February 01

Devil May Cry 3

With the HD collection of Devil May Cry just around the corner, and Ninja Theory’s reboot DmC out later in the year, I thought this would be a good time to look back at one my personal favourite games, and yet another Capcom masterpiece, the brilliant Devil May Cry 3.

The original Devil May Cry actually began life as a Resident Evil title, and was going to be the first RE title to grace the PlayStation 2. However, the director of the original title, Hideki Kamiya, had created a game that was far more action orientated than RE1 director Shinji Mikami had intended the series to be. With the game 80% complete, Mikami made the ballsy decision to start work on RE2 from scratch, keeping more of a horror vibe for the series. However, rather than telling of Kamiya, he realised that the title he and his team had been working on showed real promise, and that it should go ahead, only as a different title. Hence, Devil May Cry was born and the world was introduced to one of the most badass character designs of all time, Dante.

Some see him as a metrosexual hipster, some find him to be an ultra annoying cock. But there is no doubt that Dante in his series of games is one cool cat. He is a pretentious, arrogant upstart wannabe, but also a hero with a heart of gold. This sense of character is painted all over each of the Devil May Cry games and the games actually have a sense of being completely designed around this character’s persona. The fluidity in his animations, the moves he can perform, the music the game uses, the gameplay itself, they all fit in with the look, feel and personality of Dante.

Devil May Cry 1 was an absolute revelation when first released. It was at the time something utterly new, innovative and cool. It was a clearly a game made by gamers, for gamers and it led to critical acclaim and a cult following. The original DMC introduced to the world to a modern day hack and slash style action game. In the 80’s and early 90’s, 2D sidescrolling beat’em up’s were very popular, such as Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Double Dragon. The DMC series is sort of the logical progression of this style of game, only with a ton of new twists and gameplay styles added to the mix. Whilst it’s sequel, DMC2 somehow lost it’s way, DMC3 had a new director in Hideaki Itsuno, with Kamiya taking on a more hands-on role as designer and managed to take everything good from DMC1 and expanded and innovated upon it.

DMC3 is a very freeform game with a complex and deep combat system. The player controls Dante with the left analogue stick, and has a number of actions available to him with the various face and trigger buttons. The player has access to moves with his sword (and later all number of different weapons) and guns, both at the same time. This is something that immediately caught my attention as both a player and as a game design aficionado. Normally, ranged weapons are far more powerful that melee weapons, which is reflective of real life. However, in the DMC series guns are actually not particularly powerful. In fact, they are more used to keep enemies juggled in the air, or to jab away at them from long range. This leads to one of the most iconic images of the DMC series and something that is to this day a joy to behold. Being able to launch an enemy into the air with your sword, and then keeping them juggled in the air using any number of ranged weapons. Not only does it look amazing, but it feels brilliant to perform and is necessary to progress through the game as one in a long series of melee and combo moves available to Dante.

What I particularly love about this mechanic is that it actually started out life as a bug. In Onimusha (another game in development at Capcom at the time), there was a code glitch that meant that when an enemy was in the air, if the player kept shooting them, they would keep recoiling in hitstun in the air. However, rather than just scrapping this and passing it of as an error, somebody smart in the team instead realised how cool it looked. Thus the mechanic became a feature and led to the over-the-top action style of game that the Devil May Cry series became famous for. I think this is a brilliant example of adapting an original design. Sometimes you will accidentally find things along the development journey that are actually better ideas than you originally thought of. A good designer can recognise when a mechanic or action is fun and will run with it, rather than dumping it and going back to a hard and fast design.

These are the controls for Devil May Cry 4, but they are almost identical to DMC3 and this image is useful for talking about the intricacies of the control system used in the game.

DMC3 has a wide range of controls, but the strength of the game comes from the tight and complicated control system. Make no mistake, the DMC series is very hard and unforgiving for a new player. The series was designed at a time when Capcom had a number of loyal fans who craved difficult games with technical controls, and DMC is one of the finest example of the depth of gameplay a tight but complicated system can offer. At a basic level, Dante has the ability to slash with his sword, fire his guns (which have an infinite amount of ammo), or jump. The player moves Dante with the left stick and the enemy he will attack is based on who he is facing at a given time. However, the player can use the R1 trigger button to lock-on to an enemy, meaning that any melee or ranged weapon attack will target the currently locked onto enemy. This is a key part of the game, as the player will have to decide which enemy to attack at any given time, as there are often many enemies on screen at once. Whilst locked onto an enemy, Dante can also roll to either the left or right by holding the stick left or right and pressing the triangle button whilst holding the R1 button down. At first this feels rather finicky, but it feels right when playing the game for real.

Through various combinations of button presses and stick taps, Dante can also access a wide range of special techniques and moves. For example, with the rebellion sword he starts with, the player can press triangle, triangle, triangle within a specified time to make Dante go into a pre-canned 3 hit sword slash combo. Dante initially starts with a limited number of moves he can perform, but as the game progresses, Dante gains access to all manner of moves, weapons and even styles. This leads to a plethora of different ways to play the game and one of the best things about Devil May Cry 3 is that a lot of the fun is playing the game and coming up with your own ways of defeating enemies, instead of using a single strategy.

As well as pre-canned combinations, Dante also has access to a range of other types of moves that are all used to extend combos and deal with enemies. For example, Dante has access to a range of moves known as launchers, which as the name suggests, launches an enemy into the air. Once airbourne, Dante can then juggle the opponent in the air using his guns. However, he can also leap or follow the opponent into the air and juggle them with melee attacks. As the game progresses, you can also gain access to powers that allow you to launch both the enemy and Dante at the same time. When in mid-air, you then have the ability to smash the opponent back down to earth, or even knock them up into the air even further again. Oh and if the opponent is smashed down to the floor, don’t think the combo is over yet. It’s possible to land on top of them, or even pop them back up into the air again via an OTG (off the ground) move. Thus it’s possible to perform absolutely insanely long combos that go on for ages and deal ridiculous damage to an enemy.

