The return of overly-animated mammary glands and over-the-top fighting action.
What Dead or Alive 5 Got Right
+ Fighting gameplay flows smoothly
+ Counters are more balanced
+ Graphical engine is superb
+ Over-the-top energy is charming
What Dead or Alive 5 Got Wrong
– Redundant storyline
– Still no character customisation
– Nothing really innovative
– Voice-actors are terrible
Dead or Alive 5 marks the end of a long hiatus of the main DoA franchise, last seen in action since Dead or Alive 4 in 2006. In between that time, we’ve had a spectacularly violent reboot of Mortal Kombat, two character-crazy Tekken entries, and the return of Street Fighter to home consoles, all of which have contributed greatly to the revival of the fighting genre this generation. Even with its impressive visuals, accessible combat system and extensive focus on female eye candy, does DoA 5 still have a place in the increasingly competitive fighting genre?
Thankfully, yes. The new Team Ninja revived the franchise well, and for the most part, the fifth entry works as one of the smoothest fighting games around. Dead or Alive’s fighting mechanics are as fluid, frantic and action-packed as ever, its character roster packed with fan-favourites and some new faces, and all the eye-candy the fans have come to know and love.
First and foremost, DoA 5’s fighting gameplay is all about the flow of combat. The emphasis is on freestyling counters, holds, punches, kicks and making your own combos at your own pace — with environmental hazards thrown in the mix — rather than following memorised button inputs. There is minimal reliance on mastering infinite combos or juggles. Because of this, attacks flow seamlessly, the action is intense but balanced, and the pacing feels more natural than other fighting games, where practising or executing movesets mid-fight make the battle look stunted.
As such, the franchise has always been more accessible to fighting newbies than Tekken or Street Fighter. But make no mistake; movelists are still considerable and the technical complexity and depth behind the attacks are there, with each character having several speciality moves and archetypal combos to use. While button-mashing is a little bit easier in DoA 5, the technical ingredients needed to execute a powerful combo or devastating endgame counter are all there.
However, Dead or Alive’s core controls and interruption-based combat and counter system — strikes beat throws, throws beat holds and holds beat strikes — has often been criticised for its over-emphasis on defensive gameplay. Counters were useful but too easy to master in Dead or Alive 4 and the timing window was too generous, and this made many fights frustrating for players who had the perfect offensive strike but were countered every time. DoA 5 has made the window of opportunity for counters much stricter, and a better balance of offensive and defensive gameplay has come from this important tweak.
It’s all about timing, precision and flow.
Other important additions for advanced players include ‘Critical Bursts’, super-powerful and lethal blows available once per round with the right timing and strikes that allow you to turn the tide of a fight for good, and ‘Danger Zones’, which are areas of the stage — ranging from collapsing debris, explosive missiles and even circus tigers — which you can use to your advantage to deal out some serious damage to your opponent. These well-placed areas often help you regain lost momentum in a fight turned south and add another layer of tactical complexity to the paper-rock-scissors fighting mechanics. These environmental hazards also make for some epic set pieces and the over-the-top way they have been amped up makes each fight that much more enjoyable.
Fighting in DoA 5 takes place in three game modes: Story, Fighting — which includes Versus, Arcade, Time Attack and Survival — and Online. The Story Mode itself is structured so that instead of playing Arcade Mode as each character and unlocking their endings, you play through a series of sequences as nearly every one of the 24 characters available that flesh out the story from multiple perspectives and places in time, with the earlier levels acting as tutorials with optional missions to complete (such as successfully countering low-attacks). These tutorial missions encourage deeper learning of the game’s fighting mechanics, but are otherwise a chore in the later levels when the inconsistent A.I. either doesn’t give you a chance to perform some of the requirements, or are beefed up in difficulty which make completing them all the more harder.
These environmental hazards also make for some epic set pieces and the over-the-top way they have been amped up makes each fight that much more enjoyable.
