It’s not often a genre is created overnight with a single smash hit, but during the early days of the PlayStation 2, two games released within two months of each other changed the way we look at action.

Grand Theft Auto III enjoys most of the praise for establishing the open world environment, as well as showing how controversial a game can be. Then there is Devil May Cry, the first good 3D action game that was able to capture the intensity of the 2D classics.

It was a stunning achievement that opened up new boundaries for years to come, but over time, many began to forget these two as countless others began to build and expand on their success. God of War, Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, and Devil May Cry’s reboots and sequels. The attitude often aimed at these two classics is “Why bother anymore, since they can’t provide anything newer games boast?”

Well, they are wrong. Thankfully, Devil May Cry is just as exciting and approachable as it was back in the day. It’s far more than just a relic which was revolutionary at one point in history. It still holds up as an incredible game even even to this day, and it provides an experience no other game really has.

Failed Experiment Gone Right

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To get to the uniqueness of Devil May Cry, you have to look at its origins. It started off as a Resident Evil game, and that much is obvious due to the game’s level design. Dante’s objectives all lie on a single island, and each level typically ends with him picking up a puzzle piece or a key to open a door to the next area.

Regardless of how far he advances, the map is constant and always open for messing around in. Subsequent genre games gravitated more towards having a rigid stage by stage progression with a huge variety of environments, but the consistency of this living island Dante finds himself on adds another layer of exploration, optional backtracking, and attachment to the setting.

The result is more of an adventure game than that of a straight up action romp, much like the Resident Evil titles and their consistent worlds. It’s a shame that following games only focus on the intensity of the combat and did away with this ingenious level design, but thanks to their abandoning of it, Devil May Cry still stands out amongst its spiritual successors.

More with Less

Devil May Cry’s combat still holds up as well. Too often games in this genre depend highly on memorizing the perfect combo, and a huge arsenal of weapons to choose from. Devil May Cry 3 is notorious for having an expansive variety of stances, weapons and uses for each tool that must be mastered to beat the game.

Who has the time anymore!?

Devil May Cry keeps it simple with just two main weapons, and even they have a limited move-set. Yet, the combat never feels shallow. Dante can still achieve so much from being able to do relatively little, and these limitations force gamers to think and adapt with what’s available, rather than just pulling out a new weapon or attack,

“More with less” is generally better than failing under the burden of too much, a common trap for this genre.

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Camera with a Mind of Its Own

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The most common complaint about the first Devil May Cry is the inability to control the camera. I won’t beat around the bush on this one. It’s hard to get back into. I played the game back in the day, and it took a few missions before I felt comfortable where how it moved itself and where enemies hidden off the camera lie.

Newcomers spoiled by the convenience of modern camera control will definitely have a harder time getting used to understanding surroundings, especially the placement of enemies that can’t be seen.

I wouldn’t recommend changing the camera to a modern sense, though. The camera can get in the way of combat, but it also creates a great sense of atmosphere and claustrophobia that is essential to the twisted castle Dante finds himself in. Some secrets would be too easy to find. Some jumps might be a little too easy to make.

The streamlined camera is a sacrifice I have no problem making given some of the moments the game can create with it.

Time Flows Differently During Youth

Perhaps the only thing that really surprised me when jumping back into the game after so many years was its length. I remember spending so much time playing in Dante’s shoes, collecting red orbs and experimenting with the combat, that the game never seemed so short. However, with a more modern “beat the game” mentality, I had it beat in just under five hours.

Granted, I’m not complaining. Dragging a simple action game on for 15-20 hours like this creates an exhausting experience, and Devil May Cry wrapped itself up just when I felt I wanted it to.

It’s great to know that a game exists where you can both get your fix and sense of completion in a single afternoon.

The cutscenes too were much shorter than I remember. Dante has a reputation as being a tough smack talker to his enemies, but in this game, exchanges are brief and quite tame compared to the over exaggerated image his character was eventually labeled with.

Capcom pointed to Dante’s “not being cool anymore” when they decided to reboot the series, but I think we all got the wrong impression of the character from the get-go. He didn’t really begin to flesh out until Devil May Cry 3.

It’s great to know that a game exists where you can both get your fix and sense of completion in a single afternoon.

A Lost Sense of Risk and Accomplishment

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Absolutely, Devil May Cry is a classic which not only holds up today, but rivals many of the offspring it eventually spawned. I went in remembering it as a classic that I loved back in the day, nervous that those feelings might change. However, I emerged fulfilled and reassured that this is still one of the best action games ever.

Hideki Kayima is one of the greatest action developers of all time, and his work with Devil May Cry established him as such. This is the kind of risk taking genius that used to define our industry, releasing a failed experiment as a new IP when the setup didn’t match the one hat was intended. The risk was huge, but the rewards were even bigger.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for Capcom or AAA gaming anymore.

Disclaimer: We bought the Devil May Cry HD edition with our own funds, and played and completed the first Devil May Cry to completion before writing this review.