Video game sequels are honestly kind of a miracle.
Sequels are generally burdened by the need to build upon something good (or successful) enough to justify a sequel in the first place. At the same time, they’re expected to offer an experience that stands fairly tall on its own. They’re supposed to grow tall while living in the shadow of a memory of how their predecessors made people feel. Some sequels overcome the cruel construct of that format in spectacular ways. Many others (even those made with good intentions) fall well short.
Video game sequels have always been a little different. Many of them benefit from the simple fact that they’re able to take advantage of better technology and design lessons learned to offer something that is often objectively better than its predecessor in at least some basic ways. Video game sequels are often more beloved than what came before. It’s actually a little difficult to find original entries in popular franchises that are still generally considered to be the best in that series.
Of course, there are bad video game sequels. Quite a few, actually. It’s just that many video game sequels can, at the very least, take the easy road by offering many of the things their predecessors did while improving the graphics, mechanics, and overall fluidity of the experience. An almost unfathomable number of things would need to go wrong for a developer to make a truly terrible sequel to a great game.
So let’s talk about 2003’s Devil May Cry 2.
The Demons of Development Hell
Like so many sequels that miss the mark, Devil May Cry 2’s shortcomings can (and should) be traced back to the circumstances of its production.
The team behind the original Devil May Cry turned a repurposed Resident Evil 4 prototype and a glitch in Onimusha into arguably the most influential 3D action game ever. Like Super Mario 64 before it, Devil May Cry wasn’t just good; it inspired a new generation of fans and developers to adjust their expectations of what 3D gaming could and should be. Both also hold up remarkably well today despite the number of exceptional titles that would follow in their footsteps.
For all its revolutionary concepts, though, Devil May Cry was certainly rough around the edges. It was, after all, born from the ashes of concepts and prototypes that originally belonged to other franchises. Some may prefer the more methodical “Resident Evil-like” nature of the original game, but even at the time of its release, some felt that it represented a tremendous leap forward for a development team that could only expand upon that concept from there. All they needed was the opportunity to do so.
So, Capcom naturally decided to not give Devil May Cry developer Production Studio 4 and director Hideki Kamiya that opportunity. Instead, they assigned Devil May Cry 2 to Production Studio 1: a team largely known for its work on arcade games.
Why didn’t Capcom simply let the Devil May Cry team work on a sequel to the hit game they made? That’s a great question. Kamiya has suggested that, at the time, Capcom didn’t fully understand a director’s influence on a game. It’s also been suggested that Capcom simply wanted Kamiya to work his magic on new projects. Generally speaking, though, most sources agree that Capcom really wanted its arcade teams to familiarize themselves with console development as the company recognized that console games would be a bigger part of their future than arcade games.
Rather than ask that new studio to simply tweak and build upon what the Devil May Cry team had started, though, Capcom encouraged Studio 1 and Devil May Cry 2’s still unidentified original director to make the game their own as much as possible. While that kind of creative freedom is usually welcome, it led to some…questionable decisions in the case of a team just trying to find its feet before being asked to run wild.
For instance, it seems that some in Capcom felt that the original game was a little too absurd and silly. So, Studio 1 decided to make the sequel a bit “darker” and more “mature.” Complaints about the original game’s difficulty also inspired the Devil May Cry 2 team to make much of the sequel more accessible during the initial playthrough. Not every new idea the team brought to the table was bad (more on those later), but as DMC 2 team member Daigo Ikeno once noted, the developers were so concerned with making the sequel their own that there “wasn’t enough recognition that 2 was only happening because of the success of 1.”
One report even suggests that Devil May Cry 2 was originally not even going to star Dante and would instead follow a new character fighting demons throughout New York City. That approach was reportedly scrapped due to concerns regarding the Western cultural climate at the time. I don’t want to blame it all on 9/11, but it certainly didn’t help.
Scrapped prototypes were just the beginning of Devil May Cry 2’s development problems, though. It turns out that asking an inexperienced team to make the sequel to a truly groundbreaking game while many members of that same team were contributing to multiple other projects was a spectacularly bad idea. At some point, the original DMC 2 director left the project and Capcom veteran Hideaki Itsuno was put in charge. Itsuno was told at that time that things were not going well and that very little of the game was anywhere close to finished. Even still, Capcom hoped to release DMC 2 just six months after Itsuno joined the team.
Whatever negative things may be said of Devil May Cry 2 (and there are many), all of them should carry that asterisk. That’s one of the worst hands someone in Itsuno’s position has ever been dealt. Before Itsuno, DMC 2 was reportedly a loose series of largely questionable concepts strung together by broken (or barely functional) technology. In about half a year, Itsuno turned all of that into a retail game.
Devil May Cry 2 simply shouldn’t have existed at the time of its January 2003 release. Unfortunately, I mean that in every sense of the phrase.
Infested Choppers Fly Lowest
So what’s actually wrong with Devil May Cry 2 outside of its nightmare development cycle? Honestly, there are times when answering that question feels about as difficult as beating the later Devil May Cry games. However, you can at least start to summarize most of DMC 2’s problems with the words “Infested Chopper.”
