27 February 2017

Character Analysis : Nero - DMC4:SE


This article was originally written on 27-02-2017, but looking back on it I do not believe it holds up. The ideas are solid but it requires a rewrite. This piece will be rewritten as part of a series of articles on Devil May Cry as a whole. Until then one can read this article, just keep in mind it may contain content not up to Stinger's standards.

Starting an article on a character is always difficult. Do you jump right into the mechanics? Eh, usually a bit too quick. His history? No, too predictable. Perhaps start with a quote? Usually a good idea but starting this piece with “Go blow yourself” would probably not hit the mark. Pointless rambling of the writer?
Super Sick Style.

Nero is the first sword-arm a player will control in Devil May Cry 4, a blade firmly fitted in his left hand. But it is his right hand that garners the most attention because it contains the one element most games in the genre have neglected for so long: grabs.
While a staple of the genre these grabs are rarely given to the player themselves. Kratos from God of War has a few at his disposal to deal with minor foes just like The Prince could hold an enemy hostage in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within; but never has it been a core design concept for a single character. The reasoning behind this being that grabs are often slow and force enemies to run circles around you as the animation plays out, slowing the pace of the gameplay down to a near full stop.
It is a surprise then that the main protagonist of Devil May Cry 4 is a grappler by heart and could easily have starred as one in one of Capcom’s many fighting-game series.

“What'd you say?” - Nero

The design of Nero encompasses many functions. His main one is to be an introduction to the Devil May Cry franchise for the next generation of gamers. He is less cocky but more dark and reserved while still in keeping with certain traditions like the white hair; Nero is designed to be a tad generic and comfortable to players in terms of its aesthetics. His personality harkens back more to that of Dante in Devil May Cry 1, a game that also had the job of introducing a series to a generation of gamers. Nero is voiced by Johnny Bosch, also keeping the tradition alive that all major characters in Devil May Cry are voiced by Power Rangers actors. Fun fact, “nero” is italian for “black” and Bosch played the Black Power Ranger. Coincidence?

Nero’s introductory function extends to his gameplay mechanics. He has access to only one sword, the Red Queen, and one firearm, the Blue Rose. All the important moves are present. An uppercut, juggle, heavy hitting combo, quick combo, a move that propels you forward, a more defensive move, regular gunshots, charged gunshots and also his very own Devil Trigger. When played Nero feels like the raw baseline of Devil May Cry’s combat condensed to a single moveset; making him very accesible to play for newcomers. But what stands out is the aforementioned grab attack.

“SLAM DUNK” - Nero

After an encounter with demonic enemies, which is only vaguely mentioned ingame, Nero’s arm starts to show sign of demonic heritage. This allows his right arm to summon a blue hand which can perform all sorts of stylish grapples. Each and every enemy can be grabbed including the boss fights, though some need to be weakened first or their defenses lowered before a grab can connect. The concept of grabbing slowly evolves throughout the game, starting with the player just grabbing foes and face planting them into the pavement only to slowly also allowing Nero to grab enemy projectiles and throw them back in their faces. This buildup leads to the player constantly looking for new uses for the grab removing the need for quick-time-events. When the final boss charges his final attack, the player knows by experience and experimentation that he can and will grab that attack and counter it to hell and back.
While Nero has got his grips on the enemies the combat does not pause, he can still be hit. One needs to find the correct timing for the grab instead of spamming it which makes them risky but also rewarding. They also allow Nero to undertake actions during said grabs, removing the whole passive feeling the move used to have in games of this genre. For example Nero can sometimes shoot his gun while grabbing a foe.

Fire's bad for the complexion. I burn easily, never tan!” - Nero

What doesn’t stand out immediately in Nero’s combat mechanics is his Revving, which fills the second and third function of his design. Push the new players to new heights in terms of skill and give veteran stylers a character with depth and complexity.

The Red Queen sports what can only be called a motorcycle engine. By pressing a shoulder button the sword will slowly heat up until one Exceed bar is filled, with a maximum of three. With each bar filled the sword deals more damage and its moves become more explosive and fire-induced, but one hit will instantly drain all bars. To balance this out a mechanic was added called Max-act. By pressing the Exceed button just as a sword stroke hits the enemy one or three bars will fill up immediately, depending on how close to the landing of the blow the button was pressed. A player could technically get three gauges per hit though this would require an almost inhuman amount of reflexes and timing, but it is possible. It is this fact that raises the skill cap to a near infinite scale for series veterans while keeping the core character accessible to newcomers.

With all these mechanics put together Nero can pull together some impressive feats. It is not rare to see a veteran Nero player to start charging his gun while starting a strong ground combo, launch the enemy into the sky and keeping him there with a delayed charge shot; only to juggle him further until he is finally ripped to pieces in the sky by Nero’s mighty fist. But by being such a streamlined fighter the variety will eventually wear thin causing player fatigue, which is where his final and most important function as a character comes into play.

You're Dante, right? Not a bad name.” - Nero

Dante is the meat of Devil May Cry 4’s mechanics, there is no way around it. For the first twelve chapters of the game players will control Nero, but afterwards the party belongs to Dante. It is in this switch that Nero’s design has to slowly prepare the players to dance with a more complex character. This jump from a streamlined character to one possessing three weapons, three guns and multiple fighting stances is one that can easily scare off many new comers. Thankfully Dante doesn’t gain access to his full repertoire until a few chapters later, allowing players to slowly get used to the new character and his nuances. The biggest problem of the jump does not come from Nero and his preparation, but with Dante’s introductory chapter.  Within this single chapter the player is tasked to deal with nearly all enemy-types the game has to offer while also being under the stress of a countdown timer. To make this jump from one character to another would require five to ten chapters, the current jump in complexity of Nero to Dante is simply too high. This also has a negative effect on Nero himself as he will look easy by comparison while Dante will feel like he is super weak, as the player is not used him yet and will probably be missing the grab ability very much. A full article on Dante, his mechanics and the jump from Nero to him will follow but suffice to say this transition could have been handled better.

This blemish aside, Nero is a strong addition to the cast of Devil May Cry. He allows the spirit of Dante from Devil May Cry 1 to remain and is accessible to newcomers while remaining complex enough to pull veterans in. And while we all cried foul at him at the start, we all would wish we could have him back now.

JACKPOT!!” - Not just a quote from Nero, but also of his designers when they first saw him in action.

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