The Dead or Alive franchise has always been the disregarded little brother of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken. Whereas Tekken opted to be a technically sound, well -rounded fighting game, Dead or Alive has always felt more gimmick than substance. That has a lot to do with the franchise’s overindulgence in bishoujo character models. Sex has sold the franchise and its various spin-offs for over fifteen years.
That’s not to say that DOA hasn’t been a fun romp. Knocking fighters off of one landscape to the terrain below has always been a joy. The characters have always been full of personality, even when the single-player campaign was lacking it. Cheap throws, counters and juggling kept the game playful for casual fight lovers. Yet there was always a hint of a deeper combat system buried beneath the surface.
In Dead or Alive 5, Team Ninja takes off the kid gloves. Gone are the cheap counters and over-powered throws. This game pulls back the curtain on DOA’s core fighting mechanic, revealing a layered fighting system that is as irresistible as the martial arts characters that use it. Fluid fighting no longer feels like an uncontrollable game of button mashing luck. When Kasumi grabs a mid-kick, reverses it and performs a throw, you’ll know you earned it. Each combatant’s fighting style, combos and animations are unique, right down to the most basic jab. For tournament fighters who have ignored the franchise, it’s finally time to take another look.
For the first time, DOA incorporates a truly rich training system. Players can enter training mode and set the HUD to show the frame data on their attacks. This is an instant boon to tournament fighters who want to focus on getting attacks out as fast as possible. After all, DOA has never been a slow-paced fighting game like Tekken. Rounds have always leaned more towards speedy juggling attacks and quick counters, mixed in with some wild landscape breaking.
While the training mode is great, it’s nice to see that Team Ninja incorporated a passive training mode into its single-player campaign. Each fight in the story mode features a bonus mission or training challenge. Before each campaign fight, players will be presented with a different form of attack, block, combo or throw to execute any number of times. These get progressively harder throughout the story mode. They’re not generically chosen either. If Ryu Hayabusa is the focal character in the chapter, the game will try to compel you to use Ryu’s patented throw multiple times in his fight. However, you’ll get a warning first, letting you know that it is an extremely difficult maneuver to execute. Although you could punch your way through to a victory, you’ll want to complete the Ryu challenge when solidifying your win. This small feature gives the campaign mode loads more depth.
By the way, the campaign actually gets the full treatment in DOA 5. Each character in the story mode fights through about three fights before the story switches over to a new character. Players will see the stories overlap through meaty cut scenes, which are the best in the franchise to date. While the story may not be as cohesive and strong as that of NetherRealm’s new Mortal Kombat, it’s nonetheless great to watch. You’ll get a great sense of each character’s personality in a way that’s never presented before. The character voicing is also great. However, the lip-syncing is off at times and sometimes the mouths don’t seem to move at all.
The only character that’s a pain to watch is Zack. Although he’s based off of NBA star Dennis Rodman, as the only black male character in the game he comes off as an appalling stereotype. He rounds up characters around the world to compete in the new DOATEC tournament and gets his butt kicked several times. In one cut scene (actually two since they show it twice), they literally show him with his butt up in the air.
In addition to campaign mode, there is a wealthy list of bonus modes, including: Arcade, Survival, and Time attack. Online battles allow you to set up your own lobbies, participate in ranked matches or just jump into a quick fight. You can also be a spectator in lobby fights. After a fight, you can also log opponents to issue future challenges to. Unfortunately, this rarely works. Even after a fight, if you hop out of the match and issue a challenge the game will say that the fighter is no longer available. So you’ll have to directly contact the person if you want to challenge them.
Landscape breaking has received an upgrade in DOA 5. Players can punch their opponents just when they’re about to fall off of a landscape. On the flip side, you can also defend when you’re about to fall off of a ledge.
Players can knock opponents into helicopters or even into a giant clown’s face (in the latter case, the opponent flies into the clown’s mouth and is then shot out of the clown’s nose – it’s hilarious the first time you do it). This occurs when you use a Power Blow, which is similar to a Street Fighter focus attack. Once your power bar is down to 50%, you will be able to unleash the Power Blow. There are also Critical Bursts, which render your opponents completely defenseless. In past games, you could weasel your way out of a stunned state with a hold or block. The Critical Burst trumps any defense.
Some stages are so outrageous that there are also moments when players will get hit by missiles. However, missiles don’t kill these kung-fu masters. It’s a little ridiculous. But hey this is a video game so who needs reality, right?
Reality aside, DOA 5 sports some of the most beautiful environments in franchise history. If you’re fighting aboard a ship that’s breaking apart amidst crashing waves, you feel like you’re on a ship that’s getting mashed by the fury of Poseidon. There’s a level of realism and immersion in these landscapes that you won’t find in other fighting games.
Dead or Alive 5 is easily the best game in the franchise’s history. Fluid story animations keep the campaign lively, even when bad lip-syncing distracts you. Although the story does have a few twists, the narrative still needs better cohesion to be truly memorable. There are a lot of missed story opportunities to create something truly special here. Story aside, game mechanics and fight control are at the best they’ve ever been. While DOA 5 may still be an easier game to pick-up and play than Tekken, the solid fighting system makes this game a winner.