And also that it’s not about memorizing long, complex button inputs to do a fancy combo. It’s about freely mixing together moves, with special move inputs being as simple as “Hold the lockon button, press the stick towards an enemy, and then press an attack button.” And in DMC3, most moves can freely flow into one another, meaning you can easily start out with a basic ground attack combo, then seamlessly cancel it into a launcher move that sends you and the enemy upward, where you dish out an aerial combo to continue the assault. And then the game hits you with another surprise: You have the ability to use two guns and two melee weapons at the same time, with buttons that let you instantly change them in realtime! This means you can begin a combo with one melee weapon, tap the swap button, and seamlessly continue the combo with the other weapon. This, combined with all the other free-form elements, means it’s a game where you aren’t memorizing some long, fancy fighting game combo. You’re *making* the combo as you go, and it feels so satisfying and fun to do.
Mission 2 is where the game’s reality hits you though: You need to learn how to use all of the tricks and tools you’ve been given, because the game is going to throw a LOT at you. Just mashing attacks will get you smacked, especially against the first miniboss who will happily parry ill timed moves. It’s here you learn that much like DMC1, you need to watch and learn so you can avoid your enemies and then punish them during their openings, lest you end up dead. And that’s a welcome fact compared to DMC2’s far more mundane, uninspired enemies that mostly feel like cannon fodder and not an actual threat. In DMC3, even the rank and file grunts have to be acknowledged, because they can and will kill you if you aren’t on your game.
And then Mission 3 happens, and you’re hit with your first big boss fight. And what a fight it is. You face off against an icy take on the three headed guardian dog of Hell: Cerberus! Each of Cerberus’ heads has its own unique attacks to learn, on top of the big dog being able to use his entire body as an attack when he decides to just charge into you. It’s a fight that keeps you on your toes as you constantly evade, sneaking in shots where you can to break the protective layers of ice on his heads, and then close in to deal melee damage once the ice armor is shattered. It’s a back and forth that all the good boss fights of DMC1 had, and DMC3 brings it back in spades. This boss specifically makes you use all of your tools, with your guns being low damage overall, but absolutely vital to breaking the ice armor on Cerb’s heads so you can actually deal damage to them with your melee weapons, it’s exactly the kind of first boss a game like this should have, as it teaches you to not stick to any one tool, and use all of them as the situation demands.
And that’s just the opening three Missions of the game. Things escalate even further as you proceed with new enemy types, new groupings of enemies, bigger, tougher bosses, new weapons to use against them, and new Style Button abilities as your Styles level up from all the demons you kill. And you had better kill with skill, because the game keeps track of how cool you are with a Style Meter. The meter rewards variety, with less style being given if you spam the same move over and over, expecting you to mix things up and again: Use all your tools. And why is this meter important? The more Style you have as you kill things, the more Red Orbs you get, with Red Orbs being the game’s currency for buying new moves, maximum health increases, and damage upgrades for your guns. This is quite literally a case of your skills needing to pay the bills.
Eventually, Dante winds up in his first boss fight with twin brother Vergil, and it’s easily a highlight of the game. Vergil’s not some big, hulking demon. He’s a sword carrying half demon badass like Dante, and thus the fight is very different in nature. The back and forth, shifting between offense and defense type of boss fight is still very much a thing with him. But it feels very different when you’re dueling a fellow half demon instead of a big, hulking brute of a beast. And while one might say “Oh wait, you fight the same boss three times? Lame.” Vergil is a case where you are more than happy to have a rematch, because every time he’s got new moves at his disposal, meaning it’s an entirely new fight to learn. Like Dante, Vergil gains access to new weapons and abilities as the story progresses, with each clash having you pit all of your new abilities against one another. Vergil’s boss battles are a highlight of the game for a reason: They’re the best fights in the game without question.
