Dead Or Alive 5 Review

It's been years since the last proper Dead or Alive game, or even the controversial DOAX titles for that matter, so don't be surprised when you come back and notice things a little different than you remember them. Part of this is no doubt due to the departure of Tomonobu Itagaki, the man who once shepharded DoA and Ninja Gaiden to success, and part of it is likely due to the shifting development priorities of Japanese developers who cater more and more to a Western audience.

No matter the cause, this fifth Dead or Alive is undoubtedly the most "gritty" looking of the series. Characters lack that perfectly airbrushed, almost doll-like look that they had in the last few games. The ladies of DoA are still undoubtedly meant to be taken as sex symbols, and most characters remain almost a little too perfectly proportioned, but they no longer look like they could have hopped straight out of an anime. Whether that's a downside for you or not, the women of DoA are still uniquely gorgeous and their breasts still sway around like curtains in a breeze.

The women of DoA 5 are still incredibly beautiful. No worries there

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk actual fighting. The stages are flashier and bigger in scope than anything the series has seen in its long life. There's so much going on in the backgrounds of some of these stages that it might be tough to focus on the fisticuffs. A battle in a warzone has crashing helicopters and exploding RPGs, while a rooftop battle features swinging steel beams and collapsable scenery. A circus fight in which you can use a tiger to maul your opponent is even crazier. If you can muster the focus to execute combos while all of this action is occuring, you'll find the high level of interactivity of the game's various locales to be pleasing. 

The big downside to the game's arenas is their adherance to realism, or at least some skewed, wacky fighting game version of reality. Older DoA games were full of colorful, vibrant levels that, while lacking in the amount of sheer background activity present here, felt alive in their own unique way. This fifth entry is sadly lacking in such colorful levels, opting instead for brown and grey levels that frankly just aren't as exciting as the color-drenched levels of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 or Persona 4 Arena. The oil rig level in particular can get boring thanks to its repeated use in the story mode. The occasional jungle arena will bring a splash of color to the proceedings, but it's just not the same as the colorful marketplaces and shrines of DoA 4

DoA 5's levels are dark and gritty

Speaking of story mode, DoA 5's is just as big and crazy as you may have come to expect from recent fighting games. Taking just a glance at the convoluted in-game timeline is enough to make your head spin. Actually trying to follow the plot, which frequently jumps between characters, continents and even time periods, is an exercise in futility. 

The ninjas are the story's main stars. Kasumi and her family are at war, and this quickly leads to all of the cloning, brainwashing and needless fighting scenes you could imagine. Story modes in fighting games are infamous for devising cheesy and convoluted reasons to start fights, but DoA 5 is guilty of this more than any other I've played recently. All of the ninja craziness takes place against the backdrop of the usual DoATec tournament, but the tournament itself feels like it hardly matters in the grand scheme of things.

Moreover, DoA 5 feels like a missed opportunity for a reboot of the franchise. With the series' head honcho long gone and the look of the world and characters taking a more gritty stance, things have changed enough to justify a new telling of the old stories.

Regardless of convoluted story and missed reboot opportunities, DoA 5's story is totally playable but a bit redundant. As mentioned earlier, the oil rig stage appears just a little too frequently. A few other stages and scenarios repeat more than they should, making some fights feel boring or unnecessary. 

DoA 5's story is kind of nonsense

Team Ninja's attempt at subverting this boredom comes in the form of challenges for each fight. Each challenge provides a side goal for players to complete while they battle. It's a nice idea, but in practice the system can become frustrating. Challenge descriptions are a little too vague, at times just telling you to perform "a certain move." What move? Who knows. It would've been nice if the game had included more variety and specificity in the challenges; as is, they're appreciated but poorly implemented.

Luckily, the same can't be said of the fighting. It's fair to say that DoA has gotten a bit of a mash-friendly approach over the years. Mashing out combos is certainly an option still, as each character has over 100 moves that transition from one another very smoothly. That said, the timing has been tightened and counter damage has been scaled down, meaning that this is no longer a game of "who can counter first?" The pace of battle has been slowed ever so slightly, too, meaning that those who felt alienated by DoA 4's ultra-quick combos should feel more comfortable here. 

All of these changes go towards making the experience a more balanced and competition-friendly experience than it has been before, and for the most part they work wonders. To the detriment of that effort is the new Power Blow mechanic. This special move will activate when a character reaches 50% health or lower. A charged-up Power Blow will allow you to get several more hits in on your stunned opponent and send them flying across the stage, potentially into obstacles for extra damage. 

Expect plenty of DLC costumes for DoA 5 in the future

Fundamentally, this addition is backwards. It rewards getting beaten up instead of doing the beating, so you might actually want to take a few extra hits just to open your opponent up to a Power Blow. It's kind of a weird notion that getting beat on can actually reward you. Visually, the moves just aren't as exciting as Mortal Kombat's X-Ray moves, which serve a similar funciton. 

Oddly enough, the game doesn't even bother to teach you these new Power Blows outside of the story mode. The training mode makes no mention of them, and the character select screen gives no indication that each character requires a different input to perform their Power Blow. It's poor communication on the game's part, and it's indicative of an overall lack of willingness to usher new players into the fold. That's especially odd given the development team's stated goals of drawing in new fans with this entry. 

The training mode is great about providing situations in which experienced players can learn and flourish, but there's nothing as deep as Tekken Tag Tournament 2's fight lab here. Instead, you will have to rely on first-hand experience to figure out the game's various nuances, including the aforementioned different inputs for the various Power Blows. That said, once you have gotten a handle on the game's mechanics, the training mode does offer you the room to hone those skills to a deadly point. You can set the CPU to perform pre-set combos or moves, and you can use the HUD to show damage stats, hit numbers, and frame numbers for moves. You can even simulate poor network conditions if you play online frequently.

For all of its realism, DoA 5 can go in some pretty weird directions sometimes

That online play is generally smooth, so you'll rarely have to worry about putting those lousy network settings training sessions to use. The game follows the standard format of tossing a bunch of players into a lobby and having them all fight it out for supremacy, but it's a bit off that once the host of the lobby leaves nobody else can take it over. Instead, everyone is forced out into the online menus. 

Dead or Alive 5 feels like a game stuck at a crossroads. Down one path there lies silly anime antics fraught with ninjas, clones and what can only be described as alien breast physics, while down the other path lies a gritty and realistic fighter with a complex story. The game has an overall solid fighting system, but thanks to a lack of any consistent direction it can be hard to immerse yourself in Dead or Alive 5 as much as other fighters.

Score: 7/10

This game was reviewed on the Playstation 3

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