Sunday, March 3, 2019

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition Review

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is a remaster of the original 2008 Devil May Cry 4, similar to the version of DMC3:SE in the DMC HD Collection. It was released in 2015 for XB1, PS4, and PC, and added new characters, costumes, and gameplay and graphical improvements. DMC4:SE runs at 1080p and 60FPS, has higher resolution textures, improved lighting, and new graphical effects, like depth of field. It also added autosaves, 3 new playable characters, Turbo Mode, and brought Legendary Dark Knight difficulty to consoles, which adds a bunch of enemies to every battle.

According to the latest timeline revision that came shortly after the announcement of DMC5, Devil May Cry 4 takes place after DMC2. It’s set in the fictional city of Fortuna, which looks like it’s inspired by the real life Vatican City. Fortuna is home to the original Hell Gate which Sparda closed to save the world however long ago. It's also home to the Order of the Sword, a religion that worships Sparda as their god and plans to reopen the Hell Gate whenever they figure out how to fix the broken Yamato, which is the key. They’re also creating artificial demons in an underground lab beneath the Order’s fortress. Fortuna looks nothing like the city DMC3 takes place in, yet Dante, Trish, and Lady step out of the Devil May Cry office and onto demon infested streets in cutscenes, so I guess it’s close by at least. As shown in one of Trish and lady's cutscenes, Lady hires Dante and Trish to help her take down the Order of the Sword, starting by assassinating Sanctus, an artificial demon who is basically the Pope of the Order of the Sword.

The character you first play as, Nero, is a member of the Holy Knights of the Order of the Sword, a group of knights charged with killing all demons and protecting Demon Pope Sanctus. He looks like he could be DMC3 Dante’s long lost brother, but he’s actually his nephew. This isn’t mentioned in the game, but a DMC art book revealed that Nero is actually Vergil’s son. I’d like to know who the mother is. Nero is sent to capture Dante after the apparent assassination of Sanctus and uncovers all of the Order’s dirty secrets along the way. Nero is the total opposite of DMC3 Dante. He is serious, jaded, cynical, kind of emo, not a conceited Ninja Turtle, and not anywhere near as funny or cool.

Devil May Cry 4 is structured very similarly to DMC3. It takes place in a big interconnected world separated by missions or levels, but there are times when you can backtrack through previous areas even though they are not part of the current mission. DMC4 is better about pointing you in the right direction and closing off unneeded sections of the game than DMC3, though. The biggest change to the exploration aspect of the game is the removal of all the Resident Evil style item puzzles. Now, we have more Zelda style special item puzzles. Instead of finding some gem to place in a statue all the way on the other side of the level or something, you get a new ability for Nero’s Devil Bringer, or a key item that activates something in the environment. Nero gets abilities that let him use his Devil Bringer arm as a grappling hook, move the gyro blades around onto switches or use them to break doors, and key items that activate the trampoline platforms or destroy the demon roots blocking the way in the forest. I like this kind of obstacle much better. Grappling around and pushing things onto switches fits a stylish action game much better than the Resident Evil stuff.

The combat also feels much better than in DMC3. I thought DMC3’s combat was already great, so I was surprised to see how much better it is here. The combat is smoother, more responsive, and more impactful thanks to how good the animation is. The combo gauge is much more lenient about keeping your combo rank up when you’re not varying your attacks enough, you get more moves when you start the game, and I always felt like I had the right tool to keep my combos going, rush down enemies, or to keep them up in the air. It feels like a pretty big jump from DMC3. It reminds me of how much Bayonetta 2 improved on Bayonetta’s combat.

