I have been playing a lot of this game recently. It’s the hardest retail video game I have ever played. It’s wild. It doesn’t even pretend to be grounded in reality.
Review – Devil May Cry 4
Capcom, released February 5, 2008, XBox 360 (also for PS3 and PC)
I haven’t played any of the other Devil May Cry games, so all of my information from outside DMC4 comes from the Wikia (http://devilmaycry.wikia.com/).
I noticed a strong contrast between Dante and Nero. Dante is cocky, but experienced enough not to let it interfere; Nero is aggressive and snarky. Their attitude comes through when they fight: Nero is wild and reckless, while Dante lets him waste movement and eggs him on. This comes through in their taunts as well: Dante’s taunts are quick, while Nero spends a comparatively long time mocking his enemies. Nero doesn’t let personal defeat slow him down: when the Savior is absorbing him, he flips off Dante. On the other hand, his attachment to Kyrie is a personal hot button: he freaks out when Agnus and Sanctus take her away to use her to power the Savior.
The major antagonists are all named thematically. The demons (Berial [Belial], Bael, Echidna, and Dagon) are named after figures from Christian demonology. The Order of the Sword members (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus) are named after the sections of the Ordinary of the Mass.
The reason for Dante’s involvement in the plot is not revealed until the flashback at the end of mission 12 (his first playable mission). Dante is fighting the Order to recover the Devil Arms they have collected to power their Hell Gates, and Trish steals the sword Sparda to give to the Order so she can infiltrate it as Gloria. Until this moment, the player has no idea why Dante crashed the sermon and killed Sanctus. It allows the player to formulate his own theories: is this not really Dante? Has he turned evil, willingly or not? Is Nero the villain of the game and we’re seeing this from his point of view?
The game starts with Nero arriving late to Sanctus’s sermon. He is out of place in both dress and attitude: the lay folk are dressed in Order robes that look like surplus from Assassin’s Creed, while Kyrie, Sanctus, Credo, and the knights are dressed in immaculate cream-coloured robes. Nero is uncomfortable and starts to leave when Dante crashes the party and shoots Sanctus in the face. He tears through the knights before Nero jumps in feet-first and their fight lays waste to the chapel. Enduring a considerable thrashing that includes getting impaled with Rebellion and pinned to a statue of Sparda, Dante tells Nero that they’re the same and then leaves.
Initially a loyal knight of the Order of the Sword, Nero begins to doubt the Order after he discovers that Sanctus survived Dante’s assassination by using the Ascension Ceremony to turn himself into a demon. The fights with Agnus and Angelo Credo prompt him to completely turn away, but he continues to fight them in order to rescue Kyrie, his almost-girlfriend (supplemental material indicates that they were raised as siblings, but there is a noticeable attraction between them). His noble attempt gets him captured and used to bring the Savior to life, and Credo killed. In this scene, we see that Nero is completely helpless, absorbed by the Savior, and this is the only time when he’s actually scared. Agnus then uses Yamato to open the Hell Gate, allowing demons to swarm Fortuna so Sanctus can destroy them with the Savior.
Dante must then backtrack from the Order HQ to Fortuna Town to fight the Savior. Along the way, he encounters Echidna the She-Viper, who is altering Mitis Forest; Dagon, who has encased most of Fortuna Castle in unbreakable ice; and Berial, who is simply admiring the Savior. Dante kills each one in turn, takes the Devil Arms that power their Hell Gates, and uses the Arms to destroy the Gates. Confronting Agnus in the ruined chapel, they wax theatric (a moment that comes completely out of nowhere and has no significance to the rest of the story) before Dante fights him. Upon winning, Dante tells Agnus that he didn’t become an angel, but a demon, and giving up his humanity to become a demon made him weaker than Dante, who holds onto his humanity to empower his demon side. He pulls Yamato from the portal, cutting off the flow of demons. He finally fights the Savior and punches Yamato into its interior, allowing Nero to use it against Sanctus and rescue Kyrie.
Credo was shaping up to be an interesting character. He was the mirror to Nero: fully human, loyal to the Order and Sanctus, and Kyrie’s brother by blood. The Order used his loyalty to transform him into Angelo Credo, a supposed “angel.” His fight with Nero happens on the order of Sanctus. Kyrie’s appearance at the end of their fight is sudden and arbitrary, functioning only to give her the wrong impression and allow Agnus to capture her. That also allows Credo to turn away from following Sanctus’s orders because he ordered the kidnapping of Kyrie. In his final appearance, Credo tries but fails to rescue Nero from Sanctus and gets impaled on Yamato.
