It is hard to believe, but it has been almost seven years since the last Dead or Alive game was released. Since then, we have seen six Call of Duty games, the revival of Street Fighter and even the impending release of a new console. In other words, it has been too long. With Itagaki out of the picture, I admit I was skeptical if the guys at Team Ninja could pull it off. I mean, let’s be fair, Ninja Gaiden 3 was no prize. Thankfully, they have silenced my concerns with their latest effort, keeping what we all loved about the original DoA games intact, while adding enough new flavor to make it relevant again. For fans of the series, the wait has been worth it.
Since it has been so long since the last game, it isn’t a surprise that things have changed. Fighting games have received a second wind as of late thanks to Street Fighter and the more recent Mortal Kombat. DoA has definitely been paying attention, which is obvious when you dive into the story mode. This portion of the game spans a massive 70+ chapters and works fairly similar to the recently released Mortal Kombat. You get a cut scene, fight, cut scene rotation that introduces you to the characters and gameplay. What I love is that each fight also has a secondary objective that teaches you various basics such as combos and counters.
As for the story itself, well you take it for what it is: nonsensical and fun. Some of the cut scenes qualify as ridiculous, while others land there thanks to their attempt to be serious, and end up falling flat. The story actually picks up towards the end and starts feeling like its finding its pace, but if you have invested in previous games you know that narrative is not its strongest suit. Choosing to stick with the English voice actors also doesn’t help matters, as some of them are truly awful. Still, I love the structure of the story mode, and rallying through it will take a solid 3-4 hours plus unlock new characters and, of course, a couple costumes.
Outside of story mode, you have a plethora of other options to keep you busy. There is standard versus, arcade, time attack and survival. From what I can gather, all can unlock costumes (still haven’t nailed down the formula) and all feature multiple difficulty tiers. DoA 5 takes the same approach introduced in Dimensions on the 3DS with tiered difficulties for each mode. You start at Beginner and work your way up to Legend. I managed to make it to Master (just below Legend), and trust me when I say it gets rough. The AI simply counters everything and punishes you constantly. Up to that point though, the game was fairly balanced, and losing only taught me to get better at the game.
There is also a training mode that you can use to hone your skills, including combat drills for each character. You can go through all of their standard moves (usually just over 100 in total) and master them in various scenarios. This is a great way to learn new characters, plus you unlock the system voice for that character upon completion. You can also set the AI to just about any scenario to practice and hone your skills. In typical DoA fashion, there is also a spectator and photo mode. You can pit characters against each other in an AI battle, then pause the action to take pictures and save them to your hard drive. Replays can also be saved and uploaded to the leaderboards.
There is simply a bevy of offline content to be had here. The massive story mode, plenty of offline ways to play, training and, of course, extras such as spectator. In addition, you also have the joy of unlocking plenty of costumes for each character and over 500 titles for completing various goals. It will be nigh impossible to collect all the titles, as they range from simple things such as using Lei Fang once, to winning with her 3000 times online. Yes that is not a typo, 3000 wins online.
What is a fighting game without a nice selection of characters and venues, though? DoA 5 delivers in this area, with a host of returning favorites and plenty of incredibly well-designed stages. The roster includes most of your favorites such as Kasumi, Hayabusa, Tina and Bass as well as two new faces. Mila, the MMA fighter and Rig who specializes in Tae Kwon Do. Both are welcome additions to the roster and really fun to play with. Also, new to the series, Team Ninja has added special guest fighters from Virtua Fighter. Akira, Sarah and Pai join the ranks and actually make a nice addition, complete with some sound effects from their respective game.
Stages in Dead or Alive have always been known for their multi-tiered insanity. DoA 5 is no exception, delivering once again some of the most interesting and fun to play in stages of any fighting game. What makes them so great is their unpredictability. For example, the stage called ‘Flow’ starts you off on a raft which eventually starts heading down river and winds up at the edge of a waterfall. You can knock your opponent down the waterfall and onto a second portion of the stage, complete with giant snakes and alligators. Stages play a major role in DoA, and the fifth game has kept that tradition. You can also perform what are called cliffhangers now, where characters are hanging onto the edge of a stage and you can either strike or throw a hold, and in tandem, your opponent can counter it. It is a neat mechanic that honestly doesn’t come into play all that often.
The most important part of the game though, and what makes it so good, is how it plays. I won’t lie, I have always been a fan of the DoA series more than most other fighters. I love the simple, yet complex countering system as well as the fast-paced nature of the fighting. DoA 5 is still fast and fairly complex, but the counter system has received a timing overhaul that makes mashing the button all but useless. You used to be able to spam the button and eventually counter your opponents’ combo, that has pretty much been erased, as the timing window is now much less forgiving. This adds a layer of skill to the combat.
Also added is a brand new critical system that involves allowing players to punish and eventually unleash a massive attack on their opponents. Performing specific moves puts players into critical stun, this leaves them open to attack longer. They can still perform counters while stunned, but they cannot attack. If you perform the correct follow-up, you can continue the stun. Another new addition are power blows. These moves can be performed once your life meter drains past 50%, and they can be devastating. They have a charge up time, but if you land them, you can knock your opponent across the stage for massive damage. These are best saved for when you have a wide opening to land it.
In addition to the single player offering, you can also go online with DoA to challenge the world with your skills. It is worth noting that you need an online pass, even for uploading scores to the leaderboard from single player. Online consists of simple match, ranked match, lobby, training and fighters list. The first two are self-explanatory, while lobby allows up to sixteen players to join a room and chat and coordinate matches. Training mode, which is called Online Dojo, allows players to practice in an online environment. Finally the fighters list allows you to add players to it that you want to compete against and send throwdown challenges or request a fight at any time. This is a cool feature that lets you track your best opponents.
Online has some issues right now. I had some matches that were as smooth as silk, while others slowed down to a crawl with online lag. When you get a good match, things are great. The timing is rarely an issue, and things are generally fair and balanced. The problem is that as of this writing the online is inconsistent at best. There is a day one patch that is supposed to address a lot of these issues, but only time will tell if it makes a massive change. With the solid lobby system and fighters list, I really want to see this game succeed. The online community for it is likely to be stellar.
Finally, we come to visuals and presentation. Dead or Alive 5 is one slick looking fighter. The character models have seen significant improvement since the last iteration. They now sport dirt, sweat and water as the matches go on. You can even turn this off in the options menu, if you prefer the clean-cut look. The game runs at a brisk pace rarely showcasing frame drops even when the action in the stages gets insane. The little details are outstanding and the characters look great, even if the female physics are a little (extremely) exaggerated. Music feels like DoA, with a mix of ranges from hip-hop to rock. The only annoying part is the song that plays when you enter online mode. It simply isn’t that great of a song and it repeats ad nauseum. The voice work is pretty bad on the English side of things, with some characters sounding absolutely hilarious. Of course, at this point I have come to think it is intentional. The only part I didn’t care for as far as presentation is concerned is that you can’t adjust the number of rounds or time limit within the single player modes.
Dead or Alive 5 has been a long time coming, but I definitely feel it was worth it. Fans of the series are likely to be satisfied with the amount of content within. The new characters are great, the guest characters are fun and the new mechanics create a new way to play without sacrificing familiarity. This is a supremely polished title outside of the questionable online portion. Hopefully, they can clean that up shortly after launch and continue supporting it with future costume and stage DLC. This game has legs if things come together, and being a fan as long as I have I can say, it feels good to be back.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.