Devil May Cry 4 SE has 5 playable characters, but it’s not like you can play through the whole game with each one. The main game starts you off as Nero and then you switch to Dante on Mission 12 and play through each stage again in reverse order as you make your way back to Fortuna, where the game started. You’re not exactly playing half the game with Dante, though. Dante’s part is much faster, since the missions are tailored to him and don’t have any of the puzzles from Nero’s game. You also switch back to Nero for the final 2 missions, so Dante is only playable for 7 missions out of 20. That’s more like a third of the game. Trish and Lady’s game also works like this. You start the game as Lady and switch to Trish where you would normally switch to Dante. Vergil is the only character who you can play as through the whole game. Thankfully, DMC4:SE lets you share your orbs and items among all characters, and all your Proud Souls are usable on all characters, even if you’ve spent them all on buying moves for another character, so you’re not leveling multiple characters from scratch, like in DMC3 where each character had a separate save file and none of your progress carried over.

Nero plays a lot like Swordmaster Dante, but with the Devil Bringer. The Devil Bringer is Nero’s permanently Devil Triggered Devil arm. I see what you did there, Capcom. He can use the Devil Bringer to grab enemies and bring them closer and to throw them around. He has a lot of cool animations for throws depending on what enemy he is throwing. He swings the Frost lizard guys around by their tails and slams them, rips the little Chimera Seeds in half, suplexes knights, and does Zangief’s rolling double suplex into a spinning piledriver from Super Street Fighter II Turbo on Alto Angelos when in Devil Trigger. He even has unique throw animations for all the bosses. Nero only gets 1 style, 1 sword, and 1 gun, so he feels kind of simple when compared Dante, but the Devil Bringer is a lot fun to use, and I kind if missed it when using the other characters. Nero can use Devil Trigger once he gets the Yamato, but he doesn't turn into a devil, like Dante and Vergil. He gets this Force ghost looking Sparda over him, like Sasuke's Susanoo in Naruto. Nero's sword has a motorcycle handlebar-like hilt which he can rev up like a bike and charge up for more powerful attacks. It's kind of a hard thing to use in the middle of a fight because you have to stop attacking to charge up, or have impeccable timing to quickly charge it after an attack, but the attacks look cool and do a lot of damage.

Dante plays like a refined and improved version of DMC3 Dante. The biggest changes for Dante are the ability to carry 3 guns and 3 Devil Arms, instead of 2 of each, and the ability to switch Styles on the fly by pressing a direction on the d-pad. There isn't even an equip screen anymore. You can switch between all your weapons and styles at any time. This opens up a lot more options for stylish combos. Dante gets 4 styles from DMC3; Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royal Guard, and a new Dark Slayer style that lets him use the Yamato and a few of Vergil's moves in the last Dante level. For guns, Dante gets his dual handguns, Ebony and Ivory, a shotgun, and Pandora, a magic suitcase that can turn into a variety of machine guns, turrets, and rocket launchers. Dante doesn't get a “Get over here!” move like Nero's, but his faster movement speed, Trickster style, and rush down moves, make up for that. I feel like Dante is a more powerful character than Nero overall.

Vergil is just a better version of DMC3 Vergil. He still only has the Dark Slayer style. He has Yamato, Beowulf, and Force Edge as his Devil Arms, his old Spiral Swords and Summon Swords attacks, and 2 new ranged attacks, Blistering Swords and Heavy Rain Swords. There are a few key improvements to Yamato that make it pretty much the best weapon in the game. When using Yamato, Vergil can now jump up with enemies after launching them with Upper Slash just like with Force Edge, he can launch enemies with Rapid Slash and go up with them by simply holding down the attack button, and he can unleash a barrage of Rapid Slashes with the delayed anime slice and blood spray when in Devil Trigger. Vergil can still teleport all over the place and completely avoid attacks, too, so I didn't miss the Devil Bringer with him. He has an answer for everything. His mobility is insane. I think Vergil is the easiest and most powerful character in the game. It's pretty ridiculous how he can keep teleporting to stay in the air and attack a boss without taking damage.