These combos of course happen to look incredibly stylish, and this is the point of the game itself. You see Devil May Cry isn’t just an action game, it’s a *Stylish Action Game* and that’s what makes all the difference in setting it apart from many of the clones that followed after it. In the top-right hand corner, there is a mar that fills up whenever you use a particular attack. This is known as the “style” meter and it accumulates depending on the number and variety of attacks Dante performs over a small series of time. If you keep hitting enemies and keep hitting them with different moves, it fills up, allowing you access to the all powerful Devil Trigger. However, if you keep missing enemies, or keep using the same moves over and over, it slowly depletes. This small gameplay mechanic is the single greatest piece of genius in the DMC series. The game actually wants you to explore and try out new techniques so that you can fill up your bar and gain access to the various ranks in the game. When the bar is starting out near empty, it starts at D rank (usually followed by a word, such as dope) and then goes C, B, A, S, SS and SSS (Smokin’ Sick Style) in that order. Thus just finishing the game is the basic requirement this game offers as a challenge, the *real* challenge of the game is to finish every mission with an SSS rank. Thus to gain those elusive SSS ranks, the player needs to learn to perform all manner of crazy combos and juggles, making the various styles and techniques relevant and making the game insanely fun.

If this wasn’t enough, the game also balances nicely a range of different melee styles. Being able to go combo crazy one on enemy is all well and good, but the enemies don’t just stand there and let you hit them. Not only must you learn to evade their attacks, you need to know when it’s safe to attack them, as some have periods of invincibility where they cannot be hit. You also often attacked by a a crowd of enemies, so an important lesson is to learn which of your moves can be used for crowd control, and which can be used to hurt a specific enemy. To master the game, you need to be able to evade enemy attacks, deal with crowds of enemies and isolate specific enemies to kill. It’s also important to know within a group of enemies which one poses the biggest danger, so you can eliminate them first before dealing with the rest. This is all done at 60FPS making for a really smooth gameplay experience where controls are smooth and fluid and you need to think fast, or end up toast.

The various combat styles available to Dante in DMC3

If DMC3 had just one combat style on offer, it would have been a very good, if not great, game. However, there are so many weapons and styles on offer that there is a ton of replayability and fun to be had in this title. One style is known as Swordmaster, which as you might imagine, is based around attacks with sword weapons. However, there is also a Gunslinger style,which focuses on ranged weapons. There is also a Trickster style, a Quicksilver Style, a Doppelganger style a Dark Slayer Style (available to Nero in the special edition at least) and my personal favourite, the Royal Guard style. Each style has a range of unique moves available to it, such as the Royal Guard allowing you to parry an enemy hit and counter attack them as they hit you. Add to this the crazy number of weapons available in the game, such as swords, gauntlets and a rock guitar (you can’t make this up) and you have the recipe for one of the finest combat systems ever found in any game, ever.

To appreciate just how deep the combat system is in the game, it’s worth reading some of the combat system FAQS available for the game. DMC3 has a system deep enough to rival most fighting games. Just like a fighting game, it’s possible to cancel the downtime of one animation of one move with the start-up of another. So instead of performing a 3 hit slash combo, after the second hit, you can cancel into a Stinger, and then cancel the Stinger into a high-time to launch the enemy. You can then cancel the high-time such that Dante also launches himself into the air with the enemy, and then start cancel combos in the air. And this is just a basic, learn in 5 minutes, style of combo. It’s also possible to link combos together, so that as soon as one combo ends, you still recover fast enough before your enemy that you can start another combo at a precise timing to continue the barrage.

Dante fights the Cerberus boss, a 3 headed dog who appears several times during the game

Whilst DMC3’s combat system is it’s piece de la resistance, there are lots of other notable game design choices that add up to make it so much fun. Destruction enemies reveals red orbs that are then attracted to Dante. These orbs are used as a currency in-game to gain new powers, which means that the game is structured such that not all powers are necessary straight away. Thus the game can increase in difficulty and can offer more variation to the player as the game progresses as new styles and techniques become available and enemies become more powerful and require new strategies to defeat. The game also has some fantastic boss designs, which are not only inventive, but challenging and fun to fight against. All bosses have unique tells and signs that you can use to know when to defend and when to attack. Even challenging bosses, and there are a lot of those, are fair to fight against once you learn their patterns and tells.

The game also has an absolutely banging soundtrack. It’s of the hard rock / death metal variety and when first shown off in DMC1 was totally unique as no other game had tried anything like it. It totally fitted Dante and the character of the game and goes really well with the intense stylish action of the game. In fact, after completing the game, you gain access to the Bloody Palace mode which is a series of waves of enemies presented in “floors” which are effectively rounds. There are 200 rounds, and completing all of them with the soundtrack cranked up to maximum is a really fun part of the game and shows off just how good the combat engine is.

There’s a lot more that could be said about DMC3, but it’s a game that is truly cherished by it’s fans. In a way, its a product of a bygone era, as it’s difficulty and harsh learning curve and lack of approachability just wouldn’t get green-lit by a major publisher today, perhaps explaining why Capcom have decided to farm out the latest DMC game to a Western developer. However, it’s a brilliant example of how deep a game can be and how to make a game whereby the system is so much fun that the real challenge and enjoyability of the game is simply to keep playing and find things out for yourself. And for that, I salute you DMC3.