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Gameverse | August 20, 2017

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The Fandom Cries

WZA173

DmC

Ever since its announcement to the world at the 2010 Capcom Tokyo Games Show, the latest spinoff of the Devil May Cry franchise, as produced by British game developer Ninja Theory, has garnered much controversy and negative outcry. Whether it be thousands upon thousands of dislikes on Youtube or death threats (reportedly) made to the developers, DmC is just not sitting well with traditional DMC fans like its previous four installments had.

And even now, two years since the news was given, the game is still not making any great headway like Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening and Devil May Cry 4 had. In spite of massive amounts of PR salvaging by both Ninja Theory and Capcom, as well as glowing write-ups by publications like 1UP.com, GamesRadar and Game Informer, fans still aren’t convinced. One only needs look at how the advertisements mostly highlight on the game’s Super Mario Galaxy-esque shifting level settings as opposed anything regarding the story, or the gameplay for that matter (as Ninja Theory has switched out the MT Framework engine used by previous titles for the less powerful Unreal Engine), to see that the game remains far from a guaranteed blockbuster. To put the last statement in perspective, whereas the previous Devil May Cry titles (including the botched Devil May Cry 2) were advertised with all the flair and mouth watering anticipation of a Victoria’s Secret commercial, DmC is being played as the Devil May Cry game “with a good personality”.

So why is DmC doing so badly? And how can a video game giant like Capcom and a proven designer like Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West) drop the ball on what was previously a cornerstone franchise? The purpose of this article, obviously, is to give out the reasons and likely do what (from what the author can tell) no other website or magazine has previously done for this game: write from an overly opinionated fan’s perspective as opposed to a reviewer’s.

That said, I hope readers take the previous statement into account, as well as remember that the following are the opinions of this writer alone, and do not in any way reflect those of Gameverse’s writing staff.

Reboot? Why?

It seems, ever since the groundbreaking success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005, reboots have been the “in” thing for certain forms of media. From J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Michael Bay’s Transformers to the failed attempts at Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider and The A-Team, reboots have become something of a norm in our daily entertainment; one almost expects the Hollywood brain trust to take a crack at a “modernized” Howdy Doody, except with Adam Lambert in place of Buffalo Bob Smith and Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer as the titular character (complete with red hair wig and add-on freckles), any day now. But why should Hollywood have all the fun? I’m sure at least one high roller in Capcom has popped that question.

From a corporate standpoint, reboots are almost guaranteed to work. For one thing, reboots are normally made from shows/movies/video games that have established fanbases, and these fans are most likely cater toward modern reworkings of their favorite stories; after all, who wouldn’t want to see a series one had grown up with updated with modern technology and potentially better writing? For another thing, and by far the most important to the corporate office, the publishers are more likely to own the copyrights for the soon-to-be-rebooted series, and therefore the revamp would be far cheaper (while still being potentially profitable) than drawing up an entirely new series from scratch. That also means if the remake doesn’t fair well, then it’s not too bad of a loss, and all the studio needs to do is put the copyrights back into storage, wait a few years, and then bring them back out to try again.

Thus, as far as the suits at Capcom were concerned, a revamp of a major game series was too good a thing to pass up. And yet, their decision to reboot Devil May Cry was met with controversy (such that they changed their cover story for it multiple times over) and is still controversial two years later. Why is that?

Well, as with the examples listed above, one does not simply revamp a series on a whim. Instead, there would have to be two contributing factors to warrant a reboot: the first is if the franchise has not been touched upon in a certain period of time, such as with the Mission Impossible franchise (the first series ended in 1973 and the first movie came out in 1996), while the second is if the last incarnation of the series ended on a low note (Batman and Robin and Star Trek Enterprise for example). In this case, Devil May Cry applies to neither: the preceding game, Devil May Cry 4, premiered in 2008, only two years before Capcom announced the revamp. Not only that, but it also sold quite well across the globe, with Capcom’s president Haruhiro Tsujimoto on record stating the game had shipped two million copies in its first month, the fastest selling sequel in the series, and was highly praised by both Japanese and American critics. But this should be obvious; after all, if DMC4 had fared so poorly, why did Capcom decide to create the next game so quickly (again, the announcement for DmC came only two years later)?

