So Demon’s Souls is getting a remake, huh? And it’s a real one! So I can modulate my distrust from “can’t wait for yet another disappointing upres🙄” to “this probably has very limited input from the original creative staff…..😰”
So let’s make an argument. Most sequels are remakes in the first place.
There’s this guy, Hideaki Itsuno. Having directed Dragon’s Dogma, I would consider him one of the best game directors of all time. Having directed Devil May Cry 2, I would consider him… well… not the worst, but certainly on the lower side of the median….
Also he made Devil May Cry 3, everyone’s favorite one but mine.
And now, he’s directed Devil May Cry 5, a game that has everything. And by everything, I mean not only Nero’s strong catboy energy and this goofy-ass song that nevertheless gets me completely hype, but also his perfect evade (Table Hopper), whose quintessential slickness is encompassed in not just what it lets you do mechanically but what it is aesthetically. Its name, its animation, everything. DMC excels at overloading your senses, each major leap forward in the series an example of overwhelming addition with no subtraction. The lightning sword stays, the cerberus tri-chucks jump into the fray, then four new fighting styles to learn when you were barely holding down the one, and Dante’s dual wielding motorcycles now, bro???
Somewhere along the line (DMC4), a new guy shows up with a devil paw that yanks enemies to him and him to enemies, and both is equally pleasing because you know what comes next (it is the rhythmic tapping of the Circle button, which heralds their demise). The ability to Be Somewhere Else is the fundamental beat of a video game, for me, but more pervasively, it is the heartbeat of character action, which, nowadays, basically only take place in dioramas of combat so ludicrously fast you hardly know what you’ve done in them until they’re over.
And–bro, bro–you wanna talk fast? Now new devil paw guy has turned his regular devil paw into replaceable robotic devil paws. He can explode his robo-paws, send shockwaves out with them, or ride them around the room like a Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Also, his sword revs like a motorcycle and when you rev it enough, it explodes. Also his gun charges. So clearly if you’re not revving the sword you should be charging the gun, and vice versa, and while you’re charging you’re not solely charging, natch, you’re attacking with whichever of the weapons you’re NOT charging.
Playing a character action game is Pacific Rim sync, and I guess the logic, over the years, became: the more neurons you gotta fire to keep track of where you are in the L1, Back, Circle, R1, Circle, Circle, Circle, Hold R1, Triangle, Switch To Royal Guard (what is that like D-pad?) combo tree that has turned into more of a combo mangrove forest over the past 20 years…… the better it is?
Which, respect: all of these things are so kinesthetically cool you can’t fault them. Their reach doesn’t exceed their grasp, just mine. Sneaking revs of your motorcycle sword between your slashes, you are doing some full-on anime protagonist-type ish, and you are feeling it in your fingers, striking keys in rhythmic perfection, and that percussion is replicated in some fundamental way in your brainstem to spread a joyous tension throughout your shoulders and then your spine, that reciprocally feeds back into your fingers until you are gripping the controller so hard you become aware that either it will soon break, or your fingers will, and you are a god whether the combo meter says SSStylish or DDDull. How’s Naruto SHIPPUden 3 gonna give you that.
So I don’t fault them for adding 500 new weapons, except in as much as I perceive it as part of a genre-movement away from survival horror–that most detestable sin.
See, we all thought we hated backtracking sooooo much that we ordered the game developers under threat of tribunal to extinguish it from all video games, and now what do we have? Games that are a bunch of one-way chutes where you have to walk slow while Anya talks to you until the chute opens up into the next bit where you can spend 5 minutes looking for BULLET in HOUSE while ELLIE reads you COMIC BOOK so you don’t get BORED. You will never see these houses again, you won’t even have a reason to be in any of them for more than a 30 second Jamrock Shuffle. Thinking about them in my mind’s eye, I can’t summon a single detail that couldn’t just have easily come from…. I don’t know, a John Hughes movie? A data log I read once and forgot. A child’s vanity there was no reason to look too hard at because it didn’t contain a medpack.
In as much as Devil May Cry 1 was set in the stupidest version of a Resident Evil castle imaginable (like…. y’all really put two 5-minute decaying time locks powered by a rotting demon heart/empowered ancient orb within 30 minutes of each other), it still contained enough of a survival horror spine that you felt like it was worth knowing the place. See, coz right about the mid game**, you have to make a little hop across two buttresses waaaaay in the rafters of this hall. It’s a really simple hop, the trick is not to double jump. But because you have a double jump, you are always double jumping, because that’s how video games are played, once you have a double jump unlocked. And when you double jump, the camera shifts, and you plummet three or four storeys….. to find yourself…. in the main hall where you started the game, like four or five hours and a couple bosses ago.
If I’m a sucker for anything in games, it’s the “hey, remember THIS place, big guy?? 👉😉👉” reveal, big time. I’m not above it.
What’s fascinating about video game geometry is not quite mis-en-scene, but mis-en-place, which I will shoehorn here to mean “(things in) the environment don’t suit an aesthetic purpose, but also a practical one.” The “hey what the fuck I was just down here??” of falling off that buttress is like a little no harm done😇 on the part of the creators that makes you pick your head up and pay attention to your environment again, as well as your controls, by giving you a little reminder that a single jump will snap you to the closest surface, but a double jump–you’re kind of on your own buddy. And since you’ll be traveling this space at least 3 or 4 times over the course of the game, this becomes a little “ah ha, not this time🤭” moment between you and the developers.
