Developer: Tecmo (Team Ninja)
Progress: Well it's a fighting game so it never ends right?
Of all the major fighting game franchises, Dead or Alive is probably the one that still hasn't cracked the mainstream no matter how good the most recent installments in the series have been. Everybody knows Tekken and Street Fighter but mention DOA and your conversation partner is likely to smirk and say "That's the one with the big boobs, right?" or "I always thought that was a perv's game". Well, both of those views are correct BUT this public perception does Team Ninja's fighting game a disservice because there's a great game beneath the T&A apocalypse. It's taken me until now to review this game but I did actually have the original release at launch back in 2012. Unfortunately, it came up against hardened competition in the form of the recently-released Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Street Fighter IV was still very strong at this point too so while DOA5 got it's fair share of praise, it did also come off as a little sparse and shallow next to its rivals and very much sold to the established fanbase. I really enjoyed it though and immediately decided that it was my favourite in the series. A Street Fighter II style revision programme followed with much DLC and a standalone update in the form of DOA5: Ultimate but it didn't end there because a new generation of machines meant another update subtitled Last Round. Only recently have I got stuck into the latest (and surely final) version of one of my favourite modern fighting games but I thought it was high time I wrote something about it anyway.
The first feeling I had towards Last Round was complete fury. Y'see, it's possible to upload your PS3 save to the servers and then retrieve it upon starting up the PS4 game...a great idea of course but not when it took me literally more than 2 hours to download and install the boatload of updates for the software, console and PS Store on both the PS3 and PS4 before I could get things moving. It's not the game's fault of course; my PS3 hadn't been updated in a while and my internet connection is less like Usain Bolt and more like that bloke you see half-heartedly sprinting for a bus that he knows is leaving without him. Then I had to delete my initial PS4 save data and boot the game from scratch to finally get my data carried over. Was that the end? Was it bollocks. None of the customised music settings carry over with the data transfer and all of the DLC needs individually re-downloading, piece by piece. The final kick in the nuts was certain items of DLC simply not being available to download on the PS4 despite the fact that I had bought them on the PS3. Oh but the costume selection shows those exact items as "not downloaded". Well, where are they then? (more on this later).
So not what I'd describe as a fantastic start. Hours of buggering about with settings and DLC meant that I didn't even play the game that day. Remember when games were fun? You stuck your Combat cartridge into your Atari 2600 and just played. None of these headaches. But this is modern gaming and if you want to be a part of it then you need to accept the drawbacks. Thankfully, Last Round has so far proved worth jumping through those hoops for.
|This 'costume' (if you can call it that!) fried my mind. Yes, I am a perv.|
The thing that Dead or Alive does so well (especially here in it's fifth iteration) is cater for both the casual and dedicated players of fighting games. Other developers like to bang on about how their titles are continually striving to appeal to players of "all skill levels" but what this usually amounts to is a dumbing down of the core fighting system(s), lots of hand-holding or more tutorials. Tekken and Street Fighter are both guilty of crowing about how "anybody" can engage with them but I've never agreed with this because both of those series' have always been pretty high level with set combos and lots of technical stuff which can be ignored but those who do so won't get very far. You have to at least try and get your head around how these games are supposed to be played is what I'm saying. DOA on the other hand is kind to button-mashers on the easier difficulties, has just two primary attack buttons (plus one each for throws and counters) and combos strings that are easy to pull off by accident, even. Take the fight beyond "Rookie" or "Easy" however and a player wanting to better themselves will need to start paying attention to juggling and using more counters. It's not mandatory though and a player who just wants to sit back for an hour or so and kick some ass while admiring the superb presentation can do so without feeling pressured to get better at the game.
I sit somewhere in the middle. I like to memorise the combos and get good as my preferred characters but I'd struggle on the top difficulties I reckon. That's because the CPU on the higher settings (or good online players for that matter) will make a mess of you if your homework hasn't been done. Combos are easy to pull off and quite intuitive as if you can feel which follow-up moves are going to connect and keep a string of hits going. What's more - unlike Tekken - there are usually a vast amount of options available when experimenting with which moves can directly follow-up another move. A lot of characters have another set of commands that can only be pulled off when facing backwards which is quite cool and can make an opponent pause to consider just what you are going to do next.
|Rachel from Ninja Gaiden versus Ryu Hayabusa...on an aircraft carrier?|
Dead or Alive's main draw however is its fast and fluid combat paired with its signature counter mechanics. I'll talk about the graphics in a bit but I can't resist commending the animation now. The way that all the fighters move and flow is fantastic and far more fluid than most other 3D fighting games. There's a sense of realism to the animation despite many over the top, unrealistic moves and this fits well with the fast-paced nature of the fighting. I suppose if I had to describe the fighting with one word then I'd call it "loose" because there's a feeling of freedom. Yes, other fighting games animate just as well but their moves and combos tend to feel a bit more...rigid.
