Hardcore gamers that think they're the best on the block had better take notice: Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
is going to kick your ass... a lot. I don't care if you've played through Ninja Gaiden's Hurricane Pack
before, or if you've somehow overcome the level 10 Orochi in KOF '97
, or even if you managed to beat the original Maximo
without losing any health -- Devil May Cry 3
is still going to kick your ass. Of course, that doesn't mean that Dante's Awakening
is any more difficult than the games I've mentioned above, but to deny the fact that Capcom's stellar sequel is one of the most challenging titles of the last ten years would either make you a robot with superhuman reflexes, or a videogame prodigy not unlike that silent midget kid from The Wizard
But the game's difficulty is just one of multiple reasons that I'm so impressed with Devil May Cry 3 in the first place. From start to finish it makes no qualms about what kind of game it is, what kind of story it wants to tell, and what kind of punishment it wants to put you through to get there. Even better is the fact that once you do manage to slash and shoot your way through all 32 secret and standard missions, you're left satisfied but not finished. With five difficulty settings and plenty of bonus goodies yet to discover, the need to play through Capcom's demonic beast all over again is as overwhelming as the odds against you. And believe me: the odds are definitely against you.
Of course, import gamers have already devoted several message board threads to talking about how challenging the Japanese version of Dante's Awakening really is, but I wonder how they'd react if they knew that the American release is even tougher? Remember the Resident Evil 4-style checkpoint system? That's now gone in favor of the original Devil May Cry's yellow orb continuance structure. Remember how tough the Hard Mode was from the moment Dante's adventure first began? Well that's been changed too -- now the Japanese Hard mode has been transformed into the American Normal setting. So if you thought you were good before, you have to be even better now. Are you scared yet? Because if not you should be.
But don't misunderstand me, there's a hell of a lot more to Devil May Cry 3 than just its challenge. There's the atmosphere, the characters, and the music. There's an abundance of varied enemies and incredibly imaginative bosses that challenge your brain as much as your reflexes. There are dozens of attack combinations and enough gameplay variation to make the first two titles in the series look like a demo version of Dino Crisis 3. And best of all, there are about a million different ways to sit down and have fun no matter how long or how much you decide play it. In other words, it's the single best PS2 game that Capcom had made so far.
This kind of standout quality is thanks in part to Capcom's decision to treat Devil May Cry 3 like a major motion picture; the production values here are through the roof. Definitely more epic in scope and size when compared to DMC1 and 2, Dante's Awakening fleshes out the half-demon's backstory better than I originally thought it could. The whole relationship between brothers Dante and Vergil, how they came to odds, and how they parted ways isn't just an afterthought tacked on to give you a transparent reason to kill things -- it's the principal focus of the game. And with cutscenes stationed before, during, and after almost every primary stage you'll be well-versed in the history of Sparda before the final battle at the Unsacred Hellgate.
The reason the storytelling is so effective in Dante's Awakening, though, is because of the excellent direction and pacing of the cutscenes. Unlike Devil May Cry 1 and 2, DMC3 doesn't feel as disjointed or vague every time there's a break in the action. There's a deliberate path that you're guided down, and the level of creepiness, intensity, and humor contained within it is surprisingly good. Just look at the opening scene at the beginning of the game, for example, when Dante receives Arkham's invitation to meet his brother Vergil in the tower of Temen-ni-gru. Immediately attacked by a horde of Hell's Pride and Lust, the white-haired badass gets stabbed in the torso more times than Julius Caesar, throws off his attackers like nothing ever happened, and walks over to his jukebox to fire up some metal before slashing his enemies to pieces. After that, the cutscene gets even more ridiculous when Dante eats pizza as he slays, uses billiard balls as projectiles, and surfs on the back of an unlucky hellspawn with his guns firing everywhere. The amazing part is, that this is only in the first few minutes of the game -- and there's a lot more absurdity where that came from.
Another strong presentational element in Devil May Cry 3 are the visuals. Just barely eclipsing the polygon count of the original game, the completely revamped graphics engine moves along at a blazing 60 frames per second. Granted, tech heads will probably find a few instances of slowdown and stutter in some of the more populated areas, but in terms of consistency Dante's Awakening stays pretty smooth. Of particular note are all the little details that the artists have decided to throw in for an extra level of humanity. So if Dante is upset or feeling snide, the subtle movements of his face look exactly how you'd imagine them to be. If it's a gusty evening and the wind is blowing outside, each character's hair and clothing almost certainly reflects it. And if various light sources of different colors and brilliance are blasting the environment at separate intervals, any object that comes across them will be bathed realistically. Needless to say, it all looks extremely nice.