There’s a section in Devil May Cry 2 that sees you run from a boss identified only as “Infested Chopper.” The boss is supposed to be a parasitic demon that has controlled, corrupted, and taken the form of a helicopter. In theory, that’s awesome. In reality, Infested Chopper is a basic video game chopper with a budget Call of Duty weapon skin makeover. Thankfully, the game’s bad camera design means that you rarely have to gaze upon Infested Chopper. Most of the time, you’re left listening to the whirring of its rotor blades as it sits just off-camera firing the occasional missile and making the most of the few frames of animation afforded to it.
When you actually get to fight Infested Chopper, you’ll almost certainly be convinced that your game is broken. After all, the ideally epic battle against this persistent parasite largely consists of you locking on to the boss and firing your guns into the air at an enemy that you often still can’t see. Legend has it that you can occasionally hit the boss with your sword, but 90% of the fight consists of you firing your guns into a barely visible helicopter so that you can slowly (and I mean slowly) whittle away its health. Imagine watching your neighbor fire their gun into the air for five minutes at no particular target that you’re able to easily identify and for no particular purpose that you’re able to ascertain. That’s about what it’s like to fight Infested Chopper.
While Infested Chopper is often cited as a meme-worthy low point for Devil May Cry 2 and the franchise as a whole, it’s honestly tragically representative of a game that’s problems can often be traced back to a potent combination of bad execution and good intentions.
Remember how I said that the Devil May Cry 2 team really wanted to make the game more accessible for more players? Well, they did just that, though perhaps not in the ways that they may have fully intended. With very few exceptions, you can make your way through most of the game using nothing but your starting set of pistols. Mind you, DMC 2 is not a Max Payne-like shooter that converts carefully aimed shots into the sensation that you’re Neo or John Wick. Unless you find it especially thrilling to auto-lock onto enemies and stunlock them into oblivion from a safe distance, you’re going to have a bad time.
Actually, that auto-lock is a big part of the problem with Devil May Cry 2’s overall gameplay. While the original game featured a similar mechanic, that title’s smaller levels made it slightly easier to manage it throughout the game. By comparison, DMC 2 features significantly larger levels and an only slightly more dynamic lock-on mechanic.
It’s lovely that the Devil May Cry 2‘s team wanted to make this sequel’s levels larger than its predecessors, but their sheer size often leads to you locking onto enemies you can’t even see. Other times, you’ll desperately try to interact with a specific enemy or objective only to find that your character is stuck on some enemy that’s often broken AI prevents them from coming any closer. You’ve never seen so many abominations from Hell be this shy.
You kind of have to make your own fun in Devil May Cry 2 by using new weapons and attacks even when the game offers almost no real incentive to do so (beyond the return of the series’ style grading system). Even then, you’ll soon discover that the game finds ways to thwart your futile attempts at enjoyment. For instance, remember how Devil May Cry allowed you to upgrade your weapons in order to acquire new skills? Well, aside from the ability to alter your Devil Trigger abilities, that feature has been reduced to the ability to simply make your weapons mower powerful.
Sadly, those upgrades really only help you reduce the time you need to spend in combat. They seemingly exist to make an already curiously short game (10-15 hours or less) a bit quicker. You can then dive into the game’s unlocked harder difficult modes if you’d like, though many players will just be happy to accept the “L” and move on with their lives. Despite its short runtime, so much of Devil May Cry 2‘s campaign feels like padding designed to inch the campaign closer to an acceptable retail runtime. Given the nature of the game’s development, that might be exactly what happened.
There’s a sense of apathy to the entire experience that is downright depressing. The few enemies that even bother to offer resistance are often easily throttled by your starting weapons, and a new series of evasive maneuvers that are supposed to add strategy and flair to the combat instead often destroy enemies’ duct tape AI along with the game’s cartoonishly hyper camera angles.
The only thing more jarring than going from a modern action game to Devil May Cry 2 is going from the original Devil May Cry to its sequel. Of course, that complaint isn’t limited to the game’s combat.
Style, Substance, and Other Missing Features
I could tell you about Devil May Cry 2’s writing and storytelling struggles, but if we’re all being honest, it’s not like the original game was a masterpiece in either of those departments. What that game did have in both of those departments, though, was style to burn. The game was practically defined by its overwhelming sense of style. Remarkably, that same sense of style ends up being one of DMC 2‘s biggest missing features.
It starts with Devil May Cry 2‘s co-protagonist, Dante. In the first game, Dante was a Demon Hunter who fired off cheesy one-liners and bullets in relatively equal quantities. Yes, he could be a lot, but he was also the embodiment of that same sense of “coolness” that originally made it difficult for Capcom to imagine an early version of Devil May Cry as a Resident Evil game. He was supposed to be someone you’d like to have a drink with, and that remains the best way to describe what made him stand out at a time of silent and overly-serious protagonists.
Sadly, that aforementioned desire to turn Dante into a more serious and darker character resulted in a version of the hero almost entirely devoid of personality and dialog. The team didn’t so much make a new character as they stripped an existing character for parts. This version of Dante is such a blank slate that fans used to theorize that there must have been some indescribable tragedy that occurred between the events of the first and second games that made him the way he was. We later learned that tragedy was the circumstance of Devil May Cry 2’s development.
