Devil May Cry 2
Dante may look cooler than before, but the game lacks substance.
We have finally come to the "sequel galore" that inevitably arrives in the line-up of any gaming console. We have already played a new Onimusha, we can now get our hands on a new Zone Of The Enders, and this fall even North American players will have the disturbing sexy sequel to Final Fantasy X. For many, this is just exciting; for others, it's the moment to discover how repetitive our gaming lives are.
Fortunately, many developers and publishers have learnt that a sequel shouldn't be a mere copy of its predecessor. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Silent Hill 2, Soul Reaver 2, Vice City, and in part Onimusha 2 proved that a sequel could be also a way to research and expand over the quality of already brilliant gaming experiences. Anyhow, there will always be sequels that do nothing more than taking advantage on the success of a brand name or of a character. And this is the case of Devil May Cry 2.
The first thing that Devil May Cry 2 sorely lacks is a good director with a big ego. Whether you liked the first Devil May Cry or not, Mikami's influence and talent gave the game a clearly identifiable atmosphere.
Honestly, I never considered Dante an example of brilliant character design; he was an evident mixture of the heroes I loved in many wonderful Japanese anime series. Dante had Vash The Stampede's red coat and boots, Alucard's guns, and he was half demon-half man like a two dozens of other wannabe anti-heroes. But he had attitude. Dante was a tough guy, the kind that can defeat hordes of scary demons and Satan himself using just one hand, while with the other he's cooking lasagnes.
In Devil May Cry 2, the developers didn't even try to make of Dante an interesting character: Dante rarely speaks, and when he does, he sounds like a scared boy who tries to play Rambo. I don't know, maybe the poor guy was lobotomised in the timeframe between the two games. The same thing happens to the rest of the game. Technically brilliant, Devil May Cry 2 lacks style, the presence of a strong artistic mind that should always guide a development team. The gameplay is unbalanced, game levels look too generic, characters are little more than cardboard figures, the script... wait, did someone actually write a script for this game?!
The developers of Devil May Cry 2 apparently took the same elements that made of the first game an example of excellent game design. On the surface, Devil May Cry 2 seems even to improve over the quality of the original game: the special moves look even cooler, the control system is more user-friendly, the locales are bigger, there are more enemies to dispatch with your sword and handguns. But coolness is not enough to make a good game. Devil May Cry lacks the most invisible but also most important thing in a videogame: game balancement. Balancement is what makes the true difference between a mediocre developer and a genius like Miyamoto; it's probably the most difficult thing to achieve in a videogame - and it's unreachable without a game director able to guide his/her team.
Devil May Cry 2 comes on two disks, one for Dante's adventure, and another for Lucia, a strange woman that for some reason seems to know Dante. The game is divided in missions (18 for Dante, 13 for Lucia), and a hint of storyline is told through many in-game cutscenes. The first game wasn't exactly an example of brilliant storytelling, but finding a proper "storyline" in this sequel is very difficult. Devil May Cry 2 features one of the weakest and less developed plots you could imagine, complete with worthless ridiculous dialogues, non-existent character development, and a terribly stupid ending cutscene. Strangely enough, the instructions booklet includes a pompous introduction to the story of the game, where you can find references to Vikings, ancient religions, mystery islands, "fabulous" artefacts… it's a pity that the actual storyline can be summed up saying that Dante and Lucia must save the world from an evil rich man with a special interest in demons. Really, there is little more than this.
While Lucia's missions are different from Dante's, the two adventures often share the same levels, with few exceptions that include Lucia's underwater levels. Overall, the game is very short, with no more than seven hours needed to complete both adventures. Dante and Lucia play similarly; they both have long-range weapons (handguns for Dante, throwing knives for Lucia) and short-range weapons (a sword for Dante, a pair of short blades for Lucia), and they both can activate the devil trigger state. The differences between the two characters follow a typical cliché: Dante is the stronger but slower male hero, Lucia is the weaker but faster heroine. Despite these differences, the gameplay mechanics are weakly affected by the character you're using: both characters are so powerful you don't really need to adjust your style to master each of them.
The preset control system is very intuitive. The Left analog stick moves the character, X is the jump and double jump button, Triangle is used to attack with your sword or melee weapon, Square is the fire button, and Circle is used to dodge the enemy attacks. The L2 button lets you switch guns on the fly, thus making attacks with multiple weapons very easy to perform. When shooting, you can use the auto-targeting function or aim manually if you need to shoot a precise part of the enemy's body. Dante and Lucia can execute a great variety of special moves; they can run up walls, perform high jumps and summersaults, target 2 enemies at once, launch the enemies, pull off amazing combo attacks, including exciting jump attacks. Other special moves are available while in Devil Trigger mode, that you can activate with the L1 button; for the ones who didn't play the first Devil May Cry, Dante, and in this game Lucia, can turn for a limited amount of time into a devil form, gaining temporary superpowers that make them almost invincible.
The weapons Dante had in the first game have disappeared; his mighty demon swords like Alastor and Ifrit are gone, and they've been replaced by swords with more traditional names and look like "Rebellion" or "Merciless". Dante can find three different swords during the game, and in the same way Lucia can find three pairs of small swords. For long-range attacks, Dante can use his mighty twin handguns, Ebony and Ivory, but also a twin submachine-guns, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher. Lucia's long-range default weapons are her deadly throwing knives, but she can find darts, bombs, and a special bow in the underwater levels.
Throughout the game you'll collect thousands of orbs, which, depending on their color, can be used to buy new items, expand your devil trigger gauge, resurrect your character, heal you, and also upgrade your weapons. Weapons at higher levels can deal more damage and make combos even easier to perform. You will also collect devil hearts, special crystals that once inserted in a special amulet can add new power to your Devil Trigger form including elemental attacks.
Lots of incredibly cool moves, tons of weapons, an intuitive control system - this sounds great, doesn't it? Unluckily, the developers didn't care to create a game where all these elements blend together to create a rich, compelling gaming experience.
First of all, the game is incredibly easy. Too easy. Even at Hard Mode, you can complete the game, bosses andsub-bosses included, without dying even once. Even the once difficult "Must Die" mode, that becomes accessible only after you've completed the game in Hard mode, is a very easy challenge. This happens for different reasons. First of all, Dante and Lucia, even using their default weapons at the lowest level are terribly more powerful than any other existing creature in the game. Like in the first game, your long-range weapons have unlimited ammo, but this time enemies are so stupid, so unable to represent a real threat that this seems just an unfair advantage that you really don't need. The A.I. is incredibly low-key: sure, lots of demons can attack you at once, but you feel like an elephant attacked by hordes of ants.
All this becomes even more evident when we consider the enormous locales in which most of Devil May Cry 2 takes place. While in the first game the smaller environments forced you to encounter and defeat the enemies (I still remember the first time I encountered those creepy marionettes in a narrow corridor), now you can easily spot and avoid the groups of enemies, since they're sparse enough and you're much faster than any of them.
That's why the special moves, the extra weapons like the rocket launcher or the bombs, the Devil Trigger mode, where you basically are a god, become nothing more than "cool". There is no concrete need to perform a wall jump or move like Bruce Lee when you can dispatch any enemy firing your basic long-range weapon.
Sure, controlling your characters in Devil May Cry 2 is an amazingly smooth experience, and you'll probably feel a badass running up walls and shooting with a pair of machineguns, but on the long run, Devil May Cry 2 is unable to create the excitement players want to find in nowadays action games. Even without comparing the game to the excellent first instalment, Devil May Cry 2, thanks to the completely unbalanced gameplay, falls in the populated realm of mediocre gaming experiences with little replay value.