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Mini Review: Dead or Alive 5

It was bound to happen. Ever since it was announced, this game was going to be part of my collection and after my impressions of the alpha demo, my excitement got pretty big! Then came the not so good stuff; changes to the powerblow into a comeback mechanic, 4 point counter system, etc. But after waiting for a while now, it’s finally here, eye candy and all! And with just over a week to fully digest it, how does the final product fare?

Now, this may come as a shock but I actually like the Dead or Alive series because it’s a fun fighting game!!! Ignoring the Beach Volleyball spinoffs, it’s been a while since we’ve seen the fighters. DoA: Dimensions was a small hit last year but that was more of a “best of” collection as opposed to a full new game. I’ve played (and owned) every Dead or Alive game made for home systems save 1. From the Arcade port on the Saturn, to the retooled PS1 game (which did away with ringouts and introduced tekken-like infinite stages as well as Ayane!!), through to DoA2 on the Dreamcast, past DoA3 on the Xbox with a stop by DoA ultimate and onwards to the (pretty poor IMO) DoA4 and dimensions.

My impressions of the alpha demo were highly positive, the game was fast, smooth and pushed all the right buttons. I would have loved it to have been the full game wholesale but changes were later made to accommodate some more “depth” to appease the fighting game community.

Some of the bigger changes were the introduction of a new critical blow system, which allows a player to perform a specific move while the opponent is staggered to leave them completely defenceless for several seconds. The Power blow has also been heavily altered as it is now a comeback mechanic which only activates when you have lost 50% of your health or more and you only get 1. Once you get it to connect to your opponent, you cannot do another power blow until the next round. On the plus side, the charge time is reduced considerably and damage done using it in conjunction with the environment can be insane! Otherwise, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a fighting game.

Newcomers are advised to tackle the story mode, which allows you to follow a comically bad script as you watch the story progress through the eyes of various characters. The story is pretty much a laugh out loud affair but I guess some praise should be given to team ninja for trying something more than the usual “there’s a fighting tournament and a bunch of ppl enter” shtick. In fact, although there is a tournament in the game, only about half the cast participate. The rest are doing their own thing.
Embedded in the story mode are missions which unlock titles for your online stats as well as teaching you some of basics of the game. Sadly some are incredibly random and others are incredibly frustrating as you try to meet the requirements with little or no help from the description. For example, one mission asks you to counter 3 mid kicks from your opponent, except that your opponent is a character who doesn’t use mid kicks very often so it’s a challenge stretching the fight out long enough to get the 3 counters you need! Or one of the later missions which requires you to tag your partner in during a power blow when both are capable of doing the move. The only problem is that the character in tag mode who is not on screen will constantly be regaining health so if you wait too long, they will be unable to perform a power blow as they would have recovered more than 50% health! Of course, if you let their health drop too much while they are fighting, you run the risk of being KO’d…

The meat of the game comes from the more standard options. There’s arcade, time attack and survival modes, each with 7 difficulties (and the last 2 needing to be unlocked) and a special “camera” mode which allows you to take photos of a match replay or when 2 AI opponents fight eachother. However, unlike Dimensions, there’s no collectibles to gather or any other bonuses so, in that respect, the game is kinda bare bones. There’s also the online mode…

DoA5 also introduces 2 new characters; Taekwondo user Rig and MMA girl Mila. I haven’t used Rig much but as expected, he comes in fast with quick kick combos while Mila likes to get in close and is dandy with takedowns while her blows owe a lot to boxing. For me, I’m a die hard Ayane fan so I’ve been using her a lot, though I feel that I am stronger with Lei Fang and Hitomi (2 other characters I have enjoyed using in previous games) at present.

That’s pretty much it for the description. How does the game fare?

LOVED

  • It’s still DoA – despite my misgivings about some of the system changes, the game is still lots of fun to play
  • Visual Aesthetics – One thing I didn’t like about the alpha demo was the design of the characters where the makers were going for a much more realistic look to the models. They’ve reined it back a fair bit so it’s now a mix between a more realistic look and the rounder, anime-like look from earlier games
  • Japanese VA – Some of the english VAs are actually quite good but Hitomi and Lei Fang are just awful in english… Besides, without the Japanese dub, I’d miss out on Hocchan and the engrish from Nagashima Yuuko.

