Dead or Alive 5
REVIEW: Releasing on both the Xbox 360 & Playstation 3 simultaneously, Dead or Alive returns after a 7-year hiatus. What have Kasumi and her ninja friends been up to over the last 7 years? Who knows... but one thing's for sure; great graphics, multi-tiered stages and over-the-top jiggle physics are back in all their HD glory. How does DOA5 stack up against the prequels of the series and the top 3D fighting games of this era? ...Is DOA still alive? Or Dead on Arrival? Hot off the heels of Tekken Tag Tournament 2's release a couple weeks prior, DOA5 surely has something to prove. As a hardcore Tekken player, I had to put aside my previous views of the DOA series, and with a clear mind, I approached DOA5 as a "new" game.
Upon starting up DOA5, after the flashy Team Ninja introduction, I was greeted with a dull screen displaying the "Dead or Alive 5" logo. After waiting 15 seconds, I realized there wasn't going to be an introduction to the game at all. Moving along... The dark and dingy main menu is equally as sleepy, hosting 5 modes: Story, Fight, Online, Extras & Options (a stifling contrast to TTT2's energetic and jam-packed main menu, mind you). DOA5's main mode, "Fight" contains your standard Versus, Arcade, Time Attack, Survival & Training.
Like I do with every fighting game, I started with a traditional Arcade Mode playthrough. While being entertained by DOA5's shiny new character models and stages... Arcade Mode just stopped abruptly. Shockingly, there's no boss or even a boss stage... just the option to restart or return to the main menu. What a jip! As with SC5, there are no character endings either... and overall, no "feeling of completion" for playing through Arcade (besides unlocking 1 new costume and online title). Thankfully though, DOA5's Story Mode does feature a boss battle and a boss stage... but the path to getting there isn't your typical 10-minute arcade ladder.
DOA5's Story Mode uses the crisp in-game graphics to introduce all of the fighters, and also acts as somewhat of a tutorial as you progress. Each individual fight within Story teaches you a "little something" about the game mechanics or a specific character's moves. It also features bonus missions, such as: "Land a 7 hit combo" or "Blow an opponent into a wall"... (yes, blow). The story's pacing is a choppy ride from the start, jumping around from scene to scene erratically. It's cutscene after cutscene, spaced out by irksome black loading screens throughout, with characters randomly starting fights with one another... usually for little to no reason at all. The majority of story content is nonsensical, awkward, and character personalities come up pretty dry. There's little to no significant story development for the returning characters, but the stories for newcomers, Mila & Rig, do at least try to explain their motivations for fighting.
The manner in which each of the DOA characters tie in to one another's storyline is "sloppy" to say the least. Characters often seem awkwardly "forced" to meet each other. Why would the supposed "badass" ninja Hayate really care how teenage schoolgirl Hitomi is doing in the tournament? Wouldn't a real ninja have better things to do? And why the hell does everyone in the game end up hanging around some trashy bar adjacent to an oil rig?!? Besides a few well-choreographed cutscenes (which amount to around 8% of the overall content), DOA5's Story Mode is less entertaining than the pitiful live action DOA movie, and doesn't save it from its gawkiness and clumsy pace. The story also introduces the Virtua Fighter guest characters (unlocking them upon defeating them), but unsurprisingly, they don't have any actual dialogue.
About midway through, the story also starts to overlap itself... Meaning you'll be watching some of the same cut scenes over again as you play through another character's story. Why the dev-team felt it was important for you to relive some of the same boring scenes is beyond me, and it just comes off as cheap. Personally, I didn't find story to be a fun playthrough or a legitimate tutorial... but rather a chore. I was begging for it to end after the 40th chapter, but it just kept dragging on. There also aren't any actual cinematics in the game to keep you entertained, only in-game graphics. In short, DOA never drew an audience with its storyline, and still doesn't.
