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Since Itagaki left Tecmo, I've been unsure if the spirit of what makes Dead or Alive great would still be there. Ninja Gaiden 3 had major issues by stepping away from what made the previous two great, variety in combat and a solid challenge. The more serious tone was excellent, but the game play was severely lacking. The other title that has been released by Team Ninja, DoA Dimensions on the 3DS was more of a best of, serving as a more definitive title in telling the story of the previous 4 games, although it was great, as someone who is very familiar with the DoA series it didn't break any new ground.
It's been two years since Helena destroyed the DOATEC Tri-Tower in efforts to destroy the biological weapon Alpha-152, a transparent, green glowing super soldier with a pretty cheesy move set, while she expected to be taken down with the tower, fan favourite Zack swooped in and saved her at the last minute in hilarious fashion. Since then, he's been helping her rebuild the company without the influence from bad dude Donovan, the mastermind behind this soldier program. To help raise awareness of the company's new standing, Helena is hosting the 5th Dead or Alive tournament, but not everyone is keen get on board.
This time around Team Ninja have gone for a full story mode akin to what was done with DoA Dimensions. Following a timeline, you take control of numerous characters that slowly flesh out the story from different perspectives. From mercenary Bayman, to Super Ninja Ryu, former pro wrestler Bass, and even Zack trying to recruit fighters for the tournament, a large section of the roster is included in this story mode. The biggest problem with this method is the story telling is a little weak, the recent Mortal Kombat is the prime example on how to do a fighting game story mode, and where Team Ninja succeed in having you being able to choose any part of the story to replay, continue from, it doesn't give a really fleshed out and engrossing tale of what's going on. It is a major push in the right direction.
The other thing with the story mode is that it effectively serves as a long winded training exercise to get you familiar with the fighting engine. Each stage can either be beaten to continue the story, or you can meet the bonus mission requirements. These missions are designed to teach you every aspect of the fighting engine, and while it gets a little vague and cryptic at times, it is a comprehensive method for learning everything you need to know to make the most of it. As someone who has been playing the series for a long time, I learned a series of new tricks which I didn't know existed. Kudos to Team Ninja for that one.
For those uninitiated on DoA's fighting engine it runs on a fairly simple triangle system, strikes beat throws, throws beat holds and holds beat strikes. This straight forward system makes paying attention to what your opponent is doing is crucial for success. The story mode also introduces some new elements in combat, side stepping is similar to Virtua Fighter where each character can do an initial strike to start a combo.
The two new major additions however include the Critical burst, which is a new technique where once you stagger your opponent long enough, they will stand there completely defenceless, by landing a critical burst attack you open them up for major damage, getting them to that point means knowing when to hold off on combo's and allowing your opponent to stagger. Simple bum rushing and button mashing will have you miss out on big damage opportunities. The other new technique is the power shot, when your character is below 50% health, your health meter will glow red, enabling you to do a charge attack and if you can land it, your character will do a short auto combo then launch your opponent across the screen into the scenery for major damage. If you can combine these two new techniques, you can rack up some high damage very effectively but only if you can get the tight timing down.
DoA 5 has two new characters, Rig a Tae-Kwan Do fighter who was raised on an oil rig (see what they did there) and Mila, a budding MMA fighter. Some characters have been retired, Leon the mercenary and the goofy as hell Tengu are nowhere to be seen. The new partnership with Sega however has seen some crossover action, Akira, Pai and Sarah from Virtua Fighter have been added to the roster and fit in surprisingly well with the fighting engine. *
There are completely new arenas all with enhanced multi-stage transitions and vulnerable spots for enhanced damage. From jungles, oil rigs, half built buildings, circuses, Antarctica, there is a wide variety of places to fight. Some stages feature a new transition attack, where you can knock an opponent down to a ledge, and as they grab to save themselves your fighter will rush them and knock them down with either punch, kick or throw. If you are successful in landing the attack, you will do tremendous damage, however if your opponent does the same corresponding attack, the roles will be reversed and you will take high damage. It's a neat little feature, but unfortunately the new arenas don't feel as fun as stages from previous games, it's too easy to kill your opponent before you have the opportunity to explore the entire stage, so a lot of work that has gone into it can go unnoticed.
DoA5 uses the same engine from Ninja Gaiden 3, effectively that means the game has adopted a new de-saturated look which can look a bit muddy at times. However, each character has undergone a re-design, each character looks older and more distinctive, the faces for the women are still kind of creepy, at times they still look like 5 year olds on adult bodies, a few more unique features on each of the characters offsets this somewhat. Lei Fang for instance does have more Chinese features, and Christy as a Brit has a figure that closely matches a Page 3 girl. The blokes have also undergone a few changes, with scars, and more discerning muscle mass differences they all have a more detailed look to them and it's a nice change from the previous iterations of the game. Predictably, boob technology has seen an increase in research and development, with results looking like water balloons wobbling on the back of a truck. Pretty hilarious.
Aside from the story mode, the staple DoA fighting modes have returned. Versus, Arcade, Time Attack, Survival and Training in both single and tag format are very similar to what they were in DoA 4. Co-op is more or less reduced to versus, where you can team up or go against each other, while in DoA 3 you could do arcade and time attack together, in this one you don't have that same ability. The training mode is as strong as ever and remains one of the best out of any fighting game, some new layers have been added in the input display section, where you can not only check to see what you are punching into the controller, but if your timing is correct for the moves you are trying to accomplish.
Completing these modes nets you a point score which ranks you in the online realm, you can also fight against others online, although that is a pretty common feature amongst fighters these days. Completing arcade and time attack will unlock additional costumes for each character, some of the more popular characters (the womens naturally) have a large wardrobe to choose from upon each completion, or set goals are met, such as finishing on the highest difficulty. The last thing you get are titles, achieving different things in combat such as taunts, difficult to land power blows, no health loss, and a host of other prerequisites will grant you a mini achievement of sorts. Collecting more titles means your rank as a fighter will increase. This fighting rank you get gives you statistical data on how you perform, how well you strike, counter, hold and so on, so you can get an idea of how you perform, and where you weak points lie as a player. It's a nice little feature.*
As a complete fighting package Dead or Alive 5 is very solid, if a little hollow affair. The improvements and rebalancing of the fighters is very nice, the new additions are a pretty good risk vs. reward approach and the variety of combatants to choose from is great. Where this game falls behind a bit is in the pretty hollow storytelling, the muddy visuals which can be a little confusing to watch at times and a few minor bugs in settings, such as language preferences not being saved, and how the new power blows behave with existing move sets. What detracts this package is not very major, and while DoA 5 is not a large step forward in the fighting genre, it is a solid, fun and feature packed affair that any person interested in fighting games can enjoy. It has a more serious tone than its predecessors, but this change in mood quite a nice change, even if it's only a light modification. Those who are heavily involved in the fighting game scene *shudder* may scoff at fighters such as this, but the truth remains that this is a very fun, enjoyable and accessible fighter that is easy to enjoy, be it for the capable and fast fighting action, or big wobbly boobies.
The de-saturated look is a little harsh on the eyes, and somehow doesn't feel as spectacular as it should. Reality is DoA5 is a very enjoyable, fast paced, hard hitting accessible fighting game. With boobs.