Review: Dead or Alive 6

Busty Babes Battle Beefy Bros

The Dead or Alive franchise of fighting games is a series that markets itself on two things: fast and aggressive fighting and a splash of sex appeal. Apparently, pitting sexy well-endowed women and buff chiseled men against each other in brutal fisticuffs is a winning formula.

Outside of the fighter sphere, though, the franchise is probably better known for upping said sex appeal from a splash to a dump truck load with its Xtreme subseries, focusing solely on the female characters, putting them in bikinis, and letting you play some volleyball…amongst other things. While I’ve never played any of these entries, it’s this aspect of the franchise that pops into my head first when someone says “Dead or Alive.”

Despite the sexy spinoff, DOA remains a famed name in the fighting game sphere. I had a chance to try it out for a bit at E3 last year, finding it surprisingly easy to pick up. That small taste was enough for me to look forward to trying out the full game.

As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, this genre is the furthest from my forte. As such, this review is presented from the view of a newcomer to the genre. I have nowhere near the skill nor knowledge to review and recommend a fighter to those who specialize in the genre, and as such, this is mainly targeted to those interested in trying out a fighter for the first time.

Developed by Team Ninja and published by Koei Tecmo, Dead or Alive 6 was released on March 1st, 2019, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam. The PS4 version was played for this review.

Few Too Many Punches to the Head

Now, it’s commonly accepted that fighting games aren’t really known for telling stories, but we really need to discuss the story mode of Dead or Alive 6. Partly because the game feels like it’s really trying to tell a good story, and partly because it utterly fails to do so in any way.

Dead or Alive 6 structures its story as a series of vignettes featuring different characters, all selectable from a timeline that gradually unlocks as you play through each one. The setup of the whole thing reminds me oddly of Zero Time Dilemma. Different sections of the timeline feature different characters with their own personal stories, and they occasionally intertwine with each other.

At least, they do so in the beginning. The main story here is found in a combined timeline featuring series “mascot” Kasumi and a couple of the other ninja characters. The other character’s stories either contribute very little to the overall plot, or literally serve no purpose at all.

Jann Lee’s storyline starts about midway through the game, has him fight a few rounds in a tournament, then just ends, affecting nothing. Diego’s story seems a bit more interesting, revolving around him being a street fighter that other characters try to convince to join the Dead or Alive tournament, but then it just…ends. With no real resolution either.

Things also get just plain weird. One early scene features Hitomi and Leifang searching for treasure and getting attacked by a giant octopus out of nowhere, and then it just ends without that scene ever being mentioned again.

Even in the “main” story things don’t fare much better. DOA6 is obviously building off of stories in previous entries, but it does nothing to help clue in newcomers to the characters, their relationships, or past events. I couldn’t even pick up anything off of context clues; playing through story mode here was like trying to pick up a book I’ve never read and starting it in the middle.

Right Into the Fire

Compared to some other fighters I’ve gone hands-on with, Dead or Alive 6 actually has a pretty easy-to-pick-up basic control scheme. You’ve got one button for punches, another for kicks, one for throws, and a fourth for holds. Trigger buttons allow you to access to strike attacks, as well as a system new to this entry, Break Blows and Break Holds.

Once I had the basic buttons memorized, I actually had a fairly easy time at comboing punches and kicks together into some surprisingly decent juggles without having to button-mash the controller. Holds and throws, though, even after going through the entire story mode, a good chuck of challenges, and a number of arcade runs and versus fights, are still things I haven’t gotten a good grasp on.

Holds, I can see how those work. They are entirely reactive, requiring you to input the button and a direction at a specific time during an opponent’s attack. The problem is I still have issues differentiating between high-, mid-, and low-attacks from my opponent, so I rarely input the right combo for a hold. Throws are more nebulous. Frequently I was standing practically kissing my opponent, as they’re standing still, I’d input a throw, and nothing would happen, leaving me open to a kick in the face. I’m sure there’s some kind of condition that has to be met to activate a throw, but I have yet to find it.

Speaking of being unable to figure out throws, I found the tutorial in DOA6 to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps it’s because the last fighter I played, UNIST, had an overwhelmingly in-depth tutorial that explained how everything worked, what different functions did, and when and how to use them, leaving me pretty spoiled. The tutorial here runs you real quick through all the basic inputs I mentioned above, has you do them once, and then it’s over. Other than that, you have your basic “training” mode that lets you practice a fight and gives you a list of commands your character can do…exactly the kind of mode that I dislike in games of this ilk.

