Every video game franchise starts out somewhere. Devil May Cry was conceived as a brand new Resident Evil game, but as the project evolved, it turned into anything but Resident Evil.
Where Resident Evil relied on slow, methodical gameplay and resource conservation, Devil May Cry amped things up with fast, challenging combat and over-the-top characters.
Devil May Cry immediately struck my attention with its quirky name and stylish protagonist, Dante. I can play as a silver-haired, near-immortal demon half-bred who taunts enemies ten times bigger than him? Just tell me where to sign already.
Today, six games in, it’s among the most recognizable action series in gaming. Even despite several ups and downs, it remains true to the original game’s tenets: stylish combat and relentless difficulty.
It took me a while to replay the original and come to a sudden conclusion that Devil May Cry feels like playing Dark Souls.
When Dark Souls released in 2011, it made a significant impact on the gaming landscape for years to come. Coupled with the dark setting, its punishing combat based on repetition and learning gave birth to the Souls-like sub-genre.
Games like Ashen and Nioh now wear the tag as a testament to their high skill requirement. But how is Souls-like attributable to Dante’s quest of defeating the demon king, Mundus?
Devil May Cry’s Mallet Island setting resembles the gothic architecture you’d find in Dark Souls 10 years later. Crumbling structures populate the outdoors while macabre paintings and ornate pillars line the central castle’s interior.
Both games suppress your confidence through the oft-depressing level design or the equally malformed enemies. Every opponent makes you feel unwelcome and weak, and perpetually challenges your combat prowess.
Similarly to Dark Souls, defeated enemies drop red orbs, an essential life-force of demons. They allow you to upgrade Dante’s abilities by interacting with one of the divinity statues found in the game.
But by far the biggest similarity between the two is the combat. I wasn’t used to Devil May Cry’s arduous battles when I first played it. Prior games, even if challenging in their own way, were far less demanding.
Resident Evil? Just point and shoot. Soldier of Fortune? Just point and shoot. Tomb Raider? Just… well, you get the idea.
Observe and Counter
Devil May Cry, while seemingly another high-octane action game on the surface, requires you to focus. It encourages you to observe enemy behaviour and look for an opening; it punishes brash decisions and complacency.
There’s almost no room for just blindly mashing the buttons. Not only does it call for dedicated mastery of its gameplay mechanics, but guns — so deeply engraved in my mind as powerful tools — are almost obsolete.
Shooting enemies serves no bigger a purpose than simply to nibble away at their health bar from a distance. At most, they could break the defence of certain enemies, but doing actual, tangible damage requires getting up close and personal.
Devil May Cry starts with baby steps, a tutorial of sorts. The first few missions involve fighting weaker enemies, learning basic gameplay mechanics and simply absorbing the gothic atmosphere.
Complacency could still lead to an unfortunate “Game Over” screen, but it’s still manageable.
As soon as you reach the game’s first boss battle against the imposing spider, Phantom, you must change your tactics. It’s not smart to attack without a plan in hopes of landing a few lucky hits.
Phantom vigorously protects its weak-spots. Instead of simply attacking, you must observe his attack pattern, dodge incoming strikes and attack only when a small window of opportunity presents itself.
This trend continues throughout the whole game and you must adapt your approach from one boss to another. Encounters against the intelligent and skilful knight, Nelo Angelo, feel especially daunting when compared to the obtuse Phantom.
Studying your enemies and countering their attacks becomes obligatory. One brash move could lead to Dante’s swift demise and it’s not uncommon to come out victorious with just a miserable sliver of health remaining.
Easy Does It
During my first playthrough, whenever the going got tough, I relied on vials of holy water to deal heavy damage to bosses. But each purchase required a greater amount of red orbs and also prevented me from upgrading Dante’s abilities.
Compared to Dark Souls, Devil May Cry is more lenient. If you die during the first couple of missions, it offers you the Easy Automatic mode. In this mode, among other things, Dante deals more damage, takes less, and combos are easier to perform.
The game basically says: “You suck, here’s a mode for wimps”. I must admit that back then I was just that: a wimp. I couldn’t dodge and I couldn’t learn any of the combos. In error, I tried to power through Devil May Cry as any other action game.
But that’s not how you’re supposed to play Devil May Cry.
Each boss battle requires patience and serves as a milestone for everything you’ve learned until that point. If played correctly, Devil May Cry can invoke the same sense of accomplishment as any other Souls-like game.