The Fighting game types are the standard fare stuff expected in fighting titles, while the Online modes include the ability to organize and host tournaments for up to 16 players, though the connection and lag I experienced during my review time hampered my ability to completely experience what it had to offer, though I did get two matches out of 45 minutes of searching. It was a bit of a disappointment considering Tekken Tag Tournament 2 proved fighting games with strong netcode and dedicated multiplayer community thrive in the online arena.
There are some extra modes too, like Spectator mode, which enables users to chat with other players while watching fights, and Online Dojo, a training mode where one can practice with other players. Finally, Watch Mode allows players to watch relays of their matches and also take photographs with a fully controllable camera. Yeah, we all know what players will be using this mode for, don’t lie to yourself.
The character roster of Dead or Alive 5 is not as numerically large as Tekken Tag Tournament 2, standing at 24 characters which include two new fighters — Mila and Rig — and three unlockable ‘Guest’ fighters from the Virtua Fighter series — Akira, Sarah and Pai Chan. However, DoA 5’s roster stands out by having characters that are completely unique from each other, in fighting style, animations and appearances. There is Jann Lee, the over-the-top stereotypical Bruce-Lee archetype with fast and punishing Jeet-Kune Do punches and kicks; Lisa or La Mariposa, a rich and wealthy former Doatec employee by day and Luchadore by night specialising in high-flying aerial attacks; and Bass Armstrong, a long-time wrestling star who lumbers around and relies on slow but destructive power attacks and hard-hitting grapples.
Mila is my new favourite female fighter of DoA.
The last two especially highlight how although their backgrounds as wrestlers are the same, their movesets, animations and playstyles stand out from each other significantly. And, of course, Lisa gets skimpy wrestling costumes and Bass doesn’t. The two new characters — Mila the MMA fighter and Rig the… oil-rig brawler — are quite conservative compared to past DoA characters, but both are welcome additions, especially Mila, whose emphasis on punches and abundance of sexy but not overly skimpy costumes introduce a welcome change.
The narrative of Dead or Alive 5 is evidently Japanese. Depending on what type of games you play and your familiarity with Team Ninja titles, you’ll most likely be either entertained by the ridiculous awesomeness of it all, or left dumbfounded by the absurd way the characters interact and the contexts in which fights begin. The voice-acting is similarly crazy and absurd.
I understand there are only so many scenarios developers can concoct to give their fighters reasons to brawl, but the majority of the storyline is let-down by such dumbfounding encounters where fighting over the last rice-cake at dinner leads to a battle. This is the only section of the game where the over-the-top energy — embodied in the costumes, the characters, the action-packed gameplay and hazard-filled stages — does not work as well. But if you are familiar with the existing storyline of the previous entries and enjoyed it, you will most likely find the fifth entry an adequate continuation of the feuds and events established.
Use the devastatingly dangerous environments to your advantage.
The graphical engine behind Dead or Alive 5 does not disappoint. Visuals are crisp and colourful, and levels, characters and costumes are well detailed. There is some texture pixelation on a few character models, noticeably Bayman and his default costume, but these are minor and infrequent occurrences to an otherwise good-looking game. The new rendering has made glistening sweat, dirt and water affect characters realistically during fights, and fatigue is shown, though the same level of realism cannot be said for the costume-specific breast physics.
Every movement the female characters make seem to make their bosoms jiggle uncontrollably, and while it is a little less absurd than in previous titles, it does look a little silly than sexy. The new conveniently placed camera angles when players lose lets you unleash your inner voyeur as female fighters sulk or sit exhausted from their loss in compromising positions. Tina’s sweat and fatigue may look impressive, but you’ll no doubt be having a good look at her breasts. You can’t practically avoid it, the way the camera shoves it in your face.
The Final Verdict
Dead or Alive 5 is a welcome return of the fighting franchise and provides massive fan-service in the form of sexy female characters, costumes and effects, over-the-top fighting action and impressive visual presentation. However, the game plays it safe for a series well known for innovation, and besides the introduction of power blows and expansion of Danger Zones, the basic formula remains the same. Along with the single-player offerings remaining the same and character customisation still missing, it may be a bit of a disappointment for hardcore fans who waited for six years. Otherwise, DoA 5 is a solid and enjoyable fighting game experience.