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Devil May Cry/Devil May Cry 3 SE: Dante's Awakening (PS2)
Pub: Capcom/Dev: Capcom
Rating: M/Players: 1
W- The Devil May Cry franchise has become known for three key things.  First off, the very enjoyable gameplay design that spins around stringing together stylish combos.  Secondly, the game's varying difficulty (from straightforward to punishing) that offers plenty of replay and challenges for the novice to experienced gamer.  Last but not least, the game's protagonist, Dante the half-demon bounty hunter, has become a love-or-hate character.  His smug attitude, awesome design (despite ripping a page from Vash the Stampede's design books) and, dare I say it, overexposure (cameos in Shin Megami Tenshi and all 3 Viewtiful Joe excursions on Sony systems come to mind) have made him either likable or disdained.  However, in the end the game's solid execution of platforming, action, RPG and fighting/beat em up elements make both DMC and DMC3 worthy to be on your PS2 game shelf, but both games do have some flaws that are worth pointing out.
Devil May Cry came out a little after the PS2 launch and caught fire as one of the first major "must-own" games for the system.  Its history as the beginnings of the long creation of Resident Evil 4 are well known, but I think Capcom managed to invent a new saga here quite nicely.  The game's graphics were great for its time, and still hold their own well enough today.  The enemy designs are cleverly done, with plenty of variety and each being fun to figure out how to best take it down.  The game offered players some freedom of choice with the weapon sets (a feature DMC3 would evolve well beyond what is here) that gave Dante 4 close range weapons to fight with (granted, 3 of them are swords) and 4 different guns to use as he fought out the demon hordes.  The game let you "level-up" your two primary weapons (Alastor and Ifrit) to get new abilities and moves added to Dante's moveset (which carried on into DMC3, which also let you power up your guns).  Also along for the ride was a "devil trigger" that gave Dante increased strength, speed and some different moves that depended on what weapon he was wielding.  
The beauty of the game was how fluid Capcom made the gameplay flow.  Dante could switch from swordplay to gunplay extremely fast, making the combo system far more fun than the simple beat em ups of the past.  However, the way Capcom scripted the buttons on the PS2 pad does make me call foul - Jump should be X, not Triangle.  There's no ability to change them either, which is unfortunate.  Maybe I'm just picky.  I felt that having Jump that high up on the controller was odd...but it didn't ruin the gameplay too much.  Its audio representation is very solid for its age.  The voice work isn't the greatest, but I've heard worse.  The music is fitting for the motif, but it's certainly not among the greatest in the industry.  Capcom did nail the sound effects very well, though.  
The level design is pretty solid stuff, with several hidden items, a lot of room to fight in, platforming elements that usually work out in your favor, and solid texturing work that makes the castle and the underworld realm seem believable.  I do have to add that fighting with the game's camera angles happened about as often as fighting off marionettes.  Using a static camera in several rooms makes sneak attacks all the more frustrating.  DMC3 did remedy this a little by letting the right analog stick function as a camera, letting it spin ever so slowly around Dante...but in DMC, you're stuck with what you can see.  
Capcom did try to spice up the gameplay by adding in a few underwater segments, but these FPS moments are rather weak.  Dante can only attack with a special gun that shoots nails, and the enemy encounters are a simple matter of shooting them 3-4 times while standing still to minimize damage.  Not very fun.  Thankfully, there's not many of them in the game, and Capcom wisely removed them from DMC3.  The Nightmare boss also appears one too many times.  It was amusing the first time, and the final battle against it works too.  But I think Capcom should have just left the second battle against this rather unimaginative blob with some metal objects sticking out of it on the cutting room floor.  Out of all of the engaging boss fights in the game, I enjoyed the fights with Nightmare the least.  *sigh*  On the whole though, DMC is an action-packed title with plenty of gameplay delights for gamers into shooting up loads of demonic enemies.  It does have its downsides, but it's a well done game that is fun to play through.
Devil May Cry 3 is a step up and down from DMC, which is a bit strange.  Dante is younger and even more full of himself this time around, making some of the cinema scenes somewhat irritating compared to before (although there are some extremely cool ones, like Dante riding the bike up the tower or the fights with Vergil that'll keep you glued to your chair).  Dante's voice actor takes the generic and sometimes painful lines written for him (the amount of references to this game being a party add up rather quickly) and infuses them with so much sarcasm that you want Dante to just not talk anymore.  Thankfully, Vergil and Lady's voice work is much better (if I make a game, Vergil's voice actor is in it), and Arkham is pretty solid as well.  The music took a nosedive into annoying metal garbage that plays EVERY time an enemy encounters you.  No alternate themes.  No different themes.  The same damn song every time.  The boss music is better, thankfully.  It just seems to me that Capcom really, really wanted to make Dante so freaking cool that they made him nearly unlikable in every way.  I like playing as him, but I wouldn't like talking to him.  
That being said, the overhauling the gameplay has received is incredible.  Capcom reconfigured the controls to one that I like way more than DMC's (i.e. Jump = X), making Dante move even smoother than before.  His reaction time is just about perfect.  The switch of gunplay to close combat is even better this time around, the weapon count has gone up (5 close range weapons that include a nunchuk-like weapon, a guitar scythe and two talking swords, as well as the sword/gauntlets from DMC, and 5 guns, including a sniper rifle this time around), the ability to switch weapons or guns on the fly (awesome, awesome move here) and a more effective camera add up to a great gameplay experience.  The boss fights are all excellent here, too.  I will say the succubus boss is really, really cheap.  But you only HAVE to fight her once (I say HAVE because near the end of the game you get to do the what I call the "Capcom Pre-Wily Rematch", where you have to fight several of the game's bosses once again to proceed, a la Mega Man) compared to 3 times with Nightmare, so I'll let her slide.  
Alas, the enemy designs took a small blow compared to DMC.  Many of the fiends you'll be battling are the Seven Sins, and boy, there's not a whole lot of variety here.  5 of these guys wield scythe-like weapons.  Add to that the Death enemy who ALSO wields a scythe, and the fiery demons near the end who ALSO wield scythes...and you've got creativity at an all-time lull.  And who had the idea about fighting "Killer" chess pieces?  O_o The Bloodgoyles are good designs, I kind of like the living statues that look like Snifits from Mario 2 (don't ask me why...), and those fiery demons I mentioned earlier ARE cool designs (despite copying the scythe idea), but it's like Capcom was struggling to come up with some good enemy ideas here. *shrugs*  They're still fun to fight against, but compared to the enemy designs in the original, it's kind of disappointing.  
The graphics are much better, thanks to the 4 year gap between DMC and DMC3 for Capcom's development staff to better develop for the PS2.  The story is easier to follow here, but Dante's motivation to stop Vergil is a little confusing (or maybe not stated clearly enough).  I also like how in DMC3 SE you can pick a mission to replay instead of replaying the whole game over again that DMC was seemingly set up.  Plus the Special Edition gives you more extras, like playing as Vergil, extra costumes, new difficulties and some other tweaks.
DMC3 is much improved over DMC, but the horrible main music, somewhat lazy enemy design and Dante's ego inflation is a major step back from the original.  However, both games do overcome their flaws and both stand as fantastic PS2 games that are amazingly fun to play.  Out of the two, I'd have to give DMC3 the edge for the gameplay improvements that made fighting demons so much more thrilling.  If only I could combine the Dante of DMC with the gameplay of DMC3...