Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition

This article was originally written on 12-02-2017, but looking back on it I do not believe it holds up. The ideas are solid but it requires a rewrite. This piece will be rewritten as part of a series of articles on Devil May Cry as a whole. Until then one can read this article, just keep in mind it may contain content not up to Stinger's standards.

Imagine sitting in the Capcom cantina, sipping your coffee. All the while looking at the latest demo of Resident Evil 4 playing on a screen hanging in a corner. By some bizarre twist of fate the demo glitches out and Leon is juggling a zombie in mid-air with his gun. It takes a human to look at this, laugh, drink his coffee, and go back to work. It takes a visionair to see this glitch and turn it into not only a game, not a series, but a whole genre.Devil May Cry has always been special within the gaming industry, born out of pure happenstance. The first game was short, contained lots of backtracking with reused environments, reappearing bosses and had voice-acting that sounded like it was recorded in the span of one night. Devil May Cry 2 was unfinished as well. Repeat bosses, retreading old levels, low amounts of voice-acting and even bosses from the previous game being reused.

In hindsight Devil May Cry wasn’t the only game in the genre to suffer from this phenomenon. For instance both Metal Gear Rising, Vanquish and Ninja Gaiden 2 and 3 all suffered from similar problems. It is understandable though. Just like fighting games, the main focus in development is the combat mechanics and how they are constructed. A careful balance of frame-data, hitboxes, combat scenario design and enemy construction. After that there is little budget nor time left for the bells and whistles to decorate the deep mechanics. A design philosophy we can trace back to the games like Street Fighter 2 which had only two play modes: fight against the computer, or a friend. It is then surprising that Devil May Cry 3 was the finished product that it was containing a strong narrative, a lot of post-ending content and less backtracking. Even more surprising is the fact that it was the only of the three games to get a re-release under the Special Edition brand in 2006 which added even more content and remixed the game a bit more; while it was the only one in the series that did not need it.

Two years later in 2008 the original Devil May Cry 4 saw the light of day. What defines it is it’s playable characters, which are increased in the its own Special Edition from two to a total of five. It would require an extensive review of the game to give them all justice so they will each get their own article down the line. But before we hit that mark let's give a more general overview of what Devil May Cry 4 is sporting under the hood.

Built on the MT framework it’s visuals are crisp, colorful and it maintains a solid 60 frames per second throughout the game with very little slowdown present. It is no overstatement to say that Devil May Cry 4 puts even games on the Playstation 4 to shame when it comes to the balance between performance and visual presentation. When we look at the mechanics of the game, there have been a couple of changes both its aesthetics, story and game design.

Mechanics have changed to provide a more streamlined approach. In previous games the protagonist either had to swap weapons in a menu or at certain checkpoints scattered throughout the level. Whereas in previous entries enemies had to be designed in a more multiple approach kind of way, sure they could have weaknesses but each enemy had to be beatable with each weapon as to not force a switch. But at the same time it would allow you to experiment; stuck at a certain enemy? Try a different weapon combination and perhaps now it will all work out. Here characters have access to all their abilities (if purchased) at any time. This design opens up the game a lot more from a design point of view, as the player always has all the tools the designers can build around this concept. One side-effect is that enemies are slowly being built to be faced with one certain attack or setup. For instance the Chimera ; a melee combatant that is entangled by a Chimera Seed, which flails around at random intervals even while being attacked. Fighting them head-on is not recommended. This design is shown again with the Blitz enemy; a foe encased with an electric field which first needs to be removed before one can damage him. And during that short time of vulnerability one most use the strongest attacks available or his shield will reset. It is with this design that the game suddenly becomes about efficiency and not style, which feels more at home in a game like Ninja Gaiden which favors a slower more methodical combat style. In other fields the old design returns however. Both Mephisto and Faust enemies, of a grim-reaper like design, are encased in shadowy fog which need to be removed with guns. But melee attacks can also do the trick, it’s slower but an available option.

The biggest flaw the enemies have is that they don’t allow the combat mechanics to shine, akin to what we discussed in our look at Devil’s Third; granted it is way less prevalent here.
Devil May Cry is about showing off, looking cool while laying the beatdown on your enemies. This has been embraced as the core theme of the series in both its aesthetics, character design but also its gameplay such as with the style-meter. Yet enemies here are either too weak to survive a few hits (Scarecrows, Angelo etc.) or force you into certain attacks to deal with them (Chimera, Blitz etc.). Devil May Cry 3 was not the perfect example either, but it’s three main enemy types (Pride, Sloth and Lust) were vulnerable to all sorts of attacks and had decent health-pools to survive a multitude of stylings. Devil May Cry 4 offers no such middle ground; enemies either die fast or require a specific setup to kill. The only exception to this being the rare Mega Scarecrow enemy which is the most fun to fight as it is vulnerable to all moves, can be juggled into the air but also has enough health to survive a good beating.
The Mega Scarecrow; your soon to be favorite enemy.
Throughout these designs one can slowly feel the urge to give a more controlled experience to players in the way of streamlining combat while at the same time trying to provide a worthy successor for hardcore fans. A type of, almost schizophrenic, design-philosophy that can be expected from introducing a new generation to your series.

