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DmC: Devil may Cry and the 10/10 Story

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**This article is intended as further justification for the 10/10 score for story in OnlySP’s recent review of DmC Devil may Cry and contains major spoilers for the game.**

In my recent review of DmC Devil may Cry, I made the decision to grant a perfect score to the story. My first such, and not a decision that I came to lightly. Indeed, I agonised over that factor more than any other, trying to work out if I could justify it to myself, before being able to do so to the readers. A large part of that indecision was down to the fact that the narrative presentation of the game does not align with my ideals of what constitutes the best possible implementation of storytelling within the medium. Bearing this in mind, along with the dialogue issues and lack of thematic depth that I mentioned in the review, the question inevitably arises of what it is that prompted the bestowal of that coveted 10/10.

Now, I took pains within the review to canvas this, but even though I feel that I was thorough, I do not believe that I was able to fully justify my reasoning and nor was I able to give a completely balanced view, due to the nature of reviews, which precludes discussion of topics only partly related to the subject. As such, I have elected to reiterate some of that, and go more in-depth in this editorial, but to do that effectively will require the citation of specific story beats and, thus, major spoilers. Read on at your own discretion, for there will be no further warnings.

Many so-called “fans” of the earlier games feel betrayed by Ninja Theory’s take on the series, believing that the team has crossed an intangible line in the severity of their subversion of the universe. It seems that many of them have latched onto a particular scene in which a wig, an approximation of the original hairstyle, lands upon Dante’s head prompting him to quote, ‘not in a million years’ in response to his appearance, as a symbol of the contempt with which they have approached the property. There is no getting around the fact that the new continuity is very different from that of the original, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is disrespectful. For example, viewed from another perspective, the aforementioned scene could be construed as a light hearted in-joke intended to poke fun at the immediate dissent that arose upon the first unveiling of the game.

It’s an isolated incident of self-awareness but it isn’t the only way, from a visual perspective, that the game pays homage to its predecessors. Look closely during one of the cutscenes and you will find the return of the neon girl that has featured subtly in every prior entry and accompanied the logo of the first game and also a change in Dante’s hair from black to the more familiar platinum as the story progresses. And these, working in conjunction with the relative faithfulness of the characters and relationships, point to a healthy respect for what Capcom’s internal studios did previously. You can argue that Eva’s alteration from human to angel, and the consequent Nephilim status of Dante and Vergil is a bastardisation of the original continuity, but the truth is that they are still born of a miscegenous relationship and are the only ones with the power of defeating Mundus, though for different, equally bizarre reasoning.

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There are more examples of this kind of homage to be found, but I don’t want to continue these comparisons because DmC is best viewed standing alone and it is not perfect. As mentioned in the review, however, it is very much a “Hero’s Journey” with clearly defined character and narrative arcs. Combining this with the study of a multilayered character in the form of Dante, and doing so with excellence, is what ultimately elevates the game beyond its competition. The introductory scene is schizophrenic; pounding music accompanies quick cuts as we see Dante in a nightclub before taking home a pair of girls dressed as angels. By reflecting the habits of many people in the 18-25 age range, he is made relatable to them, but this also helps to set the stage for his purposelessness, a depiction that is later reinforced by his flippant interactions with Kat and Vergil. Similarly, the first mission shows off his arrogance through his refusal to accept Kat’s help with the Hunter demon and to escape Limbo. Added to the bluster that he shows in the face of his immense opposition, he isn’t a very likeable character in the beginning. But things change.

The discovery of his lineage, and the murder of his mother at the hands of Mundus galvanises him and gives him a direction: revenge. From this, we see subtle alterations in his character as he sheds much of the immaturity that he displays in the beginning, while retaining the light-heartedness. The final stand-off against Vergil cements this new outlook as he defends humanity against his brother’s insistence that the Nephilim must rule over humans for their own good. Dante’s ideals, realised throughout the game, are in opposition to Vergil’s and it makes for an interesting exchange, with a similarly philosophical bent as was seen in the closing moments of Enslaved: Odyssey To The West (Ninja Theory’s previous game).

