Introduction

Over the past decade premiere game developer Capcom has continued innovating their approach to music and audio in many of their titles. Recent Capcom games like Remember Me, and Resident Evil VII have set a high standards in for audio in video games.
Devil May Cry 5 continues to set the bar higher with a fascinating interactive music structure during combat sequences which not only help define the characters in the game, but also encourage players to play better in the game.  In this article we explore the interactive music structure, and the composers involved with creating the three main character themes throughout the game.

The three composers tasked with creating the main character themes alongside the Capcom audio team were Jeff Rona with the song ‘Crimson Cloud‘ for the character V, Casey Edwards with the song ‘Devil Trigger‘ for the character Nero, and Cody Matthew Johnson with the song ‘Subhuman‘ for the character Dante.

Nero
V
Dante
Although this article focuses on the character battle themes, the underscore along with additional music for Devil May Cry 5 was composed by Kota Suzuki, Yoshiya Terayama, Hiromitsu Maeba, Steven McNair, and John R. Graham.  Underscore is primarily played during the boss levels, where the specific character themes are played during the normal battle levels.

This article will begin with the structure of how the music themes work inside the game, examples from gameplay, and then interviews with the composers about their creative process and challenges with composing each one of the themes.  The examples are music-only game captures in the combat sequences so you can hear how the interactive music works in the context of the game.  These examples were played and captured by master game player and composer Arjun Nechiyil.

Combat Structure

Each of the character themes needed to be tailored specifically for the battle sequences within Devil May Cry. This battle structure is the basis for how the music changes dynamically through combat.  Players level up in a combat sequence by using a variety of different moves and special moves to defeat the enemies in that scene.
In the table below, levels Unranked through Apocalyptic are accompanied primarily by the verse of the song, whereas the S-levels is where the player would hear the chorus of the song.  The structure of a battle is ranked based on player performance in the following categories from worst to best:
Unranked
D- Dismal
C- Crazy
B- Badass
A- Apocalyptic
Verse of the Song
S- Savage
SS- Sick Skills
SSS- Smoking Sexy Style
Chorus of the Song

Each of the songs was divided up primarily into a verse, and a chorus. The verse would play when the player ranking was from D through A.  The chorus would play when the player ranking entered the S levels.  Since the music need to seamlessly go from one section to another, composers were required to format the music exports in a very specific way outlined below.

Composer Deliverables

Each of the composers needed to deliver the theme split into individual pieces in order for the music to play correctly within the interactive music engine.  Once the song composition was finished the composer exported the individual pieces with reverb tails so the Capcom team could implement the music into Audiokinetic’s WWise framework for the game.  This allowed the music to seamlessly transition between the various pieces dynamically throughout the gameplay based on the players ability.  The following table lists each one of the assets required.
1. INTRODUCTION
     -8 bars
     -loopable
     -played until character’s first attack lands
2. TRANSITION: Introduction to Verse
     -2 bars
     -when first attack lands to transition to Verse
3. VERSE
     -60-90 seconds,
     -loopable
     -fighting music
4. TRANSITION: Verse to Chorus
     -2 bars
     -transition to chorus
5. CHORUS
     -60-90 seconds
     -loopable
     -big pay off for players who play stylishly
6. TRANSITION: Chorus back to Verse
     -2 bars
     -plays when plays take damage while in the “Chorus” or S rank and above, moving them back down to A rank
7. OUTRO / ENDING
     -8 bars
     -used to end the song regardless of where music is
8. BUILD UP STEM (LAYER)
     -2-4 bars
     -riser stem
     -loopable
     -cross fades and filters up as player ranks from D to A
     -when about to change to Chorus you’ll barely hear the verse and just this pounding riser
Additionally, sections were added onto this format, so the verse and chorus were structured “A+B+Instrumental”, with the verse having additional sets of lyrics to randomize between. For instance, Cody Matthew Johnson with the theme Subhuman wrote and delivered 5 more introductions based on themes in the track for variation, which you can hear throughout the game play, and is also used on the soundtrack piece “Dance with Cavaliere

Music-Only Gameplay Captures of the Themes

Dante Theme

Example of Dante Theme with Stylish Play Through (Verse and Chorus)

