Nero was introduced to the Devil May Cry franchise in 2008's Devil May Cry 4, hot on the heels of Devil May Cry 3 restoring Dante's cocky attitude and irreverent sense of humor after he was reimagined as a stoic badass in Devil May Cry 2. It also made Vergil a major character, with his icy determination and self-destructive quest for power contrasted nicely against Dante's good cheer and desire to protect others. Unfortunately, the events of Devil May Cry 3 took Vergil out of the picture, having already been killed off in the first game. Odds are good that Nero was originally created to try and inherit Vergil's position in the series, but he now seems to be gunning for Dante's.
Nero was introduced as a character suspiciously similar to both Vergil and Dante. Like the sons of Sparda, he's an orphan with demonic heritage who acts as a demon hunter. Unlike them, Devil May Cry 4 established that Nero answered to a higher authority: Order of the Sword, a church that worshipped Sparda. Nero's powers were also more limited than Dante and Vergil's, mainly taking the form of his Devil Bringer, a demonic right arm. Throughout the game, he goes from being an antagonist for Dante to gradually respecting him. This culminates in Dante allowing Nero to keep Yamato, Vergil's sword, as a gesture of trust; and to show Dante moving on from Vergil's apparent death. However, fan reception was mixed due to Nero's lack of unique qualities and the way he was overshadowed by Dante.
In Devil May Cry 5, Nero went from looking remarkably like a younger and more serious Dante - or Vergil with his hair down - to having a distinct hairstyle of his own, a more down-to-earth fashion sense, and a mechanical arm that replaces his demonic one. The game's shift to more realistic graphics and serious plot led to Nero becoming increasingly powerful, even as it once again changed Dante's characterization. Eventually, this culminated in Nero taking on both Vergil and Dante, breaking up the brothers' final battle. In the end, he appears to be set up to inherit the role of main protagonist while Dante and Vergil are stuck in the demon realm.
Devil May Cry 5 addressed Nero's lack of visual and mechanical uniqueness and gave him his own story arc. However, it failed to truly address the problem of Nero, because the real issue is that Capcom is trying to make Dante step aside for Nero. From the retconned Devil May Cry timeline to Dante's sudden determination to kill Vergil instead of saving him, everything about Devil May Cry 5 is dedicated to setting this transition up. This is an issue because while Devil May Cry fans seem more open to the redesigned Nero, Dante is still an icon.
When Nero was first introduced, fans accused him of not bringing anything new or interesting to the table. Yet giving him the touch-up he needed may cost Devil May Cry its most iconic element: Dante. Since Devil May Cry 5 ends with Dante and Vergil lost in the demon realm and Nero taking on the responsibility of protecting the human world, future games are likely to feature less Dante. Even if he does appear, it may not be in a leading role. The franchise has always rested on Dante's shoulders, which is why there was such a backlash to DMC: Devil May Cry. While Nero has become an interesting character in his own right, he can't replace Dante; if he tries, Devil May Cry may once again run into trouble with its fans.
Devil May Cry 5 is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.