Vergil sees less character development, but it becomes clear in the end that he is subversive. Throughout the entirety of the game, he has treated Dante as a friend and brother, utilising his skills where Vergil’s own would not suffice, but not for the sole purpose of seeing their parents avenged as he would have Dante believe. Instead, his goal is power; the very same that Mundus had previously wielded, though he intends to use it magnanimously. It’s peculiar, though, that his callousness is depicted earlier in the game, but he can still be sympathised with. You can understand his desire to remove essential information from the Order’s servers to keep their plans safe, even though it leads to the sacrifice of Kat. You can understand why he shoots the pregnant Lillith as the spawn of Mundus can never be allowed to be born. He is hard-hearted, doing what he believes to be right, even though it may cost more than he can afford to pay. He may not be the most relatable character, but it makes sense for Dante to stand alongside him due to their shared goals and that neither could succeed without the other.

Kat is another interesting character, though she doesn’t exactly subscribe to the indomitable strength of the female characters found in previous Ninja Theory or Devil May Cry games. She is balanced, incapable of fighting, though invaluable due to her ability to phase between Limbo and the real world and to open gates between them. Beyond this, there is her role as a guide and tactician for the brothers. The reasons for her loyalty to Vergil are convincing enough to rationalise her refusal to divulge pertinent information to Mundus under torture, and her ultimate act of begging Dante to not kill Vergil, even though he has shown her little but contempt in their shared quest, allowing her to be captured and willing to see her die. Important and sympathetic, she is the kind of character that is capable of being loved by the fans simply by feeling real.

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Less importance is placed on Mundus’ minions, but their flimsy power fantasies are better than many game villains who are little more than cardboard cut outs put in the player’s way as a symbol of adversity rather than the reality of it. Mundus himself is a different matter. He is almost purely representative of one in power that would do anything to retain it. He believes that, outside of Dante, there is no threat to himself, and so focuses his attention upon the son of Sparda to his own detriment. It is this single-mindedness that sees him fall.

The main narrative thread revolves around the quest to undermine Mundus’ power in order to bring about his demise and it winks at the general populace’s distrust of the media and economy to do this. Much could have been made of this satire, but it feels underutilised instead, with any intended message being lost in the shuffle. Where it succeeds in that it is straightforward and simple, void of much of the useless fluff that is so absurdly abundant in many games. Although it logically follows that the overthrowing of Mundus will free the world, that is not in the forefront of the mind of Dante (or the player). There is no grand ambition in that sense, which allows the game to be powerful in a personal way, following in the footsteps of the likes of Max Payne 3 and Uncharted 2.

The gameplay may not complement the storytelling, but DmC is an example of the times when this needn’t be the case. The characterisation is strong enough in the cutscenes to not need to be reinforced through the gameplay. The format of the plot adheres to one of the most traditional forms of storytelling, though does it in a way that is superior to any other game that I have played to date and some scenes are surprising and emotive in their turn. With a generally high standard of writing backed up by stellar acting there are very few reasons to cast aspersions upon the story of DmC and these are flimsy at best; the kind of things that mindless fanboys would latch onto in order to justify their convictions.

I’ve done my best to rationalise my judgement of my score. I can’t say whether I’ve managed to convince you. Indeed, I’m not sure that I’ve entirely convinced myself. As the opening states, it was one of the hardest scoring decisions that I have ever had to make and only further strengthens the argument, in my mind, that the story factor is such an intangible factor, particularly in gaming, that to give it an arbitrary score out of ten is unfair. A ten does not make it War and Peace, but it does make it count among the absolute best that gaming has to offer. It really is as simple as that.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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5 Comments

  1. there is a saying: even the shittiest band have their fans.

