The shadow of series creator Hideki Kamiya looms large on the "Devil May Cry" franchise. The first game was an instant classic, but unfortunately, each sequel has fallen short of the original's quick-twitch, button-mashing perfection.
The problem for Capcom is that Kamiya worked on the initial title and later left the company. Without his vision, the series seemed aimless, helmed by teams that appeared unsure of where the games should go.
That partly changed with the introduction of Nero in "Devil May Cry 4." The new protagonist marked a new chapter in the series. He allowed the creators to build their own lore and bring in new gameplay mechanics to keep the franchise fresh. Unfortunately, the project was a half-step and it stumbled because it couldn't completely turn the page on its past.
With "Devil May Cry 5," director Hideaki Itsuno fulfills the promise of his predecessor. But players have to delve through a complicated story line. Told through three perspectives, it follows Dante, the long-standing protagonist; V, a mysterious newcomer and Nero. The three have teamed up to take down a demon called Urizen, which has planted a giant tree called the Qliphoth that is sucking blood out of humans and unleashing monsters on Red Grave City.
Yes, the plots in "Devil May Cry" games have never been subtle. They're more of a backdrop and excuse for the gameplay. If there's any meaningful narrative, it has revolved around the personal lives of its heroes and the latest effort does a good job revealing how the three protagonists' fates are intertwined and how important they are to the advancement of the franchise.
Each has his own unique combat scheme. Nero relies on his sword, the Red Queen, and gun to defeat demons. Players can power up the Red Queen for stronger attacks, which adds strategy when facing tougher foes, but the biggest addition is the Devil Breaker, a series of mechanical arms that replace his severed one.
These prosthetics act as wild cards in combat. One gives Nero an extra boost during a jump while another packs an electrical punch. Players have to be careful how they use the Devil Breaker, though, because there's a limited supply.
V is the most unusual of the three. He's physically weak but commands three demons: the bird Griffon, the panther Shadow and Nightmare, a lumbering behemoth. Griffon acts as V's ranged assault while Shadow backs it up as the melee attacker. Nightmare can only be called when the Devil Trigger meter is powered up, but when it arrives, the monster heals its brethren.
Because V relies on others to do the fighting, players have to keep him back from skirmishes. V gets in trouble when his minions go down, leaving him defenseless. He'll have to dodge attacks while lingering near his allies to speed up their recovery. His combat style is the most strategic and intriguing of the three, playing almost like the Necromancer in "Diablo III."
Dante is a combination of the two. He's the most complex character with four different fighting styles and several weapons for both distant and close-up battles. Players can switch styles and armaments on the fly, making him the most versatile. In addition, he can transform into a demon mode that heals his wounds and makes his attacks more powerful, but he needs to gain three bars in his Devil Trigger meter to activate it.
Over the course of the 20-mission campaign, players will be able to upgrade each character's abilities, making each more powerful and opening up new combos and attacks. In addition, Dante and Nero will discover new weapons and Devil Breakers.
With the number of characters and moves, "Devil May Cry 5" can be overwhelming. Its combat is akin to learning three languages. Each attack is a word and the game measures how fluent players are by grading them at the end of each encounter. (Scores can go from Dismal to Smokin' Sexy Stylish.) It can be onerous at first, but as players advance in each leveling, switching off between characters, they'll grow accustomed to the intricacies of each hero. It's a game that begs to be replayed, so players can unlock the potential of Dante, Nero and V.
In a little add-on, players can view each other's battles through the Cameo system that records a fight and plays it in another person's campaign. Players run across the battles when one of the hero's path intersects another's. That fight can be seen from a distance, widening the scope of the story and giving players a sense of immediacy.
By switching up the formula and introducing modern touches, Itsuno and his team firmly breaks from the past and puts the franchise in the right direction. With "Devil May Cry 5," the developers finally understand what the series can and should be, and in the process, they created the best entry since the original.
Final score: 3.5 out of 4 stars