Who Are You, And What Have You Done With My Protagonist?

At the Tokyo Game Show recently, we saw a trailer for the new Devil May Cry game, to be made by Ninja Theory, creators of Heavenly Sword. And while I was one of Nariko's few defenders when the PS3 was launched, it's hard not to surmise from DmC's reveal trailer that the torch bearer for action games has been turned into edgy, annoying hipster wank.

In earlier DMCs, you'd know Dante's cool because he didn't need to flex. He was just so above minion fodder it was boring to him. It's not like it was understated or anything - he'd toy with enemies with skill so ridiculous it bordered on funny, and it was your job to aspire to that level of A++ skill in the gameplay.

In the new DMC, you know Dante's cool because he's got a hipster haircut and smokes cigarettes. Just look at him take a long drag at the end of that new trailer. Oh man, that guy is awesome. I hear in the extended version he loads some indie rock on his iPod, and berates Nero for not recycling.

Did I miss something? Are half-demons the new emo? DmC the new Twilight?

Or is this the proliferation of an even worse trend - one of publishers not taking care of their IP? Of course, it's happened before. Hell, look at Sonic. But Nintendo have always been good with this sort of thing - a game with Mario on the cover is a safe bet in terms of quality - and even these bar setters slipped recently, when they let the previously brave & independent Samus Aran be portrayed as an emotional, submissive weakling with few redeeming qualities other than her Zero Suit.

It's not limited to protagonists - gameplay itself can define a franchise. Command & Conquer 4's radically re-imagined gameplay might've been fine - under a different name. But in the final instalment of such a historic franchise, why abandon your roots?

So what's behind these franchise fumbles? Why shoot a cannon load of canon into mediocrity?

I don't have all the answers, but these games mentioned aren't being made by their original teams. Could outsourcing be to blame? The Bioshock and Call of Duty franchises also know what it's like to have a second developer join in and create good, but not great sequels.

Earlier in the year, a Nintendo developer told me around half of Nintendo games are actually made by Nintendo now. Having an in-house supervisor overseeing the project, as is standard, doesn't always work - series creator Yoshio Sakamoto was on hand for Other M and couldn't save Samus' image.

Team Ninja made a solid enough action game in Ninja Gaiden (as did Ninja Theory in Heavenly Sword), and the new Metroid was fun enough - but in an attempt to give Samus a story, a personality, and a voice, they made her weak. When done right, showing a protagonist's weak side can be a powerful storytelling tool. But Other M forgot who Samus was in the process, and now we can't un-see.

If we're allowed to enter the danger zone in terms of extrapolating too much from one trailer - it looks like DmC is about to make the same mistake. Dante? Weak? Mentally disturbed, even? This is a guy who doesn't just go to hell and back when it's necessary, he's created a business around it. He'd do it if he needed a litre of milk.

To take the quintessential badass action character and re-imagine him as an edgy, rebellious teen is about as risky as turning an classical Chinese novel into an escort quest. Ninja Theory might be enjoying a bit too much license. Why not just pop Trish in a training bra, make Virgil's voice break and call it DmC: The High School Years, with special guest Bayonetta to teach English?

Sometimes, the best story is the one that isn't told. The best statement, an understatement. A developer at this year's E3 told me the best story he's seen in a game is Counter-Strike, because they couldn't put a foot wrong. Up until recently, Metroid had that.

The ironic thing is, if you told hipster Dante to play his own game, even he would say the old character was cooler. Ninja Theory have implied that this is the story of early Dante, and I'm betting there'll be a cutscene towards the end that gives him white hair. Hopefully much earlier in the game, he'll wash his shirt and jacket. Perhaps using the nearly identical Nero - not as close to our fanboy hearts - would have been safer.

Worst case scenario, pre-Twilight Dante will live on through Marvel vs Capcom 3. Fingers crossed it won't come to that. Meanwhile, Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya seems just as impressed with DmC as I am. Prove us wrong, Ninja Theory. Please, please prove us wrong.


Comments

    Agreed with pretty much all that was said there. Recreating the image of the main character of a francise is one of the worst things you can do. Developers should only be attempting it if they KNOW without a doubt they can do it right (I am yet to think of one rehash of a character that's turned out good).

    The only redeeming quality this game has left is its gameplay but the damage has already been done. His personality may be fine in the end (which is doubtful if they want his personality to match his looks) but his looks have already attracted almost unanimous hate. If the gameplay is off, Capcom will regret ever giving Ninja Theory control.

