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Devil May Cry 5 - the magic is back

Devil May Cry 5 – the magic is back

GameCentral speaks to Capcom legend Hideaki Itsuno about the return of Devil May Cry, the essence of video games, and Power Stone 3.

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Capcom are currently enjoying their best run of critical and commercial success for at least a decade. Just before the start of Gamescom they announced sales of Monster Hunter: World had passed 10 million copies and even with a day to go we can safely say that Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2 are two of the best playable demos weve seen at the show.

We dont speak to the Resident Evil developers until Thursday, so a report on that will have to wait, but we have already talked to Devil May Cry 5 director Hideaki Itsuno and senior producer Michi Okabe. Itsuno-san is one of Capcoms most respected developers, having worked on all the Devil May Cry games except the first one (although he only had limited involvement in the much-maligned second entry).

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Itsuno-san was also the director of Dragons Dogma, although its his involvement with GameCentral favourites Power Stone 1 and 2 that we couldnt help but bring up at the end of the interview. But before all that we got to play Devil May Cry 5 for the first time, since it wasnt at E3 in anything but trailer form. At Gamescom though there was a fully playable section featuring Nero from Devil May Cry 4 and… it was great.

Devil May Cry 5 - Dante is in the trailers but not the Gamescom demo

Devil May Cry 5 – Dante is in the trailers but not the Gamescom demo

Devil May Cry belongs to the same nameless (the term character action game is occasionally used) sub-genre as Bayonetta. But while Devil May Cry director Hideki Kamiya created Bayonetta as a spiritual sequel he only actually worked on the first game, which means that by now Itsuno-san has far more experience with the series. He only had an advisory role with Nina Theorys reboot DmC Devil May Cry though, a game unfairly pilloried by fans and which Itsuno-san refuses to criticise.

Whatever you think of DmC though (and we were always largely positive about it) it was a commercial flop and the only two options for Capcom were to either mothball the franchise or create a numbered sequel in the original timeline. Thankfully they opted for the latter, and you can read in our interview the exact origins of the new game.

The hands-on demo was fairly short, and bereft of any context, although there were several references to the dragon Nidhogg from Nordic mythology – while the final boss battle was a more traditional-looking demon who seemed to be planning a demonic coup and spat lava from his belly. The demo was set in a fictionalised version of London, complete with red buses and telephone boxes, where Nero is running his own demon-hunting agency out of the back of a minivan.

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As the action starts the city already seems half destroyed, and is infested with insect-like creatures and grim reaper type enemies. The basic combat is similar to Devil May Cry 4, with the ability to use guns, Neros sword the Red Queen (which can still be revved like the throttle on a motorbike), and a Devil Breaker move. The latter is tied to Dantes major new gimmick: a series of detachable hands that imbue different special abilities and which can perform an even more powerful attack that also destroys them. You start off with four and plenty more can be found lying around the game world – although its unclear how much of that was purely for the purposes of the demo.

Devil May Cry 5 - the boss demon is called Goliath

Devil May Cry 5 – the boss demon is called Goliath

Clearly none of this makes any sense in terms of real world logic but the action is exactly as fluid and stylish as you would hope. In fact, being stylish is almost the entire point of the game, as each individual encounter is graded on a scale from D to S (or at least we think it doesnt go any lower than D, were glad to say we never found out for sure).

That doesnt mean the action is particularly difficult, especially with the auto-assist option for combos, but while battling through the game is something anyone should be able to do, no matter their experience, getting good enough to show off is another matter. Making proper use of the lock-on option is also key, not least because thats essential to getting the dodges to work properly.

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A lesser game wouldve tried to dumb things down but Devil May Cry 5 constantly keeps you on your toes, and we wouldnt have completed the boss on our first go if we hadnt had a PR guy nearby pointing out the location of extra health. This was extremely encouraging, as was the characterisation of Nero as cocky but not unlikeably obnoxious – which, as we discussed with Itsuno-san, is a difficult balance to get right.

