In the Hot Seat: Hiroyuki Kobayashi
The main character is a total jerk. The gameplay is repetitive. The here's-the-action-from-this-awkward-but-terribly-stylish camera angle is, to put it mildly, f*#&ing annoying. Finally, the story is the kind of nonsensical videogame garbage that we've been ranting against for years. Top it off with Devil May Cry 2, one of the worst sequels in the history of the medium, and it's tough to believe that this franchise not only still has legs underneath it, but it's still running.
And yet, having played through the original and the third games in the series not once but multiple times (I unlocked Virgil in DMC 3), I confess to having a weakness for Dante and his sword-swinging, guns-a-blazing, misogynistic ways.
I sat down with Kobayashi-san in a midtown Manhattan hotel room recently, along with Evan Narcisse, and gave him the double-barrelled Crispy treatment.
Crispy Gamer: It's an honor to meet you. I'm a big fan of the games. Except for number two.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi: [Laughs] For the record, I don't think a lot of number two, either.
Crispy Gamer: One thing that always occurs to me regarding the series is that the Devil May Cry games never feel like they're really based on any mythology; they're not influenced by history the way that, say, the Dynasty Warriors series is. They seem completely clean, as if they'd been born out of nothing but other videogames. Would you agree with that?
Kobayashi: It's funny that you should say that, because we honestly don't really pay a lot of attention to other games. So we don't intentionally take things that other games are doing, or pay attention to what other game companies are doing. We make the kind of game that we want to make, and make a game that has the brand of action that we want to create. I would say, if anything, the games that we make are influenced more by movies or anime than they are by other videogames.
Crispy Gamer: The Devil May Cry games obviously embrace an over-the-top aesthetic, not unlike the grindhouse movies, where the only logic that exists is the logic that the movie creates for itself. Is that the only way to accomplish certain gameplay goals? And is that over-the-top sensibility something that happens with the gameplay in mind first? Or is it the sensibility that drives the gameplay?
Kobayashi: Well, I'm very interested in Hollywood action movies. One of the reasons that the game is what it is, is because it's not possible for us to make a Hollywood movie. We want to make the kind of game we would like to make if it was a movie, if you get my idea. I think that brand of extreme action is something that the players themselves want from the game; it's something the [Devil May Cry] fans have come to expect -- that extreme action, that extreme stylization. So, that's why we do it like that.
Crispy Gamer: So, if you don't borrow from other videogames, what does inspire you?
Kobayashi: As I said, I love Hollywood action movies, but Yoji Shimomura [director of the game's cut scenes] is more into Asian action movies. You know, the kind with lots of fighting in cramped spaces. Obviously, the team overall is influenced by anime. One in particular that influenced the team -- it was a manga originally, and then became an anime -- is called 'Black Lagoon.' And naturally, we are influenced by anything with guns and swords, anything like that. One thing you might not know is that it was the movie 'Blade,' and not 'The Matrix,' that was the biggest influence on the original Devil May Cry.
Crispy Gamer:With the exception of Devil May Cry 2, the series is very successful. And yet there isn't a likeable character in the game. I don't know what the Japanese word is for "asshole," but Dante is one of the most unlikeable characters in videogame history. He's corny. He acts like a jerk. He's not nice to women. The only character I liked was perhaps Lady from Devil May Cry 3, or maybe Trish from the original game. But otherwise, there's really nobody to root for. And yet, we still love these games. Talk about that conflict.
Kobayashi: [Laughs] Actually, a lot of the characters in the games do have fans. Believe it or not, there are people out there who do like them. In the game, I agree, there's probably not anyone you might want to be friends with. Yet, I do think they are characters that are sexy, that are cool, and that have their own unique appeal. Sure, they're not the traditional types of characters. But I do think they are interesting in their own right.
Crispy Gamer:From a U.S. point of view, the games seem to function as this odd sort of refraction, or oddball distillation of American culture. Dante rides around on a motorcycle. He skateboards on the backs of enemies. There's cleavage and cheesy rock music. But as Americans, we don't see it as "cool." We laugh at it, and we see it as satire. I guess what we're trying to ask is, are you making fun of us?