Some people call that “friction,” I think that’s a fine term for it but I have been writing this blog for 5 months and I don’t think I got enough gas in the tank to make that argument.
I’m overemphasizing the point, but I just wanna contrast it with like, a scripted event of falling down a mudslide in Lara Croft: The Tombed Raider. Falling down that mudslide happens to 100% of players who reach that point, falling my ass off those buttresses that happened to ME (but probably you too?). The most successful games make their confines matter, and they teach you how to navigate them at pace. Why does Yakuza have construction barring your progress throughout chapters 1-4? Why does Resident Evil give you Sword and Armor and Helmet key doors in the main hall before you even know there’s keys to pick up in the game? Because it’s more gradually unlock the limits of a large space than it is to be constantly shunted from Small Place to Palette Swapped Small Place, and so, and so, and so until, this time, you scrounge for ARROW in UNIVERSITY while ELLIE talks about SEX ED POSTER so you don’t get TOO SAD.
I just never wanted to see Devil May Cry reduced to a bunch of Y Junctions with “Yggdrasil Flower Portal” on one side and “Yggdrasil Flower Portal Eating Bug” on the other…… not for all the motorcycle swords in the world.
but hey…also……. remember DMC’s fast,ferocious&finicky shadow panther? well this Adam Driver-lookin motherfucker named V has him shackled to his will. The best miniboss in modern video games is now your Triangle Button attack.
If you cut your teeth on Devil May Cry 1, it’s hard to escape the gravitational field of that…………………
Nostalgia is this happy poison. And speaking as someone who recently finished Dark Cloud 2 in (2020, the wound of it often outpaces the numb. These days it does so in a material sense: companies selling back to you things you’ve already owned. $40 for the privilege of playing the same game you paid $60 for four years ago–albeit with a new hat.
Resident Evil 2 (the remake), a good video game. It feels like Resident Evil 4, updated for the modern era. In some ways, this is its own success story. Even most modern Resident Evil games don’t feel much like Resident Evil 4 Updated For The Modern Era. Capping zombie knees to disable them quickly, optional key items that unlock weapon upgrades, and the return of defensive weapons. The true promise of survival horror, an English Muffin game(–all those nooks and crannies.😋) and they even had the benefit of the original Resident Evil 2 doing most of the heavy lifting (the police station, the chess puzzle, eyeballs growing out of everyone’s shoulder).
Similarly: the useful pre-existence of Mr. X, who they’ve reformatted from “occasionally startling ammo drop” to “a (somewhat) persistent threat; pretty good upgrade. A pain in the ass at first, keys unlock doors that give you routes around him. What’s more, mastery over the space gives you mastery over him, and you quite quickly can find yourself dragging him into patterns of Rope-a-Dope up and down stairs and ladders while you shove the library shelves into place.
Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2 are games with aesthetics on lock, they are poetry in the hands but less and less do these games seem to take place anywhere–pretty bold accusation for two series known for hiding viral and/or demonic research labs literally anywhere with 6 feet of dirt to dig down into. At least REmake 2 has the police station, Devil May Cry 5 takes place, from what I remember, mostly on a single Italian street you progress in a South-North direction and the big flesh cocoon that extrudes from it.
But the puzzles? These places? They’re not what they used to be. They’re borrowed. And when they put you somewhere new, it’s not a functional location, it’s a AAA game rollercoaster ride. Trek through a linear orphanage (and back) while a scary murder pervert calls you a bitch like…. a lot… like even a lot for 2020. Kind of a different vibe than “no one leaves my town alive! everyone’s gonna die!”
Games like Resident Evil and Devil May Cry defined their own languages of video game. In fact, they did so literally, putting form to nascent genres–“Survival Horror,” “Character Action.” To what extent we can know what games are currently creating the new new languages of video games, I think we can know that neither Resident Evil 2 REmake nor Devil May Cry 5 are those games. If Resident Evil 2 created its own language, maybe–very generously–you’d offer that Resident Evil 2 REmake added a little bit of slang. These are the newest tinkerings layered atop the 15-20 years of tinkering that preceded them, luscious dioramas whose details are considerably flatter, if not viewed head-on.
But they are so fucking comfortable to curl up in.
**actually now that i think about it…. it’s a literal mid-game because it’s between chapters and there’s a new, really weak enemy spawn, so if you’re a scrubbalub you can farm money to unlock stuff without penalizing your ranking! this is what i’m talking about!! persistent spaces in video games naturally create variations of play!! how the fuck do you speed run a Gear of War i bet it’s some dumb glitch that lets you roadie run while anya talks to you or some dull shit while people playing Symphony of the Night are doing insane tech jumps in the clocktower to get the alcuart set super early for reasons i’m not really sure about why they play into the greater run because they know way more about the game than me!! while everybody knows the exact same amount about Gears of War relative to the amount they played! to be clear i enjoy many stupid games, i have played several of the Gear of War, i am only concerned with this apparent backflow of linearity into non-linear games–but i am also resigned to the fact that, like everything since the PS2 era, i know the reason games are whittled down to 100% CONSUMABLE CONTENT STUBS is because game budgets are stupid high……………………it just makes me feel better to complain 🙂 no hard feelings, i liked Last of Us a lot when i played it but i wonder how well it holds up now. i think there’s a much more nuanced interpretation of the ending than a lot of people give it credit for, at the very least.