As far as other modes, there’s the aforementioned story mode, which, aside from its horrific presentation, was surprisingly easy to get through. Out of the 40-or-so fights you’re put in to, I only had to redo around five. Many fights, even some of the ones near the finale, could easily be button-mashed through. The final battle, though, features a gimmick that just felt completely and utterly unfair. Rather than “get good,” though, I was able to brute-force it.

I expected to be able to pick up more on game’s systems by the end of the story mode, but by the time the credits rolled, I didn’t feel much more confident with the game than I did when I first fired it up. Perhaps it’s because the story has you constantly juggling between all 26 characters, never giving me time to get a firm grasp on any of them.

The “DOA Quest” mode features a number of quick missions and challenges, requiring things like “Inflict so much damage in a single combo” or “Dodge three enemy attacks by sidestepping.” This mode felt much better for learning the game, especially since it recommends mini tutorials for certain tasks, just in case you don’t know how to perform them.

Lastly, I should probably speak more about the game’s Break system, which is new for Dead or Alive 6. Each character has a Break gauge that fills up when giving or receiving damage, and you can use either part of the gauge to perform a Break Hold or all of it for a Break Blow. Break Blows are super-powered hits that can parry an enemy attack, whilst Break Holds can hold any enemy attack no matter where it’s targeted (which made it the only hold I was able to pull off consistently).

While neither of these are particularly groundbreaking in a fighter, another system tied into them is. The “Fatal Rush” is a series of fancy attacks that can be pulled off by tapping the Break system button, and can end in a Break Blow if your meter is charged. This system is specifically marketed as a way to make newbies look like experts, which, while somewhat patronizing, also often acted as an instant-win button against nearly every opponent in story mode and Normal-difficulty arcade runs.

Block Rockin’ Beats

If there’s one thing I don’t really have any issues with, it’s the visual presentation of DOA6. While I have seen those familiar with the series say it doesn’t seem to be much of an upgrade from Dead or Alive 5, what I’m seeing here myself looks pretty pleasing to the eye.

The environments are colorful and varied, with many featuring little details and effects abound without ever feeling crowded or distracting. The characters themselves are also well-designed and fluidly-animated, the latter of which is of course important for a fighter. I did notice some aliasing issues here and there, but nothing too distracting. There is an option to tune the graphics for better performance or better detail, although I just went ahead and stuck with the performance setting for my time with the game.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with the game’s soundtrack. DOA6 offers up a surprisingly diverse set of compositions, ranging from grandiose orchestral pieces to electronic-tinged hip-hop and a few with a metal edge. If there’s one thing I never expected from a fighting game, it was a soundtrack that could stand on its own outside of the game…but here I stand with that thought corrected.

The voice acting, though…whoo boy, what a mixed bag. We get some decent performances from a few, like Kasumi and Diego. There’s a few actors that are obviously hamming it up, like father-daughter wrestling duo Bass and Tina, that manage to work well despite being so over-the-top. On the other end of the spectrum, though, we get Helena, with her extremely fake-sounding French accent, and Honoka, the one who pierced my eardrums.

Party Feud

Overall, while Dead or Alive 6 was relatively easy to pick up and start playing as a newcomer, allowing me to feel like I was playing well out of the gate without smashing buttons on my controller, it doesn’t really do enough to help train up new players with its systems. The single-player modes are a bit too easy, even for me, unless you purposefully jack up the CPU difficulty in versus or arcade modes.

While I don’t normally worry much about story in fighters, the one presented here is just so offensively bad that it has to be remarked on. With the sheer number of cutscenes and amount of voice acting included, it really seems like Team Ninja wanted to tell a good story, so I really have to wonder exactly where it all went so wrong.

Aside from that, though, I can see bringing out Dead or Alive 6 again as more of a party fighter than anything else. There’s not much here to train you up to pro level without really putting in the time to study the game, but the basic functions are easy to pick up from the get-go; I played a number of rounds with some friends visiting from out of state, and we all had a good time, despite only one of us having any background with the franchise.

Dead or Alive 6 isn’t a game that’s going to make me a fan of the fighting genre, but the ease of jumping into the basics makes it a fun title to break out with other fighting game newbies.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.