Devil May Cry 4- “Sequels Make You Cry”

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“Capcom” is one of the most preeminent companies in the industry; it’s also one of the most innovative, especially considering the last few years. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t milk their sacred cows… quite on the contrary, they also have one of the more sequel driven publishing strategies. From a financial point of view, their tactic is quite sound: use “R&D-like” small production units to produce new and innovative concepts, and then explore the established franchises till they bleed, thus making enough profit to keep the boat afloat. Yet, from an artistic point of view, it’s an odd sight to see the same company name behind the brilliant “Devil May Cry” (the first one), “Killer7” and “Ôkami”, and the not so interesting “Megamans”, “Street Fighters”, “Resident Evils” and “Onimushas”.

But, the past is past, a new generation of platforms has arrived, and it remains to be seen if the financially risky creative departments will have a chance to produce new titles, considering the high production values behind xbox360 and ps3 games. So, after the original and interesting “Dead Rising”, it is with little surprise that “Capcom” now launches a sequel: “Devil May Cry 4”. “Devil May Cry”, like “Resident Evil”, has been a series filled with its fair share of ups and downs. The first “Devil May Cry” was a pure masterpiece; the second was a step backwards and the third a step sideways. So, it’s fair to say that the expectations weren’t very high. The question with this fourth installment is simple: does “Capcom” pull a “Resident Evil 4” out of the hat, or simply one more “Code Veronica”? The answer is… neither. Sadly, “Devil May Cry 4” doesn’t reinvent the series, but fortunately it has enough punch to forget the series’ uninspired past.

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Looking at the game, it is nice to see that many of the original game’s concepts were recaptured and finally improved on this sequel. Firstly, the neo-gothic art style has returned in full force and went back to basics. Instead of opting for the grand-scale scenarios of “DMC2” and “DMC3”, that mixed modern urban settings with the neo-gothic architecture and some horror inspired scenarios (with mixed results), “DMC4” goes for a more classic approach, forgetting the modern settings and replacing them with nineteenth century architecture that blends much better with the neo-gothic style. In the character department, there is also a return to the series roots, with more serious (but not exaggeratingly serious) designs replacing the often ridiculous monster design of the series. And thanks to more powerful hardware, everything looks even better, with crispy HD quality and great lighting effects that make everything shine; it’s easily one of the most visually impressive games around, thanks in great part to its art design and technical execution.

The tone of the game as also taken a leap backwards to the first “DMC”, forgetting the over the top humor of “Dante’s Awakening”, and going for a more B-movie feel: either stupidly serious or seriously humorous; it’s still is charmingly funny and witty, without going to the point of being “too” ridiculous. This goes well with the plot, that though mind numbing, manages to keep some interest in its unfolding. This is, in no small part, thanks to the virtuous cut-scene directing from the hands of Yûji Shimomura (director of “Versus”), who had already worked in “DMC3” and “Onimusha 3” with great results. His cut-scenes are among the best ever seen in a videogame, and it is impossible not to notice that they are done with great cinematic flair and style, though without the limitations of a real camera. [You can see for yourself how good the cutscenes are, Opera Cutscene, Nero vs Dante Cutscene]

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But those are mere details, what really matters in a “DMC” is the actual action, the one where you can take part of. And it is there that “DMC4” doesn’t do as well. On the good side of things, besides series’ veteran Dante (that comes with all the moves from previous games), there is a new playable character named Nero, that actually plays differently. It’s a not a difference you’ll notice immediately mind you, but as the game moves on, it’ll become all the more apparent: Nero’s movements were thought from scratch and forget many of the unnecessary complications of Dante’s moves (the numerous styles and weapon combinations). Nero has only one way of playing, and because of that, his gameplay feels much more modern and intuitive. Yet, many of the classic moves still make an appearance, and the somewhat obtuse and dated control system hurts the game… a lot. The reason for this lies in the use of subjective directions to make certain movements; the problem with this is that “DMC4” is too frenetic and action-driven for the player to be constantly trying to find out which direction Dante or Nero are facing, and which enemy they are targeting, especially if you consider the elevated number of enemies in each arena and the awkward camera angles (that are as bad as the ones in the first game, which dates to 2001…). So, while some progress was made in the gameplay department, its quirks and old-school approach just don’t cut it by today’s standards, and are hardly deserving of a sequel.

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“Devil May Cry 4” fails to be a true sequel to the first game in the series. It’s better than its two predecessors, but not enough to make it a masterpiece. The reason for this probably lies in “Capcom’s” design department, that chose Hideaki Itsuno (director of “DMC2” and “DMC3”) for director; meanwhile Hideki Kamiya (director of the first “DMC”, “Resident Evil 2”, “Okami”, “Viewtiful Joe”) and Shinji Mikami (director of “Resident Evil”, “Resident Evil 4”, exec. producer of the first “DMC” and many, many other things) are probably doing something new that will drive games to a whole new level. It’s a shame that “Capcom” isn’t always capable of reinventing its franchises, but one must understand that in order to innovate, they first must cash in on their series. Besides, how many masterpieces can gaming geniuses Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamyia create each season anyway? Not many, I’m afraid…

Overall: 3/5

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  1. Overall 4/5? The score matches the tone in your review but not the numeric measurements used at the end. Also, having just read through your entire back catalogue of reviews (I was quite impressed with a fair few and love an excuse to avoid working for exams), this game is in dire need of a score for level design – the one area in which it failed miserably. Getting to the mid way point then being made to go through all the prior areas in reverse order is not fun. Random dice puzzles are not fun. Being forced to fight the bosses is fun (although only Berial really matches DMC1s bosses in terms of gameplay and impact). The second time less so. The third time (due to the reappearance of that damned dice puzzle) made me lose all my good will towards this series. DMC2 was appalling. The 3rd was better but still lacked in terms of aesthetic design, to the point where the game world didn’t feel connected like it was in the first. For me I was no longer exploring a castle, just entering doors which magically teleported me into another disjointed area. 4 appeared to nail the look and feel but not the soul. Even the second game at least had me care for Dante. This one robbed me of all sympathy for him as he became badly written and the story was a mere shadow of what I had hoped (why does Nero’s devil trigger look like Vergil? Why is the Yamato sword so prominent?). Instead all I got were cliche and contrivance (don’t put Trish and Lady in just for fan service if they don’t add anything!).
    The battle mechanics were deep (to the point where I’d barely scratched the surface) and the game looked good, hinting back at the Dali-esque designs of the first yet little more.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • September 19th, 2008

    The final grade isn’t a sum of the disciplines. I think that goes without saying, but a game can be strong on all fronts and still manage not to glue things the proper way, or can be shallow or simplistic and still mold that in a effective and powerful way. It all depends on how the director merges each game vector into creating a pleasurable experience.

    I agree, the Level Design was awful. For some reason (I can’t quite remember) I didn’t mention it, a lapse of mine for which I apologize.

    As to Dante, I think you’re taking things a bit seriously, personally, I never found Dante to be anything else than a mash up of B-Movie characters (Bruce Campbell, Roddy Piper, and the like) with a Matrix flair to spice it up. What I do think is that he could’ve used a but more camera time, Nero isn’t nearly as interesting as a character, as he remains too serious for the crazy aesthetic that overwhelms the game.

    And yes, it was refreshing to see some of the monster designs go back to their origins.

    Thanks for the comment. Always a huge pleasure.

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