      Not necessarily...

      Look at the very many versions of Megaman (and Zero =P) from Capcom. Reimagining a series under a "new" name can be done. X is a nice early example a brand "new" Megaman w/ different mechanics and systems but at its heart still kept the "basics" from Classic

      The problem is when they cross that fine line from "fresh" to "what the hell is this?" Unfortunately as it stands now they've managed to tip the new DMC on the latter far too much.

    -1. Including the part where mentioned that Samus is weak because of a story plot. So long Team Ninja didn't turn her into some busty DoA eye candy, then I'm all good.

      That’s pretty much what they did Gob. It wasn’t near the level of Xtreme (beach volleyball), but the Zero Suit was emphasised in all the ads, and it’s the first time Nintendo has relied on the sexualisation of one of their star characters.

      Samus isn’t weak BECAUSE of the plot. The plot IS that she’s weak. We’ve never seen Samus take orders before, or worse, freeze up and need to be saved in combat. And in the first instance she’s given a voice, her dialogue is childish and emotional.

      Of course there’s going to be massive expectations when you give a character like Samus a face and a name. You need to find something equally cool to replace the mystery. In that, Team Ninja failed, even if Other M was a fun game to play.

        correction: what?! if they were, they would reveal much more than that. that ad wasn’t appealing, it’s another example of a cosplay fail. i hated it. but i don't expect everyone to like the other m plot either.

    Heh, Sucker Punch tried that and all their fans yelled against it so classic cole is back. Too bad these other outsourced studios dont listen to the original fanbase.

    the only time i would rehash a character for an origin story is if i had the character evolve periodically throughout the whole game till he became the character everyone loved. Nothing good ever comes from destroying a character model that everyone already loved, even if you make it better people will still be upset over the loss.

      Agreed, and to be fair, Ninja Theory have hinted at that. Although the physical transformation of this Dante into old Dante would be too big a leap to make in one game I think. They look about 20 years apart, but who knows how much that is in his half-demon years.

      Wouldn't be surprised if there are clues to him ageing throughout, and something obvious in the end like an enemy giving him a streak of white hair.

    'Did I miss something? Are half-demons the new emo? DmC the new Twilight?'

    Devil May Cry has always been macabre, guess what follows suit visually? gothic scenery / characters. I think Capcom are trying to make a more 'hip' character but I don't get what all the fuss is about. No wait... I do, people are afraid of change. Especially when you involve the term 'emo'. I guess that's journalism for ya.

    It makes more sense that he looks a bit 'emo' considering the nature of the game (above) and as for the mental health themes, I think this is just a more realistic take of the character.

    He looks pretty cool (nothing amazing) but I think the new character could refresh the game, make it feel like something new. His body is much more slim so he will probably feel very agile and considering the shit Dante does, makes sense. As he rely's on his guns and blade he doesn't exactly have to be buff.

    And hey... that smoke did look cool, don't try to deny it.

    Obviously Capcom have gotten sick of the same character and feel and felt like something new.

    Kudos for trying something new.

      it would be better if it was a new IP, but the problem is that this is an existing IP with a very close nit community and following that fell in love with the original series. his new dante looks nothing like the old one, and while I am sure the gameplay will still be there, gameplay isnt everything, the story is what helps make the game what it is, and having such a dramatic change just doesnt work.

        Yeah, definitely, but it worked for me, I'm looking forward to this more. Didn't really like the feel of Dante esp in DMC4. Not really attached to him, I mean I've read the comics played most of the games but never really loved him. Mostly his attitude.

          "Emo" is an overused label perpetuated by people who barely understand youth/music/fashion subculture.
          I think the old Dante looked like a total douche. I like the re-design because it means i can seriously kick demon ass as Bradford Cox.

      Seriously there's so much Capcom fellatio going on here I'm hoping you brought a napkin to clean up afterwards....

      "And hey… that smoke did look cool, don’t try to deny it."

      I can deny it all I want because it didn't look cool, at all.

      An interview with Ninja Theory said that it was actually Capcom that wanted the change in character. Ninja Theory still came up with this design but it was at the direction of Capcom that they changed the character (and radically). I wont be buying DmC after being a massive fan of the previous 4 games (even DMC2 Dante is better than this).

    WHY ARE RYU AND KEN STILL STREET FIGHTER'S MAIN CHARACTERS!?

      WUT! I THOUGHT IT WAS GUILE!