The counters are another unique mechanic and probably the biggest thing for a player aspiring to hold their own on higher difficulties to need to get good at. The first thing to get your head around is that there are three basic types of counters - high, medium and low - and the player must use the correct one depending on the height of an incoming strike. Novice players can get by by just using the basic mid-height counter since the majority of moves will come in at this level (and combo strings will likely include medium height blows anyway) but if you want to get good then you gotta try and respond to each situation rather than just mashing the input for a mid-level counter and hoping that the opponent is going to aim for the gut. The second item of note is that there is a fourth counter input specifically for kicks! Now all you have to do is select the right one while your opponent is coming at you with those previously mentioned lightning fast moves. It's not easy, especially for a rookie, and I'll freely admit that I struggled for a good while. I'm still not a pro by any means now but I can hold my own reasonably well. Head-level strikes are probably the toughest to counter in my opinion.
Oh and there are even special counter moves requiring multiple directional inputs + the counter button...all executed in that split second before a strike connects. But if all this talk of mechanics and gameplay is boring you then I suppose I can move on to the Dead or Alive's other main draw...
|There are words here somewhere but I'll be damned if I can find them.|
...the famous ladies. Yes this is certainly not a game for those with highbrow tastes or those offended by playful sexualisation. The series has always traded off its ability to render the hottest and most idealistic females in all fighting games and it definitely hasn't surrendered that crown here. The graphics in general for this game are incredible but character models in particular are ludicrously good with realistic lighting and shading married to a scary mastery of skin shading and anatomy. Sure, some aspects of anatomy have been exaggerated but try to look past that (I know it's difficult but give it a go!) and the models in general for men AND women are just way above those in other games. It's a fact that will be lost on a lot of gamers though because this exceptional 3D artistry is used by Team Ninja to present the most outrageously idealistic female forms in gaming and this naturally puts some off playing the game in the first place while encouraging others to rant about sexism or perversion.
If I may clamber onto my soapbox for a moment though (ouch; didn't notice that nail sticking out there), I really don't see the big deal about this and I never have. Yes, the majority of women in the real world don't look like this and yes, it is highly improbable that all of the ladies showing up for a fighting tournament would have huge, perfectly shaped boobs but since when were videogames reality? A lot of the politically-correct crusaders seem to forget that it IS possible to enjoy a game such as this and then switch the machine off, go outside and not expect to see the fairer sex looking like Kasumi or Helena. I know: shock and horror, right? It's called escapism and there's nothing wrong with coming back from a shitty day at the office and spending an hour or so with DOA, kicking some ass and enjoying some hot girls. I'm not ashamed to admit that I like this part of Dead or Alive and I've spent a ridiculous amount on DLC costumes too, some of them skimpy to the "Oh my God...how did they get away with this?!?" degree. Overall, I consider the consumption of a bit of titillation to be much less worrying compared to FPS players drooling over headshots so let's stop making a big deal out of it.
The only character that makes me a bit uncomfortable is Marie Rose, a newcomer to DOA5 who - according to a bio I just looked up - is supposed to be 18 years old but looks like a young girl. Seeing this character dressed up in racier outfits or bikinis makes me feel like a like a criminal so no, it's really not for me at all.
|The environments are really special in this game.|
Team Ninja don't just end by crafting a roster of lovely ladies and gifting them wardrobes stuffed with a bajillion different bikinis and other provocative outfits though. In this fifth installment, you are free to manipulate the camera during a character's victory or defeat poses, allowing you to get up close from whichever angle you choose. To admire the quality of the game's graphics of course. Yeah. There are also multiple settings in the options menu for breast animation. Really. The "DoA" setting gives you exactly what you'd expect: very bouncy and jiggly assets. Then there is the "Last Round" setting which tunes things up to out-of-control water balloon territory. Pleasingly, there is also a "natural" setting which is at least a good foil for the already optimistic bust sizes in the game. I tend to leave it set to the intermediate "DoA" setting but "Natural" is also more than pleasing on the eye and a little more sensible perhaps - if the bounciness is just too much for your brain to handle.
