A Love Letter to Dead or Alive
Chance Asue / Feb 14th, 2014 1 Comment
While I have never been particularly good at them, I have always had a fondness for fighting games. My first exposure was at a dentist’s office as a young boy, with a lone Super Nintendo and a copy of Street Fighter II. Without a system at home, it almost made the trips to the dentist something to look forward to, almost. A few years later, a family friend introduced me to the magically illegal world of emulation, which allowed me to play not only more Street Fighter, but games that had never been released in the States.
My 10-year-old brain exploded when I discovered games like Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension and Shin Kidō Senki Gundam Wing: Endless Duel. It would have been enough for me to love these games because of the animes on which they were based. The difference was, Dragon Ball Z looked amazing and had a more complex system than Street Fighter and Gundam made them both look like they were fighting in slow motion. It would be several years later when I returned to Street Fighter when I was given a second-hand PlayStation and was able to rent Street Fighter Alpha 3 from a local Blockbuster.
The PlayStation opened up a new world of 3D fighters. I was already behind the curve with my other gaming friends. The PlayStation 2 had already been out for a year or two and I was still amazed with the graphics in sprite-based 2D fighters. I had played a few 3D fighters but nothing had really caught my eye. Tekken 3 was an incredible game, but something about the fighting system turned me off and the difficulty spikes were so severe that I preferred turning the system off rather than pressing start to try again. I always returned to what I knew: King of Fighters ‘99 and Alpha 3.
A spontaneous trip to a friend’s house was when I first saw it. There were four of us jammed into a tiny upstairs bedroom with a PS2, two controllers and a copy of Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. I was instantly floored by the graphics and speed of it, while my buddy gave me a quick tutorial and and a rundown of his favorite character. The other two wanted nothing to do with it, having fought with him before. With a year or so of practice under his belt, it seemed that the odds were against me from the start, but that wasn’t what made the others hesitant.
Just as quickly as the round began, I was on the ground. This was the moment that he chose to mention the counter system. Although it was the means of my destruction, it fascinated me. The characters all had such fluid movements and great move lists. The costumes weren’t just color swaps but actual unique outfits. The ends of the stages were traps that added damage, not just some invisible walls that I could juggle people against. I could swap between two characters and gain back some health while they the other took over, or swapping between them to create new combos and juggles. They had unique grabs where both partners could attack the opponent simultaneously. It was insane to me how good this game played and looked. I couldn’t put it down and it was hard to go back to anything else.
There were two reasons why I bought the original Xbox: Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive 3. I had to wait a few years before I could afford it and I never really liked the controller (and we’re talking about the smaller S model, too). Just as I was getting used to the drastic changes that DOA3 had imparted and the severe lack of costumes, the Team Ninja gods smiled on me. Dead or Alive Ultimate was pretty much all I needed. Take my first love DOA2: Hardcore, which was already a better version of DOA2, and then add in online play and more costumes and stages than you could ever want. I bounced between DOA3 and DOAU for a few years. There was no issue of which one was better, I was enjoying the new characters in DOA3 and playing online with the DOA2 versions.
There are few New Years Eves that I can remember. One was spent running around outside of Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft, not really knowing what was going on. But I had a baby raptor as a pet, so there was that. The year after was much better. The Xbox 360 had launched a month earlier. Need for Speed: Most Wanted was fun and Call of Duty 2 looked great, but I wasn’t exactly feeling great about dropping $500 on the successor to a system on which I only played a few games.
Dead or Alive 4 came out at the end of December and was probably the prettiest game I had ever seen. Everything was so damn shiny. Even the UI had changed to these thick chrome and silver bars and the lighting made the clothing and hair glow with a well utilized bloom effect. The new characters were great. The attention to detail in the clothing and environments was incredible. Mantling obstacles and punching people into traffic was incredibly satisfying and I wasn’t even a Halo fan but I loved playing as a female Spartan.
This was also the time in which I saw the most change in how some of my favorite characters fought. Jann Lee started to dance around more and had a lot more swagger. The good swagger. Confidence, not snap back hats and gold foil tees. Ayane became even more acrobatic. Kasumi and Hayabusa started teleporting more. There was enough new about the old characters to make them feel fresh while still retaining the bread and butter combos that I had ingrained into my muscle memory. The only real step back was the amount of costumes each character had. They were just as sparse as DOA3. DOA4 was a case of quality over quantity, but there was still a lack of variety in how they looked. Not to mention a couple characters just had palette swaps. The space between DOA4 and 5 felt longer, considering there was no DLC or “ultimate” version in between. I bought and sold DOA4 at least three times over, hoping to quench the DOA thirst while I waited for an announcement of a sequel.
Dead or Alive 5, the years I waited for you felt like an eternity. Leading up to the game’s release, the screenshots released showing the increase in graphical quality were unbelievable. It was the first time that I could breathe a sigh of relief since I had heard that Itagaki had left Team Ninja and the new direction they were taking the series was much better than I could have even hoped for. I reserved the collector’s edition at the local game store and ended up taking off early from work to play it.
The characters all retained their personality and gained a sense of realism. Except for the breasts. They still moved around like gravity was optional. I’m not going to talk much about DOA5, since it was my first published review when I got the job here at Gaming Illustrated. Everything is detailed here. Just know it was the best in the series and that the menu music still haunts my dreams.
If I wasn’t already used to fighting game updates, I might have felt cheated. DOA5 Ultimate was released just shy of a year after the previous installment. It added 5 new characters, new combos, new moves, new stages, a bunch of costumes and some tweaks to the balance. Yes, most of those included costumes were sold as DLC for DOA5 over the year between releases. Yes, Tecmo Koei continues to add more costume packs every month. Yes, they can be expensive. Do I care? No, not really.
The argument that people have about DLC needing to be on the disc and that companies are using it to squeeze every last dime out of their loyal customers is just garbage. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. They won’t make it. It’s that simple. With DOA, the costumes don’t change the gameplay, but they add that last bit of humor that the franchise has and allows for some light customization. If I can Dragon Kick people in the face while wearing a dragon costume I will. Every. Single. Time. And I will pay for that right.
I love Dead or Alive. I love the sound of a counter hold connecting. I love the yell Hayabusa lets out when he begins the Izuna Drop. I love the Zack Beam. I love watching players like Master, Vanessa and Black Mamba do the things I can’t in situations that would crush me with anxiety. This game, more than any other fighter, feels fun and exciting without having to invest my entire life into analysing it. I don’t have to wait for frame advantages or jumps like Street Fighter. I don’t have to learn how to fight against a thousand characters or have a button for each of my limbs like in Tekken. I can use my opponent’s attacks against them. I get punished for being predictable. It’s a perfect balance between accessibility and depth. A new player can mash out some impressive looking combos. A master can find the combos that no one else could. And both of those players could counter one another. It’s a beautiful system and you won’t find it in another game.
tags: dead or alive , doa , doa5 ultimate , ninja gaiden , PS2 , ps3 , psx , xbox 360