Example of Dante Theme with Normal Play Through (Verse Only)


Nero Theme

Example of Nero Theme with Stylish Play Through (Verse and Chorus)

Example of Nero Theme with Normal Play Through (Verse Only)


V Theme

Example of V Theme with Stylish Play Through

Example of Nero Theme with Normal Play Through

 ‘Subhuman’
(Dante’s Theme) by Cody Matthew Johnson

Subhuman was composed by Cody Matthew Johnson, and produced by Jeff Rona – they were made specifically for the game with the composers and the Capcom team
1. Can you describe how you approached your character’s personality and story in the the music theme that you wrote?
Devil May Cry has always perfectly balance this sort of dance between super heavy and dark concepts (demons, devils, blood, death) with lighter and generally more fun lines of dialogue and relationships between the characters, even in the face of the apocalypse and/or impending doom. The music has always mimicked this carefully balanced juxtaposition with matching musical elements to each side, light and dark, and blending them seamlessly. Throughout the franchise, the darkness has been represented by a more aggressive timbre through distortion, guitars, metal, and industrial elements and the light represented by the influenced of EDM, up tempo, electronics, and breakbeats, for example.
For Devil May Cry 5, we have a very clear story arc leading into the game (from the previous games’ plot), and each character is in a different headspace. With the three playable characters, Capcom and the composers (Jeff, Casey, and myself) had a unique opportunity to play with the line in the sand, between light and dark, and decide where each character lies and how their music should reflect that.
Over the course of Devil May Cry 5, without any spoilers, Dante struggles with darkness and the emotional weight of his past, at times remembering the separation from his mother and brother as a child, and it’s these moments that push Dante more towards the darkness within, so we decided to push his battle theme a bit more aggressive towards those traditionally “dark” Devil May Cry tonalities; distortion, guitars, metal, and industrial.
I intentionally composed the song that as the player progresses through the game, gains skill to performance combat combinations more stylishly, that the player will unlock more music through their style rank as Dante is hurdling towards his inner darkness. As the song progresses, each new section of the music is designed to not only inspire the player to continue forward, but to subtle reveal and show more aggression and distortion. It’s not a coincidence that Dante’s devil trigger will award more style points, revealing the chorus and later breakdowns of “Subhuman”.
2. What were some of the challenges of writing for an interactive format for DMC5? 
Interactivity is always a tough piece to crack, because the flow and progression of every game is completely different, and at first really nailing the format and interactive music system can be rough. Initially, the songs were only meant to be relatively normal in length, about 2:30. Devil May Cry’s music combat system is rather sophisticated, allowing for remixing and other creative re-use of elements on the fly, so 2:30 of music can cast a web and spin into hours worth of unique arrangement. But, as we started to work, it became obvious that the music needed to function the same for all players, not just the average players who will progress naturally through the style rank and take some damage, bringing them back to the “verse” (or normal mode). It became apparent that 1.) some veteran players will burn through progress and start slamming out the highest style ranks, and would only hear the same 0:45 of music, and that 2.) a lot of players will never hear the chorus or other pieces of music from the highest style rank, simply because they are not skilled or experienced with the DMC gameplay. There was very careful consideration to balance the music for players across a wide spectrum of abilities and skill level, so the song rewarded everyone in a different way, not just one small group of people – making the song much more accessible for as many players as possible.
This was done by first looking at the music for each style rank and spending making giving variation, adding segments of music, additional layers/stems of music, lyric variations, instrumental sections, guitar solos, etc. so that the music can variate depending entirely on aspects of player gameplay like how long they’ve stayed in a certain rank, when an event was triggered, etc. The music nearly quadrupled in length, “Subhuman” in game is about 10:00 long with the intent of accessibility for every imaginable player representation.

 

Casey Edwards composed tracks The Duel, Silver Bullet and Devil Trigger. Devil Trigger has vocals though and he did the underscore and produced lyrics. Devil Trigger was specifically made with Capcom for the game.