Along with that, there is a third reason a publisher would usually pursue a revamp, and that is because the last portion of the franchise has ended in such a way that it cannot go forward; an example of this is once more Star Trek, in which the TNG portion ended in Star Trek Nemesis with the former Enterprise-E crew going their separate ways, thus leaving only Star Trek Enterprise (which takes place in the distant past instead of the future) as the only reasonable way to “continue” the franchise at that point. Again, Devil May Cry does not fit that criteria, as Devil May Cry 4 ended not with a closed storyline, but with several open possibilities and unanswered questions, whether be it protagonist Nero’s purported connection to Sparda (as claimed by the game’s main antagonist Sanctus himself) to fan favorite Vergil’s whereabouts, which remain unconfirmed from the first game (though it’s claimed that fragments of Nelo Angelo, Vergil’s artificial first game form, were used in the making of the Alto and Blanco Angelos).

All that written out, all Capcom needed to do was sit back and wait a few years, both to cause greater demand among DMC fans and to allow technology to advance (like say with the Playstation 4), before taking another crack at a Devil May Cry game. And if that wasn’t enough, then they could have created a new “spin off” Devil May Cry series with a more elaborate storyline between games, similar to Hideo Kojima’s transition from Metal Gear to Metal Gear Solid. Either way, there was so much wasted potential there that the fandom, truly, did cry.

How Dante Got His Groove Lost

Okay, so Capcom decides to reboot Devil May Cry with an entirely new game: one that they hadn’t, for the longest time, decided whether it was a prequel to Devil May Cry 3 or a completely different universe, but a remake nonetheless. They even brought in an outside game studio to design the game, so that it was totally separate from the previous four (earlier claims of DmC being a prequel notwithstanding). That’s fine, as fans could live with that decision. Or should I say “could have lived”.

In a similar vein as the Ninja Theory offices being a dome-like submersible fortress in the Florida Everglades, its head producer being Lex Luthor and the DmC design team members meeting around a horseshoe shaped table to discuss plans for world domination, one can almost believe the following question was uttered amongst their number: “How can we possibly alienate Devil May Cry fans from this game?” Then, from a small corner of that table, a pants-less, red golf shirt wearing Brainiac stands up and replies: “Let’s make Dante look like an Edward Cullen wannabe!” From there, Solomon Grundy stands up and seconds: “Solomon Grundy wants Dante to look bitchy too!” A few more “ayes” are added, and a new diabolical plan is put into motion.

Obviously, this was the decision that marked DmC from the beginning, such that a death metal song calling for the heads of the designers was purportedly written, at least according to producer Alex Jones’ Kotaku interview. And though one would claim the fanbase isn’t being fair or open-minded, and the reboot certainly doesn’t warrant any threats to the health and safety of Ninja Theory or Capcom staff, there is good reason for the fans’ outcry.

After all, one only need compare this image…

Original Dante

…with this image…

…to see how badly somebody, whether it be Ninja Theory or (as they passed the proverbial pound back to) Capcom, botched it. Even among outside spectators, the “new” design of Dante is considered a great and unforgiveable downgrade from the “old” design.

But this redesign doesn’t just correspond to aesthetics; the new Dante doesn’t simply trade in the old Dante’s stylish red leather for an Occupy Wall Street ensemble. This is an entirely different character, one that holds little in common with the original aside from being named “Dante” and having a preference towards large blades and guns.