There are strong hints throughout the game, but nothing explicit, to explain why Sanctus thinks that Nero has the blood of Sparda that will activate the Savior. He can use Yamato (Vergil’s sword), Dante tells him that they are the same, and his blood does end up powering the Savior. I hear that a Capcom employee at Captivate 2009 stated that Nero is the son of Vergil.
Supplemental material is the only source for information on the Devil Bringer. A demon wounded Nero and the wound healed into the Devil Bringer, which is implied to reach as high as his shoulder. The Bringer seems to be sentient; Nero says that since it appeared, he hears a voice demanding power.
The Library section includes a small amount of descriptive information for each enemy in the game after you encounter them. I like to know that the developers put some thought into the background of each monster.
Devil May Cry 4 has some of the best BGM I’ve ever heard in a video game. The quiet tracks fit the mood when I’m exploring, and then seamlessly transition to the battle theme when monsters approach.
Each enemy’s effects sound thematically appropriate: Scarecrows cackle, Blitzes crackle, Frosts tinkle, and Basilisks howl. Credo, Agnus, and Sanctus use distinct vocal cues to tell the player what attacks they’re about to use.
Reuben Langdon and Johnny Yong Bosch are spot-on in the roles of Dante and Nero.
The character designs are distinctive and unique without being overworked. Nero’s blue denim coat and jeans set him apart from Dante, while his red hoodie vest ties him close, both being of the blood of Sparda. There are subtle touches in character design that make functional sense as well: Dante’s gloves, for example, don’t have thumbs or index fingers. It’s not just for “cool” factor; it makes sense for a man who fights with handguns. Nero wields his weapons left-handed to keep the Devil Bringer free.
Credo and Agnus are the only bosses with explicitly “Angelo” boss forms, and there is a significant difference between them. Angelo Credo has one angelic wing and his left arm terminates in a shield, as opposed to Angelo Agnus’s overtly insectoid form. The shield and wing together mean that Credo is a defender of his faith, misguided as it may be. Angelo Agnus is repulsive, symbolic of his evil experiments that created the Gladius, Cutlass, and Basilisk, and turned Order of the Sword members into the Bianco and Alto Angelos.
Kyrie is the only female character who isn’t sexualized. Trish and Lady show off their cleavage at every opportunity, while Gloria is simply mind-boggling from her first appearance until her last. Even Echidna the She-Viper is subtly sexual in her mannerisms and movements.
The character designs for the demon bosses are epic. Berial is a gigantic demon/centaur on fire, carrying an enormous sword; Bael and Dagon are giant ice toads with feminine lures (in the style of deep-sea anglerfish); Echidna occasionally flies around outside the arena and charges you, and prefaces her first encounter with a terrain-destroying chase sequence.
The other three bosses – Credo, Agnus, and Sanctus – aren’t much bigger than Nero. Dante has to fight the same bosses save Credo (and introducing a colour-swapped Bael as Dagon), and then culminates in a fight with the twenty-story tall Savior. Sanctus Diabolica, the final boss, is just Sanctus with some elements of the Savior in his design and carrying the Sparda sword. Of course, the size disparity makes sense: Credo, Agnus, and Sanctus were originally human, while the others are demons. The regular size ties their forsaken humanity into their character designs.
I like the distinctive areas of the game. Unfortunately, I dislike the backtracking and feel that not enough was done to make Port Caerula and the Fortuna Castle Town feel as different as Mitis Forest and the Castle for Dante’s missions. The confined space of the Residential Area section of Mission 17 makes the ensuing fight with Assaults, Mephistos, and a Faust a royal pain on Dante Must Die. The tight space restricts where Dante can go, while Assaults spawn on both sides and the Mephistos and Fausts can float through the terrain to attack from any side. The spot in Mission 13 where Dante has to fight a Blitz on Son of Sparda/DMD is much smaller than any other Blitz’s area, cutting down your reaction time and safe room to most of its attacks.
The exterior scale of Fortuna Castle and the Headquarters don’t align in my mind with the interiors I can visit. Am I to assume that there are areas of those levels that are simply inaccessible? The scale of the interiors gives these areas an empty feeling. I don’t know if this is good or bad. The game room areas in missions 6 and 19 are a pace-breaker if a player doesn’t know how to exploit the pattern of the die.
The boss fights (not counting the Agnus fight in Mission 6) all take place in flat, open spaces. Berial’s fight in Mission 2 does feature rows of buildings that restrict movement, but he easily destroys them. This allows you to move around the boss to avoid some attacks. Angelo Agnus’s fight in Mission 17 takes place in the same church space that the first mission did.
The blue orb fragments in Mission 3 are placed so out of the way that a casual player would never know they were there. To find them, I had to resort to guides. Even then, they were difficult to reach. Secret Mission 11 is hidden in such an out-of-the-way place that it’s nearly impossible to reach, requiring tricky multiple jumps with Devil Triggered Trickster Stance Dante or a full Disaster Gauge Pandora to float over to its platform.
