“She kicks high”
Full disclosure: I’ve been playing the Dead or Alive franchise since the first entry in arcades (for you munchkins that have no clue what one of those is, it’s a place where you go after school to burn through what little money you have from allowance or from saving your lunch money and going hungry). I had always enjoyed watching friends and strangers throw up their dukes in Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and other 1-v-1 fighting series machines, but boy was I awful at those games (SPOILER ALERT: nothing’s changed – I still suck). Something about the fluidity with which characters’ moves were executed and more about careful timing as opposed to seeing who could mash their combo strings together the fastest was appealing to me, and for whatever reason, it just jived well with how my brain thought a fighting game would be played. Tekken and any other 2D fighter fans know that the more rapidly you can enter in your strings, the better; timing means far less, unless you mean punching in your 10-string before your opponent. With Dead or Alive, however, such is not the case and the timing with which you cue your inputs is every bit as important as getting the inputs themselves correctly.
Dead or Alive is a franchise that has always prided itself on its visual fidelity, and that’s a multifaceted thing here: their environments and character models are consistently the best looking in a given console generation, and then, of course, there are the characters themselves, which is where things get fun. Those unfamiliar with the franchise have a plethora of nicknames and jokes about Team Ninja and Koei-Tecmo’s famous DOA ladies, as the development team has never shied away from making their franchise’s femme-fatales look as drop-Dead-or-Alive gorgeous as possible (though let’s be fair here; the male fighters are a hell of a lot more Brad Pitt than Danny Trejo, if you catch my drift). And while spin-off titles like Xtreme Beach Volleyball don’t do much to help matters, the fact is that Tecmo knows their audience and knows what they want to see. As a quick aside, leading up to the game’s launch there were rumors that the franchise would be headed in a measurably different direction with regards to its female fighters. No shortage of other “video game review sites” were awash with praise over the alleged shift from, admittedly, busty and more or less scantly-clad (usually less) ladies that were far from shy about showing off their assets. The ensuing outcry from those same websites and their “journalists” when they got their hands on early finished copies of the latest entry, Dead or Alive 6, was a victory for faithful fans all on its own. DOA6 hadn’t let us down, and furthermore, they outright trolled the many Western, online video game review outlets that were seeking to see the series move away from its comfort zone.
Team Ninja and Koei-Tecmo had stated that Dead or Alive 6 would take strides towards making the franchise a more serious fighter, and they succeeded in doing just that in many regards (just not how some journalists had hoped). Firstly, the franchise’s signature “triangle” battle system has been fine-tuned to the best point in series history. This “triangle” system is, at its most basic level, very simplistic and easy to learn: you have Strikes, Holds, and Throws (attacks, counters, and grabs, respectively). Holds beat Strikes, Strikes beat Throws, and Throws beat Holds. Each action type has multiple variations, but at its core, this is DOA. Something that the lion’s share of fighting games lacked in recent years (or really just from jump street) are proper, in-depth tutorials that help newer players get the swing of things. It was fun enough in the pre-online gaming era to pick up a fighter, choose a character who looked cool to you, and mess around with your neighborhood pals as sparring partners, but with the advent of online gaming, newbies are put down long before they get an opportunity to enjoy themselves, and this results in a stagnant and waning genre. The goal should always be to add more to your player base while retaining your core supporters, and Dead or Alive 6’s encyclopedic tutorial modes are wonderful resources for newbies and veteran fighters alike.
