Note: Spoilers abound for the end of DmC: Devil May Cry. If you want to avoid those, skip down to the next screenshot and begin reading from there.
The portrayal of Vergil in the original Devil May Cry series shifted from an enslaved but noble dark knight to as a cold and calculating demon willing to acquire power at the cost of his humanity (to a ghost channeled through his sword and the demonic arm of what might possibly be his son, but let’s ignore DMC4’s story for now). Both portrayals were awesome, highlighting Vergil’s combat prowess even before you had to fight him, and made Dante more sympathetic as he was forced to cut his brother down.
DmC Devil May Cry’s Vergil wasn’t quite as impactful. He didn’t come across as a skilled fighter, killing one demon with a throwing knife, a couple more with a rifle, and one off-screen with his katana Yamato (which he hilariously mispronounces). This was a young man who, minutes before what should have been a high-tension face off, shouted “Dante, help me!” when he didn’t think he could avoid a slow moving attack from a giant demon. His talents seemed to lie more within hacking and information-gathering than actually slaying demons.
He and Dante even joke around that Dante is much stronger than he is, despite Vergil’s advantages in… other areas. While he came across as somewhat uncaring and manipulative, his turnaround as DmC’s last boss didn’t carry the menace and weight that it should have.
The Vergil’s Downfall begins right after the end of DmC, with Vergil on the verge of death after his fight with Dante. Feeling betrayed by both Dante and Kat (who, ironically, was the reason Vergil was still alive at that point), he stumbles his way in a comic book cutscene to the grave of… someone (he’s talking to his father as he looks at the family portrait on the grave, but the only person in that portrait who’s dead is his mother Eva)… and collapses.
Then his soul falls into hell.
For those turned off by the more socio-political take on demons in DmC proper, Vergil’s Downfall has something else. Gone are the Live-style messages that appeared on wall in limbo. This story is just about Vergil going through hell and, egged on by a phantom version of himself, removing the last few traces of compassion from his heart. This both pushes him towards the brink of madness and allows him to focus completely on the acquisition of power.
Whereas DMC1 Vergil had traces of nobility and DMC3 Vergil was brutally single-minded, Vergil’s Downfall lets Vergil go crazy. He chases after mocking phantoms of Dante and Kat, and hears the voice of his deceased mother talking to him as he tries to make sense of where he is. And even though the story isn’t put together particularly well and the acting is uneven, there are a couple of moments where Vergil’s insanity comes through as rather disturbing… because he’s no longer a manipulative wimp. He’s a powerful madman, and the demonstration of that strength comes through in the way he plays.
As I see it, Vergil’s moves revolve around three of his abilities/weapons—teleportation, his Devil Trigger, and his swords. Let’s go over each one.
Regardless of how much time you’ve put into DmC Devil May Cry or Vergil in Devil May Cry 3, this Vergil is going to feel unfamiliar. For one thing, he’s FAST. Where DmC’s Dante had diving rolls, Vergil just teleports. These dodges provide fewer invincibility frames and don’t use Angel and Demon modifiers that Dante’s dodges utilize for extra movement and ridiculous attack boosts. Because they’re quicker, you don’t have as much invincibility, but dodging an attack and getting back into combat in the blink of an eye feels awesome. One point of contention in DmC that’s somewhat addressed in Vergil’s Downfall was the default mapping of both RB and LB to dodge in lieu of a manual lock-on function.
Well, since Vergil doesn’t have a double-jump like his brother did (possibly a nod to his playstyle in DMC3), he has to make do with Trick Up, a vertical teleport mapped to neutral LB which can be done on the ground or in the air. He can also immediately return himself to the ground if you hold RB, which allows you to catch falling enemies with heavier attacks if you have decent timing.
Vergil’s also quicker when it comes to grappling enemies. Instead of using hooks like his brother, Vergil summons a Phantom Sword and throws it into an enemy then teleports to it or teleports it to him. No startup animation, no cooldown animation on a misguided input, just speedy movement. If there’s already a sword stuck into the person you want to grapple, you teleport even faster. By unifying Vergil’s summoned swords with what is essentially Nero’s Devil Bringer from DMC4, it opens up new opportunities to use them in fun ways. For instance, some attacks can be upgraded to “Embed” versions of themselves, which will stick a sword in whatever poor devil you’ve hit, allowing you to pull them back in immediately for another combo. I’ve also recovered from what would have been falls into the surrounding abyss (there are a lot of fights on floating platforms in this DLC) by teleporting back to a sword in a stuck enemy after killing an airborne one. I liked that extra utility.
Vergil’s Downfall also brings with a complete redesign of the Devil Trigger. Instead of being one slowly-filling bar like in the main game, it’s now a series of squares referred to as “Devil Trigger Orbs,” and in place of a typical Devil Trigger, Vergil can summon a doppelganger to fight alongside him.
When you first get it, it’ll just mimic your attacks, letting you dish out a bit more damage. Not too exciting… until you throw a couple of upgrades into it. A fully upgraded Doppelganger will have you working your d-pad in the midst of combat, as you can switch your doppelganger’s style on the fly, so you can be Rapid Slashing around in Angel mode while your doppelganger is taking other enemies out with Demon attacks.