Originally, Dante was a character conceived around a single philosophy: he was too cool to smoke. Think about that for a second; a character that’s so badass, so stylish and so sure of himself that he need not emulate Humphrey Bogart to make people remember him. And indeed, Dante fit that philosophy and fit it well; whether he was slaughtering demons left and right without so much as wrinkling his clothes or simply dressing down friends and enemies alike with snappy comebacks and witty remarks, Dante was by all means the epitome of cool, in a way that no other video game character was before him. Sure, he had his fair share of grimdark; after all, his mother was killed by demons, his brother looks down on him from a great height and he has to live with the stigma of being a half-breed, but there are very few times he shows it, and when those times occur, they only serve to make him more human and more personable to his audience. Even his Devil May Cry 2 incarnation, which largely did away with the smartass attitude for one more stoic (obviously it wasn’t received well, though nowhere near as bad as DmC Dante), kept to this philosophy to a fair degree.

The new Dante, on the other hand, is a complete turnaround; in fact, as if that turnaround weren’t obvious enough, Ninja Theory, likely believing fans were too dumb to figure it out for themselves, included a shot of Dante smoking atop a statue in the original previews (and so Ninja Theory can’t make the same excuse as a certain former US President, he was seen inhaling). It all goes downhill from there; while this Dante is still a smartass, his jokes are not as witty nor as timed, and his personality is far darker, no longer holding the original’s larger than life, lighthearted attitude nor mostly unserious nature. This of course is a product of his background: when Dante’s mother was killed, he was tossed around from a series of foster homes that were secretly run by demons, from which he was repeatedly beaten and tortured, thereby stemming a dark outlook on life. The background is bad enough in itself (as if it weren’t a favorite for Marty Stu characters), but it becomes even worse if it takes away from Dante’s “cool” factor, which it does greatly. Basically, Dante has downgraded from a one of a kind badass to the kind of character one can see in most forms of fanfiction or bottom shelf movies and games; he’s become yet another downtrodden, loner hero with a penchant for violence and rebellion against authority. Sure, the original had those traits, but with a key difference: he was far from “yet another”.

Even the two Dantes’ action scenes are vastly different from each other. Whereas the original Dante was a smooth operator, stylishly maneuvering around hellspawn and slaughtering them while eating pizza, the new Dante is rougher and unrefined, acting more like a bouncer tossing out drunks and perverts. Gone is the style and finesse of the original and in is brute force and a more hashed together combat style, like a comparison between Bruce Lee and Sylvester Stallone. To be fair though, the game isn’t out yet (obviously), so there’s a good chance that there will be better scenes in the final product than those presented.

So yeah, whether Ninja Theory botched the design, or Capcom forced them to do so, one thing is apparent. This is not the Dante we all know and love.

How Vergil Got His Groove Lost

You’ll have probably noticed that, throughout this article, I’ve addressed anything Ninja Theory (and to some degree Capcom) has claimed following the PR fallout with a bit of skepticism. Whether it’s claims of death threats being leveled against the producers (if true then big deal, we live in an age where death threats are leveled in “Kirk vs. Picard” debates) or their allusions that Capcom held a proverbial gun to their collective heads and demanded that they redesign Dante from his original look and character “or else”, I’ve pretty much looked upon anything Ninja Theory says as of late with certain disbelief. After all, this is the point in development where certain entities will say anything, up to and including “The Devil made me do it!” (sorry, couldn’t resist), to cover their bad decision making, ensure that their product sells and that they retain their jobs afterwards. It doesn’t help that this is Ninja Theory’s first time with a big franchise, and that any failure will leave a lasting mark on the company’s reputation and standing.

For the most part, I can believe that Capcom forced Ninja Theory’s design on Dante. If anything, Capcom has a long history of executive meddling and bad decision making regarding their games; if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article. That being said, it’s still hard to feel sympathetic toward Ninja Theory, especially when they repeat their biggest mistake. Right after they got done bastardizing Dante, they had to go and do it to Vergil.

