Let’s start this thing off with a bit of an admission;
I’ve only casually been a fan of the Dead or Alive series of fighting games in the past. That has changed with the release of Dead or Alive 5. This is as good as the DOA series has ever been.
With that out of the way, let’s get this bad boy rolling.
Team Ninja has made some pretty big changes to the tried and true formula. Mostly aesthetically, but they go a long way towards refining the experience. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the new art direction. Gone are the stylized, anime-inspired character models of past games in favor of a more realistic, detailed look. The character models are crisp and detailed, and feature dynamic and believable facial expressions. Fighters get dirty and bruised as the fights progress, and sweat visibly runs down their faces and bodies.
Sweat and water will also dampen clothing to varying degrees depending on the actual materials. For instance, knock Hitomi into a puddle while she’s wearing a white tee, and it’ll be saturated to the point of transparency. However, if you do the same while she’s wearing her coat, the saturation will far less noticeable.
The environments are highly detailed as well, and frankly gorgeous. There’s always something happening in the background, whether it be the circus level with trapeze artists soaring above and tigers jumping through flaming rings or the Hot Zone stage with a military skirmish causing chaos all around. The stages are teeming with activity.
Frankly, DOA5 just might be the most visually impressive fighter on the market right now. And, like every iteration since DOA2, the stages are highly interactive. The stages in DOA5 might very well be the most interactive arenas in any fighting game to date. This is further enhanced by the inclusion of Danger Zones. Danger Zones are certain objects or areas on the map that activate a cinematic event that deals large damage if a fighter is knocked into them. One example is the stage called Scramble that starts out on top of a Japanese skyscraper. On the top-tier, you can knock your opponent into a stack of girders, which opens up that area for further interactivity by then allowing you to send your opponent flying over the edge. At street level, you can send your opponent flying into oncoming vehicles and other such hazards for massive damage. Danger Zones cause you to put a lot of thought into where you are on the map, resulting in a new level of strategy.
And since it’s Dead or Alive, mention must be made of the…ahem….jiggle physics. No longer will you wonder how characters aren’t getting knocked out by their own breasts. The breast physics have been severely toned down in DOA5. Team Ninja tried to bring the jiggle down to a believable level to match the new realistic look. They’re still exaggerated to a point, but they’re as realistic as they’ve ever been. One neat aspect is that they will jiggle more or less depending on what type of clothing the ladies are wearing. Team Ninja apparently put a lot of thought into boobs while making this game.
Now, onto the game itself.
When you hit the main menu, you’ll see Story, Fight, Online, Extras, Options and PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Marketplace depending on which console you’re playing on.
Story Mode is a bit different from past iterations in that it actually features a coherent story at all. It’s actually a bit similar to the recent Mortal Kombat reboot in the way it due to the liberal use of cutscenes. The story itself isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s entertaining. It is however, a bit on the short side. I finished it up in about 5 hours.
Fight mode consists of Arcade (where you unlock the majority of new costumes), Versus, Time Attack, Survival and Training. All of which should need no explanation. Tag matches also make a return, complete with team specific tag combos and character interactions. There are plenty of option for local play.
Extras is where you’ll find the Fight Records, Photo Viewer and Fight Viewer. In the Fight Viewer, you can watch saved replays or have two CPU controlled fighters duke it out and take photos of the fight. You would then view those photos in, go figure, the Photo Viewer.
Should you choose to take the fight online you’ll be presented with a few basic options. Simple Match is essentially Quick Match, and matches you up with another player under very basic criteria such as region and number of rounds. Ranked Match is exactly what it sounds like. Lobby Match is where you can join up with up to 15 other players and keep the fight going. Then there are Leaderboards, which is pretty self-explanatory, and Fighter List. The Fighter List is where you’ll find all the opponents you didn’t hate playing against that you registered. It allows you to quickly see who’s online so you can initiate a Throwdown (similar to Street Fighter IV’s Fight Requests). In my brief time with the game’s online modes, I didn’t experience any connection or lag issues. It’s also important to note that the game uses an Online Pass. So be wary if you plan on buying the game used and wish to fight online.
The gameplay proper will feel largely familiar to series veterans. The backbone of gameplay is still the Triangle System. The Triangle System is a rock-paper-scissors type of system that governs how Throws, Holds (Counters) and Strikes work in relation to one another.
Strikes beat throws, throws beat holds and holds beat strikes. For instance, a well-timed strike while an opponent attempts a throw will result in a Hi Counter that deals up to 50% more damage. It’s possible to play the game without making use of the system, but it only serves to deepen the core gameplay.
Counters themselves use the same 4-point system from DOA4. Diagonal up plus the hold button for high punches/kicks, back plus hold for mid punches, forward plus hold for mid kicks and diagonal down plus hold for low punches/kicks. The timing for counters is more specific in comparison to DOA4 however, and the amount of damage they inflict has been reduced. They still deal more damage than typical attacks, but fights can no longer be won by simply performing 3-4 basic counters. Countering takes some practice to really nail, but once you do the game has a flow that is unrivaled in the genre. A match between two counter savvy players really feels like watching an action packed kung-fu film.
The major new addition to the gameplay is Power Blows. Power Blows are used to set up and launch characters into the aforementioned Danger Zones. Each character has a unique, chargeable Power Blow that initiates a brief cutscene that ends in a slow motion attack. During the slow-mo you can actually pan the camera to choose where you want to launch your opponent. Be that a surging power generator or off the side of a glacier. A fully charged Power Blow is un-holdable, but they can, and often are, interrupted by strikes. You also can’t fully charge a Power Blow until your life bar is at 50% or lower. So, unlike the Critical Edge attacks from Soulcalibur 5, they don’t feel over-powered and rarely determine the outcome of the match.
Another new feature is Cliffhangers. As an example, if you launch an opponent off the skyscraper in the Scramble stage, they can grab hold of the ledge if they can hit the throw button quickly enough. If they manage to save themselves from the fall, your fighter will dash at them and perform an aerial strike if press one of the strike buttons in time, or an aerial throw if you press the throw button. On the flip side however, your opponent will perform an aerial counter if they manage to press the same button that you do. This will result in you taking the fall damage and a bit of strike damage instead of them. It all plays out in a very cinematic and action packed fashion, and pulling off a successful aerial attack is very satisfying.
It’s also worth noting that DOA5, in a series first, features true sidestepping. It’s not a major new feature, but it’s something DOA has long needed.
The 24-character-strong roster consists of series mainstays like Kasumi, Hayate, Jann Lee, Ayane and Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa as well as DOA4′s Eliot, Kokoro and La Mariposa. There are only two new characters this time around. Aspiring MMA fighter Mila and the tattooed Taekwondo-expert Rig. They fit in nicely. To top off the cast, Akira Yuki, Sarah Bryant and Pai Chan from Sega’s Virtua Fighter series appear as playable guest characters. They all jibe well with the regular DOA cast, but personally I’m a bit upset they didn’t include Jacky Bryant. I was hoping for some epic Jeet Kun Do showdowns between him and Jann Lee. Future DLC, perhaps?
After all’s said and done, DOA5 changes up the formula just enough while retaining what fans love about the series. It’s got all the buxom babes, lush and interactive environments and crazy over-the-top action you’d expect. But new features like the Power Blows, Cliffhangers and tweaked counter attributes make sure the game feels fresh. It’s the first Dead or Alive game that has hooked me for more than a week. I can comfortably say that Dead or Alive is the best Dead or Alive that Team Ninja has produced.
I give Dead or Alive 5 a rating of 8 Chinese Pianists out of 10 3/4.
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