Described as "fighting entertainment" by the dev-team, DOA5's gameplay takes a different approach in the saturated fighting genre. Expanding upon the interactive stages of the past, DOA5's battlegrounds introduce a new take on stage interaction. The new "Dynamic Attractions" integrate stages into the gameplay more than ever, presenting cinematic cut-scenes where the environment changes dramatically around the fighters. Basically, when a character gets knocked into certain walls with a powerful strike, the stage starts to take on a different form, which eventually leads to the fight spilling out into a new area. Some stages have Danger Zones that trigger "Cliffhangers". These are "QTE-like" events allowing a falling player to quickly grab the ledge on the way down, then try to predict their opponent's next attack. It's innovative in its own right, but a little too gimmicky for my tastes and takes you out of the game.
Once all the theatrics get old, the fighting mechanics are what have to carry the game the rest of the way. Thankfully DOA5 does improve on a few things over past installments. For one, characters can now quickly sidestep instead of just sidewalk. Power Blows and Critical Bursts offer new offensive options, putting the opponent in a state where they cannot guard or counter. DOA's infamous counter AKA "hold" system also returns, featuring a 4-point counter system like in DOA4. Inputting a direction (high, mid, or low) and tapping guard will initiate a counter throw, and in some situations, you can even counter an attack while you're in hit stun.
Beginner/casual fighting game players who may be intimidated by TTT2 or VF5: Final Showdown's advanced mechanics will immediately find DOA5 "easy to play". Simply by mashing buttons, a player of any level can perform a shocking amount of flashy moves, leading me to believe DOA5 was partly designed to cater to button masher antics (big surprise). Additionally, by "intelligently" mashing, beginner players can even perform surprisingly damaging juggles. Of course, skilled players will still have the edge... and the best juggles in the game are actually just as lengthy as other 3D fighters. As in past installments, DOA5 also offers tag team gameplay. While smooth in some areas, DOA5's tag mechanics aren't as refined or as open-ended as TTT2's, but tagging still feels fairly natural with DOA's gameplay.
Mashing out counters is still a viable gameplay strategy when you're left with no other options... and often-times it seems like there really aren't many other options available. When your opponent is in your face spamming attacks, if you're planning on smart defense, the odds are definitely against you. The number of attack strings and the "Triangle System" guessing game actually hurts the integrity of DOA5's mind games. Due to DOA5's frantic and unpredictable pace, aggressive offense is often rewarded instead of solid defense. As amazingly fluid as the fights appear, there's also something very "messy" about DOA5's gameplay, and solid fighting game fundamentals seem to be put on the backburner.
As far as basic movement goes, DOA5 feels more like Virtua Fighter than previous iterations of DOA, featuring slow (but very nicely animated) 8-way movement. With silky smooth walking animations, controlling your character never fails to look smooth, but the directional inputs feel a bit sluggish. The new Power Blow technique is basically DOA's interpretation of a "SF4 style" super move. Fully charging it when your health drops below 50% allows a character to perform a string of unblockable moves that deal heavy damage. It seems to find its place in the flow of DOA5's gameplay, but also feels (and looks) tacked on in more than one way.
Visually, Power Blow techniques don't supply the ouch factor that they should, probably due to the awkward camera angle and poor execution. Additionally, I'm not all that impressed with how some of the "cinematics" turned out. Not only does it look completely ridiculous when a character is sent spiraling 20 feet up into the air after being hit by a train... it's also mildly disturbing in some weird way. I guess I'm just not a fan of watching attractive females getting hit by cars and trains repeatedly. Maybe the environmental hazards containing fire and explosions would be more impressive if the effects used weren't so "last-gen"... I hate to be harsh, but are those "late PS1/PS2 era" explosion graphics??? Hmph. In fairness, sending your opponent flying off a cliff down to a lower part of a stage is still an effective trademark of DOA... but is still more of a cinematic element than an actual gameplay mechanic.
Following series tradition, DOA5 aims to wow you with visuals. Character models look exceptionally sharp in gameplay, now with visible sweat and dirt slowly building up on the fighters. Watching sweat streaming down characters' skin is a particularly innovative and cool-looking effect. Gone are the cutesy "anime style" faces from previous installments, with fighters now looking more realistic and mature. Facial rendering definitely looks awesome up close... but facial expressions fall flat in both gameplay and cinematic scenes.
