Of all the games to compare Devil May 5 with, I never thought I would be bringing up Final Fantasy 12. But that's the first game that sprang to mind when playing as V-a brand new character in the Devil May Cry universe.
Earlier this week, I had a chance to play Devil May Cry 5 for the first time. I've played most of the DMC games through the years, so I have a pretty good feel for how this series generally goes. Nero and Dante both immediately felt familiar to me, but V required a lot more adjustment. And if I'm being honest, I still don't know how I feel about him.
V is a heavy metal mage, think gothic Adam Driver, and carries with him three familiars: Griffon, Shadow, and Nightmare. He initially contracts Dante to subdue a demon, later crossing paths with Nero as well. Covered in tattoos under his sleeveless leather overcoat, he cuts a figure out straight out of a particularly emo teenager's fanfiction. He even likes poetry.
V's distinctive look isn't exactly out of place in the Devil May Cry universe, where characters like Dante trade quips with demons while wearing scarlet leather trenchcoats. What is out of place is his style of play. Dante, Nero, and Virgil are all famous for their prowess in close-quarters combat, but V is almost like a sorcerer in an MMORPG. While his familiars deal damage up front, he mostly stands well away from combat, occasionally even breaking out a book for a bit of light reading.
The Final Fantasy 12 comparison stems from that game's unique combat system, which revolves around elaborate commands given to A.I. party members who do most of the fighting for you. Playing as V in Devil May Cry 5 is a similar sort of experience-very passive save for the moment when you deliver a killing blow. The main difference is that you have a degree of control over your familiars, so you're not entirely stuck watching from the sidelines.
Each familiar has its own style and strategy. Griffon is a raven capable of hitting crowds of enemies with lightning. Shadow is a panther that will swipe at foes with its claws and teeths, then morph into a ball of spikes at your command. Nightmare is a big 'ol golem that crashes down from the sky once you've built your Devil Trigger Gauge up to three bars.
Griffon and Shadow will attack whatever is in front of them; but unlike Final Fantasy XII, where characters are mostly automated, V's familiar attacks are mapped to the Y and X buttons respectively (or Triangle and Square if you're on the PlayStation 4). Press a familiar's action button in conjunction with LT/L2, and you will burn a bar of the Devil Trigger Gauge to increase their strength. This will cause Griffon, for instance, to zoom into an enemy at high speed, then unleash three bolts of lightning for an area attack.
The trick is that neither Griffon, Shadow, nor even the mighty Nightmare can kill an opponent on its own. V has to deliver the killing blow himself, which is accomplished by pressing the RB/R1 with B/Circle to teleport in. Upon being struck by V's cane, the demon is destroyed.
This is all part of a delicate dance by Devil May Cry's designers to keep V from becoming too disengaged with the combat, and to its credit, it's somewhat successful. You aren't quite in there mixing it up directly like Nero and Dante, but you still have to get your hands dirty in dispatching enemy demons. The familiar can be directed to dodge, and as you purchase new skills, turn into balls of spikes or fire lightning on command.
Nevertheless, playing as V brings with it a sense of remove that you don't get with the other characters. Sure, you're still hammering buttons, and you have to dodge, but you're still necessarily much further from the action. You're hitting the attack buttons, but ordering your Shadow Panther to attack isn't quite the same as pulling off a direct combo.
All of this serves to make playing as V feel a tiny big... dissatifying? Certainly I had more fun experimenting with Nero's mechanical arm to string together combos, as well as playing around with Dante's various attack classes. V is a bold and interesting strokes for Devil May Cry, but as with all new features like this, his playstyle will take some getting used to.
Is Devil May Cry 5 Spreading Itself Too Thin?
This brings me to one more thing I'm wondering: is Devil May Cry 5 spreading itself too thing with three characters? What I mean is that Devil May Cry 5 features three selectable characters, all of which play very differently. This has the benefit of injecting Devil May Cry 5 with some additional variety, but at the expense of depth.
Playing as V, I found myself wishing that I could go back to playing as just Dante, but with a larger moveset and more weapons. As it is, Dante doesn't seem that much different from his iteration in Devil May Cry 3 on PlayStation 2, which introduced the Trickster and Swordmaster styles used in the new game. When you have three characters to worry about, you don't always have time to design, implement, and playtest new mechanics.
I get it though: Devil May Cry 5 needs to differentiate itself from the competition as much as possible. If it were just Dante, we would probably be complaining about how stale it is to use just one character. If it were just Nero, we'd be wondering about Dante's whereabouts. Sometimes making a game is a no-win scenario.
As always, the success of Devil May Cry will come down to execution. Will splitting development resources between three characters hurt it in the long run? I'll have to see how I feel about it after 10 hours. I will say, though, that V feels like the weak link at this point.
Still, I have to applaud Capcom for having the courage to mess around with their well-establised formula a little bit. It's not easy trying something new, especially when the viability of the entire series depends on your idea's success. In that sense, I hope V ends up working out.
A new Devil May Cry 5 demo launches today on PS4 and Xbox One. Devil May Cry 5's release date is set for March 8.