Dead Or Alive 5 is the first numbered entry in the series in nearly seven years. In the intervening time Team Ninja has been using the Dead or Alive name for their awful Xtreme spin off series It was looking as if Dead or Alive 5 would never come to be. When DOA: dimensions was released it showed Team Ninja still cared about DOA as a fighting game. I was hoping Dimensions was to test the waters for a full fleshed sequel.Thankfully I was right and when DOA5 was announced I was thrilled but a little skeptical considering the current Team Ninja had yet to prove themselves in my eyes. I did not just want a re-skinned DOA4, I was hoping for changes. Now that Dead or Alive has been out a couple weeks and I have put sixty or so hours into it I feel confident in writing down my thoughts.
The first thing you are likely to notice about DOA5 if you have ever seen the prequels is the new character models. Gone is the plastic-skinned porcelain doll look; now the characters have a more detailed and realistic appearance. Before all the female characters looked interchangeable, now everyone has a distinct look. I was sick of the old designs as they looked the same from DOA2-DOA4. The characters now look fantastic, easily the best looking characters in any 3D fighting game. During a fight the clothes of the fighters will get dirt or snow on them when you are bashed around the environment. This small detail along with the sweat they accumulate make the fight feel more brutal as their is clear visual evidence of a fight. It just looks cool. Animation has always been a strong suit of the DOA game and this continues with DOA5. Fights in DOA are the most fluid looking in all of the genre, every hit has a strong visual and audio impact, a punch to the face will cause the opponent to rear back their head for instance. This combined with the animation quality give every fight a visceral feel.
The stages have always been part of what gave DOA it's personality. The stages in DOA5 look incredible and are a joy to fight in. There is great variety, everything from a raft which speeds down a rapids leading to a waterfall. To My favorite - a multi-tiered house where you can knock people though walls, floors and all sorts of furniture. choose any tier of a stage to start from. Paying attention to your position in a stage is more important than ever because now getting hit into a wall or breakable object will result in a unholdable (not able to be countered) stun. This makes the stages more strategic to fight in, and integral to the fight because now not only must you be wary of getting knocked off a ledge but walls and objects are more dangerous as they lead to guaranteed damage.
This is a massive deal because in DOA4 guaranteed situations were simply not possible. To put it politely, DOA4 was entirely based on mix ups. The objective was to stun your opponent and keep strikes them with new attacks of different types and hit levels. Because of the stun and overpowered hold system both offensive and defense were primarily about guessing. This made DOA a very accessible and new player friendly game because even just pressing random attacks could be useful offense because the defender would have no idea what it was you were doing as the attack was playing with little understanding of the game and thus not possible to react to on a logical level. For one lucky strike would result in a critical stun 95% of the time and lead to a guessing situation. Lets say i'm the attacker Would I go low, high, how about mid punch? Maybe I could see if defender got over zealous and went for a hold? This thought process was what is was like to play DOA4 at all times. You could never be certain of any option on offense of defense because everything has a counter. Like a more complex version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. One of the reasons I was so hyped going into DOA5 is because they gave off the impression of addressing this issue and making the gameplay less random.
How would they fix this deeply rooted issue? Well, there are situations that you can not hold from. Those include the aforementioned stage changes. There are some moves that that will put the receiver in a unholdable stun, these include sit down stuns (self explanatory) and feint stuns (indicated by a limp backward fall) around and they will fall. Each character has a few of these type of stuns. Some characters also have abilities specific to them which can not be held. Such as how Jann Lee's dragon gunner leads to guaranteed follow attacks. On paper that sounds fantastic and just the thing DOA needed. The reality of it however is unfortunate. The thing is, many of these stuns don't last long enough to guarantee anything more than a quick jab, or in some cases anything at all. Others are only in the second (or third) hit of a set sequence of attacks so they are not the most viable. Others only work on crouching opponents, these stuns are limited in use because the only time you see anyone crouch in DOA in after they whiffed a low hold, where you are better off going for a low throw instead.
Sit down and Feint stuns were looking to be a great addition that rewarded smart offense and greatly reduced how often As these stuns work now the effect they have on the overall gameplay is marginal; sure some characters have a useful one or two but the DOA stun system is too prevalent in my eyes. Offense should not be this easily punishable. As any attack you throw out could potentially be held so how are you supposed to string together a smart offense? This was my major issue with DOA4 after playing it for 100+ hours and I am frankly disappointed that the main mechanics that looked like they could fix this issue are gimped and underutilized. This one issue is what keeps DOA from being a strong competitive fighter instead of a fun casual one.
Don't get me wrong it is still a enjoyable game. I liked DOA in the past for it's fast paced and flashy game combat where the hits have great impact, are satisfying, it's highly accessible and the triangle system has it's depth. Plus there are some great new additions and changes. The recovery on hold has been increased (but I would like a few more frames added, especially on low holds) and the timing stricter. So throwing them out randomly is less useful and they're easier to punish. Sidestepping has been added and it works great. With effective use you can easily avoid predicable blocked strings and follow up with a quick punish. Rewarding the patient and adaptive player.