The graphics, using the same engine as Resident Evil 7 and 2, are also excellent and not only the most detailed the series has ever seen but also running at a silky smooth 60fps. In the final game there will be three playable characters, with Dante being one of them, but none of that was being discussed at Gamescom. We managed to find plenty else of interest to talk about though, including how games are greenlighted within Capcom, Itsuno-sans views on the current state of action video games, and Peter Pan syndrome.

Formats: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 8th March 2019

Before we start the interview the translator tries to get us to wear a Nero cosplay jacket from the game. Gamescom is sweltering enough as it is though, so we suggest he puts it on instead.

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GC: So, I played the game yesterday and I was excellent at it. Like, really, really good.

Translator: You were?

GC: No! I was barely competent. [laughs] I got a few A scores though, so not completely embarrassing.

All: [laughs]

GC: In the long years since Devil May Cry 4 were you secretly reading all the fan demands for a new sequel and hoping that they got numerous enough that one day you could finally make a new game?

HI: Every time Ive made a Devil May Cry game Ive always made it with the idea that, All right, Ive done everything I wanna do with this. [laughs] Im ready to leave… if theres gonna be another one leave that to the next generation. And thats the same case for Devil May Cry 4. Its like, We have this new hero Nero, we also have Dante… whoever it is that makes the next one, we can leave it up to them to decide: is it going to be Nero? Is it going to be Dante? What are they gonna do with it? Well find out.

Then about four years ago we said, All right were gonna make Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition. But at that point my boss came to me and said, OK, what do you want to do next? And I said, You know what? I think I want to make Devil May Cry 5 now. So as I was finishing up the Special Edition, thats when we started working in earnest on Devil May Cry 5. It was just a matter of… You know, its been a while. I want to do this again!

GC: So you needed that long gap between sequels or you probably wouldnt have been interested in making another one anyway?

(Considerable laughter and joking between Itsuno-san and Okabe-san, ending with the translator asking, I can say that, right?)

HI: Actually, thats right on the money! Its just like you said. Because every time I finish one of these, its like, Ive done everything I can think of, Ive done everything that I wanna do, I dont wanna do this anymore. And so after Devil May Cry 4 I had no intention of doing Devil May Cry 5. And now that were finishing up Devil May Cry 5 I dont want to do Devil May Cry 6 [laughs].

GC: Even if you werent planning to make this one until now have you still been storing up ideas over the last few years? Or did you only start thinking about it again recently?

HI: It was actually more along the lines of just as I was thinking, Yeah, you know what? Id like to do another Devil May Cry. Thats exactly when I was getting these ideas in my head for, You know what? If we were gonna do it this is what would be cool. This is something Id wanna look into. It was kind of a timing thing, maybe thats just the way my mind works. [laughs]

GC: When you started the project did you look at other similar games, to see how theyve evolved, or maybe the general state of non-shooter action games at the moment?

HI: Actually, I dont really think much about what other games are doing. Its more along the lines of I want to do whatever I can to always think about it from the players point of view. And so for this, for instance, I had created DMC4 and Im like, All right, people have played DmC Devil May Cry, people have played Devil May Cry 4, so what is it they would want us to do?

And, for instance, one of the first images I had in my mind for the game was… I put all this effort into creating this really cool mechanic called the Devil Bringer – Neros demon arm. And so people got accustomed to that and hopefully enjoyed that after playing Devil May Cry 4. And I thought, All right, for those players then, what would happen if we started the game with weve taken that away? Nero doesnt have that anymore.

And then in its place he has these, he has the Devil Breakers. And I had this image in my head, he has the Devil Breaker, hes using it to attack and fight demons and then it breaks. And Neros like, Crap!. And he shoves his arm down into a holster, pulls out another one and its like transforming and stuff – its ready to go! And then Neros like, Im gonna get back into battle! And it was all starting from this image in my head for how is the player gonna think, when designing the game.

Devil May Cry 5 - guns, swords, and magic hands

Devil May Cry 5 – guns, swords, and magic hands

GC: The one game comparison that is obvious is Bayonetta. Did you at least look at that and how it had approached a similar style of gameplay? I mean… are you and Kamiya-san friends?

Translator: Thats a good question! I like these questions.