      Curse you US CARTOONS FOR LYING TO MEEEEE! =P
      Sorry I got a horrible dose of the Americanised cartoon series on cable tv ages ago...

      my gawd.. if only i could unsee that stuff @[email protected]

    As long as they show the evolution of the character to the Dante we all know and love, I don't mind at all.

    If it's a full reboot and not really a prequel, well... I'm sure he'll have some quirks original fans can appreciate. They wouldn't butcher the character.

    "edgy, annoying hipster wank"

    lol, TY jung, ive been looking for a new way to describe the new dante without resorting to foul language :D

    i much prefer the new Dante, along with the new art direction. He seems to have much more depth to him then the eastern anime clone of the old games. It's actually the first DMC I'm going to go out and buy as opposed to rent.

    This was a very, very shallow article.

    First, we have seen one trailer. That isn't really enough to judge whether or not it is a successful reboot.

    Second, Dante showed plenty of combat skill in the trailer. True, the action was more realistic, less spectacular and less stylized. It is also arguable that insanely over the top combat is the whole point of DMC, but that's not the point; the point is that the new Dante is obviously much much much more competent with combat than you'll ever be. So no, he isn't "weak."

    Third, why do I keep seeing this line of reasoning:
    1) Dante is younger
    2) Dante looks punkier/gothier
    3) Therefore Dante has been turned into an angsty emo teen
    4) Therefore Dante is pathetic and weak irrespective of how many trillions of demons he shoots.

    Angst is not weakness and nor is youth. Do I detect some people projecting their own angsty weakness as teenagers, and thus wishing for escapist characters that do not in any way remind them of how much they suck? Why yes, that's exactly it.

    Summary; if you think this one single trailer is somehow proof Dante has been "made weak," then you are at very least judging far too prematurely, and more likely you are packaging a whole bunch of false assumptions into his appearance.

      Ah, damn - thought I'd have an intelligent debate on my hands for a sec, but then you got personal.

      Thanks for playing, I guess.

        Dante is an escapist character and thus a character that panders to the desires of the audience.

        To discuss escapist characters without "getting personal" is therefore impossible. I am simply suggesting that a significant amount of the disdain towards this character redesign is based on a very superficial judgment which assumes "Youth + Angst = Cannot be competent or awesome," and I further suggested that this superficial judgment might be the psychological defense mechanism of projection.

          Cool story bro

            That cracked me up

        Getting personal would be mentioning Good Game.

      Do I detect someone who is angsty now? Possibly sporting an 'emo' haircut?

      It seems entirely reasonable to impart significance to the appearance of a character - designers spend a lot of time and money attempting to convey all sorts of characterisation into the model, it's one of the primary tools they have to tell us who we're playing as, and how they choose to face the world. Making the decision to go in a new direction visually is a clear sign that the devs are redesigning the entire character.

      Angst is not weakness on its own, nor is youth - but adding both to a character who is universally known as a badass who doesn't even have to break a sweat tears down that mythos and weakens the character as a whole. Just look at what Anakin Skywalker did to Darth Vader...

        "You defend X therefore you are X" is not a valid argument. That's like saying everyone that is pro gay rights is gay.

        Your final paragraph also assumes that (Angst + Youth) = -Badass, or that someone that has both angst and youth cannot by definition be competent at combat.

        To which I ask, did you actually watch the trailer? Dante manages to cause quite a significant amount of carnage.

          I think he was pointing out the flaw in your "You attack X therefore you are X" argument ;)

            Lets be charitable and assume you are correct about Flux's argument; because to me it sounded like he was accusing me of having an emo haircut (which apart from being incorrect, is logically irrelevant; one judges arguments on their merits, not on the hairstyle of the person making the argument).

            First, "you attack X therefore you are X" and "you defend X therefore you are X" are, whilst similar sounding, not identical forms of argument when dealing with escapist characters.

            An escapist character is meant to be a character whom the audience aspires to be. Escapist characters are usually composites of everything the audience likes about themselves, without the things they dislike about themselves.

            An audience worshipping an escapist character that is radically different to their selves (personality-wise) is symptomatic of a self-loathing audience. They don't want to be themselves, they want to be somebody else. I am not accusing the Devil May Cry fandom of acting in this manner; it is simply a logical extrapolation of the concept of escapist character.

            An audience that embraces an escapist character because they actively identify with that character (i.e. they DO identify, rather than they WANT to identify) is a healthy audience that does not loathe themselves. Again, I'm not accusing the DMC fandom of acting in this manner; just fleshing out the concept.

