The “Devil May Cry” video game series has long been defined by its seamless, combo-intensive combat system and its iconically “edgy” protagonist Dante. During the late 90’s, Dante typified the very ideals of coolness, serving as a testament to the latter portion of the decade as a whole. From his bleached white hair to his universal sense of smugness, Dante went down in history as one of the medium’s most recognizable protagonists. In January 2013, the franchise was completely overhauled with the release of “DMC: Devil May Cry.” Unnecessary acronyms aside, the release of this game was met with unimaginable contempt from established fans, primarily because of the redesign of the protagonist. Players likened the new Dante to the appearance of Taylor Lautner, complete with chiseled features and closely cropped black hair. In short, this was not the Dante they had grown up with, causing fans to argue that this was instead the company’s failed attempt at trying to align with the “new definition of cool.” Oddly enough, everything about what makes “Devil May Cry” and “DMC” different serves to highlight the drastic change in social attitudes that occurred over the past decade or so. From the demeanor of the protagonist to the narrative conflict, “DMC” proves to be a game that is noticeably in tune with mainstream popularity.
Putting the visual alterations aside, the discrepancies between old and new Dante underscore the changing definition of “badassery,” for lack of a better word. Old Dante’s general personality is based around complacent apathy, never fully giving in to the idea of actually caring about something; specifically, never showing that he cares about something. From the very moment that a motorcycle comes crashing through the doors of his workplace, Dante meets every threat with a sense of calm. The ability to disregard fear in favor of unadulterated confidence is a trademark of his identity, and this ability was largely admirable in the late 90’s.
The new Dante, conversely, exists in surprising juxtaposition to his predecessor. Teenage values have largely changed in the time span between “Devil May Cry 4” and “DMC”. The days of shrugging off conflicts are largely gone, in favor of a generation more prone to activism. The new Dante takes on a strictly aggressive role as opposed to his counterpart’s passive-aggressive one. Apathy has diverted from being seen as the pinnacle of cool, to now being primarily associated with utter narcissism. The new Dante meets his opponents with a sense of bitter contempt, mimicking the game’s prevalent “punk-rock” undertones. Angst takes center stage in “DMC,” showcasing a Dante as a youthful loose cannon perpetually ready for a fight. His hypersensitivity to being manipulated is another testament to the game’s emphasis on angst by allowing for a protagonist that is readily willing to bring down societal authority figures.
In regards to the new Dante’s relationship with authority, it is important to define the central conflict of the narrative itself. The central antagonist of the game is a demon disguised as a ruthless banker, who dreams of plunging the entire world into debt to take it over. He is accompanied by a news propagandist (showcased as a one-dimensional caricature of Bill O’Reilly) and a succubus that brainwashes the population through soda intake. Combine these three forces together and you find yourself manifesting a teenage nightmare. Although these characters are undeniably shallow in terms of development, it is what they all represent that is worthy of note. The news reporter appeals to the notion that modern conservative media cannot be trusted. This O’Reilly doppleganger speaks as a doomsayer, condemning the modern youth and all the customs they associate themselves with. The succubus and banker reflect the corrupted ideals of gluttony and greed, respectively. Dante is able to physically see writing on the walls revealing the intentions of the authority, akin to the film “They Live.” In many regards, DMC closely ties itself to conspiracy oriented stories like “They Live,” “The Matrix,” or even “Brave New World,” with the game acting as a singularity of disenfranchisement.
Even the level design conveys a sort of “us-against-them” attitude. Buildings and walkways veer into a multitude of different formations around you, with Dante having to adapt to these surroundings at a moment’s notice. The older “Devil May Cry” games largely took place in static gothic landscapes complete with muted colors. This put Dante’s colorful appearance at the forefront of attention, in turn showing that Dante was the master in this environment. DMC’s environment is constantly shifting and contorting, putting Dante at the mercy of his surroundings. Blinding lights and oversaturated color palettes do a good job of both energizing the player and noting the artificial nature of Dante’s society.
Both the old and new versions of Dante are able to flawlessly replicate their generation’s definition of disenfranchisement, in turn serving as relics to the zeitgeists of their respective era.
Michael Dellapi is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.