That’s right folks. Vergil. Capcom’s other Blue Bomber. The one character in the whole franchise that is more badass and popular with the fans than Dante. So popular in fact that Capcom made a Special Edition version of Devil May Cry 3 whose main feature was allowing players to play as the blue garbed, katana wielding son of Sparda in both a modified story mode and in the tournament based Bloody Palace. Yes, that Vergil.

Gone is his original form…

Original Vergil

…and in is something “a little” different…

To be fair, Ninja Theory has obviously learned from the fallout with Dante and have designed this Vergil accordingly. He has white hair. He wears blue, or at least more blue than the new Dante wears red. He has a katana; not sure if it’s Yamato or not, but it’s definitely a katana, and Vergil wouldn’t be Vergil without a katana. He’s even drawing the katana partially in that shot, looking ready to reduce some poor bastard to hundredths for glancing at him wrong. Whereas the two Dantes are so far apart that you’d have to look up the official DmC page to verify that they are, in fact, supposed to be the same character, the new Vergil is certainly a dead ringer for the original. Or is he?

Unfortunately, aesthetic design is where the similarities end and DmC’s Vergil turns into a whole different entity. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, DmC is an alternate from the original series, so logically the characters would be somewhat different from their original counterparts. The problem is, just like with Dante, Ninja Theory took that idea up to eleven, such that the DmC Vergil is no longer even close to the Vergil we all rooted for in DMC3. So different in fact that for the longest time, I didn’t know where to start at the time of writing this segment.

Short background for those unfamiliar with DMC: the original Vergil was meant to be the antithesis and “evil twin” of Dante. Whereas our man in red was a wise cracking, demon slaying “crazy” party animal, Vergil was a comparatively stoic and refined killer, holding similar wit as his brother but more of the dry, upper class variety. Where Dante was all about stylistic flash when fighting his enemies, Vergil was again refined and conservative; holding no love for firearms (believes they’re unworthy of a “true warrior”), Vergil was a pure swordsman who valued the iaido style of Japanese swordsplay (specifically the art of drawing the sword to attack). Yes he could kill as much hellspawn as his brother, but he would do it with certain grace and temperance, usually cutting down entire legions with a single swing of Yamato, only to have the segments of his victims divide upon his resheathing his sword. And above all else, whereas Dante embraced his human side and fights against demon-kind, Vergil preferred his demon heritage and continually seeks to gain more power toward it, all the while looking upon his humanity as frail and worthless. And he’ll go to any means to acquire that power, whether it be working with humans, demons or both to get what he wants.

In other words, while Dante was the Big Damn Hero, Vergil was clearly the Magnificent Bastard; the anti-hero borderline villain that you can’t help but cheer for, no matter what he does. And even then he holds sympathetic traits, as it’s hinted that his lust for power stems from his failure to protect his mother during his childhood. That in itself makes Vergil a fairly complex character, something you’d least expect in a game series like Devil May Cry.

Comparatively, the new Vergil is an entirely different beast (as said before), one that holds so much in common with V from V for Vendetta one wonders if Alan Moore is on Ninja Theory’s payroll. Instead of the lone devil and power seeker, this Vergil is now the underground hero of le resistance, trying to save humanity instead of shun it. According to the promotions, Vergil is the leader of a secret organization known as the Order (modeled after the real world organization Anonymous) which seeks to combat the demons’ control over the human world through web broadcasts and espionage. Along with that, Vergil is a self-made millionaire (whose fortune is mostly used to fund the Order), and a computer expert of Steve Jobs level proportions; it’s outright stated that he wrote a kind of security encryption software before he got out of school. He is, to put it bluntly, a half-demonic, half-angelic version of Bruce Wayne, or at least he’s supposed to be.

And naturally, along with this change in background comes a change in personality to. Replacing the original Vergil’s calm and fearless nature, this Vergil is quite outspoken about his cause, as well as (ironically compared to the new Dante’s downer attitude) far more positive. The best I can describe him is like a stereotypical high school football team captain; upright, overly confident, always thinking about the game (to the point that it’s nauseating for others around him) and possessing a certain “charm” that will greatly benefit his future career in used automobiles. Needless to say, even without the original Vergil to be compared to, DmC Vergil is hardly the most endearing of characters.

