Review: Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (PS2)

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
Platform: PS2
Genre: 3rd Person Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Rating: Mature
Release Date: 3/1/05

Capcom’s badass half-demon poster boy is back, with even more attitude. He also brought a metric ass-ton of challenge. My advice? Struggle with it until you can learn the ropes, clawing your way through Easy mode until you get the hang of it. Then, track down and mutilate everyone who complained about DMC2 being too easy. After suffering through NanoBreaker, I’m all too ready to play a real, well-made hack’n’slash, and I got one. My only question is, when can I have my manhood back?


Story:

This is the PS2 version of a big-budget summer-blockbuster action movie. In terms of a deep, throught-provoking plot, there’s not a hell of a lot in DMC3. However, considering the game’s content, and how well it tells the story it wants to tell, there’s no reason to complain. While the actual story of Dante, Vergil, Lady, and the rest of the characters is interesting, and has a few twists, but the actual storytelling is extremely impressive. The brash, sarcastic Dante removes blades embedded in his flesh and dispatches enemies with them, shrugs off shots to the head, runs down the side of a huge tower, etc. You get so caught up in the incredible scope and quality of the cinemas that you suspend any impulse to roll your eyes at the incredible silliness of it all. And it does get silly occasionally, with a random excursion into the digestive system of a beast and Dante wailing on an electric guitar in front of KISS-tastic pyro. The cinema scenes are engaging and plentiful, but without the Metal Gear feeling of “that’s great, do I get to play any time soon?” Masterful cinematography, animation, and direction, and impressive voice acting bring this story to life perfectly. It gives enough of the background of the earlier DMC games to justify altering the timeline, but doesn’t make players feel penalized for not playing or deeply analyzing the earlier titles.

Story Rating: 9/10


Graphics:

As we saw recently with Resident Evil 4, Capcom knows how to coax very surprising graphics out of game systems. Environments are dark and ominous without being bland. The old-Resident-Evil style of camera work, with cinematic angles, are still present for most of the game; while the effect this has on gameplay is debateable, it definitely highlights the graphics and the impressive detail of the environments. The common hordes of enemies are sufficiently varied, and well-detailed; you’ll be seeing these monsters a lot, so it’s good that they’re well-made. The models for bosses and the important characters, however, are top-notch.


All of the characters in the cinema scenes, particularly The Jester, are superbly animated and their movements are eerily lifelike. The cutscenes, full of martial arts, blazing guns, All of Dante’s in-game animations are impressive, from reaching behind his back to fire in multiple directions to dual-bladed acrobatics. And more than simply being aesthetically pleasing, it’s almost flawless technically. Real, noticable slowdown is mostly restricted to one room early in the game, too graphically intensive and cramped for the enemies’ attack effects, and the game slows down noticeibly. Other than this isolated incident, however, graphics are top-notch. This is hands-down one of the best looking games on the PS2, without question.

Graphics Rating: 10/10


Sound:

As with most games of the button-mashing variety, certain attacks get a specific sound effect that you hear every time you execute that action, and these get irritating before you’re done with the first level. Dante’s random grunts when hacking away with a weapon are acceptable, but hearing “Blastoff!” every time you knock an enemy into the air, or “Too easy!” when you pull off the Cerberus combo, gets really old, really fast. Honestly, developers, would it be too much to ask you to record multiple clips? Or just make the one clip play at random times, rather than constantly? This is the only beef I had in the audio department. The rest of the voice acting is impressive, as it’s action-movie-fare at its finest, and doesn’t have any illusions about it. The parts honestly feel ACTED, rather than simply read into a mic with vague attempts at adding emphasis, and Vergil’s is the only voice that seems unsuited to the character. The sound effects are good, effectively contributing to the ambience of the different areas without being overpowering. Enemy sounds are creepy without trying to be horrific like Resident Evil, and combat effects are realistic and satisfying without drawing much attention to themselves. The music is quiet and atmospheric when exploring, but when enemies pop out, it’s gleefully dark, adrenaline-pumping metal and drum’n’bass, with gutteral vocals that are surprisingly good at not drawing attention to themselves and away from the action. There’s a difference between generic background music and good music that happens to be in the background, and DMC3 delivers the latter surprisingly effectively.

Sound Rating: 9/10


Gameplay and Control:

The actual meat of the gameplay delivers on the promises that the top-notch presentation makes. It’s an action-heavy hack’n’slash, which requires that the control be spot-on at all times. Sloppy control can ruin a game like this, but DMC3’s polished controls make it a joy to play. Running, jumping, and dodging (especially in Trickster style are tight and responsive. DMC3 knows it’s not a platformer, and only occasionally asks you to pretend it is; this is one of the biggest problems with the genre and the game’s tactful handling of this issue is incredibly appreciated. You’ll have to jump around a bit from time to time, and it doesn’t feel quite as comfortable as taking down hordes of enemies, but it’s perfectly acceptable, particularly after you purchase the double-jump.


