It's no secret. Capcom is quite clearly one of the finest peddlers of evil videogaming druggery of all time. There's barely been a year since the mid 80s when it hasn't produced one of the top five games of the year, and next month sees perhaps its busiest period since it took residence in West London, with uber mech boy's toy Steel Battalion on Xbox, Resident Evil Zero on GameCube and a surprisingly swift follow up to Devil May Cry on PS2.
So when PR maestro Ben Le Rougetel told us that DMC2's producer Mr Tanaka was in town, we were only too happy to grill one of the main men behind one of the most anticipated releases of the year. With the game already topping the charts in both the US and Japan, we've already had a decent bash with the game, and you can read about our early thoughts on it here. In a nutshell, we were surprised that after the fearsomely challenging original, that its sequel was so comparatively simple. The fact that you can defeat most of the early levels merely tapping the circle button, while the auto targeting system does the rest struck us as something worth posing to the game's producer. But it turned out that all is not what it first appears.
Softly softly catchy Dante
We entered conscious that launching an all out attack on Mr Tanaka for making the game too easy was likely to end the interview quicker than it had started; after all, it's his first game, having previously earned his corn as a games journalist. But we had a cunning plan to circumvent the fortress defences by praising Devil May Cry. As successful as it was, this gothic action adventure was undoubtedly a tough nut to crack for some gamers to handle. Was there a conscious decision with the sequel to make the game more forgiving for the casual audience?
"Yes the original Devil May Cry was perhaps too hard," nods Tanaka San via the translator, who scribbles notes manically in an attempt to keep up. "On the surface DMC2 looks similar, in that it's, again, an action game with lots of gunplay, but as a game concept DMC2 is totally different. It's made so that anyone could clear the stages and unlock hard mode." Ah, so that's why we were finding it so easy. We thought maybe we'd become ninja gamers overnight, but not so it seems.
He continues: "Once you finish it for the first time it gets really deep, and might take as much as 50 hours or more to completely unlock the game. It's the kind of game that might take three months to crack if you keep practising." Jeepers. We're less than three hours through, and already over halfway.
Easy peasy? It will be first time around
So how long will it take the average gamer to finish DMC2 their first time around? "If you play on Normal skill level; as Dante, it'll take about five to six hours to get through his 18 missions, and probably around three hours to complete Lucia's 13 missions," Tanaka-san admits. But what about the other modes? What else is in there? "Playing the game on Hard mode will take much longer, and provide a bigger challenge. The enemies become far more intelligent, attack in different ways and require a lot more skill to beat and we think it will take at least 50 hours to unlock all of the game's many secrets. You could be still playing this game in three months time." Three months? Not when a racing game turns up on our desk every single day. Chance would be a fine thing!
So what else is in there that will get gamers coming back to it? Lots, apparently: "After you clear the game on 'Normal' mode with both characters, you unlock Hard mode, and if you can crack that, you get to play as the game's ultimate character, Trish". For those who are unaware of the mighty Trish, she was featured in the original, and apparently many fans of the game were wondering what happened to her, according to Tanaka-san, so they decided to make her playable, with a move set based on Dante's moves in the original game.
And that's not all - if you defeat the game with Trish, the rather painful sounding 'Bloody Palace' mode unlocks, giving in the words of the game's producer "a kind of 'arcade' mode which is purely about intense combat against all the game's monsters, set over 2000 levels". We don't even want to know want to know what you get as a reward for finishing 2000 levels. We think a gold watch may be in order. Or some hospital treatment at the very least.
A different engine, says he
Ok, so there's plenty to be getting on with, and clearly it's nowhere near as easy as the early impressions of the game lead you to believe. But what's different about it on a technical level? "Although, yes, it does technically use the same engine, the team changed probably 98 per cent of it in the course of making the game. It's as if it's a completely new engine. For a start it's displays at double the resolution, although unless you have a compatible TV, such as a Sony Wega, this might not be able to tell." Hmm, we're not sure why our kick arse Toshiba doesn't, apparently, support this, but carry on. "We think the effects have been improved a lot. Within Devil May Cry, the effects were all down to a contrast between the light explosions and the dark backgrounds, which made it look a bit like Resident Evil." With a bizarre collection of undead, it has to be said.
"In DMC2 there are lots of outside sections, which presented us with a challenge for an action game. This has allowed us to include lots of moves that were not possible in the original. In the original it was easy to create lots of action in the narrow spaces, but now players can pull off impressive stunts like being able to run up walls, and jump off firing downwards."
Granted, but why release a sequel so soon? "We know there is a 'right' time to release a sequel," he insists, "and we were conscious that we had to get it out while the awareness and popularity were still high." Mmm'kay. Judging by the chart stats, the reaction has been very positive in your home country: "It's the number one selling game there right now," he beams. "The hardcore 30-50,000 who bought the original were perhaps expecting it to follow in the tradition of Resident Evil 2, (which also had second playable character), have been surprised at how different it is. We've also attracted the more casual player who had no preconceptions, and their reaction has been just great."
They want to appeal to us, y'know
…And it's surprising, from an outsider's perspective, to see an obviously Western style game go down so well in Japan - was there a conscious attempt to appeal to a Western audience more? "The team who worked on the original certainly had that in mind, and the second - even more so. You only have to look at the second playable character, Lucia, to see the Western influence."
Mr Tanaka, thank you.
And so we headed off from Capcom's rather plush Hammersmith offices with a bunch of unintelligible notes, and a steely resolve to banish our early impressions of the game from our mind. If Tanaka-san is to be believed, there's much more to Devil May Cry 2 than meets the eye, but is it enough? We'll let you know in about a month's time, when the game will be hitting the nation's shelves March 28th