Red Coats and Crying Devils: A "Devil May Cry" Retrospective

Few series’ have earned their place as true modern classics the way Devil May Cry has. Everything from its unexpected creation to the modern revival, fans around the world have identified with the white-haired, fast-talking protagonist, Dante, and found a game series that has completely revolutionized the style-based hack-n-slash genre, and many others even beyond its own genre. This is going to be a heartfelt highlight reel of what makes us connect with a series about a pizza-loving half demon and what makes me personally so excited about the newest iteration coming on March 8th.

Initial experience

Flash back if you will to a time before the prevalence of the internet, a time before the over-commercialized atmosphere we know today where secrets are few and far between. I won’t try to sugarcoat my own pedigree and say that I was born with an Atari stick in my hand, but occasionally in the life that was my childhood under careful parents I would gain access to something for a brief amount of time that gave me a glimpse outside of my norm. One example of that was the channel G4TV. My household didn’t get this glorious channel back when they had such amazing pieces of media such as “Attack of the Show” and “Cheat!”(not to be confused with the other show “Cheaters” that had a widely different subject material), so when I was at my aunt’s house for a sleepover, I took every chance to glean anything video game-related from it.

One time I turned the channel on, I was introduced to a brief trailer of two jacketed men with white hair dueling in a church. The action was fluid, the swords were huge, and neither man seemed to break a sweat in the fighting, instead only sassily quipping at every turn. I remembered nothing else about that episode of the show talking about the new release of Devil May Cry 4, but the action and stylish look stood out to me to the extent that I could remember it vividly to this day. Now most people might leave that experience and go out to find any source this amazing game, but in the short time I was on the channel I never actually remembered anything about the game outside of its look, not even the title.

With resignation I moved on with my life for several years until one day I happened upon an anime of a white-haired man in a red jacket. My heart skipped a beat as my mind flashed back to that trailer I saw and I knew I needed to know more. I was just starting ninth-grade I believe and had a small bump in freedom to the point that I was able to use my parents’ computer to look up the occasional Youtube video. Well I just so happened to find an abridged series on the Devil May Cry anime. In the middle of all the comedy I experienced the highs and lows of this short-lived anime while becoming acquainted with the many characters of the Devil May Cry universe. It was such a welcome sight in my life of shelter and so far removed from anything I’d ever seen before.

The one where it all began

In order to continue I must reveal to you I had quite a few holes in my experience while getting into this series. Because, while I had a Playstation 1, I only played a handful of games on it. While I had a Playstation 2, almost every game I played was scrutinized beforehand by my family to ensure its content was “safe”. So, it wasn’t until I owned an Xbox 360 for several years that I happened to find a copy of Devil May Cry 4 in my local GameTrader and everything clicked. That was the game that I saw the trailer for all those years ago. I begged my parents to buy the game for me, and after almost every kind of pleading I could do, which included bribing them to do extra chores, and almost doing a ten-slide Powerpoint presentation on why I should be allowed to kill demons to my heart’s content, my parents finally gave in and allowed me to have the game. What came next was so much more than I expected.

            See, I knew how the anime worked. Dante killed demons and looked cool. But you see, in all that time without any real access to the series I knew nothing else besides the names of a few characters and the premise. I just knew I wanted in on all this fun. I started the game up and was graced with a beautiful cutscene of a young white-haired man I’d soon find out was actually Nero beating up Demons with nothing but his hands, feet, and the torn leg of one of the demons. Soon we began the tutorial fight and everything clicked in my head. This was the moment I’d seen replay itself in my head over and over for all these years. That was Dante himself I was about to fight. I didn’t care at the time about the shift in protagonist. Just that I had finally captured something from my past and was going to live it out. I’d liken it to that moment in your school where that one classmate with rich parents sent out invitations to a few of their friends and you were one of the people with that slip of paper that said you were invited. You didn’t care about anything but the fact that you were just happy to be there.

Falling Deeper into the Rabbit Hole

My experience with Devil May Cry 4 was exactly the kind of raw adrenaline I needed. It seemed to have everything I was realizing I loved: huge swords, demon-killing, sarcastic-yet-confident characters, an anime-esque art style. So imagine my excitement when I found a strategy guide for Devil May Cry 3 come in one week while I was at GameTrader. While halfway into the massive book, an employee took notice of my interest and pointed me in the direction of the game itself and so I found myself as a younger Dante, eating pizza as he calmly dispatches demons and saves the world from his brother Vergil.

            I would soon use my high school freedom to play the rest of the series, but since then nothing has quite embodied my interests in that awkward junior high and high school phase as Devil May Cry did.

Let me take a brief step back to give everyone a little context just in case they’re not as knowledgeable on this series as some of the rest.