When I started playing, I found Devil Hunter hard. Eventually, I figured out the tricks and techniques to get an S-rank on every mission. The hardest regular difficulty lives up to its name: Dante Must Die. I don’t like it when games ramp up the difficulty simply by making enemies do more damage and take less, but Dante Must Die not only does that and keeps the different enemy placement of Son of Sparda mode, but gives them all a Devil Trigger of their own, increasing their defence significantly and nullifying certain tactics.
With some practice and study, the enemies’ tells become apparent and a skilled player can avoid or counter their attacks. Unfortunately, in a dogpile situation, where a handful of enemies are on-screen at once, a player can miss an enemy behind him while he’s tooling on the ones in front. The Faults, enemies that only appear in Mission 14 (and cameo in 19), force you to keep moving and make using Gilgamesh and Pandora extremely risky: if a Fault catches you, it takes you to a subterranean room with a group of enemies. After getting out of that room, you are returned to the beginning of the area you were just in, with all the enemies returned.
The Style Meter offers a reward to the player for taking risks in combat. It’s not enough to just defeat enemies, but you have to look good while doing it. Staying back and shooting them to death is safe, but you get no style points for it. You have to jump into the fray and use your combos, dodge attacks, and even taunt downed enemies. One of the riskiest moves is to counter the Alto/Bianco Angelo dark sphere attack: a properly-timed Devil Buster or shotgun blast will reflect the sphere and destroy all the Angelos in formation, pushing the Style Meter up significantly. The Sanctus Diabolica fight features another such high-risk counter, his low-health Sparda charge, that all but guarantees victory if it works.
The Style Meter is one of three major criteria for determining your Devil Hunter rank after each mission. Combined with time spent and Red Orbs found, you get a mark from D up through A and then S. Other bonuses are No Item and No Damage; penalties are Continues, Enemy Handicap (if you continue more than twice), Gold Orb use, and Super Character (using the infinite Devil Trigger mode you get after beating Mission 20 on Dante Must Die). The hardest part I find is getting the Style Points required for S rank.
Dante and Nero play significantly differently. Nero, the playable character for most of the game, has a single melee and ranged weapon and a grappling power called the Devil Bringer. As is the custom for Devil May Cry, Nero’s weapons are outrageous: the Red Queen has a motorcycle throttle to power up its swings (identified by the increasing red glow on the blade) and the Blue Rose fires two bullets at once from its over-under barrels. The Devil Bringer allows Nero to use Grim Grips to cross gaps and ascend as well as grapple enemies and use unique scripted attacks.
The default control scheme makes some of the higher-end strategies difficult for Nero. By default, melee attacks are mapped to Y and ranged to X. Both characters can purchase Charge Shot for their guns (except Pandora), and Nero’s Charge Shot 3 is especially effective. In the default scheme, it’s impossible to charge the Blue Rose and attack a locked-on enemy without some bizarre finger acrobatics. Mapping Nero’s ranged attack to LT helps a little, but it ruins your muscle memory if you spent most of your play time with the default controls.
Dante begins a new game with Ebony and Ivory, the Coyote-A shotgun, and Rebellion. Over the course of the game, he collects Gilgamesh, Lucifer, and Pandora. He also possesses four combat stances and gains a fifth for the fight with the Savior. This gives Dante a tremendous amount of attacks, enough to overwhelm a novice player, who might give up on the other weapons and stick with E&I, Rebellion, and Swordmaster style. The other weapons have their uses, of course. Gilgamesh and Lucifer work very well against the demon bosses due to their sheer size, and opening up with Pandora against Belial can knock a few bars off of his health before he even gets close.
The Lost Woods puzzle in Mitis Forest is so simple that it went right over my head the first time I reached it. The altar in the middle tells you to “follow the light.” You’re supposed to notice the altar’s shadow and go away from it.
Red Orbs buy items (some items can be found in missions on all difficulties except Heaven or Hell and Hell and Hell) and Proud Souls (earned as a fraction of your Devil Hunter points after each mission) buy skills. All of your Proud Souls are refunded after Mission 11 to let you power up Dante. The system for buying skills and items has a flaw, in my opinion: the increasing cost. After purchasing a skill, the cost for everything else goes up. After purchasing an item, the cost for the next one goes up until it hits a ceiling.
WHAT I LIKED
- Style Meter encourages looking good while beating your foes.
- Character designs.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- Sadistic difficulty.
- Unintuitive item placement.
- Increasing cost for items and skills.
- Dante’s trip to the castle town.