            This applies to on the level of character traits; to the self-loathing audience that wants escapism from their selves, the worst thing an escapist character can do is remind them of themselves.

            Feel free to just scoff, dismiss my argument and say "cool story bro" if you must. I wouldn't be surprised since you obviously have an extremely large emotional investment in Dante's previous appearance.

            And also, the Twilight-bashing... yes, Twilight sucks, we all know that and I certainly agree, but since when is "black hair" the same as "obviously an emo/vampire-wannabe"?

              Its not escapism. We embrace the character because of his appearance and personality...but lets do a little excerise...

              Do you have a character you are emotionally invested in?

              If so, Picture someone turns this character into a clown who fights sumo bunnies in space with a toaster oven.

              There is no longer any connection between this new character and the old one correct?

              This is how the old fans feel about the new dante. There is nothing that connects this dante to the old one, Hence he could have been named Dino (Dante In Name Only)and it would have made no difference.

              A rose by any other name smells as sweet, but calling a toster oven a doesn't make it a rose. The fans are NOT angry because they "ruined our escapism character waah" they are angry because this new character from a storytelling standpoint does in no shape or form resemble the original character we identify with. Hopefully you understand that.

              Wanted to toss in my two cents

              Oh, you replied - and surprise surprise, you ignored my actual point and decided to focus on a percieved slight. I'm not saying you're angsty because you are defending angst, I'm saying you're angsty because you are acting angsty. To correct your analogy, this is like saying someone is gay becase they appear to prefer their own gender sexually - it's a fair and reasonable conclusion. You're simply 'in the closet' about your angst...

              But my point is that you're perfectly welcome to make a young and angsty lead character - hell, FF has been making squillions off it for years. But why sacrifice the whole aura of an existing franchise character to boost your new guy's profile? Why not just make a whole new game? All you really do is trash the credibility of the existing character, splitting the fanbase rather than replicating it.

              I picked an example to illustrate this that's pretty widely accepted - the wussification of Darth Vader by showing Anakin whingeing in the prequels. You have yet to give a single example of a reboot/origin story of a mysterious badass that didn't result in a weakening of the character's mythos. There's a reason you never see Master Chief as a schoolboy, or Kratos as an infantry grunt.

    Don't really know anything about DMC so I can't comment, but I'm a huge Metroid Fanboy, and recently finished Other M.

    First of all, aside from the agonizing annoyance of having to point at the screen to fire missles, the game was really solid. Standard gameplay was fun, with unlocks, boss fights and set pieces spaced out enough to keep it from getting stale. I played through from start to finish without ever really getting 'bored'.

    However, I agree with everything you've said about Samus. Apart from the voice acting being... just... shocking, It really wasn't Samus at all! Which begs the question, why use Samus in the first place? Why not make the game in the Metroid universe, but starring someone else? Japanese games seem to be HUGELY against having new protagonists in sequels, but western games, on the other hand, do it all the time.

    Especially if franchise is given to a different development team... loose the damn main character! The 'Samus' in Other M was a good character, she had story and emotion, she just wasn't samus. Take a look at the new Dead Rising game. They claimed that they wanted to make the player character have different motivations and actions than Frank from DR1. Instead of making fans rage when they changed up Frank, they just made up a new character. I seriously don't see why more people don't do this.

    Here's one thing I really don't get....Dante was never really cool. I've never gotten the fondness for him so this new Dante seems just about as cheesy as the old one for me.

    Everyone really needs to chill out about all this. I played and loved Devil May Cry 1,3 and 4 and am totally psyched with this new new outing.

    Sure, his new look is super different. Sure, he is now skinny and a punk (He is not hipster/ emo at all, people need to learn more about subcultures) and yes the combat looks a bit slower.

    But the way I see it is first off, it's a bloody trailer. A launch trailer. RELAX. Second, the combat still looks amazing, even though in gameplay it might not be anything like that at all. Third, he has white hair. Look closely.

    My guess is it's sort of an origin story, where he's dying his hair black to disguise himself or discovering his demonicness which is slowly turning his hair white. The torture stuff is intriguing - maybe this is a huge case of mistaken identity? Maybe it's all in his head - the "demons" are alien forces trying to extract information or something.

    How about instead of complaining and only seeing the bad sides to everything, try and have a better outlook and just be patient. This goes for real life too. Why dwell and whinge over something you know next to nothing about? That's not just ignorant, it's dumb.

