**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.
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.
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.