After what seemed like the end of the franchise, Dead or Alive 6 is here doing what it does best: combining engaging gameplay and plenty of fanservice.
It should come as no surprise that the Dead or Alive series has been steeped in controversy ever since its arcade debut in 1996. Much like Senran Kagura, the point of contention for many has been its fanservice and whether the game has anything to offer beyond it.
So, let’s just get this out of the way: By no means is it a mechanical marvel, but it certainly has its own merits.
Granted, I wouldn’t initially blame someone for thinking otherwise. With its host of big-breasted fighters whose assets jiggle from the slightest of provocations, it would be surprising if one didn’t reach that conclusion. But I stop giving such leeway once those same people decide to write off the series entirely instead of making an honest attempt to engage with what the series has put forward for more than two decades. Story? Nope (admittedly, it sucks, but still). Visuals? Forget it. Gameplay? B-but breasts! Just like with Senran Kagura, it’s your prerogative to have aspersions towards sexualized characters, but it’s wildly dishonest to use that as an excuse to ignore everything else the series has to offer.
Dead or Alive 6, like always, brings the action and has the visuals to match. If graded on these two qualities alone, then I’d consider it a home-run. Unfortunately, there are a few design choices here that make it more of a triple.
Upon loading up DoA6, you’ll be treated to a first-person view of one of the game’s many characters. And as they stare at you while you decide on which of the many modes to choose from, it will be impossible for you to ignore just how gorgeous they look. The musculature of the men; the curves of the women; the details of all their clothing — they all serve as a testament to the game’s graphical prowess. Really, it almost seems like a waste for the developers to put this much effort in when those same characters are just seconds away from having their pristine appearance getting utterly destroyed. Torn clothes; dirt covering various parts of their bodies; sweat dripping from their exposed skin; small smears of blood on the face. These aren’t just mere fights the characters are getting themselves into — they’re brawls, and the developers did an impressive job conveying the severity of these encounters to the player.
Of course, before you see any of this, it’s recommended that you check out Dead or Alive 6’s robust Training mode.
In a genre that is often criticized for being inaccessible, it’s rather ironic that one of its most accessible titles is also one the most maligned. There’s plenty of mechanics under the hood in DoA6 and heading into Tutorial will introduce you to all of them, including Juggles, Holds and Wall Combos. From there, you can head into Command Training where you’ll receive a rundown of most of an individual characters techniques, as well as gain some insight into how they handle. Once that’s done, you can try your hand at Combo Challenges where the game will take much of what you learned beforehand and challenge you to put it into practice. As is common in the genre, some of these combos are impractical and even non-optimal, but they provide an early glimpse of some of the more destructive options each character possesses, like using parts of a stage’s environment to extend their combos.
And once you get your fill of Training Mode, it will be time for the real thing.
Battles in Dead or Alive 6 are fluid and fast-paced, being fun to both play and watch. However, losing yourself in the moment will likely result in you flying face first into the ground. Battles are highly cerebral and their flow can change at a moment’s notice thanks to the patented holds-throws-attacks balance system. You could be in the middle of eating a combo at one moment, but a small window of opportunity may allow you to use a hold and reverse the situation. Your opponent might respond to this by tossing some throws into the mix, but that can easily be circumvented by throwing out an attack before you get caught. Of course, this may just lead to the initial situation, but with the situation reversed: you’re the one dishing out the damage and it’s your opponent who has to figure out when to hold. Knowing just a handful of your tools isn’t going to cut it here: you’ll need an understanding of most of them — as well as those of your opponent’s — if you want to be successful.
Adding on to this established paradigm is the Break Gauge — a meter that fills as you deal or receive damage. Using this brand-new feature with the introduction of the “special” button, each character has a few new techniques in their arsenal, such as an offensive sidestep that links to an attack by pressing up or down in tandem with the special button, a “Break Hold” universal hold counterattack by pressing back and the special button, and a “Break Blow” by either pressing towards the opponent and the special, or automatically at the end of a four-hit special button auto-combo so long as the Break Gauge is full.
These new techniques are a very welcome addition. Not just because of how seamlessly they meld into Dead or Alive’s pre-existing formula, but also because they’re easy to understand and don’t require a lot of execution beyond knowing when to use them. Most importantly, though, they’re all highly practical: sidesteps are great for when an opponent expects you to do a hold, the Break Hold makes it so that the opponent isn’t safe regardless of what attack they use, and nothing beats the mental anguish (and physical damage) that is inflicted when you use a Break Blow to send an opponent soaring across the arena.