Lady is probably the hardest character to use. She has a very slow melee attack, her wire shot does not bring enemies to her, and you have to use all her abilities to put a decent combo together. She uses the bayonet on her rocket launcher as her melee weapon, and she swings that thing around like it's a giant 2 handed battle axe, so she plays very differently from the rest of the cast. Her fighting style is kind of like Dante's Gunslinger times a thousand. It's all about guns and big explosions. She gets 3 guns; handguns, a shotgun, and Kalina Ann, her rocket launcher. She can switch between her guns at any time, but her melee weapon is always the rocket launcher, and she always has access to her wire shot and rocket jump. Each gun gives her a new ranged attack, of course, but it also gives her special secondary attacks, like Dante's Gunslinger. She can lock onto multiple targets with the rocket launcher, the shotgun gives her a rush down move, and the handguns give her another way to launch enemies into the air. Weapon switching is pretty much required to play her well. Lady is not a demon and can't use Devil Trigger, so she gets a powerful explosion attack instead. I thought she was kind of hard to use, because she's so different, but she is a fun character. There are no bad characters in this game.

Trish plays like a mix of Dante's Swordmaster with Rebellion and Vergil's Beowulf. She uses punches and kicks for her main attacks, Sparda's sword for secondary attacks, and her handguns, Luce and Ombra, for ranged. She can use Pandora, but can't switch to it. She has to input different commands to use Pandora's rocket launchers or laser cannon. She gets a Devil Trigger, but she doesn't turn into a Devil Lady, she just gets covered with electricity. Her main gimmick is paralyzing enemies in with her electric trails and Round Trip. She can launch an enemy into the air, use her divekick, and leave a trail of electricity in which the enemy will land on and be paralyzed in for a few seconds, allowing her to deal even more damage. She can also throw her sword and it will spin in place, leaving any enemies caught in it helpless. Trish is super fun to play. Her attacks are flashy and acrobatic, she's fast, and she has great tools to keep her combos going in any situation.

The gauntlet mode, Bloody Palace, has gotten some small changes that make a big difference. They've added a few rules to make it more of a game and less of a fancy training room. There's a time limit now, and if time runs out before you clear a floor, you die. You can extend your time by killing monsters with stylish combos. The better your combos are, the more time you get back, so mixing things up is much more important now. You also only get 1 portal now instead of 3, there are no free health or Devil Trigger orbs, and enemies start getting tougher much quicker than in DMC3. It's more exciting now, I'll give it that, but it's still not something I want to spend a lot of time playing.

Technically, DMC4 looks pretty nice for a remaster of a mid gen PS360 game. It runs great at 60FPS, the environments are detailed, the lighting is really nice, and the animations are amazing. The fixed camera angles are just as bad as in DMC3, though. I just think the design of most enemies and environments is really bland. I like the boss designs, but the scarecrows look like they're made out of sewn together clowns, and I don't even get what Mephistos are supposed to be. What happened to all the skulls and bat wings? Do these demons even come from the same hell as the ones in DMC3? The environments don't tell a story. Who built those ruins in the middle of the jungle? The Order of the Sword worships one of the most powerful demons as their god, yet their HQ doesn’t have much of anything suggesting that they worship Sparda. I mean, besides the giant statue of him. It’s like taking all the religious imagery out of a church. It's just a building then.

The game’s soundtrack is mostly slow and haunting ambient music and very forgettable techno, but there are a few cool tracks in it. I really liked the forest boss’ theme, “The Viper”, which is a Castlevania-like piano track. There are also more Powerman 5000ish tracks, like DMC3’s battle theme, “Taste the Blood”, which have kind of grown on me. They’re certainly better than the techno. I found the main theme to be kind of funny. It’s called “Shall Never Surrender” (AKA The Time Has Come (And So Have I)). It’s DMC4’s battle theme, and it sounds like “Taste of Blood” at first, and that’s the part that’s the battle theme, but in the second half, it turns into a boy band ballad straight out of 1999. It’s bizarre, and fits a stylish action game about as well as “Indestructible” fits Street Fighter IV.

I think DMC4:SE is overall a better game than DMC3:SE, but DMC3 got the tone of the series down better. DMC4 plays better, has more characters, better puzzles, and is much more balanced, but it lacks the the over the top gothic anime style I expect from DMC. DMC4 leaves me wishing for a game that combines the gameplay of 4 with the style of 3. Maybe DMC5 can fill this void.