Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate
 

 
REVIEWDOA5: Ultimate is an expansion of the original DOA5, originally adding 5 new characters to the roster, including: Momiji & Rachel (coming over from the newer installments of Ninja Gaiden), Leon & Ein from past DOA installments, and Jacky Bryant (from Virtua Fighter). Throughout 2014, 3 additional characters were released as paid DLC: Marie Rose, Phase 4 and Nyotengu. With DOA5U, the 3D fighting series also makes its return to arcades for the first time in 13 years, with the arcade edition making its way to Japan in Winter 2013. A "free-to-play" version of DOA5: Ultimate (called Core Fighters) is also available exclusively on PSN, featuring several playable characters and modes. In Core Fighters, add-on content can be purchased piece by piece. Along with characters & a plethora of costumes, there's also the option to buy the original DOA5 Story Mode for $15 (and if you read my original DOA5 review, you'll find out whether or not I recommend Story Mode).

After DOA first arrived on the scene back in 1996, the series soon became known as a worthy alternative to the more popular 3D fighters of the genre.
From interestingly designed multi-tiered stages to an easy-to-get-into counter system (and of course the ridiculous bouncing boobs physics), DOA certainly made a name for itself over the past 15+ years. Whether that name is a positive or negative one definitely depends on who you ask in the fighting game community, especially these days. DOA5U brings back a few elements (and classic stages) that long-time fans of the series should appreciate. On the flipside, the overall "heart" of the series has clearly switched gears from dynamic 3D fighting, to lesser widely-accepted "agenda" such as: bucket-loads of paid DLC costumes, perverted in-game camera options, and general all-around quirkiness. Even though original creator Tomonobu Itagaki has stepped away from the series, Dead or Alive has certainly had more than enough time to become more "serious" of a fighting game if the developers desired, but that infamous "stigma" that now follows the series is permanent by now.

 

Why is everyone so..... shiny... So so shiny.

 
DOA5: Ultimate's gameplay system at large remains the same as DOA5, but introduces a brand new gameplay mechanic called Power Launcher. When connected, Power Launchers send the opponent flipping (ridiculously) high into the air, enabling an easy combo possibility. Power Launchers can only be used once per round when a character's life is below 50%. Several gameplay improvements were also made to Tag mode - Health regeneration for the tagged out character has been toned down, and a new Tag mode exclusive attack called the Force Out was added. Similar to "Snap Back" from MVC2, Force Out knocks the active opponent out of the ring and forces them to use their partner for a period of time. Several new tag throws and team win poses were also added for specific teams, which is nice to see. Returning characters have also gained a few new combos to mix things up.

I'll admit the "competitive quality" of the series has improved a bit since vanilla DOA5. While the timing for the counter system is still generous compared to other fighting games, countering "frequently and effectively" does require skill, among other things. DOA's combo system is probably the cleanest it's ever been to date, offering a good variety of combo options per character. However, there are still a lot of "random" elements of DOA5's gameplay in general. And as a frequent player of technical 3D fighters like Tekken, Soul Calibur & Virtua Fighter, I'm mostly put off by DOA's inane emphasis on "strings". Nearly every single character moveset is overrun with strings... strings, strings, strings. P, P, P, K... P, P, P, , P, P... P, K, K, K, K... (yup, those are real string commands in the game - requiring a whole 2 buttons). Granted a few characters should "cater to beginners" and have easy combo strings; but "spam-promoting" commands like those just put me off. I don't find them fun to do; it makes me feel like I'm forced to button mash. If I really wanted to hit "P" or "K" 25 times repeatedly in under a minute, I'd go play one of those awesomely "overhyped" mainstream action games like Ninja Gaiden 3! (Ooo. Low blow there... sorry).

Furthermore, in the few tournament-level DOA5U matches I've watched, even top players appear to "spam" certain strings over and over again, because those specific strings have so many easy mix-up options. But where are the stylish fakes? Where are the cool cancels? Stances? ...Stance transitions? Those are the types of mix-ups that I find fun in 3D fighting games (fun to win with AND fun to lose against)! Yeah, there are "a few" of those elements in DOA5U, but for only a small selection of characters. Honestly, I find the overall design of many DOA movesets to be a bit sloppy and random. Some DOA characters just feel like giant "string-spamming machines"... with some cool-lookin' throws mixed in. Some movesets are definitely decent, but others I find to be completely, utterly boring and make little sense (looking at you Rachel). I guess I just have high standards for 3D fighting game characters, as I can respect a character design with a "focused" and/or authentic martial arts-based moveset... not just some "random collection of moves" thrown together.