Beating Vergil for the first time awards Dante with one of his signature abilities of the franchise: The Devil Trigger. It allows Dante to tap into his demon side and transform into a demonic form where he’s faster and hits harder, on top of having regenerating health. Unfortunately, it’s tied to a gauge that fills from dealing damage to enemies, so you can’t have it on all the time, making it a tactical choice of when to engage and disengage the ability. Thankfully, Devil Trigger is something that is seamless in its usage, as it can be turned on or off without interrupting Dante’s current action. So if you got a good combo going and decide ‘Needs more damage’ you can engage Devil Trigger with a tap of your left shoulder button without interrupting the action. This makes it an absolutely awesome part of Dante’s arsenal, it’s basically having a button to make you more awesome at will and doesn’t have any kind of transformation process that slows down or interrupts the action.
The level design is another aspect of the game that is easy to praise, because despite most of the game taking place in a massive demonic tower, the level variety is something else. You’ll start out in Dante’s office, fight your way through the evacuated streets of a city towards said demonic tower, and the demonic tower itself has all kinds of environments. Your typical stone corridors eventually give way to things like a ride on a high speed rail, fighting through rooms full of bladed traps, to more open outdoor areas on the tower exterior, and even the insides of a gigantic demon. If variety is the spice of life, DMC3’s level design is one spicy pepper.
And then there’s the soundtrack. Devil May Cry has always had good ‘ol rock and roll with a bit of gothic flare at its heart, but DMC3 decided to take it up to 11. Many of the battle and boss themes are now full on lyrical performances, with plenty of hard rockin guitar work throughout, and it’s absolutely a fitting style of music for the action that makes up most of the game. Devil May Cry 3 would not be the same without its rocker of a soundtrack, which always keeps things fresh and exciting.
I mentioned the cutscene direction and how good it was earlier, with that insane piece from Mission 1? Well, I got good news for you, that never stops. The fight choreography in every action based cutscene is a treat from start to finish, and even during the bits that are dialogue focused, you get some absolutely great moments. Dante and “foe who sometimes helps you” Jester’s interactions deserve a special point, with Dante absolutely hating anyone who talks more than him…And boy oh boy does Jester talk. And their first interaction will always make me smile, nuff said there. The point is, the game’s action sequence cutscenes are so ridiculously over the top that I rarely end up skipping them, because they’re such a joy to watch and such a core part of the DMC3 experience. This is a game where you’ll watch Dante run down the side of a tower, and then later drive up that same tower’s side on a motorcycle: Why? Because it’s Devil May Cry 3, that’s why. And yet even the awesome bits have moments of humor to them that I’ll leave you to enjoy, but trust me. This is a game whose cutscenes will absolutely make you smile, unless you’re somehow completely dead on the inside.
And just in case you didn’t have enough? On the Special Edition (which is the version available on modern systems), you gain access to Vergil as a playable character upon finishing the game! Vergil offers a different style of gameplay where instead of guns, he summons projectile swords to shoot at enemies, and has three melee weapons that are cycled between. Because his summoned swords don’t have an actual attack animation from Vergil tied to them, it also means Vergil can summon his blades to shoot at things while in mid melee combo, offering a very different kind of gameplay experience from Dante. It’s still about awesome, over the top combos as you cycle between his three weapons and mix up your moves, but the fact you can shoot at the same time means you can dish out some absolutely insane damage. Vergil also gets several special attacks with those summoned swords such as being able to make a barrier of them that will freely slash anything up close while he’s doing his melee thing, but they cost his precious Devil Trigger meter to use, making them a tactical choice: Use summoned sword barriers, or save the meter for a Devil Trigger? Vergil’s only real flaw is that each of his weapons has only one basic combo, and no ‘delay press’ variants like Dante’s weapons do. This means Vergil has to switch up weapons far more often to keep a Stylish combo going, as you have less moves per weapon than Dante does, but it is made up for in the fact you get three of them at once instead of two.
Oh, and just in case you think you can sit back and relax because the game’s over when you beat the final boss? There’s a minigame in the credits where you have to try and kill 100+ demons before the credits finish rolling. You know an action game is all about the action when you’re still kicking ass while the staff credits scroll by, and it’s just another reason I love this game.