The animation is one of DOA5's strong points. Walking animations, stagger animations, and clothing movement all look impressive. For a 3D hand-to-hand fighting game in particular, I expect to see a solid amount of "authentic" marital arts. DOA5 does feature several authentic styles and impactful moves, but there are also many attacks that have poor execution and don't look natural. I might seem nitpicky here, but I suppose it's just the difference between a properly motion captured attack and a "computer generated" one (which often look less natural), and I think there are more of the latter in DOA5. In fairness, DOA's animation really shines when characters take hits... slamming up against walls and being pounded into the ground with amazing fluidity.
While DOA5 is a great looking game, there are some noticeable flaws. Character muscle anatomy on males is actually pretty weak, even compared with visually realistic 3D fighting games from over 5 years ago (Tekken 6 for one). Compare Bass or Jann Lee's chest and arm muscles with King's & Marshall Law's from Tekken 6... the DOA guys suddenly look like they need to hit the gym. On the flipside, the females are some of the best-rendered fighting game females ever seen in a game (it's obvious where the dev-team's minds were). While some fighting games go over the top with life bar and super meter gauges, almost completely filling the screen, DOA5 goes the opposite route, presenting a tiny sliver of a life bar and thin text for names. While this allows you to fully appreciate the in-game graphics, I think it looks too plain. Skin textures are also very plain up close, and many floor textures are surprisingly fuzzy. While DOA5's graphics impress overall, I was actually expecting the game to look a bit better.
There are a decent amount of stages, but honestly most of the stage archetypes have been used many times before, and strike me more as gimmicks than being artistically inspired. In some weird way, the stages seem really lonely and unenergetic. The generic, forgettable, and sometimes annoying music may be a large part of that. (The horrid circus & gym BGMs made me hit the mute button). If you ask me, past DOA stages had much more personality and made more of an impact. Also worth pointing out... besides a few "stage themed" costumes for certain characters, the fighters often seem laughably out-of-place in environments they're fighting in. Stage lighting effects aren't nearly the best I've seen, and certain areas of stages end up looking a bit barren.
While DOA5 is short on single player modes and extras, the modes provided are actually done well. Practice Mode has some solid options, including command training. After completing a character's entire command list, their "system voice" is unlocked, which is a cool little reward for just practicing. As seen in other fighting game practice modes of this era, there are also some options to control computer AI's actions and reactions. One of the best details of DOA5's practice mode (also apparent in DOA: Dimensions) is the option to turn on "move details". This displays the frame counts of moves on screen, as well as the move's damage, combo damage, whether it hits high/mid/low, and whether or not it's a tracking move. For the serious players, this is a great feature and should become a staple in future fighting games!
Finally, DOA5's online experience does things mostly right. A few of the features, include: Replay saves, customizable lobbies, and a "Fighter List" which enables you to register other players so that you can play against them and download their AI data. While DOA5 online is "playable", the netcode isn't as stable as Namco's or Capcom's latest fighters, and seems a bit behind in overall features and content. Additionally, the generic rap song that plays during online mode annoys me to no end, and can't be turned off either. Even if you like rap, being stuck with 1 repetitive song in an online lobby is a careless design flaw. Lobby music should be relaxing... something you can listen to repeatedly.
Last Updated: 3/11/2013 Developer(s): Team Ninja Publisher(s): Tecmo Koei Designer(s): Yosuke Hayashi Platform(s): Playstation 3, PS Vita, Xbox 360 Release Date(s): September 25th, 2012 ( PS3, 360)
March 22nd, 2013 (Vita - As DOA5: Plus)
Characters: Rig, Mila, Hayabusa, Hayate, Kasumi, Ayane, Hitomi, Christie, Bayman, Lei Fang, Zack, Bass, Brad Wong, Elliot, Tina, Kokoro, Jann Lee, La Mariposa, Helena, Gen Fu, Pai, Akirai, Sarah
Related Games: Dead or Alive, Dead or Alive 2, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore, Dead or Alive 3, Dead or Alive 4, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, Soul Calibur 5, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Gameplay Engine 7 / 10 Story / Theme 5 / 10 Overall Graphics 8 / 10 Animation 8.5 / 10 Music / Sound Effects 5 / 10 Innovation 7.5 / 10 Art Direction 6.5 / 10 Customization 6 / 10 Options / Extras 6 / 10 Intro / Presentation 3 / 10 Replayability / Fun 6.5 / 10 "Ouch" Factor 8 / 10 Characters 7 / 10 BOTTOM LINE
7 / 10
Review based on PS3 version Final Words: Due to cliche sexual overtones, spin-off beach volleyball games, perverted photo snapshot modes, and the ever-popular boob-jiggle physics, the Dead or Alive series has always struggled to be taken seriously by the hardcore fighting game crowd... the black sheep of modern fighting games, if you will. The perverted uncle that everyone acknowledges, but doesn't really associate with. Okay... you get the point.
