The Art Of Fight­ing

Cap­com takes stylish ac­tion to its peak in Devil May Cry 5, Dante’s most spec­tac­u­lar game to date


The hit pause is one of videogam­ing’s great­est tricks. A brief, brief, al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble freeze in the ac­tion when a blow hits home, it may have been in­vented pri­mar­ily to help fight­ing-game play­ers re­act to the hit and con­tinue their com­bos, but its real magic is in the way it em­pha­sises the im­pact of a suc­cess­ful at­tack. Devil

May Cry 5 is full of them, nat­u­rally; this is a Cap­com game of supremely fast, im­pec­ca­bly stylish ac­tion. Yet here it feel sit feels cel­e­bra­tory, rev­er­en­tial even, pulling in ref­er­ences from the wider Cap­com uni­verse and de­liv­er­ing them with, in the con­text of its pub­lisher, an un­prece­dented visual sheen. Dante, Devil May Cry’s head­line pro­tag­o­nist, has here been blessed with a Sho­ryuken. Its an­i­ma­tion has three ob­vi­ous, lengthy and quite beau­ti­ful hit pauses. Bang, oof, pow. Magic.

As if the Street Fighter ref­er­ence wasn’t clear enough, the weapon Dante uses to per­form the iconic move is called Bal­rog. It has two modes, one a peek-aboo boxing style that re­calls not only Cap­com’s fa­mous boxer, but in its rapid bobs, weaves and bobs, the sadly over­looked God Hand. The other, fo­cused on kicks, has its roots capoeira, ,but it equally calls to mind Street Fighter Vs Ken. There are mo­ments where Devil May Crys feels like a kind of Cap­com uber-game, a col­la­tion and cel­e­bra­tion of some of tis finest work de­liv­ered in daz­zling style. Di­rec­tor Hideaki Is­tuno ac­knowl­edges them again: "The Bal­rog is ab­so­lutely a Street Fighter ref­er­ence, but the moves them­selves weren't re­ally in­spired by our other games. Though our in­tent was very much to say,'Al­right, let's see if we can make a boxing fight­ing style that looks cooler, and more stylish, than any other boxing style Cap­com has made: We were try­ing to one-up the rest of the Cap­com teams in that re­spect, for sure." Bang,oof,pow,Job done.


It­suno’s re­turn to Devil May Cry has been a long time com­ing. Too long, if you ask the small, but te­diously vo­cal, sub­set of DMC’s fan­base that took such um­brage at the series’ pre­vi­ous in­stal­ment, 2013’s

DmC: Devil May Cry. De­vel­oped by UK stu­dio Ninja The­ory and pow­ered by a need­lessly con­tro­ver­sial visual re­design of Dante, it was over­seen from Ja­pan by It­suno. With­out it, Devil May Cry 5 would likely look very dif­fer­ent. It­suno took fre­quent trips to the UK dur­ing the game’s de­vel­op­ment, and has fond mem­o­ries of its fish and chips (and less fond ones of its im­mi­gra­tion queues, since one of his vis­its co­in­cided with the Lon­don Olympics). “I re­ally fell in love with it,” he tells us. “You have all these amaz­ing el­e­ments in the ar­chi­tec­ture; it’s mod­ern, but it’s gothic. You’ll have this great gothic ar­chi­tec­ture, and on the first floor there’s a McDon­ald’s. I thought that was so cool, this amaz­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion, and I thought it would be a great place for a Devil May Cry game.” When the time came to scout lo­ca­tions for DMC5, It­suno sent a squad to the UK – to Lon­don pri­mar­ily, but also fur­ther afield, to cas­tles and cathe­drals around the Home Coun­ties.

The re­sult of that en­deav­our, Red Grave City, looks a lit­tle fa­mil­iar, the series-stan­dard loom­ing gothic tow­ers sur­rounded by pil­lar boxes, street-signs and level fur­ni­ture cap­tured on re­search trips and im­ple­mented to give the place a dis­tinctly Lon­don flavour – al­beit one that has been over­run by demons and an evil tree that’s smash­ing through its glo­ri­ous ar­chi­tec­ture and drink­ing the cit­i­zens’ blood. Noth­ing worse than what you’ll find on the District Line at rush hour, per­haps, but while Red Grave is clearly mod­elled on Lon­don, it’s also ob­vi­ously a work of fic­tion. “We set the game in a fic­tional city, but we use ref­er­ences so we can hope­fully recre­ate the feel­ing of a place,” pro­ducer Matt Walker says. “We don’t want to copy any­thing that ex­ists in the real world, be­cause that would be, well, copy­right in­fringe­ment [laughs]. But we want it to be some­thing peo­ple can re­late to.”

