Devil May Cry is a beleaguered series. With the first game fourteen years ago, it essentially launched the genre of character action games into the public consciousness through its stylish combat and unforgiving difficulty. Then it stumbled as many times as it succeeded, occasionally trying to reinvent itself and causing a schism between fans over what properly defines the series. Playing through the games sequentially might leave any new fan scratching their head in confusion across every major revamp, forcing Capcom into a defensive stance with Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition, an HD remaster that was made before the reboot and is releasing after the remaster of said reboot. Like I said, it’s confusing.
I am actually not sure that “remaster” is the proper terminology for Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition, though the word already lacks proper definition. Some games adopting the remastered moniker have improved textures, improved lightning, run at higher frame rates, while others up the resolution and simply include all the available DLC. Special Edition charts a middle path, not offering many visual frills to take advantage of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware, but adding new playable characters, extra modes and a few new costumes. I ended up settling on the term “refurbished” rather than “remastered.”
If you’re new to Devil May Cry 4, or to the series as a whole, you may have caught wind of this game’s less-than-stellar reputation in the last seven years since its release. With two systems to support and more high-quality art assets to generate than ever before, Capcom decided to split the baby and force players to play half a game twice in succession. The plot of Devil May Cry 4 is best summarized as Nero, a new character, running to one end of the country and Dante, the returning protagonist, running back to the other end. The same bosses, the same levels in reverse, a few extra wise-ass remarks, eventually even the most excited player will feel bogged down in the repetitive nature of it. If you are coming to Devil May Cry 4 for a one-and-done romp through the story, you are going to come away extremely disappointed.
That is not how I expect seasoned players to approach Special Edition, however. With character action games in general, the actual act of progressing through the campaign is considered more tutorial than endgame. They are built on the assumption that a player’s default difficulty is merely familiarizing themselves with the game before leaping into more challenging modes and fighting more aggressive enemies. You don’t play Devil May Cry 4 to finish, you play it to become skilled at fighting enemies, and the ensuing fun from SSS-ranking a room full of them. New players might be caught off guard and unsatisfied by a single jaunt through the game, especially if they have no plans to take it further.
The main campaign is still left relatively untouched except for a few balance changes to Dante and Nero that get into a level of granularity that is only barely noticeable. You still go through the same game, still do the same interminable platforming sequences, play the same dumb dice game, and everything is as it was years ago. The story is left intact, so lore fanatics desperate to see confirmation that Nero is Dante’s nephew will have to wait until a new game for answers. If you have played this title before and are hoping for improvements to fix the problems it had in 2008, Capcom did not grant your wish.
The actual headliners for this updated version are the new playable characters, appending three very different play styles to the game’s original two. Vergil, Dante’s brother who seemingly died in the prequel Devil May Cry 3, is given an opening cutscene establishing that his campaign takes place decades before Devil May Cry 4. Despite this establishment, Vergil still fights the same bosses, including people who should not have been born yet, and runs to one end of the country only to immediately turn around and run back. He is exceedingly capable, however, to the point where I am unsure that he does not completely unbalance the game, as many bosses simply have no counter for his warps and combos.
The other two new characters, Lady and Trish, play completely differently from the rest of the set. Lady, the only playable character without demon lineage, relies entirely on guns and grenades. Her slow-moving, almost plodding style quickly opens up to some of the most damaging patient play the series has ever shown. Trish, meanwhile, plays very similarly to how she did in Devil May Cry 2, using her sword to act independently of her while she fights with lightning. Each character could be the protagonist of their own game and all feel fully fleshed out, which is far more than I expected Capcom to do with such an old title.
After beating the game normally, the Son of Sparda difficulty unlocks for all the characters. This mode is where I feel the game really shines. Previously only in the PC release of Devil May Cry 4, Son of Sparda remixes the enemies dramatically, sometimes fitting over fifty into a room. Having never bothered trying it before, I had expected something a lot like Dynasty Warriors with Devil May Cry combat, a prospect I didn’t necessarily find appealing. Instead, it turns each battle into a puzzle, requiring you to use the tools available to you to rethink how you fight enemies. One example is a room with enough flying enemies to blot out the sun and a proportionally large number of larger, ground-based enemies. The solution was to jump in the air, grab the flying enemies, and throw them at the land-based ones until you’ve thinned everything out to a more manageable number.
As mentioned before, there aren’t a lot of graphical adornments to Special Edition. It runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second, but many of the textures look noticeably bad in a modern context. Most remasters tend to use fairly recent games that came out near the end of the previous generation, but Devil May Cry 4 is much older and it definitely shows. The framerate stays rock solid with very few exceptions, mostly in the Son of Sparda mode, which can be forgiven due to exactly how preposterous it can become.
I have as much trouble evaluating Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition as I do categorizing it. I feel like the game should be so much more than it is, but what they did choose to add goes above and beyond what I expected. The new characters are such strong, fully-developed additions that I find it hard to be upset that the levels are still the same or that the textures haven’t aged well. New players, or people not looking to dedicate time into what is essentially a single-player fighting game, are likely to be less forgiving of these changes and could find the value highly suspect for their desires. Ideally, this game is merely the inhale before something newer and better, but as a standalone title, it might be a bit thin for most people.
Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition was developed and published by Capcom. Our review is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available for the PlayStation 4 and PC.
Imran Khan is a writer based out of Atlanta. You can find him on twitter @imranzomg or see more of his work at his website.