    1. And even the best bands have their haters.

  2. If you’re not convinced you should have given the game 10/10 then you shouldn’t have. After all, 10/10 might not mean perfection, but it should mean certainty. There are a few games I would rate 10/10 in the story department, without hesitation,
    despite a few flaws. But anyway, I’m not here to discuss when a 10/10 should be
    given. I’m here, because my opinion of DmC’s story is so low, that I was
    totally surprised that there’s somebody out there willing to give it a 10.

    I don’t have problem with DmC’s story being different. Except for a few small details,
    it’s pretty much the same story anyway. It’s nothing special, not in game media
    or any media, it’s as clichéd as it goes. Not that the previous ones weren’t.
    But the difference is in the execution. The original games were often silly, but
    lighthearted and fun, and they had plenty of moments of genuine emotion. The
    new DmC is often vulgar without point and relying on cheap shocks, while the
    rest of the narrative is badly written, boring and flat.

    You say Donte changed? First, his supposed character arc is a copy of Dante’s arc in DMC3, where his doesn’t care at the beginning but ends up caring because of
    Lady. But while Donte might care at the ends of DmC, he is still has the same
    douchy attitude from the beginning, so his change is hardly noticeable and he remains unlikeable.

    Vergil is a very flat character with no arc at all. His turnaround is predictable, but offers no character growth him makes him a compelling character.

    Kat is a very flat character too. She spills her sob story with little emotion and
    prompts little compaction. Said story is not woven into the narrative, doesn’t
    really give a new perspective to her character, doesn’t change her actions,
    doesn’t make her grow at any point. It’s just there, supposedly to make us feel
    for her, but it fails even in that. Not to mention, she’s kinda insulting to
    females with her uselessness, both in skill and will, and a huge step back
    compared to the females in previous DMC games.

    These are some of my reasons why I think DmC’s story is atrocious. As for the author, if you think this story is some of the best video games have to offer, then I
    would suggest you expand your inventory. For there are stories in video games
    which rival the best in movies and books. And just to mention a few – Bioshock, Silent Hill 2, Planescape: Torment.

    1. Think that I’ll start at the bottom. I’ll admit that I haven’t played Torment. I’m not a PC gamer in any way, shape or form. Silent Hill 2 was interesting, but I felt as though it was a bit ramble-y at times. Sure, it dealt with the kind of topics that aren’t typically handled in games, but much of it was just in there for the sake of it rather than there being any kind of justification for it and that knocks it down a few pegs. Bioshock is an example oft-cited but really… Atmosphere is one thing and narrative is another. Sure, the background themes and the way that it mimics Ayn Rand are cool, but Jack is a puppet with absolutely no character arc. I understand why it is lauded, but I feel that what it offers isn’t enough to justify its acclaim because it is missing any sense of a personal connection. A character-driven narrative will always be able to achieve more than philosophical waxing for the sake of it. If a developer wants to do that, why not just write a dissertation instead? You know, something as wooden as their presentation of their intended topics.

      Next: Regarding Dante’s character arc. Of course it bears similarities to that of DMC3; they’re both origin stories intended to explain how the characters grew into their powers. DMC3 is heavy handed, with Dante not caring at all until he injures Lady in their battle and Vergil sacrifices himself. There is no real development there. It’s an inexplicable change. In DmC, the shift is more organic, coming throughout the game rather than being suddenly lumped in at the end. And you argue that there is no development because his attitude doesn’t change? Really? Just because a person’s outlook changes, doesn’t mean their attitude does. In fact, people are remarkably resilient to that kind of alteration in their personality. It’s a hardwiring and DmC reflects reality in that way.

      And you want to argue that the original chronology promotes genuine emotion? There are maybe three scenes out of all four games that have any gravitas within them. The overt ridiculousness of the games makes it very difficult to believe in, or emote with, the characters. Vulgar without point, you say? The only place where that is true is in the battle against Poison. There is little profanity outside of that scene and only one other occasion where it is incongruous in its needlessness, and the game is completely void of the immature sexual pandering that has previously been present. Cheap shocks? Like what, the Mundus sex scene? Look up Michael’s exploration of it. Lillith’s death? It was justified. Badly written and boring, why? Because it took the time to explore the characters rather than being “CRASH, BOOM, BAM”?

