It may have taken almost seven years, but Team NINJA has returned to bring back their much beloved fighting franchise to consoles, Dead or Alive. After a long hiatus, does the franchise return in full force or is it a lacking installment?
Dead or Alive was always an interesting fighter, and not solely because of the chicks and their “boob physics”. DOA was built around the concept of a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” fighting mechanic, in which certain moves work out better against others. Still to this day, this mechanic really stands out by providing a very complex, yet gratifyingly sense of accomplishment when understood. Thankfully, newcomers, as well as fans who need a brush up course, will be taught how every mechanic comes into play via DOA5’s Story mode.
DOA5‘s Story mode takes place shortly after the events of DOA4, in which Kasumi is determined to find Alpha-152, her weaponized clone that DOATEC created, and eradicate her completely. In the meantime, Helena Douglas is trying to give DOATEC a re-imaging by holding a fifth Dead or Alive tournament and showcase that they’re not all about creating weapons. Throughout the game’s 60+ missions (which will take roughly 3 hours to complete), you will take control of every character from the DOA universe and witness how their story connects with everything at hand. The story jumps around a good amount due to the fact that you’ll focus on a specific character each chapter and see their whole story, as opposed to a linear story structure. It has an intriguing opening scene that will definitely grab your attention, however the story from this point all the way until the halfway point won’t garner your attention as much. It’s not until the second half where the story really picks up tremendously and has you truly engaged. Regardless, the pacing is properly done and you’ll find yourself getting through this in no time, mainly because it has a “one more fight” appeal to it. To add some replay value to the story, Team NINJA added Bonus Missions in each fight where you’ll have to complete a certain stipulation (i.e. Perform 3 Mid-Counters, Perform a Ground Hold 3 Times, etc.). Completing these will unlock Titles, which are mainly to add some taglines to your profile when going online. You can have up to two Titles shown on your profile at once.
Aside from the Story, you’ll have your main fight modes such as Versus, Arcade, Time Attack, Survival and Training. Versus will let you take on your buddies or the COM in any way you see fit, solo or tag team. You’ll be able to adjust the COM’s difficulty, health bars, rounds, and time limit. Arcade mode will have you tackling eight stages in solo, or five stages in tag team, against the COM in a range of up to eight difficulties: Rookie, Easy, Normal, Hard, Champ, True Fighter, Master and Legend (which is not visible until you’ve unlocked and completed True Fighter and Master). Time Attack is the same ordeal as Arcade except it’s about getting through the stages as fast as possible to post a competitive time for people to beat on the leaderboards. Survival is back as well from the past, this time broken up into difficulties and each difficulty adds more fighters you’ll have to take on. Each time you take out an opponent, you’ll receive a little bit of health back but if you’re expecting to pick up items that bump up your score (from previous DOAs) from downed fighters, that won’t be found here. Training returns as well with even more features at your disposal to truly let you master your characters in a variety of scenarios. The Command Training is where you’ll want to get the most out of mastering your character as it will showcase every move in order. Should you need to see what you’re supposed to be doing, you can click the R3/RS button to view a demo of that particular move; a very handy feature.
When it comes to fighting games, there’s always the concern of characters not being properly balanced. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry about that here. If there’s one thing Team NINJA has done extensively, it’s design characters that all have their pros and cons but never overpower each other. When choosing one of the 25+ characters, you’ll notice that for the first time ever, they have a stat breakdown. All characters are rated based on Strike, Throw, Hold, Power, Speed and Moves. There’s not a single fight that you’ll partake in thinking “damn, this character is cheap” and the reason for this is DOA’s infamous Counter system. When it comes to an intuitive counter system, DOA has always stood on top of the list of fighters. It is because of this counter system that the fights in DOA are always interesting and edgy. They have returned to the 4-point counter system (hi, mid, mid-forward and low), in which you’ll have to master when to counter an opponent’s move or stop their combo.