GC: If it turns out he hates his guts this is going to be an interesting answer.

Translator: Right? [laughs]

(Even more back and forth with Okabe-san, including lots of laughing)

GC: [to translator]: If this turns out to have a one word answer…

Translator: [laughs] All right, first of all: Itsuno-san and Kamiya-san, they both got into Capcom the same year. It was 1994, they both got into Capcom. Theyve always been friends. When Devil May Cry 2 came about and they called in Itsuno-san to come work on it, Kamiya-san was like, Hey, whats up? Let me show you whats going on with this title right now. They still get along, theyre still friends.

In terms of the rest of the question… unfortunately I have to give a very PR-y answer of… unfortunately Capcom reserves the right not to comment on… other companys titles. With the caveat that… err, to be more realistic here he says, in terms of Bayonetta, itd be great to leave it to everybodys imagination…

GC: What? [laughs] What kind of answer is that? Is that really what he said?

Translator: [laughs] That is very much the PR-approved answer.

GC: Well, I tell you what, Im definitely comparing them in my review!

Translator: But that would be great, that would be fantastic. For you to actually compare them yourself. Thatll be great for us to see, like hopefully thatll be a great analysis.

Devil May Cry 5 - Nero is a smartass but not a douchebag

Devil May Cry 5 – Nero is a smartass but not a douchebag

GC: Okay, well have to see. But in terms of the demo, the thing I liked is that it was full-on, proper Devil May Cry. You could easily imagine a different publisher, with a relatively niche franchise that hasnt had a sequel in a long while, imposing restrictions on what you could do. Like forcing you to make it easier and purposefully simplifying the controls to make it more accessible. But that doesnt seem to have happened. Did they not say something like, You can make it but you have to make it more mainstream?

Translator: Thats a really good question.

GC: You make sure you tell him that when you translate it. [laughs]

Translator: [laughs]

HI: Honestly, the way it works at Capcom is that… we dont have that. We dont have people at the top going, Okay, this is what you gotta do, this is what you gotta do! Its more that we on the dev teams, we bring things to the people on top. We go, This is what we wanna do. And this is what were gonna do! And is this okay? And they may or may not give us a little bit of feedback but its basically that.

I came up with the design doc for this and it was like, You know what? What I wanna do is I wanna make it, first priority, make a game, a sequel, that anyone whos played Devil May Cry 4 or DmC Devil May Cry will enjoy. And then, of course, ideally, also make something, as a secondary target… something that a wider group of people will be able to enjoy. But thats just something I imposed on myself for, If Im gonna make this game, thats what I should be doing. These are the people I should be thinking about.

GC: That was basically my next question, about how do you pitch this? Because these types of games have never really been mainstream. And I think a large part of that is because theyre viewed as quite complicated and difficult. So how do you decide how complex to make it? Whether Capcom told you to or not there mustve been a temptation to make it a little easier. The demo had an auto-assist option at the start but I didnt see anything else like that. Or to boil the question down: do you mind that a lot of gamers will probably never play it, just because of the kind of game it is?

HI: Its an interesting question… the way that weve approached it is just that we see a lot of action games these days and some of them have kind of gotten away from action. For instance, you have certain action games that kind of focus more on being cinematic, you know? And thats great for those games, it works really well for them. For us it was like… we wanna make an action game that has a real hard focus on action, you know?

But make it in a way that hopefully anyone that likes that kind of game will want to play it. So, yeah. Its kind of making a game in a niche genre that hopefully anyone that likes that genre can enjoy.

You mentioned the auto-assist, the auto-assist is interesting… its not necessarily something thats gonna make the game easier for you. Its designed as one way to help people get better at the combos so that they themselves will learn how to do stylish combos. In the end theres a couple of different things weve done to try and ultimately steer people towards doing stylish combos. Getting their style ranks up, you know?

One of those things is the auto-assist function, weve called it easy auto in the past, with the idea that you dont have to learn the moves. Like, maybe you dont know how to do the moves. Maybe you dont know how youre supposed to apply those moves in the game. And so with auto-assist on you can keep hitting the Y button on the Xbox controller and the games gonna do all these amazing stylish combos with ease. So its supposed to be a way for you to see and experiment yourself with… Okay, this is how I can learn to do better combos. And this is how I can be more stylish.