DOA5U's combo strings allow players to mix up the timing of attacks to trick up the opponent (like in other fighting games), but many of the "delay animations" look weird and oftentimes go completely against physics. The human body has a certain "flow" to it when fighting and performing certain attacks, and sometimes DOA's animation really breaks that visual realism. In addition, many strings are oddly familiar and just aren't visually intuitive... making it considerably easy to trick up opponents who don't DEEPLY study every character's combo string options. Lastly, my final gripe about DOA's strings, is that ALL characters in the game are ambidextrous (meaning they can perform all their moves & attacks exactly the same on their left and right). This makes it even more unnatural to predict movements in a match. Plus, in terms of actual "fighting"... it's just not practical or realistic at all to have a bunch of ambidextrous people fighting against one another!!! No, I'm not expecting "ultra realism" from a fighting game... but... combine 32 ambidextrous shiny people, bunny swimsuits, Santa Claus & reindeer costumes, and that awful circus stage... and you've got yourself a genuine freak show. No, seriously... DOA really doesn't make any sense.
 

If Zack's costume doesn't hurt your eyes severly.... get your eyes checked.

 
But fighting games don't have to make sense, I suppose. So if you're in it for the pretty, shiny people and the smooth "flowing" gameplay that doesn't demand too much from the player, there's enjoyment to be had. On a more positive note, DOA5U does introduce some brand new (and fun) characters to use. Newcomers like Momiji and Marie Rose actually impressed me quite a bit and deliver as "next-gen" DOA characters. Their movesets are nicely designed, although Marie Rose does steal a few techniques from Tekken's Lili Rochefort (but hey, we all have our inspirations I guess).

Then there's the return of the towel-wearing grappler in camo, Leon, along with VF's Jacky Bryant. Jacky naturally brings his awesome kicks, outdated clothing style, and cheesy win quotes to the table (yet he's still awesome) and fits into the DOA roster nicely. While I'm glad to see my original DOA2 main, Leon, return... sadly, many of his attack & combo throw animations are ancient. Also, his chain grabs are still retardedly easy to perform, and involve hitting 1-button repeatedly. MASH THROW BUTTON = CHAIN GRABS. (I guess this appeals to casual players who always wanted to do King's combo throws in Tekken, but never could learn any legit inputs?) The two other newcomers: Nyotengu and Phase-4 bring their own weird & "magical" flavor to the game. However, with the addition of Phase-4... that makes 3 "Kasumi clones" in the game. (And I thought 2 Wolverines in MVC2 was bad). Meh, I hate clones.

A series highly acclaimed in the past for its looks, DOA5U keeps things as shiny as you'd expect and overall, still impresses visually. Smooth character models designed with care (especially in certain areas), flowing hair & clothing physics and vast 3D stages still steal the show. However, there are some notable flaws, starting with the character models: Overly "soft & shiny" faces, iffy-quality skin textures, and generic muscle tone rendering. True, the doll-faced females look amazing up close... but some of DOA's males also look like fairies. To quote a friend of mine, word for word: "These are the ugliest shiny people I've ever seen." I can't say I disagree with him, sorry.

While DOA5's stages have impressive depth and their "exploration qualities" are still casual fun for a little while, backgrounds definitely lack polish in some areas, for example: plain / low-quality textures, low polygon background items, bland lighting effects, and noticeable aliasing. Plus, fighters still seem randomly "teleported" to many of the weird environments in the game... arguably more-so than in other fighting games. I'm not sure if there's anything more awkward than watching 2 ninjas in Santa costumes flipping about in the middle of the "Bro of Duty" stage in the midst of heavy gunfire and missile explosions.  The new stages are pretty cool at least.
 

The Lost World stage returns from DOA3... but those grass textures are still meh.

 
While DOA5U runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, character intros and win animations are stuck at 30 fps... giving off a cheap look. The pervy camera options, and the way female characters sexually "pose themselves" after fights also adds to the general "tainted" quality of DOA. As always, this a DOA review written by me... so there must be some nitpicking regarding the animation. While there are many smooth attack animations, a considerable portion just don't have that "oomph" or "wow" factor... (plenty of "meh" factor, though). On the flipside, like I've mentioned in previous DOA reviews, the damage animations are still brilliantly fluid and natural. When characters are sent flying backward and hit the ground, or smash up against some random obstacle in the stage, it definitely looks like it hurts! If only the majority of attacks deserved that sort of reaction, because some "weakly-performed" ones just don't. On the bright side, most throws (and tag throws) in DOA still look painful as hell, and are easily the best animations in the game.

