Meet V, and his footwear.
V wears sandals. There might be more striking elements about Devil May Cry 5’s new character – for instance, he looks like Adam Driver starring in a Criss Angel: Mindfreak biopic – but I’m not sure anything better symbolises the weird (and, to my mind, brilliant) approach Capcom’s taking with him.
I mean, have you tried running in sandals? It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely annoying. They flap around, they rub, they make weird slapping noises. That’s fine: they’re made for holidays, or walking around your house in a robe and little else. I would say that if you’re being forced to run in sandals, something has gone wrong in your life. And I have absolutely convinced myself that this is Capcom creating metaphors for mechanics.
V is a traditional action game character split into several pieces. The man himself is little more than a walking health gauge equipped with dodges and escape techniques. His ranged attacks come in the form of Griffon, a yammering bird of prey with projectile attacks and a personality I’m positive is yanked from Gilbert Gottfried’s performance in Aladdin. His melee attacks come in the form of a shapeshifting panther called Shadow.
Director Hideaki Itsuno explains the through process that brought V to life: “We thought, ‘OK, we want to have a new character for this game’, and we don’t want that character to play just like the other characters because that kind of defeats the purpose of having a new character, right? We had that thought and, at the same time, we also had the thought of, ‘well, what if we had a character where you were separating the portion that you have to protect and the portion that attacks?’ Right at the same time, I also thought about the idea of, what if we had a character that attacked with these familiars, these demons. And all of that came together in this great way to form V, and the way V plays.”
All three elements have their own HP bars, and are controlled separately (with a sprinkling of AI for the familiars so that it doesn’t become completely unwieldy). The idea, at a base level, is that V commands the others from a distance, evading attacks, and only ever stepping in to provide the finishing blow on weakened enemies.
And this is why V can wear sandals – if you’re playing right, he should never have to run.
Don’t get me wrong, you will run when you first step into those strappy little numbers. There is, intentionally, a learning curve here. Being forced to concentrate on multiple parts of the screen at once is a challenge in and of itself, and learning combos that cause multiple controllable characters to interact is more of a struggle than the usual action game flurry. It occasionally hews closer to something like Pikmin than DMC.
At least the controls feel familiar. “Ideally, you want someone who’s played a Devil May Cry game to be able to play this character pretty easily,” explains Itsuno, “and so we decided, alright, you have the melee button. So what if V attacks with Shadow as the melee attack? And then there’s the ranged attack button, which is Griffon. By having essentially the same control layout, and all of the functionality still mapping to the same kind of functions, we were able to create a character that we think ends up carrying out exactly what we were going for: bringing differentiation as a new character, and bringing a new way to play the game, but still feeling familiar to people at the same time.”
On the whole, that philosophy works. It didn’t take long to get to grips with using both familiars at a basic level, but I was very much still learning how to combo them and – perhaps more importantly – have them run to protect me when my time with V came to an end. Thankfully, when things get really bad, you can use up a full Devil Trigger gauge to summon up Nightmare, a golem-like lump of darkness that, initially, acts entirely independently – it’s a hybrid distraction and super move.
I loved that fraught feeling of trying to pilot this chiseled man-witch and his freakish companions through battles, because when it all went well – when I had three separate familiars doing violent things to multiple enemies, then sent V teleporting across the screen to dispatch all of them in a single, slow-motion combo – it brings a sense of madcap cool more familiar to anime than games. There’s a danger that, in spending more time with V, that feeling of working on multiple tasks at once will begin to feel more like work than play, but I hope Capcom’s worked on creating a sense of strategy as the game progresses – perhaps introducing enemies that only one familiar can hit, or separating your component parts in different areas of the screen.
The fact I’m speculating at all is essentially why I’m excited by all this. Where Dante and Nero are variations on a theme – a theme Capcom more or less invented in the first DMC almost two decades ago – V feels legitimately new, almost experimental. Remember that the only reason Devil May Cry exists is because Hideki Kamiya started making a Resident Evil sequel that was simultaneously too odd and too brilliant not to split off into something new. In a different time, V could have caused the same result. In fact, Itsuno tells me he thinks it’d be “really cool” to make a full game set around a V-like playstyle – as long as people like it enough. I hope he would insist that sandals be a key component.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK Deputy Editor, and he has looked at so many images of feet today. Follow him on Twitter!