      Vergil didn’t need to grow. For lack of a better term, he plays the “mentor” here, the more experienced soldier that teaches the hero. You claim a turnaround? There is no such thing. What is revealed in that final scene has been his goal all along and that realisation shines a whole new light on his actions throughout the entirety of the game.

      And Kat isn’t insulting to females. Did you just merrily skip past the scene where Dante lists her contributions to their cause? Or are you just insistent on mirroring Vergil’s assertions that because she’s physically weak she’s useless? Her story isn’t there as development; like Vergil, she discovered herself prior to the beginning of the game. It is there to explain why she is so loyal to the Order, and particularly Vergil, though I already covered that in the article. A step sideways to bring her more in line with the sentiments of the new continuity rather than a step backwards.

      As I see, a different perspective is capable of working wonders for opinion. You’re determined to hate it, I entered open-minded and slightly optimistic. And I should have clarified, I’m not uncertain that I should have given it a 10. It presents a step forward for what matters to me most in narratives: the characters, and it does so while managing to present both theme and defined plot. What I’m uncertain of is whether it should have been awarded that score when it doesn’t seamlessly fuse gameplay and narrative. I know that it overcomes that, however.

      1. Silent Hill
        2 is drenched in symbolism and granted, you’d need a lot of playthroughs and
        analysis to get it in its full complexity. The dialogue is not very
        well-written, but that’s a flaw that doesn’t derive from the quality of the
        story or experience. Everything the character in Bioshock is, is a statement to
        the player’s role in many video games – one of having artificial choices and
        being led by other’s instruction with little to no will involved. And that’s
        just one of the ideas the game delves into. Both these games have original and
        great execution of their story and manage to seamlessly merge their narrative into
        the gameplay. Torment is a different example of storytelling in video games and
        it shines with strong dialogue and original ideas, but since you haven’t played
        it, I won’t go more into it.

        I don’t agree
        that a character driven narrative is always better. Do you suggest that the
        philosophical approach in Bioshock was just done for the sake of it? …Ok,
        then, xD

        I beg to differ.
        Those changes happen quite gradially, they are just done in a subtle way. Whereas
        nothing in DmC is.

        You argued
        that Dante becomes a likeable character because of his changed outlook. My
        point was, he was unlikeable because of his attitude, which never changed. And
        is in odds with his new found views, which really mangles any supposed growth
        he had.

        For me, it
        did. Where’s DmC didn’t, even when it was quite obviously trying really hard
        to.

        Ah, they
        were too many to count. I don’t intend to watch the cutscenes again just to
        cite them, but Donte spitting on Mundus at the end and Vorgil shooting Lilith
        in the belly before shooting her are two of them. There were many more, a lot
        of them in dialogue.

        You sure
        are being presumptuous, aren’t you? It didn’t explore the characters, it just
        dropped badly written back stories, with no relevance to the current story and
        no development for the characters was derived from it all.

        Oh, don’t
        let me start with that scene. It’s one of the most insulting scenes actually,
        with Donte having to stand up for her because she freaked out over a word
        Vorgil used. And while she might have been useful at times, this says little to
        her character and personality, which were pretty much none existent.

        She didn’t
        need such a long boring scene to explain her loyalty, especially when she could
        have used the time to acquire some depth instead.

        Damn, again
        with the presumptions xD I have presented my reasons why I think the story is
        bad. You have presented yours. Neither has changed the other’s opinion, which
        is ok (for me), since people have different perspectives on things.

        Well, I’m
        glad my opinion helped you in your dilemma. I must say, your opinion, filled
        with presumptions and attempts at attacking, helped me understand why you liked
        the story of this game so much. So, I guess, we are both winners in the end :D

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