Thus, while this new Vergil is comparatively a less offensive redesign than Dante, it’s still a complete turnaround from the original character, and just like with Dante, it just doesn’t work. As “cool” as an angel-demon software programmer and underground cell leader can be, when applied to a widely accepted character of opposite nature and background, it’s about as subtle a change as transferring from Tim Burton to Joel Schumacher to direct the next Batman movie. Hardly a positive development, especially when DmC needs as much of those as it can get.

The Non-Divine Comedy

Having come down this far, you’re probably thinking DmC couldn’t possibly be any more controversial, or at least no sane mind would make it as such. From the initial confusion over it being a prequel or an alternate universe to its poor taste in character redesign to its using a less powerful game engine than the previous titles (which I haven’t written on here as game engines are not my forte), the latest addition to the franchise has earned much scorn and potentially turned away the Devil May Cry fanbase at large. Having said that, you’d think the Ninja Theory people would take a more cautious approach toward DmC from this point on, and namely work on aspects of the game that they know won’t anger slews of diehard fans and potential new ones alike.

And yet despite that logic, it seems that the DmC designers have one more card to throw out when it comes to controversy, and this one has the potential of enraging people far more than Dante’s redesign did. What could possibly be that controversial you ask? Especially in a game that already thrives on unrelenting violence, scenery gorn and high grade sexual innuendo? The answer is simple: politics.

As if the basic themes of Devil May Cry weren’t enough of a selling point for this game, Ninja Theory has decided to take it up a notch and turn the latest title into a social commentary piece that reflects modern day society, specifically around the current global economic recession. To summarize, Dante is supposed to represent modern day youth struggling to survive in a world that is clearly out against him. The demons that hunt for him are symbolic of corporate executives and political leaders that corrupt and manipulate the will of the people to support their power; in fact, as opposed to the standard-line demonic designs of past games, the demons of DmC appear as hideous and imposing human beings, almost as if they were leftovers from the movie Constantine. And then Vergil’s Order is meant to represent youth that has risen up to fight said corruption, though with questionable aims themselves.

Overall, one need not look at the demonically influenced Raptor News Network (a very blatant if not obnoxious parody of a certain news organization), which provides highly slanted news coverage in regards to Dante and day to day events in order to further promote demonic influence, to figure out the writers’ intent. If Occupy Wall Street ever made a video game, it would most certainly look like this.

Thus, in my most humble opinion, and regardless of any political leanings I may have, this is perhaps the dumbest thing Ninja Theory has made to DmC’s design.

First, Devil May Cry was never meant for this kind of theme; the whole series was simply a hack and slash game with a hero’s epic storyline. No more. Not even Devil May Cry 4, with all of its Catholic influenced themes and references, made any attempt to slam or promote Catholicism or religion in general; it was simply there, albeit as a front for humans to secretly gain demonic power and conquer the world with a giant statue. Even further, the main villain of Devil May Cry 2 was a demon posing as a human industrialist, and several of the game’s levels took place in areas corresponding to his company, from an oil rig to his corporate offices, and yet DMC2 never went beyond that point, even though there were more than enough opportunities to make cracks at capitalism and industry in general (namely in how Ouroboros’ presence affected Dumary Island and its inhabitants). In short, as if it weren’t so obvious (apparently it’s not), you play Devil May Cry games to kill off the hordes of hell and enjoy Dante’s witty commentary, not to pause and reflect upon the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong.

