There's a moment halfway through Devil May Cry 3 when protagonist Dante battles a prostitute made out of bats (yes, a prostitute made out of bats). After defeating her, he's cradling her body in his arms when—poof—the bat-prostitute suddenly transforms into a purple electric guitar (yes, a purple electric guitar). What does the ever resourceful Dante do? Of course, he launches into an impromptu guitar solo. He does a painful-to-watch white-man dance across the screen, while the adoring camera circles him and geysers of sparks magically soar into the air all around him. This MTV-circa-1985 moment ends with Dante sliding across the floorboards on his knees a la Eddie Van Halen.
How did I feel watching this moment? I felt red-faced with embarrassment. No kidding. Who did I feel embarrassed for? I felt embarrassed for the character of Dante, embarrassed for the franchise, embarrassed for the developers for having such poor instincts for deciding that this would be "cool," and, most of all, I felt embarrassed for myself for playing the game. And no, this wasn't the first time, or the last time, that Devil May Cry 3 embarrassed me.
Some games inadvertently embarrass themselves. (Need For Speed: Underground 2, with all of its "hey, bro!" and "get out there, dawg!" faux street lingo comes to mind.) But Devil May Cry 3, in its sweaty, desperate bid for "coolness," seems downright determined to embarrass itself. Trust me, this is one game that's not afraid to dive headfirst into the very cheesiest end of the corny pool.
With its swords and red velvet top coats and gothic architecture, the series has always sort of been a Spinal Tap song brought to life. In the same way that Spinal Tap both celebrates and parodies heavy metal, the Devil May Cry games, never more so than in this third installment in the series, celebrate and intentionally parody action games. At least I certainly hope it's intentional….
Devil May Cry 3 is a prequel to the first game in the series. (Clearly Capcom wants me to forget the supremely awful Devil May Cry 2.) The game's storyline concerns a conflict with Vergil, Dante's older brother, and his attempts to pilfer a blood-filled amulet that Dante possesses so he can open a gateway between the demon world…oh, the hell with this. While the narrative is pap, on the plus side, it's told via a series of high-spirited cutscenes. Directed with a great deal of aplomb and energy, Devil May Cry 3 contains some of the most dynamic, over-the-top action cutscenes I've seen in a videogame. Even on my second (and third) run through the game, I still found myself compulsively watching the carefully choreographed shoot-outs and slow-motion martial arts sword battles. They're that good.
Devil May Cry 3's gameplay certainly isn't anything new; I've been chaining combos through spawning enemies for nearly a decade now. Yet, there's something about the game that I found inherently appealing and compulsively playable. That said, the game and I certainly didn't get off on the right foot. It took a few nights for it to really grow on me. Indeed, Devil May Cry 3 does not make a very good first impression.
Much of this can be attributed to the unbalanced difficulty. The game seemed, at least initially, punishingly cruel. (I remember complaining to Chi, who was asking me for the review, that I simply couldn't get beyond the third level.) And Devil May Cry 3 was hard…until I figured out how the game is intended to be played. Players can go back—and absolutely must go back—and replay previous levels multiple times to stock up on red orbs (the game's currency for upgrades), raising their experience levels before proceeding. Capcom really could have tried a little harder to make this play mechanic less obtuse. But once I managed to deduce this—as I said, it took a couple of nights—and upgraded (and armed) myself appropriately, Devil May Cry 3 isn't really any more challenging than the average action game.
But beyond obtuse play mechanics, what makes the game so initially unappealing is how utterly unlikeable Dante is as a character. He is—there's no other way to say this—a dickhead. He dresses like he's enroute to a renaissance fair. He has quite possibly the worst one-liners in videogame history. He constantly refers to the game as "one crazy party!" He behaves like a teenaged misogynist. (When he catches a female character after she's been tossed off the side of a building, he says, "Now this is my kind of rain!") If anything, I found myself growing increasingly fond of the stoic, tight lipped Vergil, and secretly wishing that he were a playable character in the game. (He's not.)
Despite Dante's ugly personality, despite bat-prostitutes turning into purple electric guitars, despite the starched camera (yes, it's still starched) and all the other inherent problems the game obviously has, Devil May Cry 3's gameplay kept me coming back for more. It's scintillating. Cartwheeling through the air, raining gun fire down on a horde of enemies, then whipping out a monstrous sword and driving it into the ground like a rocket, and then—yes, and then—finishing my opponents off with a few whacks of my purple electric guitar (yes, it's a weapon) is exhilarating, giddy fun that always made my palms sweat and my heart pound.
Indeed, Devil May Cry 3 turns violence into a kind of kinetic poetry, elevating it into a crude artform. The game gives me the freedom to express myself with weapons like no other game in the genre. I've tried other third-person action games over the years, always looking for something on par with a Devil May Cry-type experience. I tried Nano Breaker. I tried Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. I tried Bloodrayne 2, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Otogi 2, among others. With the exception of Sony's God Of War, nothing comes close.
In Brad's recent GunValkyrie second opinion, he writes that he "prefer(s) the kind of game that revolves around what you do, not how you do it." Unfortunately, Devil May Cry 3 is the type of game that had me performing virtually meaningless tasks in a stylish fashion. In other words, this is exactly the sort of style-over-substance endeavor that Brad would no doubt despise. That's a shame. Because there's one hell of a third-person action game to be found here—quite possibly the best in its class—for anyone willing to look beyond the game's off-putting exterior.