Constructing a companion character in a video game is a tedious, delicate task. Creating a new character in a series that fans already know and love is even more tricky. A good companion must deliver information to the player where necessary, without making it seem like they are a blatant audience surrogate. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has an example of a controversial companion in Fi, where not many players were impressed by her constant reminders to change the remote’s batteries. When creating a companion, many more factors must be considered, such as relationships between the other cast members and the game’s overall tone.
For an action game featuring the most outrageous, impossible stunts and epic, stylish combat, Devil May Cry 5 takes itself quite seriously. From the get-go, our esteemed series protagonist Dante and his familiar associates Lady and Trish are compromised, once again forcing players into the journey of Nero, the only one who might have a shot at saving them. Starting the game this way shows the player where things left off with Nero following the events of Devil May Cry 4.
Before we can flashback and learn any specifics, however, we’re introduced to the woman behind the wheel of the Devil May Cry van: Nico. As the “Artisan-at-Arms”, Nico is responsible for providing the player with their weaponry and upgrades in exchange for red orbs. In the first few minutes of her screen time, she laughs in the face of danger by burning out her cigarette on a demon’s head. Though most of the series’ cast was introduced in previous games by way of a dramatic action sequence, it made sense because all of them have demonic or otherwise superhuman capabilities. Nico however, is mortal, and still made an entrance as powerful and grandiose as any of the series’ regulars.
“…Kyrie is incredibly important for him, so much so that he doesn’t want to put her in any kind of danger. We wanted a character who would be able to go with Nero and be there for him. That’s how the idea for Nico came up. At the same time, we wanted a new kind of heroine character. We wanted one who was going to be sassy, the kind of sassy that we hadn’t yet seen in the Devil May Cry series.” — Hideaki Itsuno, Dualshockers interview
Mates by misfortune
In development for Devil May Cry 5, Director Hideaki Itsuno saw the need for a supporting character for Nero — and with good reason. The storyline of DMC5 kicks things off with the mystery of how our protagonist lost his Devil Bringer arm and continues to focus on the inevitable reunion with his father, Vergil. With his girlfriend, Kyrie (whom we met in DMC4) ruled out, what kind of character could possibly take on a supportive role without their presence seeming forced? For starters, the support must be someone who can relate with our hero and their issues to some degree.
Enter Nicoletta Goldstein, daughter of Devil May Cry 4 antagonist Agnus. Both Nero and Nico’s fathers are deceased, having been killed by Dante at different points in the franchise’s timeline. This is established in the first few moments of the game when Nero asks her how she feels about saving the man who killed her father. She responds with a little exposition about how she doesn’t care because he abandoned her as a child, but doesn’t dive into the details of who he is; this is for the player to discover on their own time. Through the game’s journal entries written from her perspective, the player can get a sense of how Nico feels about the game environment around her without explicitly stating it. The DMC van itself offers a vast amount of background on Nico. In an early cutscene, she and Nero are seen working on it together, shortly before showing how he loses his arm. The interior features every gadget and decoration that she’s put there personally, from the rack of Nero’s Devil Breakers right down to the ‘Nico’ window decal. This shows how the van isn’t just a placeholder shop UI, it’s Nero and Nico’s baby.
Not just in it for you
The support that Nico offers deviates from the care of a typical selfless Zelda companion who feels inclined to help the protagonist achieve their full potential or awaken their power. Nico does quite the opposite, actually, keeping Nero grounded when he’s careless with her equipment. This is because they’re already comfortable with each other, and the game doesn’t force you to become acquainted. Complete with the fact that she swears as much as he does, Nico’s friendship with Nero emulates tough love, a genuine real-world friendship that complements the game’s realistic environments. She’s used to seeing the amazing, over-the-top feats that Nero is capable of, and is more excited to see her handiwork in action. In this sense, their mutually beneficial relationship is a gender-swapped version to that of Rodin and Bayonetta; the cool craftswoman providing their services to the strong hero, in exchange for being able to see their weaponry at work. The game takes advantage of this kind of connection by giving her plenty of sassy one-liners that players would typically expect from Dante mocking his enemies. With Dante absent for a large part of the game and Nero not as arrogant as he is, players are instead rewarded by Nico’s entertaining, brazen humor throughout their run.
Pre-establishing Nero and Nico’s relationship and forgoing explanations not only makes her more intriguing but also makes Nico more relatable to the player, especially when meeting the other characters. While there might not be much for the player to relate to in a straight-arrow like Nero, some of Nico’s reactions make up for it. Upon rescuing Lady from Artemis, she makes it clear that they’ve met before and treats her like an old friend, much like a seasoned player of the series would react to her return. When Nico meets V, she forms a dislike towards his companion, Griffon, who regularly pesters players when they play as him. The most dynamic example of this, however, occurs when she meets Dante for the first time. She completely loses her tough persona and is starstruck by his presence, much like players were when they saw Dante ride into the frame during the Devil May Cry 5 reveal trailer in 2018. Believe it or not, this scene serves a bigger purpose than just setting up the funny dance segment that follows it. Nico is genuinely excited to meet one of her heroes and see the work of her adoptive grandmother Nell in person.
Risks may reward
Nico’s introduction, much like Nero’s before her, was a large risk to take by the Devil May Cry development team, and it paid off. The very end of the game features one more scene between herself and Nero that makes two callbacks: one to the beginning of the game, and another to the beginning of the series. The first callback happens when Nico now asks Nero what it feels like to save the man that killed his father. The second occurs when she tells him that it’s okay to cry over a loss, because some “devils may cry.” This parallels the ending of the original game, where Dante tells Trish that her tears are human because “devils never cry.” While the moment isn’t that long, nor overly emotional, it tells the audience that they still care about each other, even if they don’t act like it. Nico doesn’t leave at the end of the game like many video game companions do because their connection was never one-sided.
Itsuno and the game’s development team knew their audience well and knew that the game would require a refreshing new character at its heart. They knew that this character had to provide an excellent narrative without needing an arc of their own. They knew she had to support the protagonist without holding the player’s hand. And they knew she had to exude their own coolness and yet still be relatable to new and old players alike. This is why Devil May Cry 5’s Nico is a masterclass in in-game character development.
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