Kobayashi: Well, I don't think it's based on any commentary on America itself. For us, it's just the fact that doing these over-the-top things is fun, it's interesting. If it makes you laugh, or if you think it's cool, either way that's good. I would compare it to a movie like 'Back To The Future,' which has all these crazy, over-the-top moments. And that's one of the things that people like about that movie. And that's what people like about the Devil May Cry series as well.
Shimomura-san and his team were always saying, "Yes, go further, make it even more over-the-top, make it more crazy!" So, that's kind of the thinking behind the game.
Crispy Gamer: And we just thought you were making fun of us.
Kobayashi: [Laughs] We are definitely not making fun of all Americans, that's for sure. Even though Dante does speak English, he's not meant to be a real character. If you saw this guy in a red coat walking around the streets, you'd think he was completely nuts.
Crispy Gamer: Except in New York.
Kobayashi: [Laughs] Right. But you know, in all seriousness, yes, he's an English-speaking character, but more importantly he's an interesting character, and that was really our only intention with him.
Crispy Gamer: The phrase "over-the-top" has been uttered plenty of times during our talk. Is that what you guys do -- be over the top -- to try to distinguish yourselves from the great many other third-person-action franchises out there? Is that what makes the Devil May Cry series different?
Kobayashi: Well, every time you have a new entry in any action series, you can't do what you've done before. You've got to have new abilities. You've got to have things that you haven't done in previous games in the series. That's really the only important thing in an action game, or an action movie -- to create things that nobody has ever seen before. So that's perhaps where all of this over-the-top talk comes from.
Crispy Gamer: With the recent popularity of the Wii, it seems that casual gaming is the new direction in which videogames are heading. Yet, I love the fact that Devil May Cry 4 is still designed to be a hardcore experience for hardcore gamers. I'm happy that you believe that there are enough hardcore gamers out there to support Devil May Cry 4. Beyond that, I hope the series never winds up on the Wii.
Kobayashi: [Laughs] You know, a lot of people ask us if we are going to bring out a Wii version. I simply don't think you can make the game the type of game it is, with the awesome graphics and control -- I don't think that would work on the Wii. So, I don't think we're going to bring one out, no.
Crispy Gamer: We appreciate that.
Kobayashi: Plus, if you had to do the High Roller on the Wii [makes swinging motion upwards with two hands], you would probably get very tired.
Crispy Gamer: I confess, I wasn't thrilled about playing the new character, Nero, in the game. Sure, I hate Dante and his asshole ways, but I love him at the same time. I'm still a bit worried that, as beautiful as the game is shaping up to be, I will really just want to get back into Dante's shoes. Are you at all concerned about alienating your established fanbase by focusing the game on Nero?
Kobayashi: Certainly I understand this. Some fans will have that same reaction that you are having, no doubt. Dante is an established character. He's been around for six years and has starred in three games. I personally really love Dante as well. In this case, regarding the introduction of Nero, it's the first time he's going to be here, and of course, he's not as complete a character as Dante is.
But, you know, Nero is also a very interesting character in and of himself. Maybe one thing you'll find with Nero is that the Devil Bringer is such a fantastic weapon that, after you get used to using it with Nero, when you have to play as Dante in the game you'll think, Oh man, I wish Dante could use the Devil Bringer as well. You'll feel like something is missing a little bit when you play as Dante. I think people are going to be surprised by how much they like playing as Nero.
And if you love Dante so much, go through Devil May Cry 4 very quickly, and you'll be able to play the whole thing again as Dante.
Crispy Gamer: One final thing: Have you heard of Guitar Hero?
Kobayashi: I've never played Guitar Hero myself, but I have heard of it, yes.
Crispy Gamer: Dante, with all of his cheeseball tendencies, would fit quite naturally into that game. He would make for a great unlockable character.
Kobayashi: [Laughs] Maybe that will happen one day.