There are a few new features to be found in DOA5 that are well implemented. First off, new moves that can make battles more interesting and provide more flair are the Critical Strikes and Power Blows. Critical Strikes will allow you to really give your opponent no chance of countering or attacking for a little bit more time than normal. To successfully pull this off however, you’ll need to string a combo and then a Critical Strike move for it to be effective. You’ll know you did it right because a powerful audio effect and screen shake will kick in at that moment. Power Blows are charged up moves (think Ultimate Techniques from Ninja Gaiden) that can be initiated when your health bar is flashing red (which is at the 50% mark) and if pulled off successfully, you’ll witness a flashy and brutal combo to only be finished off by quickly choosing a specific location or Danger Zone to knock the opponent into. You’ll only get one of these per round so you can’t abuse this system continuously in a match. Speaking of Danger Zones though, DOA5 introduces a much more enhanced type known as Special Danger Zones. Knocking opponents into these will cause the environment to alter, whether it’s causing the building you’re on to collapse, a raft to dislodge from a tree and fall off a waterfall, or knock someone into a military chopper and blow it up. These moments are jaw-dropping to say the least and give DOA5 an intense, cinematic style to the fights that really bring a deep immersion into them. Initiating these Special Danger Zones to trigger is immensely satisfying as it really draws out the intensity of a battle to a whole new level…literally. Another feature brought to DOA5 is partially one that was implemented in DOA: Dimensions for the 3DS and that is the ability to have your move list open in front of you during a fight. Where as the 3DS used the touch screen to showcase your move list and you could tap the move to pull it off automatically, DOA5 has it placed in a corner of your screen and you’ll be able to scroll through it with the right analog stick. However, just note that you can’t have the move be pulled off for you like the 3DS edition. Lastly, the one additional feature to further add to game’s combat are the Cliffhangers. Cliffhangers will initiate when your opponent is knocked off a high ledge from environmental alteration and from here, a little mini-game is in effect. As the striker that initiated it, you’ll have to press either the Throw or Attack (Punch or Kick) button to keep dealing more damage to your opponent while transitioning to the next part of the arena. As the defendant, you’ll have to press a button to quickly grab the ledge, followed by the Throw or Attack button in hopes of pressing the same button as your opponent. Should you succeed, you’ll deflect the opponent’s attack. It’s a great little addition that changes up the pace of the fight and just look amazing to see in action. Every character has their own unique Cliffhanger attacks that are showcased and seeing them all is a pure joy.
In terms of new characters to the series, Mila and Rig make their first debuts and to much welcome. Mila is an MMA fighter and seeing how popular the sport is in today’s times, it seems like a logical route to go. Her strikes are incredibly fast and proves to be a likable character that many may want to look into trying out. Rig, a Tae Kwon Do fighter, is another very welcome addition. His expertise in lightning fast kicks and sleek maneuverability make him a character that many may want to also consider testing out. Then you have your Virtua Fighter cameo characters: Akira, Sarah and Pai. For you Virtua Fighter fans, you’ll be glad to hear that Team NINJA replicated these characters exactly the way you remember from their respective series. Everything from the character’s details, to their move set is here in full swing.
Naturally, many people are looking forward to taking DOA online and there are a few modes in play here. You can keep it straight forward by doing Simple Match, which is basically an unranked match and probably a good place for beginners to start. DOA competitors will most certainly be tackling the Ranked Matches so that they can show off their skills and receive higher grades. The grade system from DOA4 and DOA: Dimensions is back in play here but for those who don’t know, you’ll earn Grade Points for each match won. Once you’ve earned enough points, you’ll go up a grade (i.e. F to F+, then to E-, then E, etc). However, should you lost a match, you’ll lose some points and can be degraded. The last setup is Lobby Match, and this is probably where most of the action is going to be happening. Up to 16 players can join up in someone’s lobby and from there, you can tweak the settings so that Winner-Stays or Loser-Stays, as well as different scenarios like Kunite and Online Dojo. Entering a lobby allows you to spectate entire matches, text/voice chat during them and also let’s you view the fight progress so that you see when you’re up. The online experience was a mixed bag in my time with it prior to the game’s release. Some of the matches played had a little bit of lag and others were completely lag-free. At its current state, it’s close to the net code for DOA: Dimensions on the 3DS. It’s entirely playable but there may be some slight lag depending on people’s connections. Also returning from DOA: Dimensions are Throwdowns, except it’s a bit different this time around. While playing the game offline, you can receive Throwdown invitations mid-fight. Simply pressing the Select/Back button, you can accept someone’s invitation and initiate an online match (think of SFIV or MvC3 where you have the Arcade Request except you aren’t forced into them). It’s a cool feature that keeps the online aspect of the game constantly going.
Visually, DOA5 looks stunning for the most part. The character models are incredibly detailed, showcasing sweat during fights, as well as environment interaction. Should the characters fight in the middle of a warzone, sand and dirt will stick to the character as the fight goes on. Same goes for when you’re fighting in the snow. The snow will stick to the character and their clothing. It’s the attention to little details such as this that make the character models pop out more. The lighting within the backdrops and environments are exceptionally well done, fleshing out the arenas with more life. Whether you’re fighting on a moving raft through a cave, on a building top that’s falling apart, or on an elevator in a laboratory, every stage has is detailed nicely. There are other things going on in the backgrounds of stages as well that really make the arenas stand out from being simple, cardboard-cutout environments. For example, when fighting in a gym boxing ring, you’ll see other people training in the background while your fight is going on. Again, it’s little details that add up to making the visuals pop out more.