What­ever the in­spi­ra­tion, Red Grave City looks sump­tu­ous, and even be­fore the steel starts fly­ing it’s clear this is one of the pret­ti­est games Cap­com has yet pro­duced. Char­ac­ter work has come on leaps and bounds, with a far more re­al­is­tic look to the cen­tral cast (a Hype in E324 featured an un­cap­tioned por­trait of new NPC ally Nico; one reader got in touch to ask why we hadn’t named the girl in the pic­ture, as­sum­ing her to be part of the dev team). Hair and cloth­ing flaps re­al­is­ti­cally in ac­cor­dance with char­ac­ter move­ments. And once the ac­tion starts and the al­pha ef­fects kick in, it is sim­ply some­thing else. This is new ter­ri­tory for Devil May Cry, which has al­ways had a b-movie aes­thetic to it, a cer­tain grub­bi­ness en­tirely in keep­ing with its blood-splat­tered, metal-sound­tracked de­monic grime. The claret is still there, of course. The mu­sic, too (Devil Trig­ger, the typ­i­cally lu­di­crous theme for

DMC5’ s an­nounce­ment trailer, hit num­ber one on the iTunes rock chart dur­ing E3). But it has never looked quite like this.

That’s all thanks to the RE Engine, Cap­com’s in­ter­nal tech that was built to power Res­i­dent Evil VII but which on this ev­i­dence is far more ver­sa­tile than its name sug­gests. Well, it is now It­suno and team have made a game with it. “The engine was orig­i­nally made for Res­i­dent Evil, and it didn’t have all the func­tion­al­ity we needed to make Devil May Cry 5,” It­suno says. “But that ac­tu­ally played to our ben­e­fit. We had just the essentials: a lim­ited set of func­tions that we needed in or­der to get started. Be­cause of that, we were able to build out the game in such a way that it didn’t have a lot of fluff; it would be a nice lean engine that had specif­i­cally what we needed.”

“It’s Cap­com’s first time im­ple­ment­ing a proper, phys­i­cally based ren­der­ing pipe­line for a prod­uct,” Walker adds. “But we did add other stuff. The rea­son the fa­cial an­i­ma­tion looks so good is we im­ple­mented blend shapes, which a lot of the best triple-A devel­op­ers have been us­ing for a long time. But we didn’t have them in MT Frame­work, and we didn’t have them in RE Engine un­til Devil May Cry 5 came along. We spoke to the en­gi­neers, told them what we needed, and worked with them to get that up and run­ning. We did, and it’s be­come a new tool for the engine.”

This push for re­al­ism is not with­out its prob­lems, how­ever. This, lest we for­get, is a game in which you can swing a sword with such force that it throws the en­emy into the air for some grav­ity-de­fy­ing aerial com­bat. It is a game where you fight your way through an in­creas­ingly bizarre, grue­some, and enor­mous set of demons. It is a work of arch fan­tasy, in other words, and when re­al­ity in­trudes, things can get com­pli­cated. It­suno re­calls work­ing on Devil May Cry 4, which re­leased in early 2008 and was, the de­vel­op­ment team felt, a re­al­is­tic-look­ing game. “But you look back at it now and it kind of looks like an­ime. Now we’ve moved for­ward, and we’ve made it as re­al­is­tic as we can, but


we re­alised that a lot of the game-y stuff we’ve done be­fore doesn’t trans­late well to this new look.”

An­i­ma­tion was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult thing to get right, with the tricks and tech­niques pre­vi­ously thought as genre stan­dards prov­ing no longer fit for pur­pose. How do you deal with can­cels, for ex­am­ple – where one an­i­ma­tion stops and is over­writ­ten by an­other when the player hits a dif­fer­ent but­ton – when your char­ac­ter looks real, and there­fore needs to move as such? And how do you re­spond to that prob­lem with­out spoil­ing the re­spon­sive feel of the con­trols that fans of this genre de­mand?

“We used to pro­ce­du­rally in­ter­po­late be­tween two an­i­ma­tions, so it would come off pretty smoothly,” It­suno says. “But we found that with such re­al­is­tic graph­ics, the pro­ce­dural stuff only works in cer­tain in­stances. There were a lot of cases where we couldn’t in­ter­po­late like that and have it look nat­u­ral, so we had to go in and cre­ate, by hand, new an­i­ma­tions to in­sert in be­tween them. They’re not that long, maybe just a frame or two, but they let us cre­ate some­thing that feels as re­spon­sive as a Cap­com game should, but still looks nat­u­ral in this con­text. That’s some­thing we’re re­ally proud of.”