Devil May Cry started its story as nothing more than the next Resident Evil game, which at this point in was going to be Resident Evil 4. However, the man writing it, Hideki Kamiya, made a trip to Spain to get ideas for the environment and he started taking further liberties. The horror became downplayed, the action built up, and this infectious style began to ooze through the cracks in this new behemoth. Soon he realized what he created no longer could be considered a Resident Evil game, but instead of abandoning it, he embraced this Frankenstein’s monster and ran with it. He dropped the Resident Evil title altogether and created new characters and plot, loosely basing the theme on the ancient story Dante’s Inferno (with an emphasis on that ‘loosely’ part). From here, Kamiya let his creativity and strengths free, building a combat system that was all but unheard of for the time, basing each mission’s score on collectibles and varying moves and weapons. Now granted, this system took a few games to perfect, but I believe there’s a respect deserved to the games that pioneered these ideas. Yes we can see the flaws in something, but the fact that the team behind the subsequent Devil May Cry games learned from the shortcomings and played to the strengths of what had come before is a testament to the ingenuity of someone unshackled from the fear of doing something wrong.

Let’s speak about something I’d touched upon earlier: the environment. I remember, despite the technical limitations of the time, I was caught in awe at this idea of merging gothic architecture with a modern setting. See, I’m an American where all of our buildings are hardly more than three hundred years old, and that’s on the furthest end of things. Anything past that would be nothing more than rotting wooden cottages. So being surrounded by such grand structures reaching a thousand years old and beyond was a surreal experience for me. Devil May Cry brought me into this unique world where medieval style and architecture stood side by side with motorcycles and heavy rock. I remember when I reached the forest section of Devil May Cry 4 and standing there, completely forgetting that I was being timed on how fast I could finish the level. Seeing the Order’s Headquarters rooted high and bare, its single ivory cube standing far in the distance in stark contrast with the emerald trees that hid complete chaos within (and that infuriating shadow puzzle that I admit had me stumped for longer than I care to reveal).

            Just as the forests outside the Order’s Headquarters were filled with life and disorder, Fortuna Castle was the opposite with its immaculate, dreary halls filled with shadows and an equal amount of things hiding within them, but suffice to say it was all a beautiful experience for someone that really hadn’t seen anything quite like this in a video game.

Fear as Motivation

The decision to move forward with changing the feel of Devil May Cry from the horror-focused Resident Evil may not matter to most, but I can’t begin to fully explain what it means to me. Not necessarily because I don’t like horror games, but because to a scared, unsure kid, I strangely looked up to anyone that could stare horrifying monsters in the face and be completely unfazed.

I couldn’t handle the simplest of jump scares and, even now, it’s a guaranteed spike in my heart when something lurches around a corner in Resident Evil or when a vent door gets busted open in Dead Space. I can trace much of my crippling fear back to getting scared and pranked a lot as a kid. I would become completely debilitated by whatever came at me, even if I knew it was just a guy in a mask, I had the imagination to see it when I closed my eyes and I could do absolutely nothing about it. I wouldn’t exactly say I consider Nero or Dante to be a role model, but they were two examples of people that stared down the worst creatures of hell that would each be a major boss in another franchise and routinely crack jokes about it. It was so strangely freeing to me to see something in show up in a level, feel that complete shut down as my hands clamped down on the controller, and then see Dante smile and insult the creature to its face. The feeling would return to my fingers and something in me would think, “Well if he’s the one fighting it, and he’s so calm, then there’s nothing to really worry about”.

I know it might sound a little goofy, but don’t underestimate what a scared kid will do to in order to not receive ridicule from his friends, or worse still, the ridicule he’d put on himself. I was that kid and I needed to overcome this stuff and this game was the best chance for me to fight those fears. It might have taken some imagination to picture each enemy as the personified demon of something I feared but imagination was never something I lacked. So as simple as it sounds, I latched on to this idea of fighting these horrific monsters and didn’t let go until I’d mastered it. And along the way I found myself in a series that helped me with something else, something probably even more than my fear.

It’s a Lonely Road

If I tried looking for it on Youtube now, I’d probably come up blank, but there used to exist this one video that really affected me similarly to a doctor’s visit. It didn’t magically cure me, but it pointed out something I realized I had been facing and pointed me in the right direction. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I know this pulls us back into my past, but just bear with me because it provides some context. Let me explain.

            So I was in high school, specifically going through eight, ninth, and tenth grade at Archbishop Rummel High School down in Metairie, Louisiana. And I won’t go into too many details, but I was profusely bullied for those three years. I was the kind of kid that didn’t want to be a burden so I never really showed my parents what was going on until far later, and any faculty were less than helpful, usually not wanting to get involved or chastising me and assuming I did something to deserve it.  It was the kind of mental and physical abuse that made me really curl into myself and latch on to whatever I had at the time, so I began to read, write, and draw a lot more. The subject material was usually what you’d expect from a high school kid that was just getting into anime and edgy video games, but it was sort of funny because as “heavy” the subject material was in Devil May Cry, the times I drew the characters, they were almost always smiling. Even if it was a cocky grin, it was this strange highlight of levity. Even in the throes of what I now can categorize as depression, I had this need to portray characters in their personalities and even when Dante faced the worst of humanity and demonkind alike he could get past it with a joke and I’d accept it as a cemented part of his personality.