Within the Dead or Alive 6 practice modes, you can spar against a CPU opponent in Free Training, practice individual characters’ entire move lists in Command Training, or for fighters ready to take their game to the next stage, dive into Combo Challenge and learn some of their chosen character’s most useful combo strings. These practice modes are overflowing with useful data for newer players, such as the HUD showing basic move data like whether a move was High, Low, or Mid, and veterans as well by breaking down frame data which is crucial for playing at a competitive level – which is to say that the screen tells you exactly how many frames a move executes in and how long your recovery time is. All of this fighting game vernacular is a roundhousekickabout way of saying that Team Ninja was exceedingly generous with their tutorial modes so that players of all skill levels have the opportunity to get the most out of their gaming experience. I’ve always gone through phases of playing DOA nonstop (I was at one point top 100 in Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate’s online leaderboards, not to toot my own horn or anything *dusts off shoulder*), and although there are characters and moves that never leave my muscle memory, I always spend a bit of time in Command or Combo just to make sure I’ve got my timing down pat and warm up those muscles in preparation for jumping online to step into the ring against other players around the globe. So, from this vet to any aspiring fighters, use the resources available to you.
No fighting game would be complete without your various arcade-style modes, and Dead or Alive 6 brings out all of them from the series’ history (less Tag-Team, which is good because the mode was broken as all sin). Your run-of-the-mill Versus mode is where you can square off against high difficulty CPU opponents or your chosen sparring partner on the couch beside you. Arcade is a classic mode anyone who’s played a fighter before should be instantly familiar with, as they’ll make their way through multiple fights against CPU opponents until completion. Time Attack is a race against the clock variant of Arcade mode’s general concept, and Survival tests your mettle and endurance as a fighter as you face opponents one after another until you either get knocked out or reach the end. All of these modes are fun to mess around in and are great practice for newer players to put the skills they’ve picked up in the tutorial modes to practice against someone who won’t trash talk them for still sucking. The coolest mode comes in the form of a new addition called DOA Quest, in which you participate in battles between characters from throughout the history of the games’ story modes while trying to complete certain objectives within each match, which adds a nice little challenge once you get through the early part of the list. DOA Quest also serves as the most efficient way of unlocking costumes, something I’ll go into more in-depth in short order.
Fighting games are seldom touted for their gripping narratives, and most of them attempt to be overly deep when they’ve no business doing anything of the sort. As a franchise, Dead or Alive has mostly played things on the safe side, and Dead or Alive 6 doesn’t really do anything to change that – which is entirely fine. The story revolves around series villain and former head of DOATEC Victor Donovan and his new hire for his nefarious M.I.S.T. organization attempting to resurrect Dead or Alive evil ninja Raidou by capturing his daughters, Ayane and Honoka, and siphoning their energy to restore him to life. Naturally, this little mad science experiment was not pre-approved by Bill Nye, and the restored Raidou goes on a brief rampage before being taken down by the team of series standouts, Kasumi, Hayate, and the aforementioned Ayane. The story mode is told in seven chapters with a number of story-progressing battles or cutscenes within each. Most have pretty standard fare interactions between the cast, and everyone on the base game’s roster has a part to play, as well as the first two DLC fighters, Phase 4 (Kasumi clone introduced in DOA4 and perfected in DOA5) and Nyotengu, whose interactions with many of the other characters were particularly entertaining, but again, nothing to call your momma over with the plot here.