Even though I'm giving it an 8.0 out of 10, DOA's general "animation" still bothers me the most out of anything in the game. While some characters like La Mariposa or Sarah have awesomely silky-smooth walking animations in all directions, the "default" side walking (or should I call it "slide-gliding") looks like characters are sliding on ice. Plus, that animation is from DOA2 and looks very dated. However, since we're talking about a fighting game here, attack animations; the actual fighting... is more important. When you've been accustomed to fighting games where the characters have excellent, A++ martial arts technique, it's difficult to "go back" and accept any less. Let's just say, there really is a correct way (or two or three) for a legit martial artist to throw an uppercut, an elbow strike, or a real-life kick. On the flipside, there is also a wonky and/or completely retarded way to do so (which in real life, would result in that person getting K.O'ed for fighting like an idiot). I can let martial arts authenticity slide if the "creativity" of a move or moveset delivers, but much of DOA5U's cast gives me a "been there, done that" vibe. While some of the "martial arts" techniques in DOA try to be close to authentic (with some succeeding)... many almost seem more like a bad parody. For example: some DOA fighters need to learn how to "re-frame" their kicks properly and not throw kicks like thugs out of an 80's action movie. Then there are the 8 ninja characters in the game that spin, flip, teleport, spin, and spin some more. So if you're into all that constant spinny-ninja-stuff, yeah... have fun with that.

The DOA series never won any awards for its music selection. When I think DOA music of the past, I think dated guitar riffs and tinny techno. In DOA5, there are some music tracks that I detest (honestly a few of the worst fighting game BGMs I've ever heard)... but thankfully, DOA5U now provides the option to select various BGMs for nearly all menus, modes & stages. So if you end up hating any specific tracks (such as the boring, cliche circus music or the sleepy, bad hippy-hop gym music), swapping them out with better tracks is easily done. Character voice acting is pretty good as usual, but good luck figuring out what anyone is talking about. Those weird DOA people sometimes... I tell ya.

One thing DOA5U does (mostly) right is Practice Mode. The Command List training makes running through movelists a "fun" thing to do, and you even get rewards for completing them, like new costumes & titles. In-game frame data and other specific training options will also appeal to the serious players. However, there are some basic flaws inside Training Mode, such as the cursor not staying on your previous selection in the menu or command list (which makes going through movelists and menus more time-consuming than it should be). Also, when it's time to practice "back-turned" moves in Command Training, sometimes there's no way to turn your character around! (Unless I'm missing something?) The staple returning modes are exactly the same from DOA5. Arcade Mode still doesn't have a boss or proper endings. However, several features from the PS Vita version (DOA5+) make the cut to Ultimate, such as: Tutorial, Combo Challenge, Survival Mode, Team Fight and Movies Mode. There's also a 2 VS 2 online tag mode, enabling co-op gameplay against other teams (similar to TTT2's online Pair Play feature).
 

Eeeehhh.... WTAF. Is there an actual reason for this? ...Did people buy this?

 
While, for some reason, DOA still has never attempted an all out "customization" mode, the fact that there are so many unlockable alternate costumes has always been one of the most entertaining traits of the series. Considering all unlockables and DLC, DOA5U easily boasts the largest number of alternate costumes in any fighting game. While that's quite an achievement, it's a controversial flaw at the same time. Sure, there are some witty and well-designed costumes (like the various Halloween ones, Tecmo Bowl, etc)... but who wants to count the atrocious ones? The insulting ones? The borderline pornographic ones? Anyone? Let's just say... if I was a serious DOA player and had a great match online, but had to fight against Ein as a gay reindeer, or a mostly nude female "wrapped as Christmas present".... I just couldn't bring myself to upload the match. Seriously, what were they thinking?
 

Page Updated: January 15th, 2015
Developer(s): Team Ninja
Publisher(s): Tecmo Koei
Designer(s): Yosuke Hayashi
Platform(s): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Arcade ()
Release Date(s): Sept. 3rd, 2013  ( PS3/360)
Sept. 5th, 2013  ( PS3/360)
Sept. 6th, 2013  ( PS3/360)
Dec. 24th, 2013  ( Arcade)
Characters Momiji, Ein, Leon, Mila, Rig, Hayabusa, Hayate, Kasumi, Ayane, Hitomi, Christie, Bayman, Lei Fang, Zack, Bass, Brad Wong, Elliot, Tina, Kokoro, Jann Lee, La Mariposa, Helena, Gen Fu, Pai, Akira, Sarah Bryant, Jacky Bryant, Rachel, Alpha-152, Marie Rose, Phase 4, Nyotengu