Speaking of the visuals, one of my initial concerns with Devil May Cry 3 was that it would suffer from the same "invisible enemy" syndrome that plagued the second game. That is, I was afraid that Dante would be nailed by creatures off-screen before I even knew they were coming. Luckily that problem has been fixed almost entirely thanks to a brand new moveable camera system. And though this much-needed addition isn't as free-roaming like that of San Andreas or Ratchet and Clank, it still allows for enough leeway to let players see what they need to see. It's especially helpful when targeting enemies that are far away too, since it will automatically zoom in towards your opponent as long the stage allows for it. This makes the need for manually having to alter the perspective a pretty rare thing -- but if you need the feature in a pinch, it si there for you and that's the important thing.
My only issue with the new system is that, for the first couple of hours, it's difficult to tell where the camera can and can't be rotated. This is because there aren't any onscreen indicators that specify where your view can be manipulated. It would have been much better if there had been some kind of icon that illustrated what areas had fixed perspectives and which ones didn't, but because the camera is so smart to begin with, it's not really an issue unless you're constantly backing yourself into a corner.
But backing yourself into a corner is the absolute worst thing you can do in Devil May Cry 3, since the enemies are downright nasty. With 24 different kinds of baddies (and more than a dozen evil bosses), Dante's Awakening isn't nearly as repetitive or simplistic as the competition would like you to think. In fact, it has one of the most intense and varied gameplay designs seen in an action title since Mercenaries -- only much, much better. Or to put it in more direct terms, Devil May Cry 3 forces its players to create a thinking strategy in conjunction with their reflexes.
Just make sure to forget about the fun yet mindless bad guys from Devil May Cry 1, as they've been completely replaced with far more intimidating and aggressive creatures. In Dante's Awakening, nearly every enemy in the game has different behaviors and attack methods in addition to having multiple ways to implement them. This is especially true of the boss monsters, which are without a doubt, some of the best end-level opponents I've faced since Snake Eater (possibly even better). In fact, these demon lords are so wicked and so evil that they change their attack patterns and strikes two, three, possibly even four times per battle before finally succumbing. I was thinking of giving you a few examples of fights where this occurs, but I don't want to do that to you and besides, like Metal Gear most of the fun is figuring out how to beat them.
Luckily Capcom has given us plenty of tools to combat those bosses, and it's these utilities that make Devil May Cry 3 work so well -- there's just so much to see and do here that it's amazing. Even from the very beginning of the game, players have access to four distinct styles of play: Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royal Guard. Choosing a style is pretty important too, as it will change the way that Dante fights and determines what moves he can or can't pull off. Selecting the various styles is also great for molding a Dante that fits your own personal method of play So if you like to be on the defensive and use hand-to-hand combat, for instance, just select Royal Guard and get all Shaolin on their asses. If you prefer to dodge, jump, and play with your enemies using acrobatic maneuvers instead, then choose Trickster and show them how it's done. When you combine these four styles (and two hidden ones) together, the level of flexibility here is pretty vast (especially since each style has multiple technique types based on their experience levels).
Dante's weapon selection is as diverse as his attack types with five different guns and five different devil arms at his disposal. So whether you enjoy the reliability of your twin pistols or enjoy the icy cold beauty of the three-pronged Cerberus nunchakus, there's definitely a little something for everyone. What's particularly enjoyable about these weapon types, however, is that they're so different from one another that it actually makes sense to use all of them. The shotgun, for instance, blasts close-range enemies with sadistic power while the Artemis unleashes some seriously deadly demonic arrows. The Rebellion, on the other hand, acts as a good old fashioned DMC-style slashing sword while the Nevan gives Dante control over bats and a super-charged guitar. As you can see, some of your arsenal items are weird, some are cool, but all of them are useful.
Because Devil May Cry 3 is so challenging, however, the designers knew that they would have to make each weapon as accessible as possible. So in a move that's as brilliant as it is entertaining, every equipped devil arm and gun can be switched out at anytime (two for each slot) -- including when performing combos. Simply push L2 or R2 and in the blink of an eye, you can go from using Agni and Rudra to using Cerberus and Beowulf and back again. The end result can make for some seriously brutal and satisfying chain attacks with action that moves so fast it's almost hard to believe.
While I'm on the subject of hard to believe, it's really difficult for me to find any true faults with the game. Everything I've described to you above happens so quickly, so smoothly, and so compellingly that its problems are almost invisible. Other than the rarely-seen camera issue I mentioned a few paragraphs back, the only other hitch is that DMC3 may be too difficult for novice users. Because unlike your typical action title, Devil May Cry 3 never eases you into the more challenging areas -- it just throws you in from the beginning and says "good luck." So the learning curve is pretty steep and severe, but for those of you that are put off by Dante's great difficulty, that's your loss not his.
If you want me to get really nitpicky, I could also mention that the voices are sometimes recorded lower than the cutscene music, which makes it difficult to understand what's happening without the subtitles. But then when I remember that the soundtrack itself is so hardcore, so creepy, and so appropriate, the phrase "who cares" mysteriously pops into my mind. And that's before I even acknowledge the solid voice acting and powerful sound effects that make the most of their DPL2 encoding.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved