Based loosely on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the Devil May Cry franchise follows half-human, half-demon Dante as he travels through a world plagued by demons. The first game is about Dante trying to live up to his heritage as the son of a legendary demonic knight named Sparda, who sacrificed himself to seal away the great demon lord Mundus. The second game, bizarrely, is deemed an utter disappointment that fans try to forget. And then there’s the third game — Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, which hit shelves in 2005 and ignited a deeply human story.
When Dante’s Awakening arrived, audiences still had the bitter taste of Devil May Cry 2, and the Capcom studio clearly understood this. Hideaki Itsuno, the director of Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, saw the family theme in the original Devil May Cry and decided that this title, a prequel to the first, should deal with family conflict. At the center is Dante and his twin, Vergil. Dante represents the human side that his father had fallen in love with, while Vergil channels his demonic side, embracing the monster due to his belief that his family abandoned him as a child. Their reunion is volatile.
Red versus Blue
Everything about Dante and Vergil is at odds. Dante is loose, wielding guns and a broadsword. It’s all very improvisational. There’s no sense of training. Meanwhile, Vergil is the epitome of straightlaced. Nothing is out of place. He wields the Yamato katana, a gift from his father, with incredible skill and abhors the use of firearms, seeing no honor in them. Even their clothing is in opposition. Vergil bears the calm, serene blue hues while Dante has the aggressive and violent red. It all serves to enhance the family drama.
In Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, Dante and Vergil are fighting for their heritage, a recurring theme in the series narrative. Dante fights for his mother and humanity and Vergil for some misguided understanding of his father and the significance of his power. At the end of this story, Dante has begun his adventures as defender of humanity while Vergil is sent to hell to seemingly challenge and destroy the one monster his father couldn’t defeat, Mundus. Being in this literal hell would not be the baptism by fire Vergil had hoped for though.
When we next meet the brothers chronologically in the first Devil May Cry, they are once again on the opposing sides of a war. It’s been roughly a decade and Dante is on a mission to finally defeat Mundus. In the intervening years, Vergil has been subjugated by Mundus and transformed into a form of demonic knight, a cruel and ironic fate considering what their father had done to Mundus.
Controlled by Mundus, Vergil fights Dante three separate times through the course of this adventure. The tragedy is that Dante doesn’t even realize it’s Vergil, simply seeing the knight as a worthy opponent. It’s a brief moment, but as you look back at it when entering the later titles, you see that this is a Shakespearean soap opera, just with some of the most brutal and bloody encounters between its characters.
Once again Dante revels in victory. Meanwhile, Vergil slinks away. No longer a slave to Mundus but something else, a ghoul, a mere shade of his former self.
Enter the Child
Devil May Cry 4 introduces another time jump, a whole new location, and new protagonist Nero, a warrior who is part of the Order of the Sword, which worships Sparda. Dante is trying to find the Yamato, the blade that Vergil once wielded. Nero and the Order are standing in his way. Unexpectedly, the Yamato bonds with Nero, giving him demonic abilities. As he and Dante both battle through the various forces in the game, as well as each other, they come to an understanding and Dante gifts Nero the Yamato.
Nero is surprised at the gesture, since the sword “meant a lot” to Dante, but Dante responds, “That’s the only kind of gift worth giving. I want to entrust it to you, so I am. What you do from here is your call.” This thoughtful moment will have repercussions at the climax of the series narrative 11 years later, in part because Nero, unbeknownst to him, is actually Vergil’s son.
In 2019’s Devil May Cry 5, Dante and Nero have once again joined forces as Nero has now become a professional demon slayer. They enter Dante and Vergil’s home city, where they were raised and eventually separated, which has now been invaded by a massive demonic force.
Devil May Cry 5 builds on the foundation of the previous titles. The issue between Dante and Vergil was there was never common ground. Dante couldn’t accept the demonic fervor of Vergil, and Vergil only saw weakness in the humanity of Dante. This feeds into the inciting incident of the game, as Vergil in a weakened state recovers the Yamato from Nero. Then, utilizing the ability of the Yamato to separate dimensions, Nero separates himself. He becomes what he believes he should always have been, a demon, while his human side becomes a new person named V.
V and Nero are the key to resolving the family drama. V gives Dante and Nero the job to take down the demonic half of Vergil known as Urizen. And incidentally, while traveling across Red Grave City with V, Nero is actually bonding with his father in a way, which would play a pivotal role in putting his family back together later.
At the game’s climax, V, Nero, and Dante have faced hordes of demons and finally defeated Urizen. When all is said and done, V walks up to Urizen and finally understands that they need to be one again. So V absorbs Urizen, and when the two pieces become whole, Vergil emerges reborn stronger than ever.
It is here that Nero learns of his demonic lineage, and when Dante and Vergil are battling to the death, he looks back on his failures. Nero had been unable to protect his adoptive family among the events of the Order of the Sword, but knowing that he has a new family now, he won’t let them kill each other.
“I couldn’t protect Credo,” says Nero. “To this day, I hate myself for not having enough strength. But this time is different. I swear! I’m not letting you die!”
In doing this, he awakens a new power within himself to stop his uncle and father from killing each other. And to make his father listen, Nero fights him, the only way to finally get through to him that he has to stop this cycle of destruction. This leads to Dante and Vergil deciding to close a worsening gate to hell together, leaving them both trapped on the other side. However, unlike when Vergil was last there, alone and without hope, he is now there with his brother honoring the legacy of their father, protecting humanity from the forces of darkness as a family.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, Devil May Cry 4, and Devil May Cry 5 collectively make for one of the most surprisingly emotional game narratives I’ve ever played. The way the team weaves the issues of family into a supernatural brawler is phenomenal. Seeing the journey of these two brothers across decades has been an absolute treat, and the resolution of the next generation saving them was a masterstroke. The gameplay may be blood and broken bones, but the story is surprisingly heartfelt and meaningful. That’s why this franchise is a “jackpot” of storytelling and gameplay.