I have a confession to make.
I’ve never really been a fan of Devil May Cry.
The first one was cool, but I never really got into the second one, and became less and less interested with each subsequent release.
I am, however, a huge fan of Ninja Theory, having played and loved Enslaved: Odyssey to the West when it released and after finally catching up with Heavenly Sword a few weeks ago. For many players, however, Ninja Theory is an unknown. Neither Enslaved nor Heavenly Sword sold all that well, even though they each had their fans within the gaming community. Today, then, we are going to explore these two games, give a sort of retro review of each of them, and discuss my feelings on DmC (the title of the Ninja Theory-developed Devil May Cry) and whether or not this is a good fit.
Heavenly Sword was released in 2007 as a much-hyped part of the second wave of Playstation 3 games. Originally supposed to be a part of the system’s launch release, Heavenly Sword suffered from numerous delays, and the hype bubble was burst once the game was reviewed. It’s not that it reviewed poorly (it has around an 80 on Metacritic), it’s that it was supposed to be a system-seller and it simply did not meet expectations.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was released in 2010 to much lower expectations that it still failed to meet, selling less than a half-million copies, despite again getting positive press.
In playing (and loving) these two games, it’s clear to me that Ninja Theory does one thing well above all else: storytelling. Both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved featured wonderful, textured, and thematically rich stories, filled with themes of loss, redemption, self-determination, and family. The voice and motion acting in both games is incredible, featuring the talents of Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as the main protagonist in Enslaved, and the main antagonist in Heavenly Sword. The character work in both games is exceptional, with characters that are deep but whose characterization is subtle. For example, there’s an interesting villain in Heavenly Sword named Flying Fox that is hilariously creepy. The looks that all of the other characters give him as he spouts strange nonsense is fantastic in showing the relationships between the villains, and gives them a context that just doesn’t really exist in gaming.
In Enslaved, the relationship between Monkey (Serkis) and his companion Trip is one of the most fascinating and realistic relationships portrayed in gaming history. They are brought together by odd circumstance, but their understanding of each other grows with each passing cutscene until they ultimately become genuinely close in a platonic way, which is completely unlike any other relationship in gaming. It’s a wonderful central relationship in a wholly satisfying and delightful game story.
The problem with both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, though, is that neither of them plays all that well. The story and the presentation carries these games. The combat and exploration in Enslaved is rote and simple, and there are sections of Heavenly Sword that are somewhat broken and poorly designed. Neither one features responsive control and a good fighting system, and the between-cutscene gameplay is mostly a downer compared to the beauty of the presentation.
So with all of this being said, why the heck is Ninja Theory doing Devil May Cry? Devil May Cry has been a pure action game with a nonsensical story and forgettable characters (save Dante) seemingly as a rule. To bring in a developer known for having great story and bad combat mechanics seems a bad fit. My prediction is this: traditional Devil May Cry fans are going to HATE DmC (and by and large, they already do). There’s no way the combat is going to hold up to the lofty standard of past games in the series, and if Ninja Theory stays true to their roots, there are going to be some deep themes explored in the game’s story, instead of a thin skeleton of plot made just to push the player from combat scenario to combat scenario.
DmC might wind up being a failure, but I am excited to have Ninja Theory back in my life. One day they will be put in a situation that fits their talents as developers. Until then, I implore anybody reading this to check out Heavenly Sword and Enslaved if you are interested in good game narratives. They are interesting, well-presented, deep stories inter-spliced with (unfortunately), so-so mechanics.
Sounds great for a Devil May Cry game, right?