Dante is back. And so, it seems, is Capcom, the Osaka-based company on a winning streak the likes of which we haven't seen since its 90s and early 00s pomp. Resident Evil 7 successfully brought the series back to its horror roots while delivering a modern twist, and Monster Hunter World finally gave that series the recognition it deserved in the west, while on the horizon there's the exquisite looking Mega Man 11 and next year's sumptuous Resident Evil 2 remake.
And then there's Devil May Cry. Returning home to Capcom after Ninja Theory's somewhat divisive DmC (which, for the record, was brilliant), heroes Dante and Nero appear in more familiar form, while another hero returns in the form of Hideaki Itsuno. A late addition to the troubled Devil May Cry 2 project, he went on to direct the third and fourth instalments, while his career at Capcom is as illustrious as it gets; he can proudly take responsibility for the likes of Power Stone, Rival Schools and Dragon's Dogma amongst many others.
At Tokyo Game Show Capcom revealed a new character, V, while also unveiling Dante in playable form. Familiar yet fresh, he boasts his broadest moveset yet - "we felt that taking stuff away tends to upset people," says Itsuno - and is placed in a ludicrously good-looking game, some of the photo-real elements made possible by the RE Engine mixing well into Devil May Cry's typical bold style. Barring the unexpected - and provided the grim inclusion of microtransactions doesn't overly impede the experience - Devil May Cry 5 should continue Capcom's winning streak when it comes out next March.
Having played the demo, we sat down with Itsuno in a hotel room just opposite the Makuhari Messe that hosts the Tokyo Game Show, where he was joined by producer Matt Walker who provided translation, and senior producer Michiteru Okabe.
A good starting point would be what's just been revealed at TGS. V's a new character - what can you tell me about him?
Hideaki Itsuno: V, he's the third playable character. We saw him in the trailer - from a story perspective, he's your new client. He's the kind of impetus in the game. In terms of gameplay, he plays completely different from Nero and Dante. He doesn't have a sword, he doesn't have guns. He has a cane and a book... How does he fight with that stuff? We can't wait to have people to look into that.
He can just read stories to his enemies until they fall asleep? Also, he's got nothing to do with Vergil, right?
Hideaki Itsuno: You make a great point, there's all kinds of stuff on the internet, some people are saying is it Vergil, maybe he's someone's son. You see all these different theories. We don't want to spoil it!
That's fair enough. In terms of character inspirations - another thing that keeps coming up is people comparing him to Adam Driver.
Matt Walker: We've been making this game for a while! When we saw Adam Driver, we were like 'oh man'. We were making this before Star Wars Episode 7!
Hideaki Itsuno: We were sort of surprised! When we started making the game, the new characters were the ones we started to work on - so Nico, V - we came up with those designs early on. And we went to see Star Wars and saw Kylo Ren and we were like 'oh man, he looks just like him!' If you ever come to Osaka we'll show you the designs, how we've made them, what order, when that was and prove there's nothing to do with Kylo Ren!
It's okay! It's not going to go to court - it's fine. You're on the RE Engine now - you're obviously a very stylised game but there are these photoreal faces, and when it comes to something like Resident Evil you see something like Resident Evil 7 uses a lot of real-life references. Was that something you were doing with DMC 5 - and when it comes to characters like Dante that people have known and loved for years, how do you go about doing that photo-real look?
Hideaki Itsuno: I'm happy that you feel it works from a photo-real perspective. That's something we worked really hard at. The way we approached it, we took some of those characters and we did some location scouting in London. We thought if we were going to make a city that was going to look a bit like London, what does it look like? We got a bunch of pictures, we all went and experienced it. We came back, and we approached it thinking let's design these characters so that they wouldn't feel out of place in a realistic city like that. If you saw Dante, you saw Nero in that city, it wouldn't feel like they were filming some kind of low budget TV show, it didn't feel like some kind of toy.
We approached the design from that kind of perspective - the colours, they shouldn't feel cheap, they need to feel realistic. Even the accessories and stuff - they need to feel like something you'd see in the real world, so we spent a lot of time on that.
As a Londoner, I'm kind of curious - where did you head to?
Matt Walker: We went all over the place.
You didn't come to Lewisham did you?
Matt Walker: Probably not! We went to a lot of tourist places, different museums to get a feel for architecture. You'll see places where there are warehouses - we went to see what English warehouses looked like!
[At this point senior producer Michiteru Okabe hands us his phone with a map helpfully displaying pins at all the various places they visited on their visit in order to get inspiration. Some of the London locations are obvious enough, but there's some delightful detours elsewhere - Midhurst in West Sussex, Rochester and Canterbury where I'm sure they were pulled in by the cathedrals, and finally Leeds Castle in Kent]
This is fascinating! I live near some of these places! It's a shame you didn't come to Lewisham, though. It would have been a very different game.
Matt Walker: We had feedback from Capcom Europe on this one stage, it was kind of Piccadilly Circus-esque - and they were like 'this is just the London that a tourist would know. It's not real London!.
Okay, sorry, onto more pedestrian questions. Dante's playable here at TGS - how has he evolved, how has he changed?