    It's quite obvious really. Capcom wanted more sales. They give it to a western developer and say make it so that teenagers want it. But in doing so they've angered alot of their existing fanbase. Which is what I think will really hurt this game. I mean single player action games don't have that big of a fanbase (Compared to Cod for example) and I'm pretty sure DMC had one of, if not the biggest fanbases for a sp action game.

    I still have no idea where these Twilight comparisons are coming from. I thought maybe it was the hair, but the hair doesn't look like anything from Twilight?

    Anyways, have to agree that this article just sounds like another whiny fanboy who can't let go.

    I'm a bit late joining the party, but even in just this trailer there's clear evidence of changes within Dante over time. As my experience with the game is only the demo of 4, I can't really comment on the games as a whole, but I would expect there to be at least hints of him becoming the Dante of the earlier games.

    From the trailer itself, the younger version of him has less white in his hair, not to mention a genuine look of anger on his face (admittedly this is justified given his situation and how he is tied up), the older version, obviously enough, has more white in his hair (I'd be worried if it was less again, that would just be silly), but from what is shown I have the impression of an insecure person attempting to protect themselves from mental harm or pain by acting out and surrounding them self with a shell of cold indifference (and being a smug emo wanker, that too). (I'm assuming the version in the prisony thing is younger both based on the hair, and the shape of his face, which when combined with his physical... uhhh... skinnyness... gives the impression of a child (even if the head to body ratio indicates more of an adolescent (compared to the late adolescent / recently fully grown look of the one dancing around)))

    Let's not forget that Capcom wanted a reinvention of Dante. Ninja Theory may just end up being the unlucky meat in a dissatisfaction sandwich between Capcom's directives, and fans expectations.

    I say, shame on you Capcom.

    wow this post was kind of a wank.
    A: That isn't emo
    B: His personality seems pretty much exactly the same (As evidenced by his introduction of him holding a demon in a headlock while casually having a smoke)

    Did you stop to actually think at any point in this rambling fanboy?

    Seriously I thought Kotaku had higher standards then this, this seems like something I'd see posted on the gamefaq's forum.

    I'll concede to those saying that they think the new Dante looks interesting, and possibly has more depth. Whether you think he's cool or a twat is completely subjective.

    But this is still Dante we're talking about - a character already developed over a number of years with fans who like him how he is. Is it responsible to take that established name & change it? Both artistically and in terms of an investment?

    I still don't see why they couldn't use Nero - or hell, even Virgil. Now that'd be interesting.

    If indeed Ninja Theory want to cleverly bring Dante as a character around to what we know & love over the course of the game, transforming him from relative weakling to our favourite badass, then that's the point they now have to prove fanboys wrong on. To use the Other M example again, better studios have tried and failed.

    I think you've upset a few Twilight fans with this post.

    i still think that the changes to the character are the least of the fans worries here, ninja theory's games to date do not give me confidence that they will make a game worthy of the name (and here i was all this time with the theory that DMC's odd numbered releases were the ones to play, suppose I can still live in hope that i will get Devil May Cry 5 one day...) Add this to the fact that it will be developed with the unreal engine, and i have absolutely no confidence at all that it will be a worthy entry in the series... hoping to be proven wrong...

    Glad to see a mainstream games site cut the bs and get to some entirely justified critique of what Capcom (in particular) have done.

    I would like to think the change was some kind of joke. The new Dante actually goes in a largely conflicting direction from where the modern Goth theme for old Dante lies.
    Rather than being an alternative style based on dark and ornate themes from history, we have modern trailer trash mixed with a retarded vision of Emo/Punk flair, loosely based on Goth - seriously, what the hell is with that coat - and there's a huge difference in cultures between Goth and this degenerate style. Speaking of style, I'd rather say the new look isn't stylish but actually some kind of statement like "in your face, I look bad to show how terrible society is. Wahhh".

    New Dante is some kind of horrifying hipster-wannabe trailer trash runt, which simply does not gel with old Dante in any capacity.

    The only possible reason for calling the new game a DMC would be in the hope that the DMC brand name will give it added hype. From any logical perspective, the game - or the choices made about the game - simply do not add up to any criticism at all, and thus what we've been shown should not be a DMC.

    To the people saying "chill, see how it turns out": we have been shown everything that is being criticised. They gameplay may yet prove to be innovative and fun, but I guess this is a lesson on how much style can matter.

    All the announcement of the new Dante has done is turn me (and many others) completely off about the game, and there was nothing announced that makes the game seem new and promising. Nothing.

      You just said everything I had to say much more eloquently than I could. Thank you! +500 points

      Marry me?

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