Warning: This post has spoilers from various games in the Devil May Cry franchise.
Somewhere in the annals of the my library and deep, down in the darkness of my mind, there is a thought or theory suggested by Michel Foucalt that, in the simplest terms, the latter defines the former. While I thought it was somewhere in History of Sexuality, apparently it’s not, so take everything I say from here on out with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila.
I had a lot of problems with the story in DmC: Devil May Cry, but none so poignant or heartfelt than my problem with Vergil. His voice-acting was good, he looked so similarly dissimilar to Dante that it really did seem like the two were twins, yet, by attempting to provide further flesh and depth to the character, Ninja Theory threw out the balance the original essence behind Devil May Cry had managed to build. To the casual onlooker, the story that plays out in DmC would seem far more subtle than what played out in the original series, and who could blame them? The continuous, shallow wise-cracks, the trite and cliché plot twists and developments, the exaggerated-to-the-point-of-parody relationships between characters – it leant itself to being an incredibly loveable ‘B’ grade action series to anything else.
But for this type of game, for the message of caring, humanity, kinship and the notion of good and evil, it was the perfect vessel to carry the message, even moreso because of the involvement of Vergil.
We first met Vergil as the demon Nelo Angelo in Devil May Cry, who, after being defeated, drops half an amulet, the other half of which is owned by Dante. With no supporting characters around to poke at Dante’s thoughts or be on the receiving end of one of his terrible witticisms, we’re simply left with the implication of what’s happened rather than the full story. Further, without the asinine dialogue usually coming out of Dante’s mouth, both player and Dante are simply left to stew on their thoughts and we are only privy to how Dante actually feels about the situation two games later in Devil May Cry 3.
This idea of secondary defines primary was incredibly important to the plot of Devil May Cry 3, managing to both clarify and justify why the theme worked during the entirety of the series. Vergil and Dante weren’t merely opposites; it wasn’t a battle of unstoppable force and immovable object. It was the conflict between two completely different convictions: one goal-driven, the other the resignation to the inevitable. Vergil was no-nonsense; he had a plan and the power and drive to achieve it. Dante was seemingly a smart-arse without any care or desires beyond the most base.
From the outside, the goal-driven entity would normally be seen as the more ‘human’ of the two ideologies, firstly, because purpose is noble to the point of divine, and secondly, because ‘not giving a shit’ is a purely self-centred, borderline nihilistic veiwpoint. However, goal-drive in Vergil’s case was pyschopathic – power for powers sake, power for control, power because all life outside of his own was worthless. Dante’s nonchalance and lack of care was a self-defense mechanism which was shown by his efforts to save his brother’s life in the finale of DMC3. He tried not to care because (as anyone that’s ever been in love knows) caring actually hurts.
It was the movements, motivations and successes of the secondary (Vergil) that revealed and defined the motivations and reactions of the primary (Dante). One fought to win and the other fought because he could not let the other one win. Two very similarly worded yet entirely different motivations that set the backdrop and theme for an entire series.
Our new Vergil from DmC was incredibly disappointing in comparison. It set the two up as opposites and equals rather than those with competing motivations, which basically ended any chance of Dante experiencing character development. Our original Vergil was better than Dante in every way; smarter, more powerful, more skilful and knowledgable, and Dante had to change. He had to get better and fight more desperately to win. In a verbal bout between Dante and Vergil in DmC, Dante clearly states he’s more powerful, to which Vergil replies that he’s smarter. Considering the amount of times you see Dante coolly and smoothly dive out of the way of crashing buildings and enemies in cut-scenes, and how many times in similar cutscenes Vergil falls over like a dickhead, in a game where the entire point is about how good you are at fighting, the ending battle was inevitable. Dante was always going to win in combat, and as long as the two brothers are ‘even,’ Dante only needs to utilise his main strengths against Vergil’s and flip the coin to see who wins. He doesn’t have to change or develop, he only needs to try, and that for an interesting story does not make.
Vergil, as he is portrayed currently, doesn’t define Dante at all or force him to change or develop or even question himself. Without the notion of ‘what it means to be human,’ pushing Dante in any direction, what we’re left with is a confused and empty shell that is basically designed to fight and do nothing else. And really, what was Vergil’s plan going to be when he decided that he was ‘going to rule?’ Mundus was basically a demonic accountant who controlled the world’s debt. Vergil had computer hacking skills, so what the hell did he plan on doing to actually establish rule? Invent a better OS than Windows and Macs combined? Dante had to fight hard to finish off Mundus and Vergil can barely walk without tripping over. How clever could he be that he thought he could rule over all humans with no plans or the ability to do so?
DmC was a great Devil May Cry game, and as I said in my review, an amazing starting point for the rest of the series. However, the current state of Vergil’s character threatens to undermine the entire theme for the series … unless of course, this iteration, the main focus is on Vergil’s journey rather than Dante’s. Very interesting.
So were you a fan of Vergil in DmC? Or did you prefer his early incarnations? Let us know in the comments below!