Featured Video:

Related Games: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, Dead or Alive 5, 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 Revolution, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
 

Gameplay Engine

 7.0 / 10

Story / Theme

 4.0 / 10

Overall Graphics

 8.0 / 10

Animation

 8.0 / 10

Music / Sound Effects

 5.5 / 10

Innovation

 5.5 / 10

Art Direction

 2.0 / 10

Customization

 8.0 / 10

Options / Extras

 7.0 / 10

Intro / Presentation

 4.0 / 10

Replayability / Fun

 6.5 / 10

"Ouch" Factor

 8.0 / 10

Characters

 7.5 / 10

BOTTOM LINE

 7.1 / 10

 Review based on PS3 version

 

Final Words: Nearly every long-running fighting game franchise has gone in its own distinct "direction"... and back in 2012, Tecmo and Team Ninja's advertising campaign for DOA5 was all about "fighting entertainment". Even though DOA is more competitively viable than it ever was, it's still difficult to take this game seriously. (And to its credit, DOA5U does take some serious study to be good at it). To state the obvious, the amount of DLC for this game is staggering. While DLC can be an asset to the life and replayability of a fighting game, I think DOA's silly & perverted costumes do more harm than good.

Ever since the early 90's, one of the main reasons I became so deeply interested in fighting games was the artwork behind them. So, on that note... what "artwork" does DOA5 have to show to get us hyped about the characters? No... those few "in-game" 3D renders of oddly shiny people (below) don't count for much. There's not much real art direction shown in any of the menus or the graphics engine either. I'm searching, but I just can't find the art. (And you know if there was art, it would be here on TFG). Verdict: There is no art for this game. Where's the HEART? Compared to the likes of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 or Soul Calibur V... yeah, something's definitely missing here (and more than just art). 

Label me a hater of DOA if you will... but when a game seems to emphasize the over-sexualization of women and paid DLC, far ahead of art direction, solid & technical gameplay, and legit martial arts... yes, I will nitpick. I'm a fighting game critic. That's what I do. With the inclusion of awkwardly sexual costumes and pervy camera options & modes, DOA5U blurs the line between video game and softcore porn. (Just wait until DOA5: Last Round comes out on PC and the perverted modders get to work... forget about it). In fact, when Team Ninja released certain DOA5U "costume reveal trailers" (for example: the one consisting entirely of DOA girls wearing only tiny bath towels), I neglected posting TFG news articles about those trailers because I don't post anything on this website that borderlines on porn. Yeah, DOA always had its sexual overtones, but some of DOA5U's content pushes the envelope. 

Not that this effected my review score, but I also witnessed first hand (and in the mainstream media / news) that DOA5 actually contributed to giving fighting / video games of this era a "bad wrap" (for the over-sexualization of women)... not unlike the way MK does in regards to its explicit gore and violence. Just think if someone played DOA5U without prior knowledge about any other fighting games... what would their opinion of fighting games be? Sadly, some video games of this era seem to have an "agenda" first and foremost, before actually being a video game... and we all know what DOA's agenda (still) is.
To quote a well-respected fighting game player... "Make no mistake, DOA is selling you sex (first and foremost)." And he's right.

In closing, DOA5: Ultimate is basically what DOA5 should've been from the start. The casual fighting game fan might find many things to be impressed with, and that's not a bad thing. While Ultimate feels more whole than vanilla DOA5, it still doesn't feel like a "complete game" in some areas. If you manage to pick the game at a discounted price, then maybe it's worth a buy... but if you're a fun of DLC costumes, beware! You might be suckered into spending another $25-$50 easily.

As it would turn out, DOA5: Ultimate isn't the " ultimate" version of the game after all (Team Ninja used that term lightly)... as they've announced DOA5: Last Round for PS4 & Xbox One, complete with some of the DLC people already bought. Welly welly well... looks like I'll have to review DOA5 just one more time... *sigh* Nah, I'm looking forward to seeing those PS4 graphics. Maybe some of the graphical issues I mentioned in the review will be cleaned up?

For the record, after downloading DOA5: Core Fighters, I had to hunt down the $19.99 "Million fighters" characters + costume pack on PSN (not easy to find and buy for some reason), which was a fairly good deal at the time. Sadly, buying the game this way doesn't enable trophies?!? Weird. Never ran into that problem before with any other PSN game. So if you want trophies / achievements, I guess you have to buy the full version of the game? Whatev. Wasn't planning on getting a Platinum in DOA5U anyway. 
~TFG Webmaster
 

  
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