Another example is we have the music… the music changes as youre playing. As youre fighting against enemies and your style rank goes up youll notice the song changes. Different parts of the song play. And so eventually, once you start getting S rank, thats when the song kicks into the chorus and its supposed to feel so good, you know? Like, itll hopefully add to the experience and make you want to do stylish combos.

MO: So, I think from the senior producer perspective I think we can all say and agree that one of Capcoms strengths is action, right? And so we do have people up top that are like, Hey, we should follow this trend, or we should follow that trend. And from my perspective I also think about it from the approach of, Well look, if we follow this trend then we suddenly have to fight and compete with all of these different companies and all of these amazing games.

Theres also merit in taking a different approach, in doing the kind of game that were good at. Because that way we know, that at least in terms of that kind of game, we can be number one. And so theres value in taking that approach as well. And so thats one of the reasons I think its best for us to follow that approach for this game.

GC: I could go on about this subject for hours, but this is all music to my ears. Because for me its always all about the mechanics, thats the video game. Anything else is a bonus. But gameplay… that has to be the focus, the interactivity… thats what video games are.

Translator: I agree, Im the same way.

GC: But ironically my final question is about cinematics, because… theres a sliding scale of cocky video game characters that goes from badass to smartass to douchebag. And I dont understand how you manage to ride that line so successfully with your characters, and yet Western developers frequently go too far with obnoxious characters you just dont want to play as. But you get it right while having the additional difficulty of originally doing everything in Japanese.

Translator: Man, thats a really interesting stance. I love that. [Translates question] Thats a great question, man. Hes got to think about it…

HI: [eventually] So, theres a term in Japanese, its called shunei. [Weve got the spelling wrong on that and will have to update it when can confirm exactly how its written – GC]

GC: Shunei?

HI: Im hoping that we can introduce this into the English parlance someday. Shunei! So shunei is… one way to translate it is like Peter Pan syndrome, kind of. But really all it is, is its basically what is cool to a pre-teen or a young teen, right? The kind of stuff like motorcycles, like guitars, like long hair…

GC: [laughs] That is a useful word!

HI: Right? To a pre-teen thats really cool! But thats the kind of stuff I think is cool too! And I honestly think its true. Like, I truly believe its cool. But I also know that to most normal adults a lot of this stuff is gonna come off as cheesy. But my thought on it is that if you say we do a good job of it – first of all, thank you – but then also maybe thats because I truly believe that this is cool! And so maybe that comes across in the implementation.

GC: [laughs] That is a great answer. Im out of time now but I must ask you about one of my favourite games ever, that you were director on… Power Stone!

Translator: Power Stone!

GC: Every single year I ask Capcoms UK PR about it at E3, to see if theres someone I can talk to about it.

PR woman: He does.

HI: I came to Power Stone 1 in the later part of development.

GC: But it never shows up in anything. I love the gameplay, I love the character designs. But its never in Marvel Vs. Capcom, its never in the Project X Zone games…

HI: I thought maybe its an IP thing, maybe theres similar IP thats older that has those characters? But nope, thats not the case!

GC: It almost feels personal! Is there any chance of a remaster or a sequel?

HI: [laughs]

GC: [Itsuno-san begins to answer and we stop him when we hear the word PSP] The PSP was the worst format possible for that kind of game. No wonder it flopped on that!

HI: [laughs] Yeah, we havent see anything since then, right?

GC: Does the topic ever come up at Capcom at all?

HI: I loved the anime too!

GC: When you go back to Japan just tell them that every Western journalist you spoke to was asking about more Power Stone, everyone!

All: [laughs]

MO: Well go back and well tell people that, sure. You know what we should do, we should make like a massively online Power Stone!

GC: Oh, be still my beating heart!

All: [laughs]

GC: Okay, sorry Im keeping you back. But thanks very much, its been great to talk to you.

Translator: Thanks a lot, man.

HI: [in English] Thank you very much.

MO: [in English] Thank you.

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