Every now and then, I find myself going back to Devil May Cry 3. Why you may ask? Well, because it’s just THAT good. I first played Devil May Cry 3 when I was 11 years old. The atmosphere, the demon designs, and the story looked great to me; the game managed to suck me into its gritty world almost immediately. Back then, I only played the game for the fun of slaying the hordes of monsters while switching between weapons and trying to be as “stylish” as possible. But now, I tend to analyze every aspect of the game, including the level design, what influenced the gameplay, and atmosphere, and how well it still holds up by today’s standards.
In this two-part article, I’m going to present my own analysis covering the level design of the Devil May Cry 3 game, as well as make a few comparisons between Devil May Cry and other titles.
The First Levels
The first three levels are pretty straightforward. Nothing to do except fight a horde of demons and move on. Unlike the original Devil May Cry, the game actually takes the time to teach you the basics of combat while introducing you to the back-then groundbreaking mechanic, Style Action. Nobody saw that one coming at the time, and there’s no denying that this newly introduced system upped the hack and slash genre to a whole new level. Previously, the likes of Castlevania: Lament of Innocent and Curse of Darkness, as well as Bujingai have done that, but I feel that the Devil May Cry series took the reign eventually.
After the first three levels, Devil May Cry’s 3 level design starts to shine. Capcom is known for taking inspiration from their old works, and other Japanese titles. It’s pretty obvious if one has played a myriad of them from the PS1/PS2 era, and it kind of shows how DMC3 was a big deal when it released.
The Influences Behind the Temen-ni-gru
Honestly, when I played DMC3 for the first time, I didn’t give the Temen-ni-gru much thought. “Yeah, it’s just another large tower” is what I told myself back then. However, after playing the game so many times, I started seeing the similarities between the Tower of Babel, Dracula’s Castle, Dante’s Inferno Divine Comedy, and the Temen-ni-gru.
The Temen-ni-gru (pronounced as テメンニグル, Temenniguru) is basically a sinister tower that acts as a gateway to the demonic realm. It was constructed by devil worshippers who seek to open the gates leading to hell and unleash their wrath upon humankind. It was sealed thousands of years ago by the legendary dark knight Sparda after performing a complex ritual. As a result, peace remained on earth and humans lived safely – until Vergil and Arkham broke the seal to seek the power of Sparda, of course.
The Temen-ni-gru name is drawn from the Neo-Sumerian Ziggurat of Ur, named “E-temen-nigur(u)”, which literally means “temple whose foundation creates fear”. This is kind of noticeable the moment you enter the Temen-ni-gru. You can hear voices of demons whispering, kids laughing and someone spelling the names of the seven deadly sins.
But, the question you’re probably asking yourself right now is “How does the Tower of Babel resemble the Temen-ni-gru?”. Well, it’s all about the design and the structure. Let’s look at the picture below
The Tower of Babel’s height according to the Book of Jubilees is 2,484 m. Meanwhile, other books argue that its height is 2118 m. From here, we can deduce that the Temen-ni-gru shares the same height, as both have identically the same structure and design. The Tower of Babel has stairs built around it that lead to the top of the tower. The top of the tower allows a person to look at the city beneath. Likewise, the Temen-ni-gru enables Vergil to gaze at the city ruins while patiently awaiting his brother, Dante.
I don’t think that this is a mere coincidence considering that the first Devil May Cry is based on Dante’s Inferno Divine Comedy, and has borrowed plenty of inspiration from other games that also have artistic, yet very tall settings. One of those inspirations is the Castlevania franchise. Personally, I can see some similarities between Dracula’s Castle and the Temen-ni-gru. Both share this peculiar atmosphere with a mind-boggling level design that still kicks ass to this day. Sure, Devil May Cry doesn’t have the heavy emphasis on backtracking and the Metroidvania feel to it, but it sometimes does. DMC does not have the extensive amount of backtracking that Castlevania does, but it isn’t a set of linear corridors where you press the left analog stick up and reach the end. it’s all about the design and the peculiar ambiance. 1UP once interviewed Hideki Kamiya where they asked him to name three inspirational games from his past. The answer was quite interesting to read:
1UP: Since all of your games have been action games, for your third most influential game, tell us what action game — besides your own — that you rate the highest.
HK: Hmm, an amazing action game. Ah! The old Famicom Disc version of Dracula, which was the NES Castlevania in the U.S. Back then when I played it, the amount of detail that went into it, I feel the creator must have had a clear vision of what he wanted to do. Even when I saw the weapon, it wasn’t a gun or anything that you’d normally see in a game, it was a whip. Even the stages themselves were becoming a story, you can see the clock tower where Dracula is supposed to be off in the distance. As you progress through, you’re actually going into the castle, through the catacombs and waterways, going up and going down. It feels like it’s telling a story, there aren’t any extraneous elements that are just sitting there. Everything is in its place, and the level of vision the designer had was impressive
Entering the House of Fear
It’s easy to lose yourself inside Temen-ni-gru’s fabulous design, and there are definitely some noticeable throwbacks to the original Devil May Cry in terms of the gothic vibe and the sound effects. However, before getting into the action, Dante has to first confront Cerberus, the guardian of the principal gate to Temen-ni-gru’s hall.
What one would appreciate about Devil May Cry 3’s level design is how each chamber holds a certain name. For instance, the first chamber is called “Ice Guardian’s Chamber”. This is the beginning of Dante’s dark journey into the bizarre Temen-ni-gru where he has to defeat the three-headed mutt, Cerberus in order to progress further.
Once Dante’s done with Cerberus, he enters the next chamber which is called the “Chamber of Echoes”. The first thing you see the moment you enter the chamber is a skeletal angel statue. The chamber itself is a tall, lobby-like hall with many doors in each corner. Above, there’s a giant clock that keeps ticking and the only thing you can hear is someone spelling the names of the seven deadly sins. The Chamber of Echoes sets up an eerie mood that you’re truly confined in a house of fear. Although you may not realize it, the demonic angel statue you’re gazing at is a reference to the seven deadly sins. Funnily enough, this concept is also found in Dante’s Inferno Divine Comedy.
Among the most crafted chambers on the first floor are the “Living Statue Room” and “Chamber of Sins”. The Living Statue Room is full of Enigma-like statues. Some are nothing but empty vessels, while others are actual enemies. I always felt that this particular chamber may have served as a demon production place, but I was wrong. However, the design may deliberately lead some to believe so.
The Chamber of Sins is, well, a creepy septic tank-like with heaps of bones. Dante reaches this point in-game by falling from the endless infernum room located on the second floor. Now, this may seem like a shithole you have to get out from, but it actually holds a meaning. Infernum literally means the “lowest levels of hell”, which basically tells us that all those who tried to cross the catwalk ended up dead or with no means of escaping, left to be devoured by the demons.
I think the first floor works as a splendid introduction to what the other chambers have in store. The first floor is more than enough to give the player the impression that they’re in for something great. The old Devil May Cry trilogy is renowned for setting out the mood by casting Dante into some eerie places. The first DMC did that and the second one as well although many hated but it did a little bit of justice to mood-setting.
This is it for the first part. In the second part, I will cover the famous showdown between the twins as well as everything that follows it. Stay tuned for that piece and let me know in the comments below what you think about the level design of DMC3.