Casual gamers can find a lot to like about Dead or Alive 5... and that may forever be where DOA's core audience resides. Like the prequels, DOA5 will be overrated in the eyes of easily-amused gamers who thrive on graphics and presentational gimmicks... (gamers who will likely drop the game after a few months and play something else). However, most seasoned fighting game players already know what they're getting into with DOA, and it's more of the same.
While I don't like DOA5 enough to "master" every gameplay nuance, I do recognize the game can be played at a high level, perhaps offering a better experience for those who fully dive in. For me, its primarily the basic movement, the format of the counter system, the unpredictable flow and pace of the game, and the "been there done that" character roster... all resulting in my lack of motivation to learn the game further.
It's hard to make a case that DOA5 isn't a rushed game. Customization Mode, a staple in all other 3D fighting games over the last decade, is nowhere to be found in DOA5. There are few alternate outfits to unlock through playing, but many are uninspired and honestly pretty boring, in my opinion. DOA5's 1-player experience isn't all that it was cracked up to be. The lackluster story/tutorial (which 95% of people even interested will only play through once) really doesn't satisfy as either a well thought-out story element or a legitimate tutorial. Compared to other "bonus" modes in other recent fighting games, it definitely comes up short.
Fans in awe over the doll-faced DOA girls may be entertained in Story, but anyone looking for substance will be yawning frequently. I thought about face palming myself during some of the ridiculous cut scenes, but I couldn't muster up enough strength after being put into a semi-comatose state by how damn boring it is. Sorry, but "generously rendered" girls can only go so far. In Story, the character models look pretty spiffy up close, but most environments actually seem sloppily pasted together and are just bland. If you just imagine what the visuals would be like without the characters' puppy dog eyes taking up the screen, what's left is surprisingly dull.
The only other 1-player mode that stands out is Spectator Mode (where you can be a creeper and take photos of the DOA babes as they fight). In fairness, watching a fluid DOA5 fight pan out with a freely controllable camera control can actually be kinda entertaining for a while... but for how long? I'd estimate if you spent more than 20 minutes in Spectator Mode (and you're a male), there's a chance you'll never have a real girlfriend in your lifetime.
Rig & Mila bring unique new fighting styles to the series, those being Taekwondo and MMA. Overall the new characters are actually effective additions to DOA5's roster, and distinguish themselves as more than just the "typical" DOA character. Even so, DOA character movelists are still heavily designed around attack-strings, and are considerably less engaging than those found in VF5: Final Showdown and Tekken Tag 2. In terms of style, personality, and overall "stage presence"... compared to the "big names" of fighting games, DOA5's characters strike me as C-list celebrities in a B-grade action movie.
I approached DOA5 with an open mind, and I was actually excited to see DOA return to a Sony platform... but I was left disappointed with not only the minimal amount of content, but the content itself. As a full-priced $60 game, it's hard to say that DOA5 is worth it... especially considering its competition this year. People who thought Soul Calibur 5 was "rushed" aren't allowed to think DOA5 is a good game. Even Street Fighter X Tekken, with all of its flaws, packs a hell of a lot more content than DOA5.
At the end of the day, I suppose it's personal preference what kind of 3D fighting game you fancy. If you haven't spent a lot of time with some of the other 3D fighters this year, you might not notice all that DOA5 is missing. In my opinion, DOA5 banks on impressing you with graphics and smooth fighting animation first and foremost (which it mostly succeeds at)... but everything else seems to be an afterthought. ~TFG Webmaster