The last time we met the demon hunter Dante as a young man was in Capcom’s Devil May Cry 3, a game notorious for its difficulty and absurd theatrics. This was a game about a dude who looked like 1970s Glenn Danzig fighting demonic jesters and eating pizza. Your activities included jumping 10 feet into the air from a crumbling skyscraper and hitting a ghost with a really sharp guitar. It was awesome, but it wasn’t really about anything. British developer Ninja Theory has now made its own portrait of the young man as a devil fighter in a reboot of the series, DmC: Devil May Cry. But rather than straight burlesque, this new game is about just how much it actually sucks to be young. It’s about as subtle as a rich kid’s quinceañera, but deep inside all the sweet combos is something true. It’s Catcher In The Rye by way of God of War.
In a world run by demons, Dante is the most dangerous kid alive because he isn’t human at all. He’s the son of an angel and a demon, meaning he’s the only one who can actually kill Mundus, a Laurence Tierney-looking demon who secretly rules Earth by controlling global debt and the media—and by keeping people addicted to energy drinks. Dante doesn’t give a damn about all that, though. At the beginning, Dante’s just a good-looking guy with superpowers and no friends. He spends his time doing what all good-looking boys do when they don’t give a damn about anything—he gets wasted and gets laid. Eventually, reality comes knocking. Mundus’ minions are hunting Dante whether he wants to fight them or not, so he grudgingly joins the fight for humanity’s freedom.
It’s a personal fight. Dante battles demons in Limbo, the spirit world that rests on top of the everyday. When the demons haunt Dante, the gray city around him warps into a neon hell where the bedevilments of adolescence—body image, authority, money—take physical shape. Posters for Virility, an energy drink, show buff models in the real world, but in Limbo, the models are sad and obese. Your surroundings can’t be trusted, either. When you infiltrate the Virility factory, its halls stretch and break, drawing the exit even farther away.
Every aspect of Dante’s world is lade bare like this in Limbo. TV news anchor Bob Barbas—a Sean Hannity proxy in the earthly sphere—presides over a prison of souls in the netherworld. Even if this take on the world, where everything is just an evil ploy to get you to submit to societal pressure, occasionally reminded me of hanging out with the goth kids at lunch during senior year, it’s so physical and rough that I always wanted to see more.
But while teen life is fraught, it can also be exhilarating, and DmC captures the thrill of youth, too. It feels great to lash out in Limbo. Dante is nimble in a fight, a sword can be transmogrified on the fly into other implements of destruction like scythes and axes, and the best way to put down demons is chaining together moves with all of those weapons like notes in a song. You get points for style, which you use to unlock new moves. DmC is never exhausting. It paces out these fights by interspersing brief scenes of magnetic dialogue and stretches of broken Limbo landscape where you jump and grapple-hook your way through.
It would be disappointing if Dante’s journey just culminated with a fight against a some building-sized monster. Of course, there is a building-sized monster at the end—what I’m saying is there’s something more. Dante gets the opportunity to avenge his parents in DmC, but more importantly, he finds himself giving a damn about things. Maturing. Revenge is fine, but winning the game means embracing your role as a member of a community. Felling a few titanic monsters is how this kid grows up.
Ninja Theory’s games have all explored finding your place in society. Heavenly Sword centered around a woman restrained by familial tradition. Enslaved: Journey To The West followed two characters as they struggled with conformity. Neither of those games felt human in the way that DmC does. Sword’s heroine was a mere plot device, and Enslaved’s lead characters, Monkey and Trip, were flat archetypes. Anyone who remembers the frustrating madness of becoming an adult may find something familiar in Dante’s trip. DmC captures the best and worst of growing up, and it leaves you with none of the scars.