But they weren't content with all of this were they? Oh no, they also added the ability to manually jiggle the female characters' boobs about by shaking the Dualshock controller. I have experimented with this feature for the sake of reviewing this game (I do like to take one for the team) and can conclude that a) it looks ridiculous and b) it was the most unnecessary addition in a game ever. This is coming from somebody who has no problems with any of the other stuff at all. I mean, there's no defending or justifying this abuse of the Dualshock's motion abilities is there? Fascinating the first few times, a bit cringeworthy after that.
|Overly-endowed schoolgirl kicks the crap out of a huge bloke. Because Japan.|
There are a lot of new characters in the Dead or Alive 5 series as well. Unsurprisingly, Team Ninja only added one new male character in the form of Rig, a hard-ass Taekwondo character. For the ladies, they added Mila (an MMA fighter), Honoka (er...schoolgirl with unrealistic strength?!?), Marie Rose (jailbait lolita), Phase-4 (a Kasumi clone with unique moves) and Nyotengu (a female version of the previous Tengu boss character. A host of classic characters and bosses also return including Raidou, Alpha 152 and Ein. Then there are the crossover characters: Rachel and Momiji from Ninja Gaiden, Naotora Li from Samurai Warriors and Sarah, Jacky, Pai and Akira from Sega's Virtua Fighter. SNK's Mai Shiranui is also set to join the roster in the near future (another Kunoichi with a big chest? Shocker.). The Virtua Fighter characters actually work a lot better than I expected and I will even go out on a limb and say that they are a little overpowered. A CPU Jacky Bryant certainly feels a little cheap at times and is easily my worst character to come up against. His sister Sarah is almost as tough. Overall though, the four VF characters have been faithfully rendered by Team Ninja, don't look out of place at all and fit really well into the line-up in terms of their moves and fighting styles.
Of the brand-new characters, Mila is probably my favourite simply for the fact that a female MMA fighter is quite unusual in a fighting game. She's got a tall MMA figure and I really like her gym stage which reminds me of a run-down training establishment suited to the Rocky movies. Nyotengu and Rachel are probably the next two I want to try and play as. The former has some interesting flight-based attacks while the latter is brute strength wrapped up in leathery dominatrix attire. It's a very complete roster for a DOA game though and easily the best so far. The crossover characters all slot in really well and there is a good variety of fighting styles across the board even if some are just daft (Honoka, I'm looking at you).
If I have one complaint about Dead or Alive 5 then it's the DLC side of things. There are absolutely tons of DLC outfits, multipack options and so on. Bear in mind that they have been releasing DLC costumes since the very first edition of DOA5 and they are still doing it today with Last Round so whereas other games might have a selection of Halloween outfits to download, DOA5 has new sets for every year the game has been available. There are Christmas outfits, maid outfits, police outfits, bathtowel outfits (I know, I know...), zillions of Bikinis and so much more. There are collaborations with Manga artists and even crossover outfits from the likes of Attack on Titan, Senran Kagura and the Atelier RPG series. Unless you've actually looked at just how many there are on the Playstation Store then you can't begin to comprehend what I'm talking about. This isn't even my complaint though: my complaint is that this extreme amount of DLC is so badly organised on the store that finding what you're after is a nightmare. Some outfits require compatibility packs to be downloaded first, others are available individually or only as part of multipacks and some are listed as "unavailable" even though I had them on one of the PS3 iterations of the game and SHOULD be able to download them again, free of charge. So yes, there are glitches with the DLC catalogue and with this much poorly arranged content, it's no surprise.
|It's all very nice but try finding what you want on the store...|
To conclude my account of Dead or Alive 5 Last Round, I still wouldn't recommend this as the must-play 3D fighter on modern systems. That's not to say that DOA is a weak fighting game because it most certainly is not and my aforementioned praise for how it plays is my genuine view. It's more that DOA isn't even in the same market as the fantastic Tekken Tag 2 or Virtua Fighter 5. Tecmo dubbed Dead or Alive 5 as "Fighting Entertainment" and that's exactly what it is. Yes, there is a competitive and extremely well engineered fighting engine beneath the pretty aesthetics but I see this as a game you come to for entertainment. I love Tekken for example but if I'm going to play it then I will refresh myself on my chosen characters' entire movelist and be set on playing it seriously. With DOA5 you have the cinematic camera angles, Hollywood-esque destructive stages, incredible moves and the ability to switch between around 40 costumes (with adjustable components) for some characters. The whole thing is an action-packed, sexy graphical tour-de-force that entertains without demanding too much from the player if they don't feel like becoming a tourney god and as far as I'm concerned, it's great that we have that variety in fighting games.