There’s a specific type of gamer who complained about where Ninja Theory was taking Devil May Cry. This gamer held one guiding principle as far as the series was concerned: that Dante was cool. Capcom’s definition of cool, back in 2001 when the series launched, included silver hair, a long trench coat, goth aesthetic, a Dir En Grey-lite butt-rock soundtrack, and a ripped-from-anime story. Devil May Cry was cool, as defined by a subculture breastfed on Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. And for a time—that is, when the first game hit, early in the 2000s—it certainly felt cool. But paradigms shift. The Dante that was cool in 2000 would become hideously dated, and his last appearance in a game got him stuck in a creative rut, as his guarded-loner shtick became unmistakable as an embarrassing cliché. Anime’s refusal to mature alongside the Western world puts most of its employed tropes at odds with what is actually thumb-on-the-pulse cool.
Ninja Theory’s interpretation of cool, as defined by DmC: Devil May Cry, is a portrayal of Dante as a sharp-faced raver kid with emo hair, a chip on his shoulder, and a mouth like a sailor, who spends most of the intro setting up a threesome, while They Live-style floating subliminal messages beckon hideously malformed demons to his doorstep. Its soundtrack is jagged-edge industrial, dubstep, and screaming metal. The game’s attitude and aesthetic has less in common with Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Todd McFarlane than Garth Ennis or Don Coscarelli. It’s a type of cool distilled from gallows humor, fantastical horror, wildly imaginative nightmare landscapes, and a bloody mean streak a mile wide. DmC is an injection of brash, young, nihilist energy into a stagnant franchise. And new Dante is the hero it needed, even if it’s not the one its fans wanted.
After the game’s stylish, tone-setting intro, Ninja Theory very literally starts to tear the world as we know it apart, leaving city streets, churches, carnivals and factories in frozen destruction to be painted over in graffiti or covered in blood or living sebaceous mess, and spends the next 12 hours finding new ways to twist everything for maximum disorienting effect. Stages often have an abstract quality to them, where gravity and paradoxical design is the order of the day. Hell is right here on Earth in the 2013 DmC reboot and Dante, his cool-headed brother Vergil, and Kat, a surprisingly well-realized female sidekick, all feel like the only people capable of surviving its horrors, and Alex Garland’s script does all three of them a favor in making them all worthwhile, likeable companions with chemistry on this cursed hell ride.
Once the gnarled interpretations of Hell’s denizens start showing up, the game’s aforementioned mean streak takes over, where the free-flowing dance of death that once served as the franchise’s bread and butter marries up with a cruel, hard-hitting penchant to make every touch of the attack buttons feel like a monstrous force. Weapons feel like implements of pain and destruction like never before, and few games ever do, and it steals only the strongest ideas from its predecessors, none more valuable than the ability to switch around Dante’s artillery mid-combo if need be, making wild, schizophrenically brutal combos limited only by the player’s sick imagination. The 2013 reboot was spectacular, a beautiful modern nightmare. And despite its stellar efforts, it was largely ignored.
A cynic would be justified in thinking that the Definitive Edition still has its work cut out for it trying to bring back the Devil May Cry fans who held the reboot in such contempt. Thankfully, the people at Ninja Theory aren’t cynics. The Definitive Edition is nothing short of digital worship. The graphics have been given a serious jolt. Environments and characters teem with detail and color at an unwavering 60 frames a second. The visual feast would’ve made the game worth the second purchase alone, but the Definitive Edition’s real show of love and respect has gone toward the hardcore.
Old-school players who thought Ninja Theory had tweaked the gameplay to its detriment how have a new option, which rebalances the entire game to match up with the older titles’ stingy scoring system, its dearth and discouragement of powerups, and enemies that can strip a life bar in three or four hits. Surviving that opens a slew of new insane difficulty options, which do anything from remapping all the enemies with harder, enhanced versions, to making it so enemies only take damage by getting to the highest grade of combos, to making it so Dante dies in a single hit. Besides the new Dante, many hardcore players skipped the reboot due to its forgiving nature. This is a release reaching out to them with open arms.
More than anything, the Definitive Edition is an already fantastic game perfected and shined up brighter for an audience that didn’t come in nearly the droves that it demanded the first time. DmC walked the walk and talked the talk of an envelope-pushing experience on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. On the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it’s the chaotic, anarchic Devil May Cry the new generation needs and deserves.