Most people haven’t read Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” and although we’re often too quick to condemn the American public for a depressing lack of literary comprehension and ability, we have to remember that this Italian masterpiece essentially defined the term, “classic.” There are scholars that spend much of their lives studying Dante; this is a testament to the novel’s depth and unbelievably intricate philosophical and religious fantasy. At its core and explained in the simplest terms, the book follows Dante and his trip through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory and Heaven, all in search of his perfect woman, Beatrice. It is a legendary adventure and believe it or not, this one novel is at least partially responsible for providing many citizens of the world with their notions of the afterlife. Therefore, it seems somewhat strange that EA would set out to make a video game based on “The Divine Comedy,” but at the very least, it’s a very ambitious undertaking. And we won’t find fault in ambition.
We’ve already brought you some early details, but there’s plenty more to talk about. IGN recently sat down to listen to a presentation given by Executive Producer and Creative Director of Dante’s Inferno , Jonathan Knight. Now, obviously, the game revolves around the first part of “The Divine Comedy,” and this should allow the development team to gain a firmer handle by only focusing on about 1/3 of the in-depth storyline. Knight further elaborated that EA would really zone in on four major elements: setting, characters, theme, and of course, story. The good news is that, despite all the obscure historical references and complicated religious elements, Dante has already provided the developers with the essential framework, as he describes Hell in great detail. “Dante has fundamentally mapped Hell,” Knight said, which means the designers simply need to follow the descriptions in the book; this also includes the infamous Nine Circles of Hell.
We won’t go into too much detail – this is still a video game preview – but we will say that the first five Circles were reserved for sins of the flesh; in other words, sins you basically committed against yourself. The lower four levels imprison those who committed sins against others, which means the punishment and environment is that much harsher. As you progress, you will meet many of the major characters Dante encounters in Hell, although Knight admitted that the team will take some creative licenses with the likes of Lucifer, Beatrice, Virgil, and even Dante himself. Some may frown on the concept of fiddling with another’s art, but if you're familiar with “Comedy,” you’d realize EA doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. Major characters may not appear in the same places they do in the book, and the team will even invent a few new characters to act as valuable supplements. And obviously, Dante never really “battles” anything in the novel, so that’s perhaps the biggest creative license: combat.
As many of you have already heard, Dante’s Inferno will hold many of the traits and features you have encountered in other action titles, like God of War . In fact, we’ve heard that weapons like Dante’s Scythe will be very familiar to the Blades of Chaos; there will be both light and heavy attacks, along with grapple throws. You likely won’t be surprised to learn that Square handles the light attack, Triangle the heavy attack, and Circle the throw attempt, but it’s good to know that all assaults can be launched from either ground or air. We’re expecting a fully-realized and entertaining combat mechanic that not only includes impressive chain combos, but a few new characteristics that should be appreciated enhancements. For example, a meter builds as Dante rips up enemies in tremendous fashion, but you will also build the meter when you block with the L2 button. In performing successful blocks, Dante will gain access to certain retaliatory attacks, which instantly adds more strategy to a relatively straightforward action experience. Oh, and we also heard something about fatalities…
Holding R2 will allow Dante to use his handy cross, but if you hold R2 and use other buttons, you can execute other special skills. For instance, holding R2 and pressing the Triangle button will let Dante fire a shotgun blast…and yes, we realize that shotguns in the 14th century seems a little out of place, but we refer you back to that whole “creative license” thing. Anyway, as you move through Hell, conquering hordes of lesser demons and enemies, you will eventually encounter the masters, like Death. It’s here where you’ll want to take firm command of your available combos, and let’s not forget about the magic spells, which you will be able to unleash via the L1 button. Upon successfully defeating Death – wonder what that’s like? – you will gain a new ability that lets Dante float in the air for a few seconds, and this tells us that Dante’s victories translate to greater power. As for the rest of the gameplay, the protagonist will also be able to jump and double-jump, dodge, and interact with a variety of environmental objects; the standard action stuff that should be expected by all.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the game will be Dante’s need to “better himself,” after a fashion. As the primary purpose of Dante’s quest is the discovery of the mysteries of the universe, and it rapidly becomes clear that nothing is predetermined, Dante is relatively free to do what he wishes. We’re familiar with the concepts of good and evil in RPGs, but this may be one of the first straight-up action titles that also features the theme; as Knight said- "Life is not determined, the afterlife is not predetermined, people have a choice whether to do good or bad in life, and they suffer the consequences of those choices.” Hence, you will be faced with a variety of conundrums that will likely involve punishing or absolving souls. For whatever reason, we are immediately reminded of Bioshock , where you had the option of essentially harvesting the Little Sisters, or saving them. In the end, it was always a better idea to save them (the rewards were less immediate, but worth the wait), so we’re assuming Dante will benefit from more absolving than condemning.
Although everyone may be expecting Dante’s Inferno to drop in 2009, Knight says the game is still a year away from completion, so expect it to be a major release in 2010. You never know, though; perhaps they could squeeze in a holiday 2009 release… We’ll keep you posted, but for our part, this really does appear to be a very promising game.