COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR DMC5 WITHIN.
So last week I appeared on Brandon Carey’s stream with Matthew Lovenzka to talk about Devil May Cry 5, and while I was pretty excited and discussing things during the latter half of the stream, I was rather quiet for the first half. Anxiety be like that sometimes.
So, in an effort to clear my thoughts on the missing pieces, here’s a few notes on someone major that I didn’t talk about enough.
Near the beginning of the discussion, someone that came up that I was mute on was actually the character of V, which may be surprising considering how much I gushed about him on Twitter on the day of release.
Now, after finishing the game, and running through the first half again, and then having some time away, I have some more complete thoughts on the character.
In regards to his characterization, I really liked V initially. Since the story starts in the middle of the action, he’s able to just stride right in and make some vague poetic comments, because that’s just what he does, and in that sense, he stands as a beautiful contrast to the two prior devil boys.
Rather, V still has a bit of a smug attitude to him, like Nero and Dante before him, but he’s also keen to recite poems from William Blake’s catalog, which are mostly fittingly of Angels, Devils, Demons and Humans all together. Additionally, he has this quiet allure to him. He moves carefully in cutscenes, using his cane to support himself, book open to re-read a choice stanza. He watches as Dante and Nero dive into the fray, screaming as loud as they can, and he opts to stay back most of the time, which does, in turn, make some of his bigger moments that much more interesting.
When V finds Dante’s sword, he’s barely able to even lift it at first, because he’s not a standard Japanese-style shonen protagonist. His strength isn’t in his brawn. He’s small, thin, light, and frail physically, but he’s still strong. In fact, he’s amazingly powerful, able to summon familiars that obey his every command, and that makes him so different in not only the DMC games, but games in general. Remember Folklore, anyone? I bet not.
And about his combat; he’s really good at it and fun to play to boot! I’ve heard some dissention that he’s the least fun to play of the three, and part of that is fairly because some people don’t like this thematics (being this “super emo boy”), but I can’t agree with the notion that he’s “non-committal” as I’ve heard. While V doesn’t initially seem to do anything, as he’s not up in the demon’s faces as often as Dante or Nero, he still has to land the killing blow, and he can’t take as much punishment as the other two as well, so his positioning in the battle is less split second dodges (though they are there, too), but more of seeing the battle from overhead and planning where would be the best way to have both familiars deal damage with the least done to V, and by association, the player.
The developers also added an almost perfect foil to this by having V read poetry to build his devil trigger quickly. Not only is this thematically resonate for the character, but it weaves elegantly into his gameplay as well (which is a topic I’d like to explore deeper some day). V has a hit a button to physically open his book, and while he’s reading aloud, he can’t move nearly as fast or dodge, so if the player wants to maximize their potential damage and effectiveness, they have to plan out when to use it, and make sure they have sufficient time to build this meter. Again, in a combination of good mathematics and mechanics, the reward for planning and building meter is V being able to summon a giant golem that moves slowly, but absolutely cleaves enemies and often knocks them back, not only doing massive damage, but also giving V a brief respite from harm.
V’s gameplay may be different from Dante’s speedy weapon swapping or Nero’s buster arms and slam dunks, but I would say it is no less engaging because of that. It’s a different kind of fighting for a different kind of fighter.
But, now that I’ve said the things I really love about V’s character, I want to discuss one that really didn’t work for me, though strictly in a personal sense.
Near the end of the game, it’s ultimately revealed (if, like me, the player hasn’t figured out the twist yet) that V is merely an aspect of Vergil, Dante’s brother. So, as Vergil lays defeated to Dante’s power, V returns to him, and they merge back into one, but of course taking on the look and personality of Vergil as he was in DMC3.
Technically speaking, this totally works. When Vergil separated himself from V, removing his human half, V comes out this scrawny, physically weak human-esque man full of emotions. He’s different from the other characters because he’s lacking his other half, and so it’s only natural that he returns to his proper form.
The reason it really doesn’t work for me is simply because I really liked that V was intrinsically, fatalistically flawed. Rather, he was born with this void inside him, something missing, and the fact that that resonated in his look, his dialogue, and his combat meant a lot to me.
The ending makes V feel like nothing more than a plot device, a means to bring back Vergil, who himself is an amazing character, as are Dante and Nero, but now without their emo boy backing them.
And I’ll miss that emo boy, V. He’s the kind of character I really wouldn’t mind encountering more often in video games. Broken, sad, yet driven, maybe a little smug, and devilishly stylish.
If you’d read this and are wanting some more reading, I would suggest Brandon’s further thoughts on the Style Ranking system in his blog post about it!