If things have had to change un­der the hood, we cer­tainly don’t no­tice dur­ing a lengthy hands-on ses­sion, com­pris­ing mul­ti­ple playthroughs of the demos Cap­com took to Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show. This is, for all the tech­ni­cal tweaks and graph­i­cal splen­dour, still Devil May Cry. That’s most ob­vi­ous when we play as Dante – no sur­prise, since he’s the series’ only con­stant. This is It­suno’s Dante, mean­ing he has ac­cess to four distinct styles, switch­able on the fly us­ing the D-pad, and a host of melee and ranged weapons, which can also be changed in re­al­time with a tap of ei­ther trig­ger. De­spite the com­plex­ity, the con­trols them­selves are rea­son­ably straight­for­ward, with the movelist re­quir­ing lit­tle more than slightly dif­fer­ent tim­ing, or a direc­tional mod­i­fier on the ana­logue stick. Tim­ing win­dows are gen­er­ous, too.

Devil May Cry is not a dif­fi­cult game to play; it is sim­ply a dif­fi­cult one to be bril­liant at, and that is the heart of its ap­peal.

That’s not to say we don’t strug­gle. The TGS build, where Dante was playable for the first time, sup­ports save data, and a Cap­com UK com­mu­nity man­ager has been busy in the weeks since Ja­pan’s big­gest videogame show. Dante has ac­cess to half a dozen melee weapons here, and if we’re hon­est, it’s a lit­tle over­whelm­ing at times – es­pe­cially when an in­tended tap of a shoul­der but­ton to lock on or mod­ify an at­tack comes out as a trig­ger press, switch­ing our weapon. Some have mul­ti­ple modes, too (the Bal­rog’s punch or kick mode is se­lected with a but­ton com­bi­na­tion). It won’t be this way in the fi­nal game: as be­fore, Dante will start out with a cou­ple of weapons, and un­lock more as he pro­gresses through the story. But it does mean that we spend much of our demo feel­ing a lit­tle clum­sier than we – or Dante, you sus­pect – might like.

This is the point of Dante, how­ever. While he has ranged op­tions, he does his best work up close, and rapid switch­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent fight­ing styles and melee weapons is the key to climb­ing the style rank­ings. As ever, en­e­mies are de­signed in such a way as to en­cour­age, if not quite force, you to switch up your ap­proach; large, or shield-bear­ing foes re­quire a heav­ier weapon, while the smaller, flight­ier kind are best dealt with us­ing some­thing with a lit­tle more zip. While we’ve al­ways felt more com­fort­able with the lat­ter, the big­ger weapons here are an ab­so­lute joy to use. The pick of the bunch sees Dante fight with half a mo­tor­cy­cle on each fist. Nor­mal blows pack quite the punch, but ham­mer an at­tack but­ton and the two halves are joined to­gether, Dante send­ing en­e­mies back to the nether­world by jump­ing on the sad­dle and per­form­ing a re­lent­lessly dam­ag­ing series of donuts.

It’s bonkers, yes, and we can’t help but won­der if there’s a limit to what Cap­com con­sid­ers ac­cept­able when it comes to Dante’s most out­landish at­tack­ing tools. “There such a thing as too crazy!” It­suno says. “The mo­tor­cy­cle that changes into, es­sen­tially, a du­al­wielded chain­saw? It’s pretty cool. But you can go over that line, and have ideas that are so ridicu­lous, they’d just feel like we were try­ing too hard. We’re con­stantly try­ing to strad­dle that line.”



Nero, the sec­ond playable char­ac­ter, is fur­ther ev­i­dence of that line be­ing strad­dled, since he fights with a series of dis­pos­able (and ex­plod­able) pros­thetic arms, dubbed Devil Break­ers. Yet his is a very dif­fer­ent fight­ing style. “Dante is about choice,” Walker says. “You can change your fight­ing style and weapons at any time; he’s all about style and grace. Nero’s sup­posed to be a bit more head-on.” His is a more pa­tient, con­trol­ling and strate­gic playstyle; not only do you need to think about your load­out, since you can only carry a cer­tain num­ber of Devil Break­ers at once, but you also need to man­age their use. A tap of L1 will dis­rupt an op­po­nent’s at­tack or combo, push­ing them away, but it’ll de­stroy the Devil Breaker im­me­di­ately. Pick-ups dot the lev­els and re­stocks can be ac­quired from a trav­el­ling NPC, but when sup­plies run dry, Nero is a good deal weaker.

