Why Dead or Alive 5 was great

It seems like a long time ago now that Dead or Alive 6 was first announced but guess what? It’s finally here. At the time of writing this however, I still haven’t picked the game up nor had the time to watch any footage of it in action so I’m still sceptical about Tecmo’s promise to tone down the titillation and how this will affect the series. That and Sony’s recent shift towards tighter censorship for games appearing on Playstation platforms. Don’t misunderstand me though: I have no doubt that DOA6 is a superb fighting game (and one that I WILL eventually buy) but for me, the silly sexualisation and appealing female characters are a traditional part of the series.

And I enjoy it so shoot me if you disagree.

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Obviously there are pros AND cons to adjusting Dead or Alive‘s DNA. Tecmo clearly want DOA to be taken as seriously as the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter at a competitive, e-sport/tournament level, an ambition that can only go so far when many of the characters’ outfits in the outgoing DOA5 are banned from being selected. Also, as much as I personally approve of skimpy alternate outfits and being able to play around with breast physics in the options menu, these aspects no doubt restrict DOA‘s audience to the faithful core of loyalists, doing nothing to change the outside opinion that DOA is “just a game for pervs” (a real-life quote from somebody I know).

With all of this in mind, I thought it would be timely to take a quick look back at Dead or Alive 5 and why it was so good. After all, if 6 does decide to be a bit too serious then it’s comforting to know that we can always break out our copies of DOA5: Last Round.

The Guest Characters

These days, guest fighters from rival games (or even completely unrelated genres) are a standard feature in fighting games but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they always fit right in and compliment the roster (Noctis and Negan in Tekken 7 for example). DOA5 quietly got it so right though. The four Virtua Fighter guests feel right at home and retain their familiar moves whilst also seamlessly slotting into DOA‘s fighting system. It has proven to be one of my favourite fighting game crossovers of all-time, even if CPU Jacky and Sarah sometimes seem suspiciously difficult to beat.

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Even better was the signing of SNK’s Mai Shiranui. After all, who fits a Dead or Alive game better than a loosely-garbed female ninja with huge boobs? The best thing about this specific guest appearance however was that it seemed like the kind of thing that fans of fighting games would have been asking for in their dream scenarios. Mai looks fantastic in DOA5 and comes with her signature special moves from KOF while learning some new combos to help her ‘work’ in her new, 3D environment (KOF Maximum Impact doesn’t count as prior experience…). Happily, she was recently confirmed as part of DOA6‘s roster.

The New Characters

New characters in long-running fighting game franchises are always a tricky one. The developers must:

  1. Come up with a distinctive and unique fighting style that hasn’t been done before in the series.
  2. Design a visually-appealing character that isn’t too similar to existing characters

Get it wrong and you end up with clones or characters that are simply uninteresting to play as. With DOA5 I feel that they mostly succeeded with the new characters as far as the overall fanbase and reception was concerned. I wasn’t personally a fan of all of the new challengers but I’ll get to that in a second.

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I really liked Mila for being a more rough ‘n ready fighter with an MMA-inspired style of fighting and slightly more realistic look that wasn’t all about the supermodel looks and massive boobs (although Tecmo ensured that she put up an ample fight with the latter). Then there was Rig who looked really bad-ass and brought Taekwondo to the series. The last of the new characters that I liked was Nyotengu who I just think has a really cool design and interesting fighting style.

The other new characters have all been successful for Team Ninja but aren’t personal favourites of mine. Phase 4 was a Kasumi clone that I couldn’t really get that excited about and Honoka was a typical archetypal schoolgirl with mountainous breasts and a fighting style that I didn’t really think that much of. Finally, there was Marie Rose who – despite being classed as 18 years-old – always struck me as uncomfortably young in appearance given the game’s inclusion of swimsuits and sexy attire. More importantly, I don’t care for her fighting style either.

