In seven years since Team Ninja’s fighting game Dead or Alive last appeared, the world has changed. The more liberal people think they are, the more strait-laced they secretly become. Things that were nice and normal before are suddenly considered harmful. Brutal violence is okay, mind you, but beautiful and sexy girls are a definitive no-no! So, to save the youth from a terrible fate, today’s game heroines are clothed from head to toe and appear homely. This attitude has also reached Dead or Alive series that rose to fame with its buxom and underclad female combatants (well, there are male fighters, too, but who cares about them?). It’s a bit unfair to blame the fame only for the obvious eye candy because underneath, there has been fast-paced, flashy and competent fighting games. How does Dead or Alive 6 fit into today’s gaming climate? Thankfully, runaway ninja princess Kasumi, her half-sister Ayane and other girls are as beautiful as ever but gasp, they have more clothes on!
Let’s tackle the controversy issue out of the way, shall we? Fan service has been toned down, that’s for sure. The girls are as ample and jiggly as they’ve been, but their outfits aren’t as daring as before. It’s all to please western moralists, as beach-frolicking Dead or Alive Xtreme 3’s latest iteration comes out only in Japan this month and that game borders on soft porn! There still is fan service in Dead or Alive 6 (some of British assassin Christie’s apparel look like they come from S&M catalog and pro-wrestler Tina must be allergic to shirts), it’s just not as in-your-face anymore. It also must be partially due to the replay mode where you can rotate and zoom saved replays of the fights to your heart’s content and take pictures that could end up most obscene were the clothes any raunchier. While I really liked Tai Chi prodigy Leifang’s suspenders and low-cut denim shorts combo in Dead or Alive 5, reduced fan service is not necessarily a bad thing. It might make people take the game more seriously and unearth the satisfying gameplay beneath its skin.
Yes, the gameplay. It makes or breaks any fighting game, no matter how alluring its cast might appear. I have been Dead or Alive fan ever since the first game in the series. At this point, some might remark that I have said the same about Tekken, SoulCalibur and Virtua Fighter. And they’d be absolutely correct. I make it no secret that I’m a fighting game enthusiast. The fact that I like one series doesn’t mean I should look down others, as each has its own thing that makes them special. I like Dead or Alive (aside the cast) for its fast and dynamic combo-based action. It doesn’t even try to be as sophisticated as Tekken or as pedant as Virtua Fighter. In many ways, Dead or Alive 6 is old-fashioned as it makes no efforts to reform the series core gameplay. If you have played past Dead or Alive games, you can jump right in and feel at home. Holds, in other words reversals, are a sign of a skilled player and you can pull them off for some show-off. Often, though, it only takes a rapid and relentless offensive to emerge victorious.
Maybe it’s also to please the Western audience that the game tempo is slower than before. When I ran Dead or Alive 5 Last Round and 6 side by side, the difference was noticeable. That's not to say the game is sluggish by any means, as it’s faster-paced than most fighters out there, especially those made in the west. At first, the slower pace bothered me because faster inputs were etched to my backbone, but the more I played and got to the game’s groove, the less of an issue it became. Also, if you’re not as experienced with the series as I am, you won’t probably even notice what I’m talking about.
There’s another concession made to the gameplay that also Tekken 7 and SoulCalibur VI fell for, and that’s a one-button special move. When the two-part special meter is filled up by landing or receiving hits, tapping R1 unleashes a fatal rush that on the fourth strike sends the opponent flying by a powerful knockback move that results in minor bruising, unrolled hairdos and partially torn clothes. Fatal rush chain can only be broken by a well-timed break hold. In practice, whenever the meter is filled up, it’s best to use the move as it’s painlessly easy to execute, and even without the meter, it’s a fast and powerful combo attack, just without the knockback.
There are initially 24 fighters in Dead or Alive 6’s roster. The most essential characters of the series are back for trading knuckle sandwiches and the few omissions are pretty much in the who cares category. A demon girl Nyotengu will be available at the launch day for pre-orderers while Kasumi’s clone Phase 4 will be a digital deluxe edition bonus. Whereas Tekken 7 boasted a handful of new fighters, Dead or Alive 6 presents only two new acquaintances. Diego is just another typical scar-faced street fighter with the attitude. NiCO, on the other hand, is far more exciting.
For starters, NiCO is Finnish like I am, so she has a home ground advantage! She’s a scientist working for evil M.I.S.T organization, so she’s not only pretty but also smart. I must add, in Finland Nico is a male’s name, and even then, it’s not that common. According to the name register, there have been less than five girls born between 2000-2019 whose given name is Nico. Peculiar name aside, NiCO is a great character for beginners for her no-nonsense, up-close and personal, fast-striking punch and kicks combos, though she has advanced techniques such as teleporting. And she's a looker, too, with her cute and round face and small, moderately proportioned but fit frame brimming with electricity under her lab coat. She also plays a big part in the story mode. So, by all counts, NiCO is a winner in my books!
On the subject of appearances, I like how the characters look like dolls, somewhere between anime and real people. When the developer like NetherRealm Studios go for a more realistic look game by game with their Injustice and Mortal Kombat series, it becomes a matter of personal taste whether you find characters attractive or not. Here, the appeal is broader and only takes the appreciation of the chosen art style. Stylized characters of Dead or Alive also stand the test of time better than photorealism that ages as the graphical technology advances.
