Devil May Cry: Special Edition (Xbox Series X/S) Review

Devil May Cry: Special Edition (Xbox Series X/S) Review 11
| Nov 19, 2020

From as far back as the heady, 16-bit days of Street Fighter 2, iconic Japanese videogame publisher Capcom has built itself a famed yet dubious reputation for releasing mega-hit games and then following up those releases with re-packaged versions of those same titles with only iterative changes and additions, chief among them being additional playable characters.  Case in point, the Devil May Cry (DMC) franchise has practically made the Capcom re-release a generational tradition, having begat a “Special Edition” version of every mainline entry since Devil May Cry 3 (sadly, Ninja Theory’s western-developed black-haired step-child DMC: Devil May Cry isn’t considered by Capcom to be part of the family, only getting a “Definitive Edition”).  Following a time-honored ritual so sacred that you could set your watch by it, each DMC: SE release has been headlined by the inclusion of Vergil (twin brother, arch-rival and forever frenemy of series protagonist Dante) as a playable character.  So is true for Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition, and while it’s arguable that this re-packaged and refreshed action game might be yet another $60 cash grab by the house of Mega Man, there are a few extenuating factors that might still make this edition worth picking up for a first or even second time.

Of course, like with every Special Edition that has come before it, playable Vergil is just one of the perks.  Legendary Dark Knight Mode (a harrowingly difficult horde mode) and Turbo Mode (which speeds up gameplay to 1.2x speed, that’s 20% faster) make their return from Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition, offering up new challenges for series veterans and gluttons for punishment alike.  Also, as a re-release specifically targeting the next-gen (now technically current-gen) consoles, the game offers up two High Framerate Modes (4K/60fps or up to 120fps for lower resolutions depending on your panel’s capabilities) as well as support for ray-traced reflections in both 4K and 1080p resolutions (with framerates capped at 30fps and 60fps with ray-tracing turned on, respectively).  As someone who currently games primarily on a monitor as well as two televisions that all max out at 1080p Full HD despite owning an Xbox Series X, I found it kind and considerate of Capcom that they didn’t leave my neanderthal equipment out in the cold and offered me an invite to the ray-tracing party everyone’s been talking about. 

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Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition – Review Images Provided by Capcom

Better yet, within the ray-tracing toggle there is an additional toggle that provides the option to prioritize quality or framerate, which essentially boils down to prettier reflections in puddles, mirrors and so on in exchange for a framerate that will see occasional drops, versus a rock-solid framerate with blurrier reflections and other small details sacrificed here and there.  During my first couple of hours playing the game I opted for quality just so I could see how lovely things could look, but I eventually switched over to framerate priority once I realized that there was simply too much going on in the game to pay attention to how crisp my reflection looked in a shop window as I blasted past it.  To be honest, while ray-traced reflections are always nice to have, the gothic architecture of Devil May Cry 5’s Red Grave City, which serves as the setting for much of the game’s story, is a poor candidate for showing off what ray-tracing can really do, as its historic, carved-granite buildings and cobblestone streets provide few clear surfaces for those reflections to be cast on.  It all looks fantastic, mind you, but if it’s mainly reflections you’re looking for, don’t expect the likes of Control on Ultra PC settings or Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5; ray-tracing in Devil May Cry 5: SE is more of a touch-up on an already gorgeous face, rather than a full make-over.

Okay, now about Vergil…  First, the good news.  Dante’s twin brother is playable right from the start at the main menu, so players aren’t required to play or finish the main Devil May Cry 5 campaign to unlock him (a good thing too as the game does not appear to support previous-generation save importing from the original release).  As an almost exclusively melee-based character, Vergil plays noticeably different from either of the game’s main protagonists Dante or Nero, wielding his trusted weapons, the Yamato katana, Beowulf gauntlets and greaves, the Mirage Edge sword and the Mirage Edge blades as his four main weapons (a.k.a. Devil Arms).  His throwable Mirage blade projectiles lack the bombastic punch of Nero or Dante’s trademark guns, but embedding one or multiple blades into a targeted enemy enables Vergil to quickly teleport to that enemy whether they be on the ground or in the air, setting them up for devastating combo chains and leaving foes nowhere to hide.  

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Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition – Review Images Provided by Capcom

This ability flows perfectly into Vergil’s deceptive “trickster style”, where he can use teleporting in just about any direction to evade attacks or instantly bring himself into striking range of an enemy, and he can also temporarily call upon a doppelganger in demon form that can mimick his attacks at varying speeds to create and/or stack lethal new combos.  Layering Vergil’s deep list of upgradeable moves for each weapon, as well as his Concentration, Devil Trigger and Sin Devil Trigger abilities on top of all that, you get a character that is extremely fun to play and master.  The bad news however is that just like in Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition,  Vergil is only “playable” in the strictest of senses; meaning that players can play as Vergil through the entirety of the original campaign, but aside from a very brief prologue cutscene, there are no cutscenes or narrative underpinnings to tie the levels together.  No side story, no enlightenment regarding what Vergil might have been up while his archrivals Nero, Dante and V were battling their way through Red Grave city and the Demon Realm to thwart his plans, zilch.  In the end, Vergil is just a “guest character”, which is somewhat disappointing.

So, is Devil May Cry: Special Edition worth the scratch?  It really depends. Clearly, the players who stand to gain the most value from purchasing this re-release are those who have bought or plan to buy a next-generation console and for one reason or another haven’t played or finished the original DMC5 campaign yet, as it is for them that the game will yield the most surprises and offer the most longevity.  That said, if I were to draw a Venn Diagram titled “gamer groups interested in buying DMC5:SE” that encompassed the DMC-curious, franchise die-hards looking for new challenges, and brand new 4K60/120 HDTV owners, I’d be willing to bet that there would be a sizeable amount of overlap.  Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition is still one of the best looking games of last generation, and if you’re looking for something dazzling to flex the muscle of your next gen console and give your thumbs a serious workout at the same time, you could easily do far worse, especially on Xbox Series X/S where there are fewer standout next-generation games to play.

Final Thoughts

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