The game does allow you to play as Lucia instead of Dante, though she doesn’t fare much better. Actually, with a few minor differences, many of her moves and campaign levels are exactly the same as Dante’s. She does offer a few unique animations and abilities that some prefer but not so much that she really allows you to play the game in an entirely different way. Lucia was reportedly born from the developers’ desire to answer fan complaints about not being able to play as Trish in the first game, and the word “afterthought” certainly applies to so much of her presence. That becomes tragically apparent the moment the game actually allows you to unlock and play as Trish.
I should note at this time that Devil May Cry 2 isn’t entirely devoid of stylish touches and other evidence of personality. Some of the game’s soundtrack is actually quite good, there are some nice little animations spread throughout, and many fans maintain that Dante’s character design (visually speaking) is still the best in franchise history. For the most part, though, many of those exceptions fall under the umbrella of “little things.” When it comes to the pieces of style that matter most, though, DMC 2 falls hard.
Actually, Devil May Cry 2’s biggest offender in the style department is almost certainly the game’s level design. I already mentioned the problems with the size of DMC 2’s levels, but I’ve yet to mention that many of the game’s levels are nearly indistinguishable variations of the same few colors that explore the limits of what brown can do for you. I’d go so far as to argue that DMC 2 is one of the rare games that actually look worse in HD. That enhanced resolution only makes those memories of seeing this game for the first time and thinking “Why does it look like this?” all the more clear.
Devil May Cry 2’s developers once suggested that the game was actually more technically advanced than its predecessor, and I’m willing to concede that might be technically true. If anything, though, that possible truth really hammers home how important a distinguished sense of style was to the original Devil May Cry. Even if the sequel’s gameplay allowed you to still feel like a badass demon destroyer (it doesn’t), the game’s relative lack of flair, charm, and fun would still drain so much joy from the experience.
That’s the craziest thing about Devil May Cry 2. Every sequel is burdened by the shadow of its predecessor, but video game sequels are supposed to be able to take advantage of the fact that they can at least usually offer a more refined version of what came before. Ultimately, the game’s greatest sin is its almost impressive ability to avoid doing just that.
Sequel It With Fire
When push comes to shove, I can easily imagine some gamers arguing that other notoriously bad video game sequels like Duke Nukem Forever, Perfect Dark Zero, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 are strictly worse games and more disappointing experiences than Devil May Cry 2. I can’t deny anyone those views, and I certainly can’t defend any of those games on their own merits.
Yet, I struggle to think of a game that fails quite as spectacularly as a sequel as Devil May Cry 2 does. Unlike some of those other sequels that were burdened by unavoidable changes in development teams, comically long stays in development hell, or, frankly, generally low expectations, Devil May Cry 2 is the product of a series of truly terrible decisions that border on self-sabotage.
It’s difficult to think of another video game sequel released so close to its predecessor that ignores or alters pretty much everything that made its predecessor successful. If Capcom had asked the original Devil May Cry team to simply make another Devil May Cry game, they probably would have gotten a stellar sequel. The fact they chose any other route (must less the one they did) has to be one of the most baffling decisions in video game history.
Do you know what’s really strange, though? Much of the team responsible for Devil May Cry 2 (most notably director Hideaki Itsuno) would go on to work on Devil May Cry 3, 4, and 5: arguably the three most acclaimed games in the franchise. You could call that a miraculous turnaround, but the truth is that you can see elements of those better games in DMC 2. Things like quick weapon swaps, more elaborate evasive maneuvers, an emphasis on action over platforming and puzzles, and even Dante’s beloved Rebellion sword are all featured in this otherwise easily-maligned sequel. If you’re feeling optimistic, you could even call DMC 2 the very, very rough draft of better things to come.
However, knowing what the Devil May Cry 2 team could have potentially done somehow makes the final product that much more painful. The reason sequels generally enjoy a somewhat negative reputation (despite the number of truly beloved sequels in entertainment) is due to the popular perception that they are often cash-ins that steal resources and opportunities from original projects. In its own ways, DMC 2 represents the worst realities of that perception. It’s a sequel greenlit by a studio that seemingly decided that one follow-up was as good as another so long as the name on the box did the heavy lifting. Indeed, they thought that a game by the name “Devil May Cry 2” would be such a guaranteed hit that they gave it to a studio that needed an easy retail win.
That decision could have easily sunken the future of an important franchise. Instead, Devil May Cry 2 sold fairly well due largely to both the strength of its predecessor and a relative lack of competition in the 3D action genre at that time. The game wasn’t great (to say the least), but it offered fans the closest thing they would get to “more Devil May Cry” at that time. Rare is the sequel that could best be compared to the only restaurant open on a lonely stretch of road at 3 A.M.
Video game sequels are honestly kind of a miracle. In its own way, Devil May Cry 2 is a miracle as well. As Daniel Kaluuya suggested in Nope, though, perhaps we need a better word for a bad miracle. We may never see another video game sequel that fails so completely in the very areas that should have made it one of the most obvious successes in the pretty proud history of video game sequels.