The release of Devil May Cry 5 this week has got me thinking of my own introduction to the franchise. Devil May Cry was released quietly on the PS2 back in 2001, and its launch in the West came after it became a sudden success in Japan, prompting a quick localisation effort to get it into the hands of North American gamers.
It would become a commercial success through word-of-mouth: I randomly came across the game at my local video store, and rented it purely because it had the “Capcom” brand on the cover. I knew nothing of the game or the genre, but gave it a go simply on the back of the publisher’s own authority in the industry. I was soon telling everyone and anyone I knew about this unknown game.
Devil May Cry would be the first game I would rent, and then almost immediately go out and buy: within minutes I was scanning the internet for tips and tricks — this was during a time when online guides and YouTube weren’t a thing, so I wasn’t very successful, and had to print out 40+ pages of game guides — and the next day I found myself at my local video game store, using what little money I had to buy my very own copy.
It was unlike any game I had played before: stylish, tough, violent, and unforgiving. For me, Devil May Cry defined the PS2 era, and in my opinion represents what is arguably the pinnacle era of Japanese game development (but that’s a debate for another day).
You can imagine my excitement, then, when Capcom announced Devil May Cry 2, a continuation of the first game, and a reflection of its immense critical and commercial success.
Now, anyone that’s played Devil May Cry 2 — especially old school DMC fans — will know where I’m going with this. If you’re new to the game, I’ll put it as simply as I possibly can:
Devil May Cry 2 is to Devil May Cry, what The Order: 1886 is to The Last Of Us.
Oh, you haven’t played those games either? Okay, well … let’s just say that Devil May Cry 2 tries to be a lot of things — least of all a worthy successor to what was, at the time, the best hack-and-slash game of all time — but it fails so horribly that it’s difficult to look away from just how much of a mess the final product was.
Devil May Cry 2 is the Alien 3, the Terminator Genysis, the Fallout 76 of the Devil May Cry series. Yes, it’s that disappointing, and yes, it was on a similar scale of expectation as the aforementioned films and game.
It was destined to be a failure from the start: Capcom rushed it into development while the first game’s director, Hideki Kamiya, was working on that game’s localisation for Western markets. Neither he nor developer Team Little Devils were involved.
Such was the trouble of Devil May Cry 2‘s development, that no one actually knows who its director was: Hideaki Itsuno (Capcom vs SNK, Power Stone) was brought on to fix the mess, and is listed as the game’s developer despite having spent only “3-4 months” in the development team. Whoever directed the team ahead of that, however, is a mystery … unless you want to believe insane fan conspiracy theories involving a Hideo Kojima plot to bring down an entire genre.
The final product was a kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really Devil May Cry game: it was almost as if the original game didn’t exist. Riddled with bugs, poor level design, a limited move and weapon set, and a lower overall difficulty, it was a frustrating-in-an-unrewarding-way game, compared to the first game’s intense emphasis on personal excellence.
Perhaps the strangest thing about it all was that Devil May Cry 2 doubled-down on its predecessor’s style: Capcom actually partnered with Italian designer label Diesel to model Dante and Lucia, with special costumes available to be unlocked.
Diesel stores across Japan also housed these costumes to promote release, such was the popularity and recognition the first entry had achieved. Diesel’s involvement in games probably isn’t uncommon — game designers, like fashion designers, are artists after all — and so collaboration would certainly occur there quite often during the game making process.
However, the game actually featured in-game branding — including the Diesel brand actually appearing on screen during gameplay.
It’s truly fascinating to look back on: the time leading into the release of Devil May Cry 2 was an exciting one, and the initial announcement of the Diesel partnership was actually exciting for me because, at the time, I was just turning 18, had a disposal income, and saw the Diesel brand as a stylish status symbol.
Looking back, however, the partnership reflects Capcom’s at-times tone deaf and under-appreciative approach to its fanbase, which is arguably the largest of all studios not named Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo.
Capcom had a winner with Devil May Cry, rushed into Devil May Cry 2, nailed that branding — which was, again, unlike anything we’d seen before outside of sport games — and basically delivered a huge “F-YOU!” to everyone that made the first game such a huge success.
It may have been a turning point for the company: in the coming years we got the likes of Viewtiful Joe and its sequel, Resident Evil 4, Okami, Bayonetta, just to name a few. You can even throw Killer7 in there if you like, to show just how risky the company can be.
But it’s still hard to forget just how close the Devil May Cry series came to dying then and there with Devil May Cry 2. Fans may argue that, without it, Itsuno-san may never have started working on the franchise, and we wouldn’t have Devil May Cry 3, and the two entries after that, including Devil May Cry 5.
So maybe Devil May Cry 2 was the disaster that needed to happen. Maybe we needed Diesel-branded missions, cutscenes and costumes. Maybe we needed a Hideo Kojima conspiracy theory. Maybe without all of this, Devil May Cry wouldn’t be what it is today, and the original would be a distant memory.
Seriously though, what the hell were they thinking?