Speaking of downloadable content, returning players from the last entry will be familiar with the formula in Dead or Alive 6: a couple of times a year we’re going to receive a season pass that will net access to several dozen costumes and whatever additional fighters Team Ninja creates for the game. It’s a good value for the $93 you pay for the pass when you break down how much each individual costume is, but pulling the trigger on that initial cost can be anxiety-inducing for some. Costumes are what the series has been famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for, for some time now; each character starts with two but has several that you can unlock through gameplay. The caveat this time around is my biggest gripe with the game, and while as of this writing Team Ninja has already put out an update which makes some slight improvements to the unlocking system it’s still not nearly enough. In past Dead or Alive games, unlocking a given character’s additional costumes involved a simple matter of playing as that character and completing the various modes on multiple difficulties until all costumes were unlocked. That method added a tangible reward for completing these modes on return runs. But what Team Ninja has decided was a good idea for Dead or Alive 6 is something more akin to the more recent entries in the Soul Calibur franchise by having to first piece together costumes via Pattern Parts, which are accrued through completing arcade modes or playing online. The further catch here is that which costumes you acquire parts for is randomized and isn’t at all affected by which character you’re playing as. This is incredibly frustrating, as you could have 499/500 Pattern Parts for a given character’s costume, but you then go days without earning any more for that one and instead are acquiring them for characters you don’t even use. Then, once you have finally pieced together your new outfit, you must buy it with in-game coins called Player Points that you earn alongside the Pattern Parts. Thankfully, you earn these so regularly that the likelihood of not having enough for your newly unlocked threads is extremely low, so this piece of the puzzle is negligible and, therefore, pretty much useless. Costume and hair/accessory combinations can be saved as up to seven presets for quick access via the new DOA Central customization menu. It’s a nice little addition, and there is a level of convenience, but selecting these things was never particularly time-consuming to begin with, so I’m not sure how necessary it really is. (*NOTE: as of this point, Team Ninja has patched this system to reward Pattern Parts based on the player’s chosen character.)
Nearly the entire cast of fighters should look and feel pretty familiar to veterans of the franchise. However, everyone has received some fine-tuning in some fashion to make them fit better with the altered pacing of the fights, which have turned the speed dial up to make it more like Tekken while still retaining the series’ signature fluidity (Bruce Lee did say, “Be like water…”). Speaking of the King of Iron Fist Tournament famous fighting franchise, one of the two new additions to Dead or Alive 6’s roster, Diego, is a street-fighting brawler who is clearly heavily inspired by Tekken’s own Miguel even down to sporting the red jacket. At first glance, a straight-up street fighter may seem out of his element when standing beside ninjas, assassins, kung-fu masters, and sambo savants, but the Spaniard more than holds his own, and Team Ninja did a great job incorporating the tenacity and ferocity of a street brawl into the new game. He also hits like he’s packing a metric ton of bricks behind those tapped-up fists, so trust me: you don’t want to catch these hands. Fight Club over here is a great new addition to the cast. The other new character, on the other hand, I’m not as fond of. NiCO is a scientist under the employ of Victor Donovan and his M.I.S.T. organization, and is a technomancer (I suppose ninjas that can shoot energy blasts are far-fetched as well, but those are limited to cut scenes…) who can charge some of her attacks with electric energy, as well as cast lightning a short distance. These properties paired with her speed make her a force to be reckoned with, to the point of being unbalanced. It is something that may be addressed in Team Ninja’s first big update to the game, but at present, she needs a slight nerf to better balance her with the rest of the roster.
As of the game’s release, there are no online lobbies and, therefore, no unranked matches available to participate in online; only Ranked Matches to compete in and attempt to rise above other players around the world. Having played the series online since the original Microsoft Xbox console’s Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate, the speed with which one can get into a match is markedly better than previous installments – which, let me tell you, as someone who put a lot of time into the last game (too much of it waiting for a match to cue…), is a very welcomed improvement. There are a couple of levels to track in your game: you have an overall Player Level which will increase naturally as you play the game, and a Fighter Level that is specific to each given character and will go up as you use them. These levels are purely superficial and serve no purpose beyond letting other players know how much you’ve played the game overall and dedicated to a particular fighter, and can go towards unlocking various titles for use on your online profile. The only thing that matters is your Rank, which begins at an F- but will increase to F, F+, D-, and so forth, up through the higher ranks of the A’s and S’s. You can lose your rank if you lose too many matches and will have to work hard to regain it, so it’s best not try to push it if you’re on a losing streak. Team Ninja advertised Dead or Alive 6 as a new era for the fighter, and it does that while retaining the series’ identity. The game is in a state that makes it much more competitively viable than its predecessors, and I hope that with a little tweaking we get to see the fighters of DOA hit the big stage, but until then, I definitely recommend picking this one up and stepping into the ring. See you in the streets.