In the upper echelons of fighting games there have always been a few franchises at the forefront. There's Street Fighter, a tournament staple with its roots deep in arcade history. Super Smash Bros will always dominate the casual fighting game circuit with its plethora of items, stages, and recognizable characters. And somewhere in between the grappling-focused Tekken and nonsensical stories of SoulCalibur is Dead or Alive.
Known for its often gratuitous use of "realistic" breast physics and subsequent focus on female characters, Dead or Alive isn't quite difficult or flashy enough to be considered a classic of the fighting game world. Perhaps that's largely due to the fact that developers Team Ninja were never trying to make it one. But with the newly released Dead or Alive 6, they might just be taking a stab at the competitive market.
Dead or Alive 6 changes the game in many ways from its predecessors. Most notably (and noticeable) is the de-emphasis of sexuality. While the many female characters still have the signature "bounce" in their step, they are no longer as scantily clad. The presence of layered clothing is a welcome addition for fans who care more about fighting than ogling. For players whose favorite game in the franchise involved a trip to the beach (Dead or Alive Xtreme 3), there are plenty of unlockable outfits for characters, a first for the series.
These outfits (some more risque than other) can all be unlocked through Dead or Alive 6's Quest Mode. It's a streamlined single-player experience perfect for when a friend has to run to the bathroom during a 1-on-1 marathon. For those with little patience, all of the nearly 100 missions could be binged in an afternoon. Each mission sees the player as a specific character in a battle with special parameters. The character and match-up is of course set, but so are goals like "Land 1 Ground Attack" or "Win Within 1:00." Each battle has 3 goals, one of which is always simply to clear the mission. Clearing each awards a star and stars are necessary to unlock additional Quests. If all three stars are beaten, the player will unlock a new clothing item for a character. Unfortunately the item doesn't correspond with the character being played, so get to grinding!
Aside from being a blast to play, the Quest Mode is also a good way to learn the ropes for all the characters. The menu screen features the ability to do a tutorial of each character before trying the quest. (In general, the tutorials are well-crafted and robust.) The players can then see which characters they prefer and prioritize their questing based on their favorites. This certainly comes in handy later when trying to figure out which costume pieces a player might want to unlock.
Costume items can also be unlocked through other various single-player modes, like the traditional Arcade mode. Here, players fight several rounds against random enemies until they reach the final boss: Raidou. Timed Attack mode is basically the same, with an emphasis on clearing stages efficiently; the final boss is also random. Survival mode features a unique spin: characters only fight for one round, but new challengers continuously hop into the ring, so minimizing damage-taken is key. Each of these modes can be played with all the characters, but for players looking for real single player action (that requires dedication), Dead or Alive 6 has that too.
Dead or Alive 6's Story Mode could be described as fragmented at best, but perhaps nonsensical is the more fitting word. It's comprised of several different paths, each following a different set of characters and their interaction with the evil corporation MIST. For example, one such arc involves Marie Rose protecting Honoka from an onslaught of attacks. The fights are broken up my numerous cutscenes that involve plenty of twists and turns. The levels can be played in any order once unlocked, so a player could go from Marie Rose's story to another one and back again. It's a bit of a structured mess, but sure to please fans of the series' more lighthearted and over-the-top action.
The real bread-and-butter of Dead or Alive 6 is the fighting, and the combination of strong fundamentals with new mechanics makes this entry a smooth experience overall. Unlike most games that offer a "Block" or "Guard" button, Dead or Alive features "Hold." It works similarly to a block in a few respects, soaking up damage if held down. However, if input in the same direction as an opponents' incoming attack at the right moment, a counter-attack is performed. Holds make the hand-to-hand (and foot) combat of Dead or Alive pop. It's a constant stream of combos followed by a well-timed block and then a countered combo. Dead or Alive 6 can be played with 4-way Holds or simplified with 3-way Holds for those less familiar with the concept.
Because Dead or Alive uses real fighting techniques (similarly to Virtual Fighter) including Drunken Kung Fu or Wrestling, the emphasis is less on using special abilities and more on chaining combos and juggling. The best players will keep their opponents in the air with multiple high kicks, or stun them with a few well placed punches. Thankfully, Dead or Alive 6 adds Fatal Rush, a quick combo starter that will give new players less of a steep hill to climb when facing veteran opponents. Fatal Rush is activated simply by hitting one button (R1 on the PS4 controller) multiple times, and is a pretty high-damage combo. Additionally, after dealing and taking damage, the Break Gauge fills; when full the Fatal Rush ends with a critical hit that deals massive damage. Another new mechanic, the Fatal Reversal, is a more high-level concept, allowing for a counter with a long stun on the opponent.
With the new changes, a few old ideas were removed, such as the player tag system that allowed multiple characters to be played in a round. The focus in Dead or Alive 6 is on the physics-based 1-on-1 combat, and it shows. The combos hit hard and fast, and each character's unique fighting style is fine-tuned. Team Ninja seemingly spent a lot of time balancing the combatants speed, resistance, and power, as no match-up seemed unfair. It's not clear yet if the game has lasting tournament potential, but the odds are more in its favor than they've ever been.
Dead or Alive 6's huge roster is another plus, with 24 characters available from the get-go. There are three additional unlockable characters (through playing the story and other modes) and more to come as paid DLC. With so many options to choose from, finding a favorite fighter is guaranteed.
The fighting has never looked better, but beyond the graphical polish, it’s not a huge step up from previous titles. Tekken is still more technically impressive and difficult, so this entry is unlikely to take its competitive spot. However, it’s a solid blend of easy to pick up and challenging to many master, so it will leave friends begging for a rematch.
Dead or Alive 6 successfully transitions the franchise into the year 2019, by challenging its energy into solid fighting mechanics that are easy to pick-up but difficult to master. Even with its toned-down approach to its female characters, the game is sure to please die-hard fans and may even be good enough to entice some new blood to enter the ring.
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Dead or Alive is available on March 1, 2019 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 copy for purposes of this review.