On a commercial level however, all of these characters were a big success for Tecmo and Team Ninja. Honoka and Marie Rose for instance became immediate fan favourites and the cover stars of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 as a result.

The Cinematic Look

Before I played the OG version of DOA5, I have to admit that I was pretty apprehensive about the game’s big action movie approach with cinematic set pieces and dynamic, multi-layered stages. After all, being able to deal extra damage by booting an opponent over the edge of a rooftop or launching them into a piece of interactive stage scenery seemed to break the rules of fighting games to me. True, we have seen this sort of thing before but it looked like it was going to be more heavily-promoted this time and moved front-and-centre.

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Truth be told though, I actually ended up really enjoying it all. It gave DOA something unique and a little more interesting and definitely contributed to the excitement of the fights. A particular favourite of mine was one of the city stages where you can kick an opponent off a collapsing rooftop just as a fuel tanker crashes and triggers a massive explosion. Thankfully, you can turn this stuff off if you prefer to be a bit more traditional but on the whole, I don’t think it interferes too much at all anyway and it’s worth remembering that while you can suffer “cheap” damage, you can also win rounds yourself by taking advantage of a stage’s hazards.

Also, the additional battle damage detail such as the dirt, realistic perspiration and the water-related wet effect were nice touches that made a battle seem just a touch more realistic after it was over and your character struck their win pose.

The DLC

Now this one is a double-edged sword. DOA5‘s DLC was certainly too expensive and far too vast, prompting many of us to reach the not-unreasonable conclusion that Tecmo were simply abusing the fans and the marketing force that is “sex sells” by releasing an endless stream of outfits that grew progressively more outrageous as time went on. The online store was (and still is) an utter mess with outfits difficult to find, certain packs not working unless you downloaded compatibility “catalogues” and DLC from previous versions of the game not working with the updated releases. Other outfits simply state that they are not available to purchase for no apparent reason and making people pay for DLC characters that were later included on the disc in Last Round felt a bit shitty.

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On the flipside, the constant stream of DLC did at least mean that there was always something to keep the playerbase playing. Very little of it was conceived prior to release so it was a good example of a developer constantly providing for owners of the game as the years passed. Obviously, the cynical motives behind the overall DLC strategy will be impossible for many to ignore and there’s no denying that the pricing and organisation are unforgiveable BUT if you can look past all of this, then DOA5 is a game that endured. You also need to remember that just because a DLC strategy rubs you up the wrong way, doesn’t mean that you are being forced to purchase any of it. I personally enjoyed the DLC and was only really aggrieved by my downloads from the base version’s collector’s edition not working with Last Round, causing me to piss about for ages downloading compatibility packs etc. Ultimately, I’m still playing the game today and a small part of that is because there are still a great many bits and bobs that I can still buy from the store.

Parting Thoughts

All of these reasons aside, Dead or Alive 5 was simply a great game. Many like to poke fun at the series and call it a “game for pervs” and there’s no denying that there is some truth in that viewpoint – let’s not embarass ouselves by spouting airs and graces. However, DOA has always been a fantastic fighting game in its own right. Fast and fluid with organic combos that are easy to learn for button-mashers and difficult to master for pros, DOA is a unique game. The hold system separates the amateurs from the learned and there are endless ways to link moves together.

Additionally, DOA5 (in any incarnation) looks utterly fantastic. The graphics and character models are impressive and the detail with regards to things like sweat and dirt only help to enhance this.

By the time DOA5 reached it’s Last Round incarnation, it was truly one of the great fighting games of the last generation. The roster was filled out and very comprehensive as far as the series’ legacy goes, the available DLC was enormous and there were some very nice special features available such as being able to customise the soundtrack with tunes from previous DOA entries. Add to that the collaborations with other videogames/anime for interesting DLC and the guest characters that I talked about earlier and it’s not difficult to see how DOA5 lasted for so long. Yes it has its flaws and the titillation will not be for everybody but it was a great game and always will be.

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