Second, and arguably far more important, there’s a big reason you don’t see a lot of games based on recent heavy hitting events like America’s presence in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the ever dwindling global economy and job markets, or even (and especially) 9/11. It’s because they hit far too close to home for people, not only ensuring that they won’t sell big, but also generating much anger and dismay among potential customers toward the product. This is why Six Days in Fallujah was canned early on while Call of Juarez: The Cartel was especially slammed by people living along the American-Mexican border, and even more why the “No Russian” level in Modern Warfare 2 caused much backlash east of the Balkans. And while I doubt the faux symbolism and analogies to modern times are going to bash DmC like the preceding titles, it will most certainly add fuel to the already grown fire of resentment among potential customers. Not a good idea, especially in regard to a bestselling franchise.

And yet, in spite of all I said above, I can pretty much guess why Ninja Theory thought it would be cool to take DmC down this route: they essentially wanted to create a modern day Divina Commedia. Though it appeared on the outside as an epic tale of divinity and damnation, Dante Alighieri’s timeless poem held several underlying messages underneath its passages, several of which were intended critiques to European society. After all, it was a product of Dante’s exile under Pope Boniface VIII, who Dante, in one of the earliest forms of the “Take That” trope, subsequently placed in Hell’s Eighth Circle (Fraud). Beyond that, the game is also meant to be an allegory of Dante’s political life, reflecting upon his time with the White Guelphs as they campaigned against the Papacy’s influence in Florence.

Unfortunately, while this basis for DmC may seem appropriate, it once more overreaches past the series’ original intent: being a simple hack ‘n slash game meant for straight out enjoyment and nothing more. Sure, you have characters named Dante and Vergil, demons running amuck as far as the eye can see, and several obvious allusions to the Inferno in level design and themes. However, none of these things were ever anything beyond mere aesthetics; Dante and Vergil had about as much in common with their namesakes as Superman has in common with Friedrich Nietzche’s Ubermensch. They have similar names and that was the extent of it, which is subsequently all Devil May Cry has in relation to the Divine Comedy. Shame that was forgotten.

In Conclusion…

Some years back, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw wrote a scathing review against Silent Hill: Homecoming, the first game of the Silent Hill series to be developed by an American company instead of a Japanese one. While praising certain aspects of the game, Croshaw’s ultimate conclusion was that Homecoming just wasn’t anything like the Silent Hill games he had played and loved to that point, and that it would have been better off as its own series instead of being based around SH. For a time, I myself had believed Croshaw was overly critical of Homecoming while not being open to the positive changes it represented.

Now however, as I write this article, I finally understand where he was coming from.

Similar to Croshaw’s feelings, I believe DmC would have been better off as its own title, as it is anything but the DMC that I and many others had enjoyed playing since the turn of the century. Besides the fact it has yet to show itself as an “improvement” over past titles, it more or less dispenses with most of the things that fans associate with Devil May Cry while offering shoddy replacement material. As its own independent title, it just might have been able distinguish itself as a decent, perhaps good, looking game; instead, it takes after a series of heavy hitters with an entrenched and highly vocal fanbase, as well as a set of basic gaming standards that it’s just not able to fill. At least, I make this judgment based on what promotions and previews I’ve seen of the game so far.

Will DmC: Devil May Cry be a horrid title? I don’t know; again, the game has yet to make its debut, so for all I know it could be the best title in the series yet. I doubt that will happen, but the possibility is still there, and I encourage any readers of this article to hold to that possibility. After all, you can never tell what will be a hit (or miss), no matter what is shown beforehand.

Will I get the game myself, if only to verify everything I’ve written here? Probably not. Even if the game is a hit, it once more just isn’t the Devil May Cry I grew up with; the games I spent hours playing as a brief respite from high school, a crappy job and the worldly ills of the early 21st century. Sure, as I said, it could turn out to be the best title yet, perhaps even the best video game ever developed up to that point, with the “new” Dante becoming as much a modern household name as Luke Skywalker, Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Hell, it may even have the same effect on our time as the Divine Comedy had in Dante’s time, only with guns, swords and pretty boys. But it still wouldn’t be Devil May Cry.