            Years passed, I transferred schools to Holy Cross in New Orleans, had some of the best two years of my life, and found myself in the thick of my college years at the University of New Orleans. I’d grown distant with almost everyone from my past and even though I’d found something fantastic in new friendships, they’d all gone off to other schools, and the few that had stayed were lost beneath the waves of a school that housed over twenty thousand students. And I’m not sure whoever is reading this has experienced the suffocating nature of college life in a school that was mostly commuting students, but it felt desolate. Even when the halls were packed I felt like I was shambling along, bumping into other husks that used to house optimism and creativity. It’s hard to convey these feelings without coming off as nihilistic or edgy, but just know that I felt completely lost. I’d already changed majors once and was lost in the middle of an English degree that I hated and felt like I’d wasted two years on classes I could barely understand.

All of this spiral came to a head of sorts when I was browsing through Youtube, being generic anime trash trying to find some music when I happened across a video in the recommended slot called Dante – I’m Home -. The thumbnail, if I’m remembering right, was a picture of Dante looking off to the side in surprise, clearly drawn by a fan that knew what they were doing. I clicked on it, wondering what it was. Five minutes later I found myself sobbing at my computer. See, this video appealed to me in that small shred of kindness I had left in my heart as it played a slow, gentle Japanese song sung by a woman with a sweet, child-like voice. While the music played, I watched this little silent movie of sorts go over Dante’s life up until that point, starting with Dante looking at Vergil’s old necklace and reminiscing on his childhood where his family was together, he and Vergil would spar and Dante would be injured only for his mother to be there to help him up. It then cut to several shots of Dante moving through alleys, hunting demons, and overall seeming fairly done with everything, clearly showing him dissociating with a blank stare while he went through the motions of life.

Just to take a brief step back, at this point I was hooked as I was seeing a character I had ended up looking up to as this paragon of silly antics and endless confidence seem so abandoned as he looked back and I realized when it was all stripped away Dante was easily a tragic character. He’s borderline immortal, and though he ages, he’s still lost almost everyone he cared about from his family.

The video continued as it showed the disappearance of his father, mother, and Vergil, shown as a happy child helping Dante up, and we cut to a moment of Dante walking through a dark Alley and his image shifts from that of DMC 1 to DMC 4. He walks into his office only to be hugged by Patty, the girl that acted as foil and comic relief of the anime series, she then reveals that she had gathered all Dante’s new friends of Nero, Kyrie, Morrison (a man from the anime that served as informant with a heart of gold), Lady, and Trish. It then cut back to Dante’s reaction where be briefly becomes the crying child of his past and we see him crack an embarrassed smile with tears in his eyes. It then fades away as Dante and Patty go to greet everyone and the simple two words, “I’m Home” come up and the piano finishes its last few measures.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what broke me more from the imagery to the soft music playing throughout, but something snapped in my heart as I watched everything unfold. I understand that the characters are fictional, but humor me for a minute, because to this broken college student that had realized he’d pushed everyone in his life away, it struck me like a train that I’d effectively placed myself into this situation due to my own trauma of the past. I’d clung so closely to heroes of fiction to the extent that I’d thought doing things on my own and throwing in a snarky comment every once in a while was all I needed to get through a difficult situation or face the demons of my past. In reality though I had done nothing but avoid them while I made my own reality to live in.


I’m not going to hail Devil May Cry by saying it cured cancer, or even suggest that it’s a series of perfect games because nothing is. I’m not going to claim that DMC singlehandedly saved my life or anything either. There were several real-life moments that reinforced the revelation I made after watching that video that I needed to make a change, but I could never do the disservice of not giving credit to Devil May Cry and the fandom it created to reflect real life struggles and reveal to me something I needed to change in order to grow as a person. And in the end, I believe that’s one of the greatest strengths of created media. Certainly sometimes we just need to unwind or see something play out in another person’s life to gain some form of levity in our own, but I think some of the greatest pieces of fiction are the kind that put a mirror in front of us and say, “This is what you’re doing. Maybe consider something else.” It’s a situation where we watch the hero struggle and fail on his own and then get picked up by his friends and loved ones and magically gains the power to continue on. Because that’s what we do in life. We get the ever loving snot kicked out of us by unfair circumstances and consider the point to it all, and then one of our loved ones sets us right and we understand that we do it for them. Then we start the next day and find the inexplicable power to struggle on.

So for every dark moment that I fought through by making a joke, for that moment I learned to fight my fears, and for the moment I realized that I needed a team of friends to fight the demons of my life, I want to personally thank those involved with the creation of every game in this blessed series, yes even that reboot we don’t talk about. I know that this retrospective took a different direction than some might have expected, but the deeper I dug in regards to what this series means to me, I myself realized that it was a deeply personal story. When I came to terms with being honest about it I thought that it was worth sharing because we all have our darkest hours, we all have our moments of realization, and we all have our own journeys that we get to tell one day. I’m hoping I get another opportunity to write because I believe this is just the first article of what I hope is a routine of speaking on what video games mean to me. And maybe you weren’t as much a fan of the personal journey this took me on. Maybe you’re thinking you’d rather me talk more about the tight controls or the music. Maybe this story seemed a little too sad. Call me strange, but sometimes I like a good story that when listened to, even a Devil May Cry.

Written by Paul Edwards. 


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