Hideaki Itsuno: With Dante, when we approached evolving things with characters, we felt that taking stuff away tends to upset people. So we tried to approach it from not taking stuff away - let's try and add stuff, and add stuff that's in the spirit of what everyone loves. With Dante, he has more weapons this time than he does in DMC 4. The interesting challenge there - for people who are really used to playing as Dante will be able to switch between three and four weapons on the fly, switch between multiple ranged weapons with one button and between multiple melee weapons with another button.
For some players that might be a little overwhelming. The big evolution with Dante, it's giving people the choice. If they want they can have load-outs for their equipment. Do I want all slots filled and cycle between those weapons? Maybe I just want two weapons, maybe I just want Cavalier and Rebellion and that way switching between them is super easy, it's just one button press, or maybe they want four but they want them in a specific order. Oh, and there's another big thing about Dante but that's a spoiler so I don't want to talk about it yet...
You say you don't want to take anything away, but you've got the ammo system for Nero's Devil Breaker - you don't always have access to your full arsenal and have to scout for consumables. Is that a concern, or are you happy with how it works?
Hideaki Itsuno: At the beginning, we had a lot of people in the team fighting over it. Should you be able to change your Devil Breaker whenever you want or not? Our answer became 'no', because Nero and Dante need to play differently - they can't do the same thing. We wanted to introduce, for the first time in Devil May Cry, consumable weapons. With any luck, that introduces a new element of gameplay when you're playing with Nero. You have to strategise - okay, this is what I have in my roster, and this is the order you're in (which you can customise), but it's got to feel different to Dante. With Dante you can change whatever you want on the fly, and that's fine. With Nero you've got the Blue Rose and you've got the Devil Breakers.
At one point in development we thought that maybe the Devil Breakers should have different moves depending on which one you had, and you had to do command inputs. But we decided the Devil Breaker should be this simple thing, and the move itself depends on what situation you're in. So Overture, you shoot up this big electric hand. If the enemy's above you you'll do it above you automatically, if they're on the ground it'll be on the ground. It should be this kind of thing where it's less to think about. It's more about here are my two things, how best do I use those.
You made an analogy earlier on this year about it being like an RPG, how you have elixirs and potions. And obviously the last game you were director on was an RPG, Dragon's Dogma. What else did you learn from that game, what else do you think you brought along from it?
Hideaki Itsuno: There's nothing we really took directly from Dragon's Dogma. You can kind of think about it and go, well, in Dragon's Dogma there were different specific jobs that had very specific roles that would grow in different directions. You can think that Devil Breakers work in the same way, each one is focussed on a specific way to play. If you force it you could make that kind of connection.
And actually, if you keep thinking about it! You have different jobs in your party in Dragon's Dogma, and when you're coming up with your load-out of Devil Breakers it's a similar kind of thing. I'm thinking about it more and more now... Maybe it kind of shows the way I design games. In Dragon's Dogma you're going to want this kind of party, in this game you're going to want a certain load-out.
I wanted to talk more generally about your career. You've made some incredible games - and some of my own personal favourites. Do you have an overarching philosophy that you bring to your games? Is there such a thing as an Itsuno touch?
Hideaki Itsuno: I always approach it from the standpoint. As a player, what would I want? As a player, what do I think would be cool? And that goes for gameplay, it goes for story, it goes for all the moves and everything. It goes for everything. These days, I like to play single-player stuff, so from a single-player perspective what's going to be the most fun? When I was making Capcom vs SNK, I was thinking 'this is how I want Geese to play, this is what I think would be really cool. That's how I approached that, and that's where it starts with all my games.
What games are you playing at the moment? What are you taking inspiration from?
Hideaki Itsuno: In terms of inspirations, especially with Devil May Cry 5, it's not really other games but other media that I'm looking at. In terms of what I play, I've got all kinds of retro games on my desk - I've actually got a CRT TV on my desk so I can play all these old games on it at work. Right now? Over the last couple of years the thing I've been playing the most is this old baseball game called Famista. I play a lot of that in single-player. And it's not that I don't want to play online multiplayer. I really want to! It's just a pain in the ass. It's a pain in the ass to have to play with other people. You can't do what you want to do - so yeah, I play a tonne of Famista.
I still play a lot of old games at home - I've got an arcade cabinet at home in my living room, and literally straight after this interview I'm heading to Akihabara to see if I can find a Naomi cartridge of Project Justice - it's one of my all-time favourites, and is obviously one of your games. Is Rival Schools something you still hold dear and that you'd like to go back to?
Hideaki Itsuno: I love Rival Schools! If it was up to me I'd start making Rival Schools 3 right now. By all means, if anyone has any interest in Rival Schools 3, bombard Capcom Europe for a new Rival Schools. I would love to do that. One of my life goals, before I retire, I want to give Batsu and all those characters a proper graduation.
Are there any other games from your past you'd like to return to? I know you've spoken fondly about Dragon's Dogma.
Hideaki Itsuno: Yeah, just like Rival Schools - Dragon's Dogma 2, give me a way to make it now. If someone would let me, it's what I'd want to do. I already know what the story would be. It's just about convincing people to let me make it. So please bombard Capcom Europe!
This article is based on a press trip to Tokyo. Capcom covered travel and accommodation costs.