In graphics, you can prioritize either action or quality. The first has a better frame rate at the expense of finer visual fidelity while the latter features higher resolution but a poorer frame rate. It’s obvious that the action is the way to go. The difference between the image quality is negligible and fighting games always need speed and a steady frame rate. I found the action image overall more eye-pleasing, too, because the environments look more natural when they’re not too crisp. Characters also stand out better, showcasing their beautiful animation and consistent movement. Via zoomed-in replays you can admire the intricate Japanese attention to detail, especially in the clothing with their fine sewing and lifelike materials. Too bad the improved lighting sometimes comes off too harsh on faces, diminishing details such as freckles. On a strange note, characters don't have a navel. They have only a smooth indentation in its place. Are bare belly buttons considered too suggestive that they've been cleaned out? Or maybe characters just have had a surgery for umbilical hernia as a child that leaves no navel… The battle arenas, 14 in total with remasters of old favorites and some new venues, aren’t as open as in the previous game but still feature danger zones and multiple levels that take the action all over the place through often painful transitions.
In a time when new fighting games skimp on modes that have been defaults in the past, Dead or Alive 6 really shines in the offline content. There are story, DoA quest, versus, arcade, time attack and survival modes, and a comprehensive training with free sparring, command training, tutorial and combat challenges. Honoka, who’s as naïve as her breasts are huge, is MacGuffin of the story mode. It features all kinds of drama, from airheaded fluffiness and paternal agonizing to masculine swagger and ninja acrobatics, in a narrative that is frequented by several one-round bouts. After many (often unintentionally) embarrassing segments, the story concludes in a ninja trio of Kasumi, Ayane and Hayate once again saving the day (“ultimate ninja” Hayabusa stays in the sidelines this time). What technically uneven cutscenes (a lot of compression in the backdrops and sometimes iffy animation) won’t tell, you can read from unlockable encyclopedia and trivia entries that supplement the yarn. The story mode is silly, sure, but it’s also entertaining and that’s all you can ask from it, isn’t it? Still, the real meat of the game is its other offline modes with scoreboards and selectable difficulty levels. There are no tag team or team battle modes of previous titles, though. Personally, I’m okay with that as I rarely tagged anyway.
Since the cast’s default costumes cover them up so much, you might want those with less fabric. However, alternate outfits aren’t unlocked easily, as they consist of pattern parts. One outfit might even take up to 1000 parts. They are rewarded from all game modes and it’s random whose costume parts you will get. It makes playing the game less goal-oriented and more grindy if you fancy certain outfits. Once the pattern is complete, it must be bought with fight money that’s as well earned from playing through the game modes. The biggest amount of costume parts you can net from the DoA Quest. Masked as simulation run by NiCO, it features a set of challenges for different characters where you have to fulfill up to three conditions. For example, in addition to winning the match, you may need to do two comeback kicks and three offensive throws. If some conditions pose trouble, you can jump right into the tutorial part that explains them, and then return to the challenge.
Unlike most other modern fighting games, Dead or Alive 6 doesn’t force online play and try to convince the grass is greener over there. First, the offline content is abundant and second, the featured online play is only rudimentary. It wasn’t available during the review period, but luckily there was a brief open beta with ranked matches running over the weekend. You have to choose your character before searching for an opponent so you can’t decide on the spot who you want to play as which is really clumsy. You can’t search opponents by their region or connection quality, so you only see the latter when the opponent is found. Still, often it’s a bluff as a green connection icon can turn to red in an instant you accept the game. Thanks to this, I didn’t have a single match that wasn’t laggy or choppy. Nine years ago, Super Street Fighter IV had an excellent set of online search tools, the likes of which I haven’t seen since. The day one patch promises to add a lobby so maybe it will feature more comprehensive options.
Then again, why bother with online play altogether? You really don’t do anything with the virtual rank and wins and losses alike reward only a measly amount of costume parts. It’s much nicer to grind wins in the offline play as you won’t be suffering from the game’s lackluster net code. In the past, these games were played against local opponents in the arcade halls or with home ports from comforts of a sofa, and that’s still the best form of a competitive play. As always, out of two equally skilled players, the one who first gains momentum usually wins. Same goes for the online play, but as said, poor net code hampers inputs, for and against.
As for answering the question I presented in the beginning, yes, Dead or Alive 6 has its place in the today’s gaming. It’s a fast, flashy and content-rich fighting game. I’m happy that Dead or Alive is back and is relevant again, and it’s always a pleasure to play as the game’s pretty cast. I also love NiCO, she’s such a bad-ass intellectual and the best new character in fighting games in ages (she wins over Tekken 7’s Lucky Chloe for being smart instead of a fluffy teen idol). I was slightly disappointed with the reduced game tempo and toned-down fan service at first, but if it helps the game gain new fans, I’m all for it. It’s up to Team Ninja and their upcoming DLC whether their more mature orientation will hold up or will they slip out back to their horny habits. Either way, Dead or Alive 6 is a stayer on my gaming plate long after the review. I really fancy getting Kasumi’s classic costumes and that means a lot of playing!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.