HATED

  • Boring stages – DoA is known for its multi-tier interactive stages but for the majority of stages in DoA5, they are simply boring. One stage is used 3 times, with the only variation being slight differences in the locations of the danger areas!! Most are also only single tier. Only a few stages show the kind of interactivity which was once the hallmark of the series.
  • No character themes!! – OK, this is just nitpicking but it used to be great that each character had their own themes so you knew what to expect when you fought them!
  • Comeback mechanic? – As a comeback mechanic, the power blow is pretty useless. It’s too difficult to connect without a critical blow (which can be difficult enough to do) and limiting you to just 1 seems overkill. In the alpha demo, it was less powerful but more useful as you could use it to trigger the environment danger areas! Little chance of that now!
  • The 4-point counter system – THIS!!! I have hated this system ever since it was introduced in DoA Ultimate!!! It’s backers say that it helps deepen the fighting system and prevents spamming but for me, all it does is lessen the use of counters considerably, since there’s less risk involved if you just block and successful counters are more now to do with rote memorising of the enemy movesets. The only time one would really counter now is when your character is stunned and unable to block!
    DoA Dimensions did away with the 4-point system and didn’t suffer for it (in fact, I’d say that it was better because of it!) so I can only assume that they put it back in to appease the FGC, who don’t really take the game seriously anyway!
    But more than anything, the biggest reason why I hate the 4-point system is simply because it takes away the main mechanic of counters in general. Counter systems in any fighting game is a reactionary move because you input the move after your opponent has started theirs! And because it’s reactionary, it needs to be simple and near instinctive. Something the 4-point system is not. With 4-points, you need to think about too much for it to be instinctive and that is where the move memorising comes in. And that doesn’t make for an interesting match. I would have much preferred it if the window of error was shortened and the damage lowered but the overall system kept as 3-point but I’m just one guy…
  • The online system – This is going to be quick the online system on DoA5 is a JOKE!!! I still can’t believe how bad it is!! I tried to get a few games going with some friends in a private lobby. We’re all based in the same city yet each game was met with crippling lag!! Heck, one of us (not me) couldn’t finish a match because he kept getting disconnected on the last round!! Given how important online is for fighting games these days, it’s inconceivable how Team Ninja thought that this netcode was up to par! There’s an option to simulate lag in the practice mode but I don’t think any amount of practice will be able to help ppl with this!! Supposedly, there’s a patch coming to try and resolve the issue. It can’t come fast enough!!

I may rag on about DoA5 but ultimately, I don’t hate it. I think part of the problem was that, for me, the bar was set so high by the demo. I loved the demo and the way they seemed to be moving so it’s disappointing that the final product failed to live up to my hopes but they were pretty high…

The game is still really fun and more fair and entertaining than DoA4 at least! As far as fighting mechanics go, I still prefer Dimensions but DoA5 definitely has some high points. The Skyscraper stage from the alpha demo ended up being the best stage in the game! I wish that some of the ideas were spread over to the other stages instead of keeping many of them pretty lifeless. I also wish that the power blow had more uses beyond a comeback mechanic and a trigger for a handful of danger zone areas but more than anything, I wish that the 4-point counter system would just piss off and DIE!! But that’s not what we got. What we got is still good, but could have been better!!

  • http://lightningsabre.blogspot.com lightningsabre

    Oh, how I agree with you about the counter button being useless now. I mean, it does take away people from counter spam, but it could have just been nerfed so that it doesn’t do as much damage as before. I’m horrid with the power blows and all that stuff, so I won’t say much about those ^^;

    I haven’t tried online yet, so I can’t say about it either, but I have played with many people in a room before and it was just as fun. Made it interesting when a bunch of newbies spamming buttons being able to win in a match. It made it quite interesting to play with friends.

    I agree with some of your “Hated” portion, but in the end, I’m glad I got DOA5, even spending more money to get it from USA because the CE was sold out in Canada. Damn my last minute decisions…

  • http://lookingglass.kokidokom.net gundamjehutykai

    It’s really strange. I’ve never met anyone who is actually a proponent of the 4-point counter. I’ve met people who accept it but only one person I know actually defends it (and I destroy his arguments with the points I made above!!)

    There are so many ways to limit the spamming of the 3-point system while keeping it as it is. I never understood the logic of introducing the 4-point system and I hate it more with every game it’s added into! Power blows are pretty useless in the final game so don’t feel bad about not being good with them. It’s more like an insult to be hit by one rather than a clutch shot that can turn the tables.

    Online was actually patched yesterday and it’s better than it was before. Still pretty crap though, but apparently NA users have seen better improvements compared to those in europe. But after a mammoth session with a friend offline, we started noticing some seriously worrying behaviours from some of the moves with ridiculous hitboxes, the odd glitch and so on. They aren’t exactly game breaking but defy logic. The most common one was how players can be hit by a ground sweep despite performing an aerial move with both legs off the ground. How can a ground sweep hit the opponent when their legs are not touching the ground???

    Overall, I’m in a similar boat. I’m glad I have the game and, despite all the grievances, I’m enjoying it way more than SFxT and TTT2. Until I fight the harder AI settings. They can just die!!

  • http://cjinsblog.blogspot.com C.Jin

    The preview trailers for this got me pretty excited, it was the first time I actually thought the gameplay would be fun. I never got into DOA because I preferred more competitive fighters like Street Fighter and Tekken. If anything, I was going to buy this for the visuals (bewbs). I guess in the end, its more of “wait a couple months until its $20″ game

  • http://lookingglass.kokidokom.net gundamjehutykai

    It’s pretty naive to write DoA off and say that it’s not a competitive fighter. After watching the last tekken tournament at EVO, I find it hard to think of it as competitive since the finals were basically nothing but competitors playing footsies followed by an air combo if they got in. The things DoA has going for it is the fast pace and turnabout mechanics. I’d say that it was my favourite fighting game of the year and it certainly didn’t disappoint me unlike TTT and SFxT.