On first glance, it's hard to take the Dead or Alive (DOA) franchise seriously. On the surface it appears to be a regular fighting game, but its otaku-friendly vibe shows through upon closer inspection. The skimpy clothes, jiggling breasts and general over sexualisation of female characters sometimes overshadowed its fighting roots. This is especially true for the various beach and bikini spinoffs that eschewed the fighting aspect for an untrammelled appreciation of painstakingly crafted boob physics.
Underneath all these...erm...distractions, lies a genuinely good fighting series replete with fast action, excellent animation, and a brand of gameplay that's easy for n00bs to pick up and deep enough to keep the veterans engaged. I found DOA4 to be easy to pick up and enjoy right off the bat, and it kept me interested even after I had mastered the complex fighting mechanics. It had one or two issues that purists would scoff at, but other than that it was a very good fighting game.
Yes, the new instalment is as Otaku-friendly as ever
Dead or Alive 5, however, doesn't aim to be just a good fighting game. This time Team Ninja pulls all stops to make DOA5 a complete experience. The best evidence of this pursuit of excellence is apparent in its comprehensive dojo mode. The training mode makes all sorts of information on moves, frame data and player stats available to the player—information that's invaluable to advanced players to monitor, analyse and improve their skills. The online component of the dojo even lets gamers watch matches together and have discussions over the same. It's clear that the developer seeks to give competitive players all that they need to up their game and look at the series as a viable alternative to the Tekkens and Street Fighters of the world.
The training mode looks splendid, but in case you wonder if the actual gameplay can keep up with it, allow me to point to what Team Ninja dubs as the Triangle System. It's the roshambo equivalent of a fighting ruleset where strikes beat throws, throws beat holds and holds beat strikes. This gameplay twist transforms what would otherwise be a button mashing exercise into a game of rock-paper-scissors, where anticipating and countering your opponent's moves takes precedence over mere twitch. It doesn't take long for two beginners to figure out the basics and then engage each other in a violent mental game of roshambo.
This system has existed in the previous game as well, but the insanely powerful counters tilted the balance in the favour of defensive players. This is no longer the case, as both holds and throws have had their reach, strength and active time toned down. This strikes a good balance between defensive and offense play styles, thereby letting players choose their play style of choice without having to worry about handicaps. DOA5 is also the first game in the series to include a true side-step system. This has been a long time coming since this has existed in the competition for a long time now. Side stepping now gives you another avenue to dodge non-tracking attacks.
It doesn't skimp on the core fighting mechanics though
The developer goes further to maintain balance with the introduction of Critical system. Overly defensive players who rely on blocking can be thwarted with Critical Stun. Launching specific moves puts your foes in a stun that prevents them from blocking your attacks. Critical Combo allows you to pummel stunned foes for an extended period, but they can still perform strike-countering holds on you. This is where Critical Burst comes in. Using certain attacks lets you initiate Critical Burst, which leaves an opponent completely defenceless and open to all kinds of advanced juggling and special attacks.
While the levels in the last games focused on sheer beauty of the next-gen engine, DOA5 has very busy stages that go beyond eye candy. While you could break through the arena boundaries in DOA4, the latest instalment incorporates tonnes of destructible environmental elements and explosive set pieces that can be triggered with Power Blows. Initiating a Power Blow on a stunned enemy, for example, allows you to control the camera and choose which Danger Zone you want to send them crashing into.
These zones involve something as mundane as sending your enemies crashing through walls and floors, to more insane Michael Bay-esque sequences involving exploding cars, trains and, well, more elaborate explosions. It's either that or the pushing your foe off the arena edge to send them in the Cliffhanger mode, where an ensuing mini-game lets you deal even more damage at the risk of letting them recover without a scratch.
That's a good call indeed
The game looks quite gorgeous, which is no mean feat considering how good DOA4 was visually. The character models are more detailed, and this time they show realistic beads of sweat rolling down their skins, in addition to the accumulation of dirt and grime over the course of combat. Meanwhile, the otaku service continues with the inclusion of Watch Mode that lets players see AI battles and pause, zoom and snap photos that can be archived in albums.
The animations are fluid and the moves segue seamlessly from one attack to another. The move animations for each player are distinctly different, which makes its relatively smaller 20-player roster forgivable. The good thing here is that no matter what character you choose, it's your mastery over roshambo-inspired tactical combat system that makes a difference over the attributes of any particular fighter.
The usual offline modes such as Versus, Arcade, Time Attack and Survival have the same stuff that you expect, but the online modes are easier to get into. Moreover, the revamped and balanced gameplay mechanics makes competitive online play a compelling experience if you're willing to put an extra effort to hone your skills to the next level. The Story mode is not as apeshit crazy as the one in the previous game; it involves a somewhat confusing plotline that zips through different characters and timelines to present a spectacle-packed narrative.
The Story Mode is as crazy as ever
Dead or Alive 5 is a vastly improved instalment. It is so complete in every aspect that it can easily be termed as the best the franchise has ever seen. It has the technical competence comparable to the games such as Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which is the current darling of technical competitive players. The fine balance between defensive and offensive play, the thoughtful telemetry provided in the training modes, and the general speed and combination of moves as well as special attacks makes this a game of choice for technical players.
Having said that, it's still incredibly easy for those who want to pick up and have a blast without trifling with the deeper gameplay mechanics. DOA5, then, is an inclusive fighting game that packs in beauty and brains in one competent package.