When it was originally released in October 2001 on the PS2, Devil May Cry was hyped up as the system’s first killer app. I actually bought a PS2 with Devil May Cry the day it came out because of the great reviews it got in EGM. I never finished it, though. I got THPS3 the following week, then the GameCube launched, and I never got back to DMC. But after playing through DMC3-5, I felt like should play DMC1 to at least fill in the blanks in the story. Legends say that DMC started out as Resident Evil 4, but Shinji Mikami thought it was too much of a departure for the series and told the team to make it into something else. The result was something between a Resident Evil game and a beat ‘em up with 2D action game influences, the first “stylish action” game.
Although Devil May Cry was the first game in the series, it's the second game in the DMC timeline, after DMC3. In DMC1, Mundus, the king of the Underworld who was sealed there by Dante's father, Sparda, is trying to open a new gate into the human world so he can take it over. If you played DMC3, you know that Vergil and Dante's pendants combined are the key to opening a gate to the Underworld and that Vergil jumped into the Underworld along with his half of the pendant to look for the power of Sparda. I guess Vergil's quest for power didn't go so well because now he is under Mundus’ control and all Mundus needs to open a gate on Mallet Island is Dante's pendant. In order to lure Dante to Mallet Island, Mundus creates Trish, a demon who looks just like Dante's mom, and sends her to get Dante. Trish then hires Dante to help her “put an end to the Underworld” and brings him to the island.
I initially thought that DMC1 might be skippable in terms of story since the series switched directors after it, but I was wrong. DMC explains a lot about what's going on with Vergil, Trish, and Dante in DMC4 and DMC5, and fits right in with how DMC3 ended. I wish I would have played it before 4 and 5 now because all the references to DMC1 in those games went right over my head. DMC1 is definitely “required reading” for DMC fans.
Devil May Cry is split up into missions, just like the other games in the series, but it feels like it shouldn’t. This game feels like it should be less linear, like Resident Evil. The way missions are split up feels clumsy and awkward. Missions usually end abruptly after you go through a door, they don’t end immediately after you beat bosses, and sometimes, you get another mission start screen after going through a few rooms in a mission you’ve already started. Most missions have you doing 2 or 3 item delivery sequences in very Resident Evil-like fashion, while killing packs of enemies along the way, and then killing a boss who you've probably fought before at the end to unlock another door or get another item. There's 5 bosses besides Mundus in the game, and you fight each one at least 3 times. They just keep coming back for more.
Unlike in DMC3-5, you can't replay missions until you beat the game and automatically restart the game in hard mode. You can go back through previous mission's areas, since a lot of missions take place in the same general areas, but only up to a certain point in the story. There are a couple of points of no return in the game where you'll be trapped in an area or the old environments will change. At one point, when you go back into the main castle, some doors will have been removed, moved around, or will lead you into new areas. Secret missions are also only available in specific missions, and if you miss them, you can never do them in that playthrough, even if you can go back to where they were during another mission. At least your moves, health, and DT meter are not reset when you restart in hard mode.
Another weird thing about this game is how lives, continues, and Yellow Orbs work. Yellow Orbs can be found hidden around the levels or bought with Red Orbs, and they are your lives in this game. If you have a Yellow Orb when you die, you'll restart from a checkpoint. You don't get to choose whether or not you use the Orbs. If you don't have a Yellow Orb, you have to reload your last save and replay the whole mission. You can save at any point during a mission, but none of the puzzle progress or enemies defeated are saved, just your character progression (moves, HP, DT). If you beat a mission with no extra Yellow Orbs and save, you'll only have 1 life in the next mission.
The combat in DMC feels very limited when compared to DMC3-5, but it was fresh and unique back in 2001. 3D games didn't have combat this deep outside of fighting games back then, and nobody was combining swords and shooting so seamlessly in 3D games either. It was the first time you really got anything as fast and stylish as Strider or Zero from MMX in a 3D game. Going back to it now though, it feels kind of clunky, and there isn't much variety in terms of weapons. Dante gets 5 guns; handguns, shotgun, grenade launcher, laser cannon, and a needle gun for the first person underwater sections, which are pretty bad. He gets 3 swords; Force Edge, Alastor, and Sparda. Force Edge only has the basic sword moves, so you'll never use it after getting Alastor. Alastor has Devil Trigger, all sword combos, and moves like Air Hike (double jump), so that's the main weapon I used. Sparda does a lot of damage and has all the sword moves, but no Air Hike or Devil Trigger. You can also get a pair of fiery gauntlets for hand to hand combat called Ifrit, which also have Devil Trigger and more moves you can buy with Red Orbs. You can switch between Alastor and Ifrit by pressing R3, but it forces you into an animation that leaves you wide open to attacks. It's not a very long animation, but it's not seamless, like in DMC3-5. You can't switch guns on the fly, though, which is a little annoying. I like how different guns work better for killing certain enemies, but going into the menus to switch guns takes too long.
I guess we have this game to blame for this move buying business that keeps showing up in all these action games. Maybe it was inspired by River City Ransom or something. The moves in this game's store are probably the most overpriced in the series, considering how Red Orbs are rewarded and how short the game is. There's no way anyone can buy all the moves for Alastor and Ifrit plus all the blue and purple orbs in one playthrough without spending a few hours farming Red Orbs.
Even before the launch of the Xbox and GameCube, when it's only competition was the Dreamcast, PS2 games never looked amazing. Devil May Cry looked alright back then, and it looks much nicer in widescreen and HD, but it still doesn't look great. It’s very low poly, very dark, and the HD Collection version I played on PS3 doesn't even run that well. There's loading hiccups here and there and it even slows down in this one foggy forest area. It also has horrible Resident Evil style fixed camera angles that constantly switch while you're walking around and even during combat, which is very disorienting. The game has amazing art direction, though. I especially love the environments on Mallet Island because they tell a story. The game has a wonderful creepy atmosphere to it similar to Castlevania, and of course, Resident Evil. This was Mundus’ home, and he was a crazy, power hungry, egomaniac. What kind of person has a giant statue of himself right at the entrance, a throne room, Colosseum, biplane, and a pirate ship in their home? A crazy demon who wants to take over the world, that's who.
I like a lot of the heavy metal battle and action sequence themes in the soundtrack, like “Red Hot Juice”, “Flock off”, and “Ultraviolet”, but I’m not really into all the slow, haunting, ambient music with whispering and ghostly voices that plays a lot of the time. The track with the distorted bell and circus clown music sample, “ST-01”, is probably the worst thing I've heard while playing these games. It’s even worse than “Shall Never Surrender”. It's so annoying. The voice acting is incredibly cheesy and bad. Dante sounds like he's really struggling to get his words out while reading some of these lines, and his voice even cracks during the most dramatic and important cutscene in the game, which now lives in infamy as a meme among DMC fans.
Devil May Cry is a really hard game to get into now. That’s the main reason why I didn’t review it before DMC3-5. It just feels so clunky and the combat is so limited when compared to the other games. It's not as difficult as DMC3, but it will kick your ass until you learn how to play it right, too. I'm glad I played it, though. I had fun revisiting it and seeing how the series started. This game could really use a remake, though.