You also have the ability to activate and deactivate an extended delay on your doppelganger’s attacks by tapping down on the d-pad (the upgrade screen seems to be missing this information, however), which allows you to set up ludicrously long combos since the doppelganger will teleport toward your enemies to make up for the delay. When you start mixing that in with everything else Vergil has to offer combat becomes chaotically sublime.
Speaking of chaotic, obviously, Vergil’s swords can be used in more damaging ways. Using four Devil Trigger Orbs will let you generate a number of swords that rotate around Vergil, that last until they’ve dealt enough hits to disappear. These last quite a bit longer than the Spiral Swords in Devil May Cry 3, especially because summoning more swords won’t cause the Spiral Swords to disappear. This also means that, should you have the extra Devil Trigger Orbs, you can fire off the other special Summoned Swords abilities while you still have your swords circling. Mix those all together with melee and you can output a lot of damage in a short period of time.
Physical combat is where things get weirder. Whereas Dante has 5 weapons in DmC, Vergil only has Yamato, but it can be modified into three different modes: Angel, Demon, or standard. At first I expected that these modes would each function like one of Dante’s weapons, each a range-covering attack done by double-tapping forward and a pause combo that I could swap typed during. That was not the case.
Instead, these three movesets complement each other. Standard is built for direct attacks and taking care of one enemy at a time, but it doesn’t have any attacks that move Vergil quickly from one enemy to another (which feels weird at first, since Devil May Cry has always been reliant on Stingers and the like). The Angel moveset counteracts that somewhat by turning Y into the Stinger-like Rapid Slash, eliminating the need for double-tap inputs, but also barring Vergil from using any standard combos in Angel mode. Demon mode provides access to the dive kick Killer Bee which provides some aerial momentum, but has very slow attacks on the ground.
One of my favorite additions to the combat in Vergil’s Downfall, though, is the increased focus on perfect release attacks. Although DmC would reward you if you released your charge attacks the moment they hit the second level of their charge, it would only ever result in increased damage and style, and as a result, most of the DmC players I talked to didn’t notice them. Vergil’s Downfall pushes these to the forefront, giving perfect release attacks different names and attributes than their imperfect brethren. For instance, in Demon mode, there’s a chargeable area-of-effect launcher that works on smaller enemies called “Volcano”. However, if you release it on the right frame, it becomes “Atomic,” resulting in a wider reaching explosion, launching heavy enemies, and rewarded with a giant “BOOM”. It’s nice to see precision rewarded.
At first, the swords, the partial movesets, and the perfect releases feel disparate, but with a bit of practice and a few upgrades, everything starts clicking. All of a sudden, you’ll find yourself creating a set of spiral swords, using Atomic to send a group of enemies skyward, Trick Up, alternate between Angel and standard air attacks to build up your style gauge while holding other enemies in the air with the automatic air-juggling provided by Blistering Swords (at the cost of one orb), before returning to the ground with Trick Down to set up a perfect release, field-covering Judgment Cut to kill three enemies simultaneously.
All this having been said, despite how fantastic Vergil’s combat is and how much more dangerous this DLC makes him, I was kind of surprised by how unpolished certain things felt.
For starters, the upgrade screen is inaccurate, saying that summoned swords take three orbs instead of four, and is missing information. The story works for Vergil’s transformation, but aside from that it feels like it needed more time to cook. The sixth and final level in the DLC is the first level again, but with tougher enemies. They even misspelled the name of Vergil’s voice actor, David de Latour, in the credits. I understand that it’s DLC, and that combat is the important part, but some of these annoyances definitely could have been taken care of to elevate the rest of the experience.
Food for Thought:
1. One of the greatest benefits of Vergil’s unconventional style is the removal of color-coded enemies from his campaign. It’s nice to have all of my attacks work on all of my enemies again.
2. Unfortunately, color-coded enemies have been cited as the reason that Vergil isn’t playable in Bloody Palace… He wouldn’t be able to fight some of the bosses that require Demon Pulls, either. In my dream world, Capcom would release an alternate bloody palace that would remove the colored enemies and allow me to fight the (surprisingly fun) new enemies from Vergil’s Downfall alongside the (tragically missing from VD) Dreamrunners and Drekavacs I love so much.
3. To a certain extent, Vergil’s Downfall feels like DmC for people who don’t like DmC. In addition to Vergil’s more precise playstyle, cutscenes are fewer and farther between. I was surprised a couple of times to land on a platform to see enemies bursting out of the ground without any sort of cutscene fanfare.
4. Fans of DMC3 and DMC4 will notice a few references to those games in the dialogue and some of Dante’s animation.
5. I quite liked DmC’s soundtrack, but none of those artists return for Vergil’s Downfall. Instead, Jason Graves (who worked on the Dead Space series and the new Tomb Raider) provides an ominous score, which did a good job of making the game feel isolated, but didn’t have any tracks that stuck with me, and I was kind of disappointed by the lack of the franchise’s typically heavy battle music.
6. I was kind of disappointed that there were only two costumes for Vergil.