It’s been twenty years since Devil May Cry blasted its way onto consoles in a hail of bullets and demon magic, a series that has gone on to be one of the most successful and beloved hack-and-slash games around; though one that almost became something very different.
Before becoming its own game, Devil May Cry was being developed as the fourth numbered entry in the Resident Evil franchise.When approached by Capcom to create a more action oriented entry for the survival horror series, director Hideki Kamiya and writer Noboru Sugimura began work on a game that was much more stylised and action-heavy than anything in the series to date. They came up with a story about a protagonist who was augmented with biotechnology, enabling him to perform superhuman feats, as well as taking unbelievable amounts of damage.
Over time the project became so far removed from what the rest of Resident Evil was that all involved felt that it no longer fit the series. Rather than just scrapping the game, the team were able to continue on with the project as its own IP, though after changing several of the story points. Instead of being about a man using science and bio-tech to alter his body to fight bio-weapons, it became a story about a world filled with demons.
The story of Devil May Cry follows Dante, the son of a human woman and the demon knight Sparda, who rebelled against the fellow demons to fight for humanity. Dante, a demon hunter, is hired by a woman to travel to a remote island to help stop the forces of the demon emperor Mundus, who’s planning to cross over into the human world. Not only that, but because Mundus was the demon responsible for the death of Dante’s mother and brother. Dante agrees, and travels to the island to stop the demonic incursion.
One of the things that really worked towards the success of Devil May Cry when it was first released on Playstation 2 in 2001 was that there wasn’t really anything like it around. Other popular horror games at the time were things like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, both games that put you in control of very human protagonists, and where survival was the main focus. More action oriented games, like Castlevania,had tried entering the 3D world, but were mostly still relegated to 2D games. Devil May Cry was a game that felt incredibly unique, one that replicated the over the top action of anime shows and put players in control in a way that had never been done before.
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And it’s a good job that the gameplay was good, because the story was pretty minimal. The series would expand over time, exploring the backstory of Dante and adding more layers and complexity, but the first game was a very simple concept. Travel to a deserted island, kill everything that moves because everything there is a monster. The most complexity the game had were hints that one of the enemies could be Dante’s brother (something confirmed in later games), but this was never really explored fully in this game.
The focus on the action was the best thing the game could have done, and its fast paced mixture of gun-play and melee weapons, which players were able to switch between seamlessly, proved to be not just incredibly popular, but something a lot of other games would come to emulate over the years. The game was so geared towards these fancy moments that it even incorporated a style system, where you’d be graded over how cool you were playing the game. Instead of simply playing through to get to the end you’d find yourself going back and trying new moves and combos on levels so that you could get that coveted top score, and feel pretty badass doing it too.
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Devil May Cry is a game that I remember vividly when it first came out. It was a game everyone wanted to play because it was just plain cool. It looked great, the action was over the top and wild, and it had some of the strangest monsters around because it wasn’t necessarily worried about making complete sense. This aim of style over substance not only made a great game, but one that would spawn a hugely successful series that’s beloved two decades on.
Devil May Cry was released on 23rd August 2001.