The camera is usually more helpful than in previous DMCs, as it can be rotated a bit with the right stick in most situations where you would need to change it, such as combat. This can still bite you in the ass occasionally, as you’ll get in a bad spot and not be able to tell where your enemies are, but for the most part, it’s cleaned up. In the environments the game takes place in, with the atmosphere the game is attempting to portray, the angles make sense. They can still be irritating from time to time, especially in trap-heavy corridors where you find yourself running towards the camera and having to move incredibly slowly to keep from getting maimed, but it’s better. The gameplay is still mission-based, which will of course cause GTA fanboys to protest it as “too linear.” While the game may be linear, it still offers plenty of opportunities to explore and search out secret missions. Ultimately, however, DMC3 feels right as a linear title; the development of the story and the boss battles divide the levels naturally, and give you the opportunity to replay specific parts to earn more orbs.

The biggest feature that separated the older DMCs from other games of the genre was the option to shoot or slash, no matter what the situation, always making sure the player could approach the game on their own terms and enjoy it their way. DMC3 takes two very important steps forward with this customization of fighting styles, which feels satisfyingly deep and personalized without being overwhelming or complicated. Fans of the series disappointed by DMC2 will be happy to learn that the Amulet system is gone, and upgrading is all streamlined. Weapon techniques and gun powerups are purchased between levels or at statues, and every other ability depends on levelling up your various Styles. These are the real stars of the game that allow you to truly tailor your experience. Want to run on walls like the Prince of Persia and own enemies by outmaneuvering them? Trickster is your style, turning the Circle button into a dedicated Dodge button that works regardless of blocking or attacking. More inclined to stand your ground? Try Royalguard, which gives you the opportunity to block and interrupt enemy attacks, putting you in the best possible situation. Just want to pound on things until they stop moving? Use Swordmaster to add handy juggle attacks or quick, powerful strikes. And finally, and most importantly, you can deal damage from afar and remember the face of your father with Gunslinger style, allowing you to fire your pistols in different directions for crowd control, do more damage with more widespread effects, and just generally do Gilead proud. The best part is that none of these styles is useless; no matter which you prefer, you can still use it effectively with enough skill. The only gripe (and a minor one) is that it would’ve been nice to see some puzzles which required style-specific abilities to pass. Also of note, and extremely important, is the fact that you’re now limited to carrying 2 melee weapons and 2 guns on your person, and have to visit a statue to change your configuration. The advantage of this is that you can now toggle easily between weapons with L2 and R2, allowing for even crazier (and better-scoring) combos. Combine fast weapons with powerful weapons to be ready for any occasion, or drag out all your heavy artillery and demolish everyone in your path. You can play this game any way you want, as long as you do it with enough skill to stay alive.

Gameplay and Control: 9.5/10


Balance:

Make no mistake: this game is going to kick your ass. You think you’re tough? DMC3 thinks otherwise. This game requires that you admit that it’s your daddy before it allows you to do anything. Some players with… compensation issues… will shun Easy mode and loudly decree that they’ll “take it like a man.” The only men who take it like this are in prison. I would even daresay that Easy mode is at least equivalent to Normal mode on Ninja Gaiden, if not harder. The difference with that game was that you COULD fight your way out, but you had to do it so cheaply sometimes that you felt that you needed a shower afterwards; DMC doesn’t give you any uber-cheap moves to rip through mobs with. You’re going to get your ass kicked, you’re going to have to use Easy mode at least for a little while, and you’re going to have to go back to old missions to get enough Red Orbs to buy the items to keep your ass alive. Button-mashing is simply not going to cut it. The game basically drops you in and says “Learn. Quickly.” The enemies get tougher as time goes on, but there’s no natural progression; it starts hard and gets harder.


For a while, this works. It takes some struggling, but you can make it through ok. Seeing the screen riddled with bullet holes, signifying the end of the mission, gives you a huge self-esteem boost, no matter what your grades. Finally dropping that boss that you’ve been struggling against gives you a rush of superiority that makes you want to spike the controller and parade through the streets. Eventually, though, it’s just too much. I found myself spending all my money on health items, not even getting the chance to upgrade skills, which made progressing even harder. Do this, and you’ll find yourself going back through old missions to scrounge up Red Orbs a fair amount, and it’s just not fun. And keep in mind, all this is on EASY mode. It gets worse on harder difficulties. It’s on par with Ninja Gaiden in terms of sheer frustration; you’ve known since the first level that you’re going to get owned on a constant basis, so it’s not quite a shock when you get killed. Unlike Ninja Gaiden, however, I didn’t feel like the game was being cheap by simply throwing too many enemies with overpowered attacks at me. It just feels like with much more skill and a couple extra items, you’d be fine.

Before you give up on this one, though, there is a bit of an easier, and still fun in its own right, way; unabashedly cheat to open up Heaven or Hell mode, and use the orbs earned there to stock up your Easy or Normal mode file. Take it from a victim of this game’s difficulty: there’s no shame in it.

