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Devil May Cry is a hack & slash with elements of horror and dark fantasy. The player takes control of the demon hunter Dante and fights their way through an abandoned castle. The game is broken up into levels called "Missions", in which the player must perform a certain task before completion: these tasks range from reaching a certain area to puzzles. There are a number of optional Secret Missions scattered throughout the game, which are generally timed challenges that can be tried as many as times as necessary to complete.
Dante starts with the game with the Force Edge sword alongside his handguns Ebony and Ivory, and unlocks additional weapons throughout the story.
Two thousand years ago, the world was saved from the invading Underworld by a benevolent demon named Sparda, who would go on to rule the world until his death.
In the modern era, Dante, the son of Sparda and a human named Eva, works as a demon hunter operating out of the "Devil May Cry" shop, seeking vengeance on the demons who killed his mother and brother. One day, he is attacked by a woman named Trish who is aware of his parentage. He brushes off her attack with ease, after which she explains she came for help in defeating the Demon King Mundus, who is on the verge of reviving. Noticing that Trish is identical to his mother, Dante follows her to Mallet Island, where Mundus is on the verge of breaking free from Sparda's imprisonment.
Dante explores the abandoned castle on the island, encountering and defeating a number of demonic enemies, including the spider-scorpion hybrid Phantom, colossal demonic hawk Griffon, and the mysterious dark knight Nelo Angelo. Nelo Angelo is eventually revealed to be Dante's twin brother Vergil, converted by Mundus into his servant. After three fights, Dante defeats Nelo Angelo, who disappears, leaving behind part of their mother's amulet. Combining Vergil's half of the amulet with his own, Dante converts the Force Edge sword, left behind by Sparda, to unlock its true form, the legendary Devil Sword Sparda. Dante eventually reaches the Underworld, and during a fight is betrayed by Trish, who is revealed to be Mundus's servant. While Dante saves Trish when her life is endangered, he claims it is merely due to her resemblance to his mother, and warns her to stay away.
When Dante reaches Mundus, he is distracted momentarily by a captive Trish, allowing Mundus to wound him. However, Trish takes the final blow, and the enraged Dante unleashes a demonic form similar to Sparda. Dante and Mundus proceed to fight on another plane of existence, with Dante emerging victorious. Leaving behind the amulet and Sparda sword with Trish's body, Dante returns to the human world only to find the castle collapsing. He is eventually cornered by a wounded Mundus, and holds him at bay until Trish arrives, having survived Mundus's attack. With Trish lending him her power, Dante finishes off Mundus, who vows to return and rule the human world. As Trish apologizes, a tear falls from her eye. Dante tells her that this is a sign of her humanity, as "devils never cry". The two of them escape on a plane as the island collapses behind them.
After the credits, it is revealed that Dante and Trish are now working as partners, and have renamed the shop "Devil Never Cry".
Devil May Cry began development in 1999 as the initial version of Resident Evil 4, with the main protagonist being named "Tony". After some time in development, the team decided that the game had strayed too far from the Resident Evil franchise, and decided to rework the game into its own entity.
Taking inspiration from Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy, the game's setting was rewritten to take place in a world full of demons, with Tony being renamed to "Dante".