You think of fighting games, you think straight to the likes of Street Fighter V or Tekken 7. Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive series hasn’t reached those heights, but has certainly left its mark across a span of 23 years. The franchise has produced various entries, including some bizarre titles such as Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Venus that was so raunchy, it was banned in the West. With a fully fledged sequel to Dead or Alive 5: Last Round – downloaded over nine million times – on the horizon, the developers are aiming to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their biggest competitors. But just how will a franchise known solely for its fan-service hold up against tough competition?
Censorship, or a cunning plan?
There’s a strong chance you’ve been following the censorship controversy that has overwhelmed DOA6’s promotion. Initially, Team Ninja received criticism for abandoning their fanbase; they openly expressed their desire to distance themselves from their reputation of cute girls fighting in skimpy swimsuits – not to mention more jiggling than a direct hit on a jelly factory. And so ensued the rush of anti-SJW complaints.
While the allegations of Sony pushing for censorship have some merit – game director Yohei Shimbori has issued conflicting statements – let’s look at this decision from another perspective. The rise of esports has brought us major FGC events like the Capcom Pro Tour. Thousands of people watch these shows and that’s not including the press attention they attract. I can’t blame the creators of Dead or Alive for wanting a piece of the action.
Yohei Shimbori even said himself that he’s “very happy to see the esports movement getting bigger”. If this is their plan, then the decision to tone down sexualisation stretches beyond the knee-jerk theory of pandering to SJWs. I’d go as far to say that I admire them for wanting to make a more grown-up version of their much-loved franchise. Imagine a hypothetical Dead or Alive event for a moment. The world is watching, including those notorious outlets who begrudge anybody who take video games seriously. What’s going to be their reaction to sponsored players battling it out as bikini-clad Helena and Hayate? And the less said about their impending comment sections, the better…
This is far from condemning all sexual content in fighting games. I’ve a massive soft spot for Chun Li in SFV and own the majority of her optional outfits, including the swimsuits – yes, I am that guy! Dead or Alive 6 may be toning things down but some of the already confirmed costumes are very much on the sexy side. Simply put, the fanservice is no longer the main thrust of the franchise.
A fatal rush of content
On the surface, the developers have done their homework. They’ve studied the different types of people that make up the FGC and are going the extra mile to ensure everyone is accounted for. Whether you’re looking to win EVO or just crave some good old fashioned fun, Dead or Alive 6 has you covered. The game is launching with a 24 character story mode filled with intense fights and shocking revelations. A total of six single player game modes will be available, including combo trials and survival. It goes without saying how Street Fighter V will never live down its initial decision to launch void of any arcade mode. Team Ninja themselves have acknowledged this and expressed their commitment to never make the same mistake.
What about the fighting itself? I spent some time playing the recent weekend beta for PS4 and the combat for Dead or Alive 6 features a mix of old and new. Fatal Rush is the newest machinic to enter the series and works similar to a Critical Art in SFV, giving the player access to a stylish but easy to use combo. This forces players to always monitor their opponent’s energy gain and play around the possibility of getting rushed down. It could sometimes be worth baiting out the Fatal Blow in a round you don’t mind losing, leaving them depleted of all resources for the final round.
There’s no shortage on defensive options, either. The engine seems centred around the triangle system – strikes beat throws, throws beat holds, holds beat strikes – but it’s the Break Hold gauge that separates it from other 3D fighters. Simply put, this serves as an emergency guard used to escape pressure and turn the tables. It works similar to V-Reversals in SFV, but actually does real damage, if only a little. Recently, we’ve seen Soul Calibur VI launch with its own get out of jail mechanic in the form of Reversal Edge, though the Rock Paper Scissors nature divided opinion. It’s one thing to read your opponent to secure a comeback, but losing the dice roll and getting robbed is another. With Dead or Alive 6 having a dedicated gauge for reversals, the threat of the comeback should always be played around. It may even force players to not be as rush down focussed as in other fighters and play the long game.
Very much alive
A guard system that rewards intuition over a Rock Paper Scissors dice roll, utilised across a vast array of game modes, Team Ninja have all the ingredients for a solid competitor to the undisputed kings of the genre. That said, navigating the censorship controversy will prove no easy venture and is sure to leave a dark cloud over the franchise. Additionally, as seems the way with most fighting games of late, it’s the post-launch decisions that will define the game’s legacy. Fans can only hope Team Ninja have learned their lesson from releasing a gazillion versions of Dead or Alive 5. The FGC want a full game with perhaps one re-release at most. We’re getting damned tired of “Rushdown Fighter 5.5: Last Round AND This Time It’s Personal Edition!”
Dead or Alive 6 launches March 1st for PS4, XBOX One and PC, and the deluxe demo is live for PS plus and Xbox Live Gold members from Feb 22-24.