Balance Rating: 3/10


Replayability:

If you’ve got the patience, skill, and/or self-loathing for it, playing this game through multiple times will give you a few rewards. After finishing Normal, there’s always Hard mode. And if you REALLY hate yourself, there’s Dante Must Die, where the game abandons the concept of Balance and throws everything in the world at you. Overpowered, faster, tougher bosses, normal enemies that use their own version of Devil Trigger if you don’t kill them quickly. There are multiple costumes for Dante to unlock, some special abilities such as infinite Devil Trigger, art galleries, and Heaven or Hell mode. Paired with the well-hidden secret missions throught the game, there’s plenty reason to come back to this, if you can take it.

Replayability Rating: 9/10


Originality:

To be third in line of a franchise, you have to bring something interesting to the table to be considered. Capcom had an especially tough task here, since the response to DMC2 was largely underwhelming. And even outside the DMC franchise, hack ‘n’ slash is not a new genre. Despite these factors, DMC3 comes out strong. The addition of the style system is obviously a step up from most hack ‘n’ slashes; being able to customize play mechanics based on your personal playing preferences is a beautiful thing. Best of all, the game doesn’t fall into the easy trap of giving you options, but balancing the game so that only one is useful or worthwhile. The real innovation is the new weapon-changing, which seems such a common-sensical move that it’s easy to overlook how wonderful an addition it is. Start off with a fast weapon to stun the enemies, then whip out the Rebellion to tear them apart. Hang in the air with your pistols to avoid attacks, then give ’em a point blank blast from the Spiral. Again, the game leaves you all sorts of options as to how you want to play. Limiting your inventory to two weapons and two guns not only makes you use more strategy in battle, but it also makes switching simple and intuitive; no cycling through weapons you don’t need in the middle of a huge battle. DMC packs more innovation, and does so more effectively, than it has any right to.

Originality Rating: 8/10


Appeal:

Aside from the difficulty, the game’s got all kinds of appeal. Graphically and stylistically, it’s head and shoulders above most things out there. DMC3 is part of that upper tier of games that demonstrates why Hollywood and the game industry are getting closer and closer. The direction and cinematography would be right at home in a summer blockbuster. The game feels polished, and FINISHED. Even if you have a problem with the camera angles or some other technical aspect, it feels like a personal-preference issue, not an issue of poor design. Even if you’re not familiar with the series, and aren’t a huge fan of hack ‘n’ slashes, you should try this, just because it’s an important game to have an opinion of. The hype over challenge will bring in lots of guys trying to prove that their gaming wangs are bigger than anyone else’s, but it’s definetly going to be a stumbling block for some players.

Appeal Rating: 8.5/10


Addictiveness:

Pretty much everything I’ve said has been to steer you away from repeating my early mistakes, which basically boiled down to trying to button-mash my way out of everything. If you make the mistake of doing running into it headlong, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. For everyone else, however, this game is a blast. Combat is fun and engaging, and the mission-based nature of it gives you a steady sense of accomplishment. The only things that can really slow you down are the bosses, which require a fair amount of patience the first time. You must take them slowly, learn their patterns, and outsmart them. Once you really understand how this game works and focus on outsmarting bosses rather than trying to outgun them, you should be fine.


Luckily, it’s rare that the game feels unreasonably cheap here; you’ll usually find yourself planning your next try when you die, rather than throwing the controller across the room. Again, the depth of the character customization shine through; if whatever you’re doing isn’t working, you have a plethora of other weapons and styles at your disposal. Spending 6,000 orbs for two lives to waste on spotting the boss’s weaknesses is a lot better than spending 20,000 on health items to fuel your button-mashing, especially since you’re going to get owned and have to go back to farm orbs. But even that doesn’t have to be irritating, if you’re willing to swallow your pride and skip to Heaven or Hell mode for a few minutes. Doing this may not have been my proudest gaming moment, but it made the game playable (and even fun) in those situations where I got stuck. This simple revelation greatly increased the game’s addictiveness in my book at those times when I simply couldn’t get through without a little boost. Moral? If you’re an intelligent player (and I have high hopes for you, since you’re reading this), and you play the game right, you’ll enjoy this greatly.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10


Miscellaneous:

The little touches aren’t major, but are amusing little pieces of flair. The cinema scenes contain subliminal reminders of which stage you’re on, and you can find them all if you’re obsessive. The jukebox in the bar plays a tune from Devil May Cry for a few seconds after you destroy it. Additionally, the game features something that every PS2 player sick of the horrid load times can appreciate: on the loading screens, you can take out your aggressions on the irritating “Now Loading” sitting smugly in the corner. Slash and shoot it until the load finishes or the words break; either way will be satisfying.

Other than that, what’s left to mention? The game is great. The tiny technical hiccups and the challenge shouldn’t dissuade you. Let my mistakes be your lessons: play on Easy, buy the Air Hike double-jump as soon as possible, then power up your weapons of choice. Resist temptation to spend all your money on health items whenever possible. Open Heaven or Hell to make a few easy orbs if you really have to, it’s more fun than replaying missions on Easy.

Miscellaneous Rating: 9/10


Final Scores:

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 9/10
Gameplay and Control: 9.5/10
Balance: 3/10
Replayability: 9/10
Originality: 8/10
Appeal: 8.5/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 9/10

Overall Score: 82/100
Final Score: 8.0 (GREAT!)