Early on in Devil May Cry 5 you come face to face with a Giant Electrified Apocalypse Knight. This is the designation I’m giving it because it’s impossible to remember what every demon’s correct name is, because there are just so many, and they come in all sizes and shapes and manner of execrable. And not giant as of mythical proportions, but giant by human standards—a Brad Garrett–size Electrified Apocalypse Knight, wearing his flat gray death helm and wielding a big doomsday lance. He had four, smaller, Ray Romano–size sentries with him; I smote them all with my awesome motorcycle sword whilst surfing around on my rocket arm, fashionable leather toggle coat floating, righteously, on the hell-breeze.
In a nutshell, that’s the game, and the Devil May Cry series in its entirety: really cool-looking, so over-the-top as to make hyperbole infeasible, too silly to satisfactorily explain.
But I’ll try: Devil May Cry, created by Hideki Kamiya, is a hack-and-slash third-person shooter that Capcom debuted 18 years ago. It’s loosely based on the Divine Comedy in that it borrows some names from the Italian epic. The face of the franchise is Dante (as in Alighieri), and there’s his brother Vergil (Virgil); in Devil May Cry 2 (2003) there was a Lucia (St. Lucy). I’ve played every title since the original, including Devil May Cry 3 in 2005 and Part 4 in 2008. You can watch this helpful 20-minute video to get you caught up on the story, but there’s only so much you need to know.
Each game hits familiar beats. A huge and recognizably evil tree will sprout up from the ground and inside that tree is something from hell that you’ll need to send back there, to stop it from sucking the lifeblood out of the city. There will be speeches, revelations, and twists, but aside from route one, which Devil May Cry encourages you to take, you will melt your brain if you try too hard to assess what is actually, narratively going on. You know you have to pick up the red orbs for upgrades once everyone’s dead, and you know that also, sometimes, during a large set-piece battle, the camera will get stuck. This has yet to change.
Kamiya perfected a rare strain of game that’s so carnally good that it’s fine you can’t remember who you’re fighting, or why. His Bayonetta series—which follows a witch who can shapeshift and summon demons with her hair—is similarly wordy and wild. If you were to just look at the 2009 game, you could instantly tell that the developers had strong thoughts about drag culture, Catholicism, and the male gaze—but “strong thoughts” is all they amount to. In the end, you care only that you’re shooting stone golems in the face with your semiautomatic stilettos. 2003’s Viewtiful Joe? A frenetic, side-scrolling beat-’em-up that takes place across two planes (the real world and “Movieland”) and in the end goes to space. The bosses can take up an entire high-ceiling ballroom; with well-timed punches and kicks, you—a knee-height cosplayer with a tenuous grip on reality—can do anything.
What I’m saying is that the gameplay is all that really matters, and the gameplay rhythm flows logically and beautifully in Devil May Cry 5. A new disfigured thing appears, and then there’s a splash screen telling you what it is, before you set about killing it over really awful speed-metal-techno music. Soon after I killed the Brad Garrett–size knight in Devil May Cry 5, there was a cutscene: An actually giant Leviathan cephalopod thing clomped over some nearby office buildings and began firing upon me with his tentacle lasers. I rushed right in with no plan, because the understanding is that with liberal application of light and heavy attacks, there’s no problem you can’t solve. The function of mashing buttons to clear the field with your pistol or sword or mechanical arm is easy, so you can focus entirely on form, which is hard. That requires finding the most aesthetically pleasing sequence of upward slashes and spin moves, and when best to deploy your special “Devil Trigger” (your Gamebreaker or Ludicrous Mode, basically). The question is less How can I kill this thing? than it is How can I kill this thing with its own tentacle?
Devil May Cry 5 has stayed true to its arcade sensibilities; as in all of Kamiya’s games, there are stat readouts after each mission that judge you on competence, not completeness. The objective may be to kill this “Spiked Hellraising Berserker,” but the point is to do it in the coolest fashion possible, using every tool and combination attack at your disposal. The highest compliment the game can pay you is a “SSSTYLISH” ranking, and as anyone who’s played any of the Devil May Cry titles will tell you, if you have the time, you should play through once for story and once for style. It’s difficult enough getting the hang of all the fighting styles on offer—there are three playable devil hunters this time around, each with their own equipment and abilities to be upgraded and organized: Nero, the upstart, who’s a bit rigid and doesn’t fully blossom until later on; Dante, the veteran, who’s immediately fun to control but doesn’t become available until about the midway point; and V, the newest addition, and a completely unknown quantity.
V is as wonderfully hackneyed as anything else in the series; he’s a stringy warlock covered in tribal tattoos who carries a cane and wears open-toed sandals. He keeps the company of two demons, a panther and a hawk, that do all the fighting for him while he—I shit you not—reads from his book of sonnets. I have a few more hours left to play and can’t say for sure how he fits into the story, but he certainly, extremely, fits into this universe. I have his rhythm down, I think, but I haven’t figured out which combinations will most effectively and smartly kill this floating Baphomet summoner ice beast that just showed up. Oh well, that’s half of the fun. And I know I’ll get it eventually.