Some changes introduced into Devil May Cry 4 are the presence of two playable characters, Dante and Nero, and a slight modification to the shop system. A new currency, Proud Souls, is used to buy new abilities while Red Orbs are used to buy items. Proud Souls are rewarded at the end of missions and the amount varies depending on how well the player performed. Cost of abilities also increase with the purchase of other abilities, though all abilities can be sold back for the original price.
The player plays as Nero throughout most of the game. He starts and ends the game with his Red Queen sword, Blue Rose revolver, and the powers of his Devil Bringer (his demonic right arm). The Red Queen features an Exceed Gauge that can be charged up, allowing for subsequent attacks that are more powerful than regular slashes, until the gauge empties. The Exceed Gauge can also be filled by pressing the rev button at the peak of each slash. Nero also has the powers of his Devil Bringer, and can use it to pull himself towards enemies or vice-versa. The Devil Bringer may also be used for context-sensitive throw attacks, leading to high damage and various effects depending on the enemy. Nero's Devil Bringer also gains new abilities during the course of the game, such as being able to detect secret missions or caches of Red Orbs. Nero eventually gains the ability to use Devil Trigger after getting the katana known as Yamato, which increases his Devil Bringer's power, thus changing his Devil Bringer attacks into more powerful versions with different animations.
The player plays as Dante through seven missions, taking over halfway through the game. His gameplay is similar to that of Devil May Cry 3, with him having access to multiple melee and ranged weapons which he gains after boss battles, and being able to cycle through them freely in combat, being no longer limited to equipping two weapons of each type as he was in the previous game. Dante also starts with his four styles (Trickster, Royal Guard, Sword Master, Gunslinger), each of which grants him different abilities, but he may now switch them at will with buttons or pads on the PlayStation 3 controller or the Xbox 360 controller, unlike in Devil May Cry 3. He also gains the Dark Slayer style near the end of his appearance, which only has one style level and can be accessed by pressing a style button twice. Styles do not level up through experience as in the previous game, but must instead be upgraded like other skills in the shop screen in between missions or at statues. Dante can also enter Devil Trigger; in his Devil Trigger he gains most of the benefits that Nero's Devil Trigger has, though, as he does not have the Devil Bringer, he gets animation and property changes on some of his normal attacks instead