Monday, May 7, 2012

Devil Maybe Cry

A heated argument recently arose between me and a friend about whether or not the upcoming DmC: Devil May Cry was, in fact, a worthy bearer of the Devil May Cry name. Now I fucking love Devil May Cry 3. I love it so much when I traded in my PlayStation 2 at the peak of its usefulness, its the only game I bothered to keep just by virtue of I had to own it. I think it's beautiful and entertaining and utterly dementedly thrilling in as much as a way that people who aren't, say, Suda 51 can provide. I especially loved the electric guitar weapon that was completely useless, but I used it anyway cos of how utterly fun it was. That wraps up DMC3: fun. And overtly difficult. But mostly... well mostly overtly difficult, but quite fun as well.

Now most of what made Devil May Cry 3 as fun as it was, was protagonist Dante. He was basically an utter asshole, and the game knew it. He thought he was cool, and that made him cool. He had ridiculously unfunny one-liners that made light of other character's seriousness, he did unpractical flips 'n shit to do simple tasks like putting on a jumper, and he was basically a spastic and hyperactive energizer bunny providing a stark contrast to his stoic, very serious brother Virgil, and the depressed and insane sidekick-come-rival Lady. Sure, Dante had brief respites from his utter cartoonish insanity - whenever he clashed swords with Virgil, for example - but he basically swaggered around his own game pissing everybody off as the grown-up plot went on over in another room, far away from his partygoing attitude and "hilarious" quips.

This in mind, the announcement of DmC: Devil May Cry pissed me right off. Dante being the glue that held the best game in the series together, the change of protagonist to a younger, teenage version of Dante, just seemed counter-intuitive. In most of the footage and screenshots wherin he was showcased, he seemed like a bit of an emo cokehead. Even with the developer's assurances that "the community will warm to him eventually," I couldn't stomach it. Fuck the new Dante. Fuck him with a giant purple dildo. then. Dante isn't Dante. DmC has now positioned itself as a failure and certainly not worthy of the Devil May Cry name. Argument over.

Obviously this isn't actually true, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this right now. An argument can only occur when there are two sides to argue, of course, so stay seated and listen up. Now, my friend takes the opinion of what is conceivably the entirety of the internet: that the fresh, third-party developers for this new game, Ninja Theory (developers of very competent games like Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), don't understand Devil May Cry at all. Creative Design lead Tameem Antoniades doesn't even care for Devil May Cry, if my friend and the entirety of 4chan/s /v/ board is correct. He also comically misses the point of what Devil May Cry is all about. Or does he?, yeah, he does

...or does he. Well, assuming that it is his plan to make his own version of Devil May Cry, and not "another" Devil May Cry, such complaints could be sweeped by the wayside pretty easily. And yet fans insist that the very existence of DmC is an insult to the series at large. It could very well be true, but I like to not think so. In fact, a lot of people posit that if it wasn't called DmC, the game would be acceptable. ...this is just sort of really weird to me. "It's a good game. Not a good Devil May Cry." But what makes Devil May Cry? Is this new Devil May Cry really so different? ...and does it even matter if it is? Let's explore this. Together.

The Devil's In the Definition

Alright, first things first. We have to define what makes a game "Devil May Cry". Let's ignore stuff like the fiction and the cannon. Let's ignore the logistics. What defines this game as - or as not - a Devil May Cry title? Y'see, my friend was rather insistent that the game just wasn't Devil May Cry. But the idea seems silly to me, especially when this is less of a reboot, and more of a reimagining, or even just a straight-up adaption. It's a problem that seems almost unique to this game in particular. I broke it down thus.

Ninja Theory's last game was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. What is it? is a game adaption of Journey to the West. All it shares in common with Journey to the West is the names of some of the characters, and general bare bones elements of the plot. The title is similar - an odyssey is sort of a journey.

So their latest game is, of course, DmC: Devil May Cry. What is it? is a reboot slash reimagining of Devil May Cry. All it shares in common with Devil May Cry is the names of some of the characters, and general bare bones elements of the gameplay and plot. The title is similar - except, you know, with the retarded inclusion of "DmC," with a lower case "m" for some reason. So presumably the title is Devil may Cry (sic). Guh.

If I asked anyone, y'know, "is Enslaved a Journey to the West videogame?" they'd say, "of course it is! It's just taken liberal liberties with everything. It's still a game based on Journey to the West." But if I asked them, "is DmC a Devil May Cry videogame?" they'd say, "of course it isn't! Because it's taken liberal liberties with everything. It's merely a game based on Devil May Cry."

It's a head-scratcher, that a game based on and retaining slight inspiration and themes from a game in a series, approved by the game's owners and accepted by the publishers as apart of the series, even if not the core cannon, can be called not an actual game in that series by definition. Newsflash: that's a logical fallacy, guys. If Batman Begins and Batman Forever can both be called Batman movies, then Devil May Cry and DmC can both be called Devil May Cry games. It's just how, you know, franchises work.

The "Cool" Factor

Let's agree on something, shall we? Being "cool" cannot be invoked. Being cool just happens. You cannot set out to make something that's cool. You can't force it. So can someone explain to me why Mr Antoniades believes that the core of Devil May Cry is "being cool," and so he is trying to make DmC as "cool" as possible? Who does he think he is, Zack Snyder?