If we turn our heads to the artistic design the game harkens back more to Devil May Cry 1. Lots of enemies from older games make a return which gives a good sense of world-building and adds a nice touch of nostalgia for series-veterans. The enemies have an edge to their design. They feel dangerous, but due to their slow movement often feel inferior to the protagonist. Enemies are diverse in design, ranging from a ragged creature built out of rags, a giant plant, a bee-like demon, angelic soldiers and grim reapers with Freddy Kruger like nails and face.

While variation is nice, one can’t but help feel that some art-direction is lacking. Mostly that of a singular theme. Devil May Cry 1 suffered from this as well, as do most games, but Devil May Cry 3 pulled it off wonderfully with the art focussed on old Sumerian designs. Everything was designed with the Tower of Temi Ni Gru at the center (which was loosely designed as a counter to the Tower of Babel) and had to fit in that context. This singular design theme makes all enemies feel related and existing in one world. Devil May Cry 4 hampers itself by reusing older enemies; forcing itself to work without a strong visual theme.

Storywise Devil May Cry 4 provides some added flavor to an existing cast while adding a few new players. The main players are Dante, the series protagonist, and Nero. The tale mostly centers around the Yamato, the sword of Dante’s dead brother; and the sword Sparda, the blade of Dante’s deceased father. The tale itself provides a mere reason for the cast to appear but it’s the character moments that drive the story itself forward and keep it interesting. From its inception the cast of Devil May Cry has been colorful sporting the right mixture of seriousness, carelessness and actual care. The deeper peaks into Dante’s relationship with his now deceased brother are especially interesting, giving rare glimpses though Dante’s shield of care free attitude into his persona.

Taking all of that in there is one aspect that makes Devil May Cry 4 stand out; how proudly it presents its unfinished qualities. Not long after the game’s introduction the player is already backtracking through familiar ground and bosses like Berial will be fought three times in the entire campaign. When put side by side the lack of content is also astonishing. Unlockable costumes stick out the most, with no new skins being available even to characters such as Dante who has a rich history of clothing to wear. This is even more bizarre when compared to it’s predecessor which sported a large selection of outfits, even a few spins on older classics.
Whether the development team got into time difficulties due to the large focus on designing the combat (hard to imagine as Devil May Cry 3 laid down a lot of ground work), had issues building the engine or maybe some other unknown element which was at play; we will never know.

But it is with precisely these feelings that the community surrounding this series has been hoping for a Special Edition to alleviate its problems. Well with the release of Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition their dreams have come true. But have the wishes of the fanbase been fulfilled?

The biggest requests from the community regarding a Special Edition were as follows:

  • More enemy diversity; there was a distinct gap between grunts and elites. You were either fighting trash or an enemy that was a boss in itself.
  • Fix the Savior fight; a boss-battle born out of the generation at the time. The boss focussed on a more cinematic experience and did not fit the overall mechanics of the game itself.
  • More mission diversity; the game already started backtracking as early as chapter 5. This needed to change.
  • Remove the dice-mini game; the game contained a minigame in which the player had to roll a dice. When failed it resulted in a fight with regular enemies and when succeeded resulted in a redo of a previous bossfight.
  • Make both Dante and Nero fully playable; in a bizarre twist Nero was only playable through the first and final part of the game and series protagonist Dante only in the middle chapters. They could not be switched.
  • Add more costumes and unlockables; the original only contained one extra costume for each character which had the same look as their original but gave them infinite Devil Trigger energy while at the same time dividing your final score by ten.
  • Tune up the style-meter; the style system makes a return from Devil May Cry 3 but is noticeably easier to control and barely drops unless hit. This reduces the tension in combat a lot which was not appreciated by fans.
  • Add a Turbo mode; the game was a tad slow and Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition already had it so it was requested by a lot of players.
  • Give Dante’s moves more visual power; a small request but a valid one. Dante’s moves were vivid and explosive in Devil May Cry 3 but were pretty lackluster in this game. Moves that resulted in a huge explosion in 3 were a small spark in 4 and they all just felt weaker as a whole.
  • Add a boss rush; especially with Dante only playable in the later chapters it was impossible to practice against certain bosses outside of Blood Palace.
What the game gave was the following. The parts in bold were requests from the community that were met:
  • More costumes, each character now at least has a recolor and one new skin; While still lacking in content compared even to Devil May Cry 2, it’s a step forward. One strange choice is the extra costumes for Trish and Lady of which the most iconic ones need to be bought with real money.
  • Three new characters to play with; it adds Trish, Vergil and Lady into the mix bringing the grand total of playable characters to five.
  • Turbo mode was added; good!
Now this does seem like not a lot has been added and that’s true, though the requests made by the community required a almost complete reworking of the game and the designing of whole new content. Something more akin to what could be found in a remake. What the Special Edition did was simply add more content by adding new toys to play with in an small existing playground, not improve the toys that already existed.

It is re-releases like this that give us the opportunity to look at gaming sequels, remakes and remasters in general and what their purpose is. Why are games remade or re-released? One might say it is to make a quick buck, but this is seldom the case. More often than not it is used for a study; is there still an audience for a game like this in the current market? Devil May Cry 4’s flaws are too numerous and large to fix even within a remaster. But the Special Edition paves the way for a sequel which can learn from past mistakes, like Devil May Cry 3 did, to deliver a new entry in the series that is such a juggernaut in its genre.

And that alone is worth the price of admission.