I never was an "ordinary" child. If you must put me in a category, then I fit somewhere comfortably in between the goth and scene kids, which in a school in east London is sort of like admitting you're gay in the 1800s in front of the Vatican. Mainly though, I was quiet, which didn't play out so well with the six-foot-five hulking, chain-smoking behemoth of a man that was our rugby coach.
I'm paraphrasing here (it was over a decade ago and I can barely remember what I did this past weekend), but he pulled me aside after practice one day and said something to the effect of "why are you so quiet?" Now considering the kind of teenagers that play rugby in east London, this can also be translated to "why aren't you talking shit with the rest of them?" Firstly, what the hell man? Just let me be a quiet kid that doesn't mind getting dump tackled because years of being an emo kid have made me numb to pain. Secondly, so what if I don't fit the role of your average teenage boy? Not everyone has to fit the role of a smack-talking, super tough guy. Weirdly enough, this is something Devil May Cry 5 could do with a little reminder of.
Enter everyone's favorite legendary devil hunter: Dante. The cool uncle-looking protagonist might appear to be nearing retirement, but he's still the only one that can go toe-to-toe with the big bad of Devil May Cry 5: Urizen. At the outset of the nightmare in Redgrave City, Dante transforms into his powerful demon persona-type thing, flying at Urizen with unmatched strength while Nero and V escape, and Trish and Lady lie helpless on the floor, bruised and battered. Dante's the man, Devil May Cry 5 tells us, and if he can't do it, no one can.
If you ask Devil May Cry 5 what "weakness" means, it'd be the inability to do the jumping through the air and the demon-slaying stuff. It might be someone that's just recently lost their right arm above the elbow, hindering their demon-slaying prowess. It might be someone who's referred to as "dead weight" at the beginning of Devil May Cry 5 by Dante, while he's holding off Urizen's onslaught. It might be someone like Nero.
I said last year at Gamescom that I didn't hate Nero, and I'll stand by that now with over 20 hours logged in Devil May Cry 5. It's easy to hate a quippy, cocky young character like Nero, but I actually feel quite bad for the hot-headed devil hunter.
It's barely been a month at the beginning of Devil May Cry 5 since Nero had his right arm forcibly removed by a shadowy, hooded figure. One second he's working on his van, next second he looks down and BLAM—no more right arm. Now, I don't know too much about the profession of demon hunting, but I've got to imagine that having a limb ripped from your body significantly hinders your ability to kick demon ass.
How Nero's father figure Dante acts towards him is what's so damning; where how he sees it, Nero losing his ability to perform physically means he's as good as dead. It's the attitude that's taken by J.K. Simmons' utterly terrifying music teacher in 2014's Whiplash, who opts for negative reinforcement to boost the drumming ability of Miles Teller's character into the stratosphere. The fallout from Simmons' brutal teaching method is one of his former students committing suicide. Negative reinforcement isn't sustainable for mental health, Whiplash teaches us, and it's a lesson that Devil May Cry 5 should take heed of.
The point of Devil May Cry 5's opening is this: Dante has strength, and Nero doesn't. It's Dante that can hold Urizen at bay while a helpless Nero gets dragged out of the demonic lair by V. For the opening prologue mission of Capcom's sequel, Nero has a blade and a pistol (not sure how he reloads the thing with only one arm). He can chop and slice at demons on his way to Urizen's lair, but it's not until after this opening prologue that expert gunsmith Nico kits Nero out with the Devil Breaker arm.
With this new arm, Nero has power. He can pull demons into the air and carve them up, vault around the battlefield, shred demonic foes with bolts of lightning—all thanks to the new Devil Breaker arm. Devil May Cry 5 has made Nero powerful again through providing him with a replacement for his missing arm. Now he's back to a semblance of his old, demon-killing self, and if you'll pardon the very minor spoiler, Nero never comes close to being as weak as he once was without his new arm.
Devil May Cry 5 tells us that Nero is useless because he can't fight, or at least that's Dante's belief. Being called "dead weight" really sticks with Nero for the opening few hours, and our younger devil hunter uses the slight as motivation to get better, and stronger, to the point where he can eventually go toe-to-toe with Urizen in the later hours of Devil May Cry 5.
But this is the only weakness that the male characters show in Devil May Cry 5. Being unable to fight and hold his own against Urizen and his demonic horde reduces him to nothing, especially in the eyes of other male characters, as Nero finds out. He learns that if he can't fight, he's useless, and if so, what the hell is he even doing in the depths of hell.
Nero isn't left without showing any emotional vulnerability though. In the later parts of Devil May Cry 5, Nero is in quite a bit of distress, with a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions going into the future. "You don't wanna cry?" Nico jeeringly asks Nero towards the end of the game, to which the latter declines. "Well, you can cry. But I'm still gonna call you a little bitch." Thanks, Nico.
Let the poor man cry, Capcom. Has he not suffered enough? Has he not literally battled through the depths of hell for a shot at redemption in the eyes of his father figure? Has he not had his arm ripped off, then reattached with a prosthetic, and then fought through an onslaught of demons for 24 hours straight?
If you, against all odds, can somehow best Urizen as a one-armed Nero, you'll unlock the 'secret ending' of Devil May Cry 5. "Well done, you've found the secret ending," DMC5 says. "Now watch these four lines of expositional dialogue and start the game again." The game disavowing Nero's ability to beat Urizen with one arm isn't exactly empowering for Nero's, since it provides you with merely a few plot lines about what coulda, woulda happened before making you restart the entire thing to see the 'proper' story. Nero overcoming the odds against Urizen is not canon.
"No weakness, only strength" is one hell of a message to send to your male characters. Maintaining the status quo of the alpha male is not a new problem for video games (Duke Nukem, Marcus Fenix, I could go on forever), and it's not a problem that's going away overnight. In looking at what Devil May Cry 5's characters are in 2019, it's important to recount the first Devil May Cry director Hideki Kamiya's original vision for Dante. "I felt the guy inside is more stylish and cool," Kamiya said in 2006. Which is absolutely fine, by the way. Design your characters with slick style first, but almost 20 years later in 2019, you've got to wonder if Devil May Cry is ever going to evolve beyond the bad boys and the manly men into something more.
Reading that I've spent over 20 hours with Devil May Cry 5 so far, completing it twice, you might be wondering "how can you spend so long with a game and dislike it so much?" The answer is that I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with Devil May Cry 5, because excellent gameplay and two-dimensional characters can coexist in one package and never affect one another. It really is alright for your men to be anything less than hulking, muscular brutes with quips for days, but pigeonholing your cast into caricatures of overly masculine stereotypes is just really tiresome in 2019. You can do better, Capcom.