To borrow a remark from an older review, I’ve always had a soft spot for Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive franchise. The series has always been immensely fun to play and usually looks great to match. The fighting game landscape has changed a lot since the last mainline entry in the series, however. Dead or Alive 6 is an important release for the franchise that needs to prove it still stands tall among the heavyweights of the genre. Can the series maintain pace? Or is it doomed to fall behind its more polished challengers?
Dead or Alive 6 doesn’t change a whole lot from the previous entry in the franchise. The fighting engine is still the same fast-paced, hard-hitting style Team Ninja has mastered over the years. The blistering pace goes hand-in-hand with how solid and impactful everything feels. Every kick, punch and overly-complicated throw hits with appropriate force. And despite how crazy the action can get, it’s still easy to pick-up and play for newcomers. Chaining together impressive combos and holding strikes is remarkably easy to get the hang of once it’s been demonstrated for you. For better or worse it doesn’t alter too much from the blueprint perfected in Last Round.
There is one major addition to the fighting engine, though. New to the series is the Break Gauge, which can be used either offensively or defensively. As you brawl with your opponent, all the damage dished out and taken charges up a super meter of sorts. At the half-way point, you can use a Break Hold to parry an attack and give you a great opening for a counter. When the meter is maxed out, you can unleash a Break Blow. This powerful strike can both be used on its own or at the end of a Fatal Rush combo, but it still hurts either way. The mechanic is really the sum of the components of the combat engine that appeal to me most. It looks absolutely brutal when it lands and is still easy enough to pull off the less-trained combatants out there.
Executing a Break Blow also serves as a showcase for some of Dead or Alive 6’s the visual flairs. Upon hitting your opponent with one, time slows down, allowing you to see the damage dealt in slow motion. Blood and dirt splatter on skin, accessories are forcibly removed, and outfits are ripped to shreds over the course of battle. It’s a nice touch that accentuates the fact you are engaged in a hard-fought battle with your foe. It’s a series that has always excelled visually, and this is just the next evolution of that style.
As mentioned, Dead or Alive has always been a looker, and the sixth entry is no exception. Provided you can get past the cheesecake nature of the character design, you’ll find that the models look great. They definitely don’t look realistic, but there is a style to them that works better than it has any right to. The wide assortment of outfits has become a series staple, and Team Ninja doesn’t disappoint in that department either. There’s plenty of colorful costumes for every combatant, from Kasumi’s form-fitting jumpsuits to La Mariposa’s vibrant wrestling gear. With that said, the existence of a nearly $100 season pass — which consists mostly of costumes — is just a little bit ridiculous.
Whether you’re fighting solo or with others, Dead or Alive 6 offers a robust selection of modes. Story mode has returned, and I’m pleased to say that it is just as ridiculous as it has ever been. Evil organization M.I.S.T is back at once again, this time with series newcomer NiCO lurking behind the scenes. With the world in danger, it’ll be up to the Ninja trio of Kasumi, Ayane, and Hayate to save the day once again. This is, of course, all going on while the titular tournament is raging nearby. DOATEC’s annual tourney continues to draw in the best fighters in the world, including new face Diego, who is looking to make sure that his entry wasn’t a waste.
I’m all for silly stories, and the plot here made me laugh out loud more than once. Whether that’s on purpose or not, I’m not sure, but it makes for a good time. It does have a bit of tonal whiplash, though, often going from serious dramatics to absurdist comedy, sometimes within the same cutscene. I’m also getting a little sick of the Ninjas continuing to hog the attention. This year’s story opens the door for Honoka and Marie Rose to sneak in, but it’s still mostly the ninja show. Team Ninja has a dozen-plus other characters to work into the story, but often choose to just shunt them off to the side.
Outside of the story mode, single-player fighters can also hop into DOA Quest, which is a new addition to the series. Each battle that makes up Quest has a set of goals that can be completed in order to earn gold. Some are as straightforward as simply winning, while others require you to counter a certain amount of strikes. Completing all of the sub-objectives for one of the matches will reward you with costume pieces that can be used to unlock additional character outfits.
The problem with getting those rewards is that it is randomized as to what you get. The costume pieces don’t match up with the character you are using. So, for a Mila user like myself, it’s annoying to receive costume pieces, and have them be for someone I have no interest in playing as. Oh, and you need hundreds of costume pieces in order to unlock a single outfit, so extreme grinding is necessary to get almost any costume. Plus, once you do acquire all of the costume pieces for an outfit, you have to purchase it with the gold you earned alongside those pieces. Why do I have to unlock costumes twice? And why can’t I just focus on the characters I actually care about? Itbackwardwards, convoluted system that shouldn’t have been included in to begin with.
If you want to take the action online, unfortunately, your options are limited to Ranked Match at the moment. As was the case with Last Round, the netcode in Dead or Alive 6 isn’t particularly great either. Of the handful of matches I played — both at night and in the afternoon — there wasn’t a single round that wasn’t effected by lag in some way. For a fast-paced fighting game, that’s kind of a killer. Hopefully Team Ninja can iron out the kinks once the rest of the online features go online later this month. For now, though, you’re better off sticking to local play.
Whether you’re a newcomer or seasoned veteran, the core gameplay of Dead or Alive 6 remains as enjoyable as ever. It’s accessible, but definitely not lacking in depth either. Unfortunately, the rest of the title doesn’t rise up to the same level. The story mode struggles to maintain a sensible tone, and it suffers from terrible lip syncing and voice acting. The online play is a sham compared to almost any other fighting game available, and suffers from egregious lag to boot. And the endless grind of the unlock system is an anchor around the neck of the otherwise solid DOA Quest mode. With a lot riding on where the series fits into the fighting game landscape as a whole, Team Ninja has faltered in delivering a complete package.
This review was based around the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Koei Tecmo.
Dead or Alive 6 maintains the same excellent fighting engine and graphical fluidity of past entries, but it's bogged down by a litany of problems. From the tedious grinding to unlock costumes to the bare-bones online play, it's a disappointing debut on current-gen consoles.