Capcom’s Devil May Cry series is one of the most beloved Japanese action franchises ever made. Its smooth, action-packed gameplay and incredible sense of style are just two of the many reasons it has such a large and loyal fan base, but perhaps its biggest weapon is Dante. The series’ iconic white-haired lead is playful, ridiculously cool and a bad-ass fighting machine. In short, he’s an icon.
So when Capcom went to TGS 2010 and unveiled a westernised, Ninja Theory-developed reboot of Devil May Cry, complete with a dark-haired, punk rock redesign of Dante, fans of the series went ballistic. Fanboys May Cry might have been a more suitable name for the reboot. This was apparently just too much of a departure.
But viewed dispassionately, a Devil May Cry reboot is far from a bad idea, and if any developer can pull it off, we think it’s Ninja Theory. Here are some of the reasons we believe that the change of developer and approach will breathe some fresh life into the series.
The area where DmC stands to benefit the most from Ninja Theory’s involvement is story and character. Both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved were extraordinary in these departments, and by taking the DmC franchise and focusing on relationships and emotive performances over the convoluted otaku-style plots of some of the previous games, we will hopefully get something with wider appeal that will make us more invested. Previous games in the series have always been more about style over substance, so hopefully this reboot will find an equal balance of both.
Furthermore, using techniques picked up from working closely with actor-extraordinaire and performance capture expert Andy Serkis, Ninja Theory has become one of the industry’s leaders in emotive character performances. Serkis brought the knowledge he gained from creating such incredible performance capture-driven characters as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy to Ninja Theory, and in turn the developer delivered some amazing results. Stories anchored in believable characters have driven both their previous titles, and from what we’ve seen of DmC so far, Ninja Theory seems to be applying what it learned from Serkis to this new title too.
The gameplay in Devil May Cry has always been excellent, but it has also suffered a little from its adherence to old school Japanese gaming tropes. Japanese developers and publishers have been trying to modernise their output this generation – and catch up to western devs – and this is precisely why Capcom has brought U.K. developer Ninja Theory on board for the latest instalment.
In past outings, for instance, different areas have felt oddly disconnected. A new doorway usually meant that the screen would fade away and you would appear in a completely different area. While this is certainly part of the Devil May Cry tradition, I would like to see a bit more cohesion in the game’s world. There should be an uninterrupted flow from one area to the next. This kind of thing has become a standard for the genre, with games like God of War and Darksiders showing us just how much more effective exploration can be when it doesn’t feel like you’re warping to a new area. It’s a lot more confusing to try and follow the progression of the game through a bunch of disconnected, labyrinthine rooms if you aren’t processing your journey in real-time. DmC looks to address this.
Battle arenas are also given a little more context. Previous titles had Dante (or Nero, the lead character of Devil May Cry 4) running into an area and triggering a cut scene, bringing up a force field and enemies that spawn into existence before you. While this does still happen in the new DmC, Ninja Theory has introduced an idea that makes this feel more organic. Limbo City has a demon dimension – a living force that that is trying to break through into the real world and actually transforms the city and makes it attack and hinder Dante.
“We wanted to find a reason why the walls would close in and trap you like the classic DmC’s do,” said creative director Tameem Antoniades to the US PlayStation Blog. “Not only does it trap you, but it spawns enemies like they were blood cells,” he continued. “It’s like a malignant cancer; it bleeds.” It’s this kind of approach that makes us think that Ninja Theory wants everything in DmC to occur in a more seamless way.
Regardless of how the different games in the series have scored critically, it seems as though the majority of Devil May Cry’s fans consider the first game to be best. Satisfying the hardcore fans, in other words, is easier said than done.
Capcom took a crack at it, however. Devil May Cry 4 was quite a departure for the series, as most of the game was spent playing as Nero, another slick, white-haired sword and gun-wielder. While he looked similar, his gameplay approach was quite different. His sword was motor-powered and required powering up for devastating attacks, and his arm – the ‘Devil Bringer’ – was a glowing destructive force of its own.
This was clearly Capcom’s attempt to try and freshen up the series before it became stale. It’s gone one step further with DmC though, handing the series over to a western developer to completely re-interpret it. While this will surely upset some of the fans, the fact that the publisher would rather do something exciting and new that might surprise a lot of people than just go through the motions is telling. Imagine if Warner Bros. hadn’t handed Batman over to Christopher Nolan?
Speaking of Batman, there are actually some parallels that can be made between DmC and Batman Begins. Both are origin stories, meaning that there is room for creative license and free-reign, so long as this story doesn’t completely re-write later events we’ve all come to know and love.
Even so, fans were in an uproar after their first look at Ninja Theory’s younger, punk Dante. He’s got dark hair! He’s locked-up! He’s smoking! He’s got too much attitude! Yes, he does indeed have all of those things, but who cares? This is his untold origin story. So he’s a rebellious youth – it doesn’t really make that much difference to who he will become. Quite the opposite, as seeing his brawler-style fighting gives us some insight into his character and how he learned to fight on the street.
Let’s go back to Bruce Wayne. His origin story in Batman Begins has him scrapping in an unrefined style with fellow convicts while in prison. It also shows him plotting to murder the man that killed his parents. This couldn’t be further from the Bruce Wayne we grew up loving, yet everything he went through is what ultimately made him a hero. Why would Dante’s journey be any different?
Once again, I’d like to stress that Devil May Cry games are very stylish and pretty, but one thing that I think Ninja Theory will improve on is the overall style and look of the DmC world. Something about a slick, modern, anime-esque character, walking around environments that look like The Vatican while fighting court-jester-style demons has always clashed for me.
Check out this awesome gameplay video.
Everything that we’ve seen from Ninja Theory’s take on the franchise shows the developer completely embracing the artistic sensibility that has garnered it such respect in the industry, and applying it to this world in a way that brings a more unified artistic direction to the game. Anyone that has played Enslaved knows that its environments were absolutely stunning, and DmC seems to take it to the next level. Environments and buildings pop with a vibrant urgency that matches the look of the characters and enemies on screen. We can’t wait to see all of the different environments in this game.
Fans may have the wrong idea about this reboot. The series hasn’t just been handed over in its entirety for Ninja Theory to do as they please – Hideaki Itsuno, director of every Devil May Cry game since part two, is in fact working alongside Tameem Antoniades, creative director at Ninja Theory. This is a team effort.So while this may be a stylistic departure in every sense of the word, you can rest assured that it will still be a Devil May Cry game from within its very core.
So are excited about the possibilities of the new DmC? Or do you still need further convincing? Sound off in the comments section!
Stephen is an editor at IGN AU, and covers games, films and more. You can chat to him and the rest of the Australian team by joining the IGN Australia Facebook community. Slammin’!