This has been an oddly eventful year for fighting games. Nearly every major franchise in the genre has seen a new installment this year. From Street Fighter to Tekken, from SoulCalibur to Virtua Fighter, and now a new entry into the Dead or Alive series to round things out. With seven years behind it since the last game in the franchise, is it the right time for one more round?
Dead or Alive is perhaps best known for the franchise choosing to not take itself too seriously. When the roster of any given game in the bunch is laden with a guy who fights while drunk, a dude with an afro made out of ribbons, a shameless rip-off of 80s-era Hulk Hogan, the world’s greatest ninja, wrapped up with a generous helping of curvaceous vixens that even makes me feel just a little dirty playing after all these years, you know things are going to get wild.
Dead or Alive 5 is the story of…erm…well…see here’s the thing, I’m not entirely sure what happened in the story mode of DOA 5. Folks play as nearly the entire roster over the course of a timeline structure starting with a handful of fighters preparing for the return of the Dead or Alive tournament, and ending with a team of ninjas storming an oil rig in order to fight a godlike being created by a supposedly sinister organization. Suddenly even the series finale to Lost makes sense.
Okay, so the Dead or Alive series has never been about story. Looking into a fighting game for a story is perhaps more foolish than looking forward to the next Call of Duty game because of the single player. If nothing else the story serves as a very deep tutorial mode, taking up more than 60 chapters, each with its own bonus objective of using a new type of move or attack so many times.
The fighting system in Dead or Alive will be instantly familiar for anyone who’s played the game before, and thanks to a relatively simple rock-paper-scissors style counter system, even newcomers shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into the fight. While learning combos and advanced moves will come with time and practice, the core mechanics of strikes beating throws beating holds and so on is easy to grasp, and even seems to allow the lowly button-mashers an ounce of enjoyment.
Whereas most other fighting games force the player to gain skill due to a tricky AI or a difficulty spike, Dead or Alive chooses to reward the higher-skilled players with the more impressive moves. Sure you can get by just by mashing varying strike buttons for the entirety of the match, but it’s incredibly worth it to put the time into learning a combo and seeing it unfold against your most formidable opponents. Seeing your real-life opponent’s face when you unleash Ryu’s hadoken-like-projectile towards them is a priceless moment indeed.
There are a few new mechanics over previous titles. “Power Blows” are finishing moves of sorts which unleash a powerful signature move from a fighter. Also new are “Cliffhangers,” similar to the series’ famous Danger Zones, but with the possibility of the victim making a recovery.
Also new are new graphical effects on the character models. Not only have all the characters been revamped to look better than ever, each fighter will begin to accumulate dirt or sweat as a fight goes on or as they get knocked down. It’s not a big new thing, but it’s a testament to the attention to detail that Team Ninja has had while making the game. There certainly won’t be anyone saying DOA 5 is lacking in the graphics department any time soon.
Although, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the new system is just an excuse to make transparent fabric. It’s no secret that Dead or Alive is a bit oversexualized.
Aside from the new stuff is a host of features and modes that’s expected to be included with any Dead or Alive game. Arcade ladders, survival and time attack modes are there, there’s a practice mode, a replay mode, and online mode. The lobbies were removed from online mode in order to make everything run smoother, and I think it was a great call.
But with everything “as expected,” is there anything overly wrong with the game? Well….no….not really. And that, in itself, is a problem.
I mean, sure, you’ve got a few new mechanics, updated graphics, things run slightly smoother, you’ve got a handful of new characters, including a few guest characters from SEGA’s Virtua Fighter thanks to a distribution partnership in Europe, but what’s driving me to get Dead or Alive 5 when Dead or Alive 4 runs just fine?
Nothing is fundamentally wrong with the game, but nothing is overly compelling either. Unless you’ve written volumes of fan-fiction with Kokoro teaming up with Akira from Virtua Fighter, or have been dying to play as an MMA-trained girl, there’s no real X-factor for picking up Dead or Alive 5 if you’re perfectly happy with previous games in the series. It’s an update. Seven years between main games and there’s not much difference here.
That’s not to say the game is bad. Quite the opposite. Dead or Alive 5 is a very enjoyable game that I definitely recommend for those who’ve never played the franchise, even those normally not interested in fighting games. However, games are to be merited by how much they stand out, not by how much they don’t screw up.
If you haven’t checked out a Dead or Alive game yet, you owe it to yourself to try this one out. However, it might be hard to justify the full $60 otherwise, so I urge caution for those on the fence, or those who are expecting some kind of revelation in fighting gameplay. Dead or Alive 5 is a great game, but it doesn’t revolutionize the genre by any means. Not implying that it needed to in the first place.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided to us for review purposes.
Dead or Alive 5 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is still a blast to play.