With them, though, he is a dra­matic im­prove­ment on his in­car­na­tion in Devil May Cry 4, though the fun­da­men­tals of his playstyle are the same. If Dante is about get­ting up in the en­emy’s face, Nero is about putting them ex­actly where he wants them; get up in the air with one op­po­nent and, once they’ve been dealt with, you can pull the next up to­wards you, or you to them. New spe­cial at­tacks, unique to each Devil Breaker, add the req­ui­site style and de­struc­tive power, the ef­fect de­pend­ing on whether you’re on the ground or in the air. One Breaker’s grounded spe­cial is a Kame­hameha-style en­ergy beam, which can be man­u­ally aimed as it fires; in the air, Nero will un­leash a vol­ley of lasers in mul­ti­ple di­rec­tions.

Less is known about V, the third playable char­ac­ter, be­yond his role in the story: he’s the one who seeks Dante’s help to rid Red Grave City of its de­monic in­fes­ta­tion. Yet one look at V tells you that he is go­ing to han­dle quite dif­fer­ently. He car­ries a book and walks with a cane; he doesn’t ex­actly scream heavy-metal badass. “With Dante and Nero, we did our best to make them so that they would have sep­a­rate playstyles, but there is some over­lap be­tween them: they both have guns and melee weapons,” It­suno says. “If you get good at play­ing one of those char­ac­ters… they’re rel­a­tives, so it makes sense that you’d be able to get good with the other one, to an ex­tent. V, on the other hand, doesn’t have a sword or a gun, so he’s in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent place, and fights in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way.

“Be­cause of that, whether you’re a fan of the series of are com­pletely new to it, V is a new start­ing point for ev­ery­one. We’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to see­ing how peo­ple are go­ing to re­spond to it. We think he’s re­ally cool.”

Dante may be back, and may never have looked bet­ter. But V, as his name im­plies, is Devil May Cry 5’ s se­cret sauce. For all the ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, for all the new ad­di­tions to one of the most sat­is­fy­ing bat­tle sys­tems around, the most re­mark­able thing about Devil May Cry 5 is the num­ber at the end. This is a beloved series in a genre with plenty of pas­sion­ate fans, but it’s all too rare for a game of this kind to have stay­ing power. How has Devil May Cry bucked the trend, and spanned three con­sole gen­er­a­tions? It­suno, nat­u­rally for some­one who’s worked on ev­ery game ex­cept the orig­i­nal, has the an­swer.

“In or­der for a series to have stay­ing power, it has to be able to bring in new fans, as well as con­tinue to please ex­ist­ing ones,” he says. “If it can’t bring in new peo­ple, the series is go­ing to die out. I think about the games I love – fight­ing games and hor­i­zon­tal shoot­ers. They come out with an amaz­ing game, and it’s ex­actly what play­ers are look­ing for at the time. Then you have to look at, what’s the Plus Al­pha for this game? What’s the ex­tra el­e­ment that you’re go­ing to add on? And it gets more and more com­plex, so it gets harder and harder for new­com­ers to come in and en­joy the series.

“In Devil May Cry 4, I very specif­i­cally tried to ad­dress that by mak­ing the ini­tial playable char­ac­ter Nero. By giv­ing peo­ple a new char­ac­ter to play with we were say­ing, ‘Okay, this is a new style for Devil

May Cry’. Even­tu­ally we gave peo­ple Dante, so once new­com­ers were used to play­ing Nero, they had Dante and all his dif­fer­ent op­tions at their dis­posal. That’s the key, re­ally. You have to have some­thing that’s ap­proach­able and en­joy­able for peo­ple who are new to the series, as well as peo­ple that al­ready love it.” That may sound like, with V wait­ing in the wings,

Devil May Cry 5 is yet to re­veal to us its real magic. If that’s the case we may be in for some­thing spe­cial in­deed. This series has never looked so spec­tac­u­lar, or been so var­ied in its com­bat; we have seen barely a sniff of the for­mer, and the lat­ter will be fur­ther bol­stered by an ap­par­ent wimp with a walk­ing stick. It may call to mind a hand­ful of other Cap­com clas­sics, but Devil May Cry has a class and style all of its own. In the un­likely event it some­how doesn’t quite come to­gether as planned, it will at least go down in his­tory as Cap­com’s finest love let­ter to the hit pause. Bang, oof, pow. See you in March.


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