This also crosses the line of what fans would call a fundamental of definition for Devil May Cry. To them, Devil May Cry is about fast-paced combat and having fun with a ridiculous character. These are the same people that think Dante is cool, and they're wrong. Dante isn't cool. He's blatantly uncool. But it works. Compare with Duke Nukem Forever, which features Duke Nukem, who thinks he's cool but isn't cool. So the game works because Duke Nukem is so impossibly not cool.

I'll dispell a myth about Devil May Cry's combat. People say that it's "fast-paced," or "rapid fire" or whatever. They're liars. Now I only played DMC3 on "normal" (that's Special Edition normal, mind), so I'm not exactly that familiar with the explicit toughness of the game. But "fast-paced" suggests to me some kind of quickness of pacing. A fast pace, if you will. And while certainly DMC3 in particular features scenarios in which the combat is lightning fast, its still rather a tactical experience, more about managing your weapons and enemy spacing than any sort of quick-fingered fighting game-style skill on the player's behalf. The scenarios are often broken up by insanely lengthy walks and slow yet cumbersome platforming sections, and then the scenarios themselves take place in sealed-off rooms. Devil May Cry's combat is fast, yes, but it's not explicitly so. Okay. That's just an aside. Moving on:

What the fuck, Ninja Theory? Devil May Cry isn't about being cool at all! And trying force that coolness will make your game not cool. Do you understand the basics of what makes something cool?? I take it back. Dante in DMC3 is cool, because he's not cool. He's totally lame, and that makes him cool. "New" Dante - or "Dan," I'm calling him - isn't cool. Dan isn't cool, and he's trying to be cool. That makes him lame, but he's not lame enough to be cool. He's... your game... isn't cool and you can't make it cool by trying to be cool. Go back to cool school. Learn how to be cool. Step one - stop trying to be cool. It isn't cool. ...fuck. Some people just don't understand simple concepts, do they.

Does It Even Matter?

I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, what I said previously about it being a reboot - nay, a reimagining - stands. So no, none of the changes or stupid bits matter. On the other hand, this is being proposed as part of a series., for all I've said previously, it does have a name to "live up" to. Whether it deserves the title or not is debate for above. Whether it earns its place alongside previous entries in the series, is another entirely.

I can justify narrative discrepancies. I can justify the change of tone. I can justify the switch of developer. What I can't fathom is that the new developer seems to outright ignore to the point of hating the original games. He wants this game to slot in right alongside the previous DMC games but they almost seem to despite them, like they're old relics that need dusting off and fresh coat of paint rather than series to be continued with reverence. Worst of all, though, is that they're switching up the ease-of-access to the gameplay - and when you want to alienate the fans of a nefariously difficult game, that's step one.

They want to reboot the game but they want to make it as different as possible. They want to match what made those games great then but ignore completely what actually makes the games great now. They want it to have the same audience as before, but actively do everything - from changing the setting, characters, gameplay and tone - to make sure that audience will despise them. For a group of people who want to make a new Devil May Cry game, they certainly seem to be pulling out all the stops to make sure as little elements of the Devil May Cry series survive the transition through this reboot. ...and that's just kind of depressingly tragic.

Everyone's a Critic

It'd be easy for me to type "you're all bloody stupid" and knock off for lunch, but I'm slightly more professional than that so I'll stick with this through to its conclusion. The fans are wrong though, on so many levels, that this new game violates or hurts the Devil May Cry franchise. And the developers are wrong that the decisions they're making aren't fucking retarded. Regardless, I have to admit that Dan is growing on me. It could be that it's taken me a while to warm to him. It could be that the fans flinging their opinions around have made me not want to agree with them, so I'm straining to see it from another perspective. It could even be that more recently released trailers and footage of this game have portrayed Dan in a different light, making him seem more appealing than in the announcement trailer.

DmC is shaping up, to be honest. It won't be a bad game - the combat looks pretty satisfying, the main character has a quirky personality, and the visual design is certainly pleasing to the eye. Whether or not it fits as a "true" Devil May Cry game will be argued over for months, even years, after release, this I can predict with certainty. From where we're standing though, at the moment, the game looks like a Devil May Cry game to me. I'm going to put my foot down and say it is a Devil May Cry game, whether you complain that it isn't or not. Dan might not be the Dante we fondly remember, and the combat might be slower-paced. It might see the end to the "old" ways. ...but it might be time.

Devil May Cry 4 was pretty shit. No matter what DmC does wrong, it will be better than Devil May Cry 4. It will likely also be a better Devil May Cry 3 sequel than Devil May Cry 4. Both the outspoken fans and casually awful lead creative developer of DmC have their fair share of points, but at the end of the day, DmC will be better than Devil May Cry 4. I'd rather see a classic franchise bought back from the dreadful abyss in some way, shape, or form, rather than sit circling the drain like a globule of spit. In this respect, DmC is the game the series needs right now. Whether you agree with its existence or not, just take it for what it is, and cross your fingers it will retain enough of what you love from Devil May Cry that it will rocket the series forward for a longer time to come than if we went without it.