The game runs at its signature 60fps at all times and character animations are top-notch. All the animations for the fighters are incredibly choreographed and make watching them in action a complete spectacle. As amazing as these characters looked in action, the Story cutscenes had a different effect. Characters look pretty good in the cutscenes but mouths were very stiff when talking, making them look a bit odd at times.
As great as the game looks, there was a gripe I had that hurt the game’s graphics score, and that’s the inconsistent texture work in the environments. Most environments, as I stated, look great. However, for some odd reason, some of the ground textures seem a bit washed out at times. Everything in the environment might look great but when you notice the ground, it certainly stands out from the more polished details within the environment, giving an inconsistent look. An example would be the Street and Primal levels, in which the ground textures look a bit bland. In the Primal level, the snake and alligator in the background are neat and look decent, but you’ll notice the textures don’t have that fine-tuned polish. Also, the grass textures look a bit off. In the Streets level, objects like a trashed car or barrels that you knock an enemy into could also look a bit sharper, as can the ground. However, then you have other stages like the Flow, Fuel, and Scramble stages that looks absolutely stunning. While it’s a minor gripe, it’s one that definitely detracted from the visual score. Regardless, DOA5 looks great and has some of the best character models in a fighting game.
DOA5 has a great soundtrack that accompanies some truly powerful audio effects. From the moment you enter the main menu, the game gets your blood pumping, ready to get your fight on. Whether you’re fighting in a military zone, atop a collapsing building, in a jungle or on the streets, every track does a great job of capturing the setting of the fight. Music changes to more intense, dramatic tunes when a Special Danger Zone is initiated, heightening the adrenaline of a match. Some tunes also return from the previous DOAs, such as Christie’s theme and Alpha-152’s (which is always a badass song to fight to). This time around, the music played in matches will pertain to the locations as opposed to the opponent’s theme song. The audio effects really do a great job of signifying how powerful every hit is, including when initiating the Critical Strikes and Power Blows. It all adds up in providing an adrenaline-fueled audio experience that goes hand-in-hand with the gameplay. Definitely a game to crank up your sound system or Turtle Beach headsets.
Unfortunately, there are two songs that really ruin the game’s well done soundtrack: Zack’s theme and “The Show” stage. Zack’s theme song is an incredibly childish and awkward song to listen to that will irritate to no end. The Show is a stage where you’ll fight in a circus and while the stage looks cool, playing overly cheerly carnival music in a dramatic fight just doesn’t fit…at all. As a matter of fact, I had the audio blasting the whole time I played DOA5 but when these two songs would kick in, down that volume went. Luckily Zack’s theme only plays during his scenes in the story and The Show’s song is strictly for that level. Also, English Voice Acting is a mixed bag. The voice acting is ok, with some characters doing a decent job, while others are not as effective. Interestingly, for the VF characters, their audio sounds slightly muffled just like the way it does in those games. It’s actually pretty cool to see they’ve replicated those characters to that extent. For DOA fans, you can switch the voice acting audio track to Japanese to bring back the feel of the originals a bit more.
Replay Value: 5/5
DOA5 has a decent amount of modes but they’ll surely keep you occupied for quite some time. Whether you’re aiming to earn 100% of the Titles (good luck with that), unlocking every costume for all the characters, unlocking all the system voices, completing all the Bonus Missions in the Story mode, or playing the game with buddies locally or online, DOA5 is a game that will stay in your system for weeks to come. Whether you play for 10 minutes or multiple hours straight, DOA5 will provide an enormous amount of entertainment.
Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10
It’s been a long time coming, but DOA is finally back and returns in full force. There are a few quirks that counters DOA from achieving perfection, but in terms of gameplay, this is a perfectly tuned fighter. The game was mentioned as “Fighting Entertainment” by Team NINJA and in that sense, they meant that the game was accessible to both newcomers who’ve never enjoyed fighting games, as well as the core fan base. They’ve definitely succeeded by providing an experience that anyone can wrap their hands around and be engrossed in. Fans rejoice! Not only is DOA back, it could very well be the best fighting game of 2012.
+ Addictive, gratifying combat system
+ Strong audio
+ Jaw-dropping Special Danger Zones; Cliffhangers are awesome
+ Great amount of content to keep the replay value going
+ Character balancing is finely tuned
- Some uneven environmental textures
- Ho-hum voice acting; some are decent, others not so much
- Two particular songs are grating and deter from an otherwise strong soundtrack
A special thank you to Tecmo Koei, Team NINJA and One PR Studio for providing us an early review copy for Dead or Alive 5 on PS3! Be sure to follow us on Twitter for all the latest news and reviews: @GamersXTREME