1. Can you describe how you approached your character’s personality and story in the the music theme that you wrote?
When I was first tasked with writing Nero’s theme, the first thing Capcom gave me were a list of adjectives they thought best described Nero’s personality, as well as the musical feel they were after. The personality traits Capcom wanted to come through in the track were things akin to being young, brash, and cocky. The musical descriptor was simply put as EDM, which is pretty open ended. Musically I thought blending an upbeat EDM production feel, fused with heavy guitars, and pop hooks would be a solid representation of all the above. In hindsight, I feel like it worked out well become EDM gives you a steady pulse and a some hype, the heavy guitars give you a sense of raw power, and the pop elements gave you something to latch onto and sing.
2. What were some of the challenges of writing for an interactive format for DMC5? 
Songs traditionally are written and presented as linear listening material. In this game we had to prepare for various outcomes for each individual player. When an enemy is first presented the song loops an intro that doesn’t end until you either engage in battle or get hit by an enemy. Then another intro is started, plays only once, and is used only to get you into a verse. From there the song’s format depends on how well the player is doing. Once you reach ‘S Rank’ that’s when the game rewards you with various parts of the chorus or instrumental hook sections. The most difficult part was curating transitional elements that reflect if you are going up or down in rank without interrupting the flow of the song or the fight itself. The last thing you want is to have the player feel discouraged musically for going up or down in rank.

‘Crimson Cloud’ (V’s Theme) composed by Jeff Rona

Jeff Rona produced and composed Crimson Cloud. So he came up with lyrics and did underscore, the only thing he did not do was the vocals. CC has vocals too like Devil Trigger. These 3 songs are reoccurring throughout the game.

1. Can you describe how you approached your character’s personality and story in the the music theme that you wrote?

Creating a character’s theme is exciting. The idea of embodying a character’s essence into music can be the first challenge you come up to in a score. Devil May Cry 5 was no different. Capcom‘s approach was to create a strong theme for each character as embodied by a battle song, and then allow the rest the score to arise from adaptations of those battle themes. Which meant those themes needed to be strong and adaptable. It’s not a coincidence that Capcom chose three composers to each write one theme, as opposed to having a single composer develop all the themes. The idea was to allow for a high degree of diversity in musical approach.

The other two themes were for characters that already existed in the Devil May Cry universe. My theme on the other hand was for a new character who did not have an already established musical concept. On one hand that took a lot of pressure off of me to be a continuation of a character’s legacy. On the other hand it didn’t mean I was starting from scratch either. I knew both Nero and Dante had strong themes that came out of two different rock genres. The character I wrote for, V, gave me the opportunity to go in a different direction. So I made the decision to avoid electric guitars and focus on industrial percussion and very aggressive electronics. Capcom loved the idea. I think I allowed for all the swagger and quirkiness of the character’s personality without going down the same musical route, and I think it was a good idea.

2. What were some of the challenges of writing for an interactive format for DMC5? 

Since my theme was in essence a song to be reworked into score, one of the first challenges was not so much the music as it was lyrics. I already knew the path I wanted to take stylistically, but lyrics function at another level. Hideaki Itsuno, the director, had sent me a background about the character V to understand his internal conflicts, traits and history. I sat with Rachel Fannan to work on lyrics with her. I had a few thoughts about it but she did the bulk of it. For me it was more of a visual poem then an actual description of character or story. Frankly, saying anything concrete in the lyrics about the character would end up being a spoiler. So we avoided that for the most part. Yes, there are some hints and clues about V’s story, but it’s really not what the song is about. Even the title of the song really comes from a visual element and not a character element.

The interesting thing about Crimson Cloud is as you play the game and get better at it the structure of the song changes – more of it is revealed and the lyrics change. So structurally that was a serious challenge. The song is made up of many many layers, and many many sections. And the sections can connect together any number of ways. It’s a very non-linear piece, although there was a linear version of it in my mind as I was writing it both musically and lyrically. Sort of a musical jigsaw puzzle!

About the Author

Over the past two decades in music Michael Sweet is an accomplished video game audio composer for more than 100 video games. Michael currently leads the development of the game scoring curriculum at Berklee College of Music and is the author “Writing Interactive Music for Video Games: A Composer Guide”. As a composer/sound designer, Michael’s latest games on PS4 include Walden, A Game about the life of Henry David Thoreau, and The Night Journey an experimental art game which tells the story of an individual’s journey towards enlightenment.

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