All in all, there isn’t much I could complain about in regards to Dead or Alive 6’s combat. The input lag is disappointing and the online features are lackluster (I can only find opponents based on their connection quality and there are no lobbies yet), but I’m hoping the developers will have a fix for that in the near future. In the meantime, the stages are fun with some over-the-top hazards hidden within a few of them, while the game’s diverse cast of characters and fighting styles always keeps things fresh and exciting.
Unfortunately, this is where the unilateral praise for DoA6 ends. As fun as the combat is, it’s marred by the fact that a fair portion of the game — specifically, the single-player content — is deeply flawed. I’m not talking about the quantity, mind you, this is about execution.
It should go without saying that the story mode isn’t particularly good. I doubt anyone actually picks up Dead or Alive for the story, so I can’t fault it for not necessarily having an engaging one. That said, surely the writers could have come up with a better way to present it other than through multiple timelines, leading to an overarching story which fails to be tonally consistent. I don’t see how I’m expected to take a story seriously in one moment when it was struggling to take even itself seriously just a few seconds beforehand.
Meanwhile, the brand-new DoA Quest is a good idea on the surface, but falls apart once the rewards come into play. You see, this mode is basically a series of themed battles where you’ll need to complete certain objectives — like doing enough damage with a single combo or completing the battle within a specific time limit — in order to obtain parts for new costumes and in-game currency for purchasing and viewing extra story content; and once you complete enough of these objectives, more battles — and by extension, more rewards — will make themselves available to you.
But the problem here is that while you’ll be using DoA Quest (along with along with the rest of the single player content, like Arcade or Survival) to receive such rewards, you actually have no control over what these rewards actually are. Yes, you’ll always receive in-game currency, but the costume parts are a completely different story — there is no correlation between who you used to clear a given piece of content and what costumes are unlocked. It’s one thing when I beat a quest with Bass only to unlock something for Hayabusa, but it’s something else entirely when I spend eight hours completing all the tutorials and various bits of other content with Honoka and yet I still only have her default costume. The worst part about it all is that even if I did obtain the costume parts I wanted for her, I would still have to use my in-game money to buy them. It should have been common sense to allow players even a modicum of control over what they unlock, but instead we got this ill-conceived grindy mess that makes the single-player more of a chore than anything else.
And while on the subject of things that are ill-conceived, let’s finish by talking about Koei Tecmo and it’s marketing for Dead or Alive 6 prior to release.
Trying to get in on the increasingly-popular eSports scene with Dead or Alive 6 and increase the series’ playerbase is a laudable goal, but surely Koei Tecmo should have understood who it was trying to market this game toward and who it would potentially alienate as a result. In one corner you have the fans who have been supportive of your series, while the other houses those who have barely given it a chance in the 20+ years of its existence.
So who do you try to make an appeal to? Certainly not the people who have consistently proven that they don’t give a damn about you. Especially when it comes at the expense of those who do.
You can turn the physical damage (dust, blood, clothes) off and the breasts physics aren’t as exaggerated as before (there’s even an option to turn it off entirely), yet there are still people who genuinely believe that the series only has value for those who use it as a replacement for pornography. Seriously? Who would purchase this game for $59.99 when they could just go online and get the same thing (apparently) for free with little hassle? I’m not going to pretend that fanservice isn’t a draw for this game or that it’s really its own worst enemy in that regard, but you’re starting to sound ridiculous now — just move on. Really, that’s what Koei Tecmo should have just said from the onset instead of paying lip service to one audience while pissing off another: “Just move on.” And, honestly, that’s the same message I have for KT in regards to trying to appeal to an audience that isn’t interested in honestly engaging with you: “You know what you are — own it. Just move the hell on.”
Honestly, if Koei Tecmo really wanted to attract newcomers (and please older fans), then it should have adopted a DLC model that didn’t result in players paying essentially $100 for a season pass. Granted, the majority of it is cosmetic and everything included within can be purchased individually, but this is the same nonsense that the publisher has been doing for years now and DoA5 is the most notable among them. It’s just frustrating that of all the things that it has received pushback for, the DLC is the one thing KT made no attempt — lip service or otherwise — to amend.
Dead or Alive 6 suffers from a few setbacks that prevent it from being a definitive step up from its predecessor: the story is (still) weak, costumes are an absolute pain to unlock if you’re unlucky and the DLC model is as atrocious as ever. Really, it’s a similar problem I noted back when I reviewed My Hero One’s Justice: you’ll stick around for the multiplayer and avoid everything else. The only difference is that you’re not subjected to a demoralizing grind in that one.
Fortunately, it does everything else quite well. The visuals are fantastic, the game itself is very accommodating to newcomers, and the fighting is thrilling and has enough depth to keep a more experienced fan’s attention. Though I’m not sure if DoA6 is the game that fans expected after a seven-year wait in the end, I can firmly say it still serves up a fulfilling experience — fanservice and all.