Remember when I mentioned Jann Lee's awesome new dragon gunner? Well, other characters got new tools as well. The characters in DOA4 all had different move sets yet everyone was going for the same goal. That being playing the stun game into a launcher. In DOA5 the characters feel more different in play style from one another. Such as the grappler characters who don't have to rely on the stun game for their damage. For instance Mila, has a style revolving in takedowns. Her game plan involves tackling you to the ground and fighting you there. She has several strings that go into her tackle giving her smart mix up options as the takedown is deadly and you want to avoid and will be looking for those strings. Bass, (a new personal favorite of mine) has a lot of guard break moves for keeping up pressure plus he can pick the opponent off the ground to keep him in your face and avoid wake up kicks entirely. While the grappler characters mentioned above have ways of getting around the stun game not all characters came to DOA5 as prepared. For instance Hitomi and Hayate whom were personal favorites in DOA4 have gained nothing, thus they are extremely boring as it seems Team Ninja never knew what to do with them.
Two of the main mechanics added to DOA5 are Critical Burst and Power Blow. The latter is an attack which must be charged and when it hits will send the receiver of the blow flying across the stage. The thing with these is the slow charge up makes them impractical in use as they are easy to see coming and hold on reaction. That in theory is where the Critical Bursts come into play. As once used trigger and unholdable stagger state where you are free to use any attack, namely a Power Blow. The catch here is most characters have a very difficult time actually getting off Critical Burst attacks and thus are, too not often seen. So you have two interesting mechanics that in practice don't effect the gameplay much but are satisfying to pull off. Which is a shame because much like the special stuns these are great ideas that are not well implemented.
The training mode is excellent. The best I have ever seen in a fighting game. You can customize the settings to train for a variety of scenarios. You can set the CPU to shake your stuns, block mix ups, wake up kick and other useful tools. My favorite option being able to turn on move properties this includes frame data so you can tell which moves are safe on block, how fast they come out and give a heavy stun. It is a great tool to see what the usage of each specific move is. Unfortunately the game does not teach you the knowledge to use training to it's fullest.
That is to say the tutorial is poor. The main problem here is that there is no dedicated tutorial mode you can go to to learn the basics. Instead what passes for a tutorial are side objectives during story mode matches. Those start off simple teaching you the basic of 3D fighting games, such as hit levels. Then they explain DOA's specific systems such as the triangle system. Problem is they explain the bare minimum, merely telling you about something and not how you may want to implement it in a fight or even how some mechanics actually work. It will tell you about Critical Burst but not about the stun threshold which is required to use them. Plus preforming these actions of top of story fights is not the ideal environment for experimentation. I see what they were going for; assuming that players will start with the Story mode so they wanted to integrate tutorials into it. However you should not have to spend multiple hours playing the game before it even tells you about important information, and poorly at that.
The story mode is told via cut scenes broken up with fights much like last years Mortal Kombat. It picks up I believe two years after the events of DOA4 where Helena has made a new DOATEC for whatever reason. She puts out an invitation to any fighters for the fifth Dead or Alive tournament. The plot is not practicality complex nor is it easy to follow and decipher. Each chapter you play as a new characters and the story is consistently jumping across it's timeline so the train of events can get lost. There are some amusing moments involving the characters such as Hitomi and Lei Fang preforming a Circus show put by and large it is played serious and not particularity interesting. The plots of past DOA game were ninja centric and it pleases me to see them give the spotlight even if they sacrificed a coherent tale to do so. DOA5 is the first major game in the series to feature English voice work (DOA: dimensions had it but I never played it) and honestly I quite like the voice work. A lot of it is hammy, accents are over the top and line reading can be spotty. I enjoyed story mode for what it was but it's not exactly impressive, as it haphazardly tells a boring story interspersed with charming moments.
Story is the primary single player mode, there are others but past hard difficulty they are a utter nuisance to play and I recommend against it, unless you really want string bikinis or achievements. The main incentive to play these modes is to unlock costumes, which in my eyes at least, has always been a series staple. DOA5 takes a more thematic and casual approach to it's outfits. As in many costumes fit with certain stages, for example Hitomi, Lei Fang and Zack have circus gear to coincide with the circus stage. The casual clothing is often my favorite in the game. I love Mila's and Eliot's costume 2.
Chances are the online mode is where you will spend the majority of your time playing DOA5. In DOA4 every match was in the lobby format and effected your rank. I was not fond of this system because you would spend more time waiting to play then actually playing unless you were dominating a room. Now there are multiple mode for online: Simple match, ranked match and lobby match. The netcode for DOA5 is not great, it sometimes feels worse than DOA4 which is puzzling. For whatever reason Ranked mode is affected worse by lag, even when there is no viable lag the inputs are delayed, playing that way in any fighting game is annoying so I learnt to skip ranked entirely. Finding matches in ranked (and simple) is difficult, i'm not sure if this is because everyone is playing lobby or a netcode issue, either way it's sucks. So rank mode is a bust and i'm still not a fan of lobby match so I stick to Simple. Which is like ranked but with the option to rematch and rank is obviously not effected. The online is not ideal due to poor matchmaking and netcode that is behind in the genre but it is serviceable and Team Ninja is supposed to be releasing a patch to fix it soon. Hopefully it does.
In conclusion Dead or Alive is a great game overall with some issues that hold it back from excellence. I still have fun with it as playing, as im reminded each time I play. It is without a doubt a step up from DOA4 in every regard and features the best gameplay of the series, features a great training mode, excellent visuals, and sports an enjoyable story. It's just when I play it I can't shake the thought of what could of been.