Dead or Alive 5 sees Team Ninja unleash their porcelain doll characters with sentient flans strapped to their chests, back to the fighting arena. I’ve only really had two run-ins with the Dead or Alive franchise before now. The first being Dead or Alive 2 Hardcore and the second being a relatively brief session of watching a friend try out Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The latter of which must have been a misnomer because I viewed very little actual volleyball taking place.
To its credit, Dead or Alive 2 Hardcore was a fun fighter, but the thing I remember most was how creepy I thought it was that there was an age option that basically controlled how bouncy the breasts were, or the fact they included a bikini photo album in the game featuring the female characters.
Years and several games later, little has changed. Team Ninja still glorifies the plastic manufactured sexiness of the female characters in its game, and the fighting is still pretty fun despite this.
The main story of the game is revealed appropriately enough through “Story Mode.” Apparently Helena has taken over DOATEC and is turning it around, there’s a clone of Kasumi meant to be the ultimate soldier, there’s a UFC fighter who has her heart set on winning the tournament which is going on, Tina’s a rock star apparently. The game spends too much time trying to explore almost every character’s story, but does it exceedingly poorly. Truth be told, Story mode is an absolute chore because of the dire narrative you have to suffer through.
As you go through the story, many of the scene to scene changes and intros to fights are completely disjointed. There are moments where we transition to a new location with a character for no discernible reason that was revealed to the player. Many scenes feel like pointless filler, some blatantly over sexualizing some of the characters in their ridiculous outfits, some trying so very hard to be funny but falling completely flat.
Some of it can be attributed to cultural quirks, this being a Japanese developed game, but even in comparison to other instances from other games this just seems out of place, poorly executed and damn near torturous to sit through. I cannot count how many times I said out loud, “Was that scene really necessary?”
By the end you have a false shocking moment followed by a twist that makes no sense but you’ll probably stop caring by this point because the designers obviously never did so why should we?
The actual fights through this are fine though, and try to be a little bit of a tutorial as well while you play, which I actually liked. Each individual fight has a bonus mission where they explain a different mechanic they want you to practice. It starts out simply with asking you to strike the opponent with a certain number of punches, to later on asking you to execute a specific characters grapple combination.
It doesn’t do much in the way of showing you how to do it besides a block of text before the fight, but it’s a nice little way to get a basic understanding of the games nuances.
As I’ve said, the fighting mechanics are decent and feel really good, better with some characters than others but that’s personal taste. Not too much has changed since I first played the series. There are still 2 attack buttons, a grapple button and a block which can also be used to counter attacks. I never did perfect the timing and battle reading required to master counters, my brother was far better at that, but it’s a good system and is still fun to play.
The graphics are decent, though the characters still look fairly plastic, the girls more so than the guys. I sometimes wonder if Team Ninja have actually ever seen what women really look like.
The background stages are really cool looking and can add a fairly frenetic feel to the fight. One of my favorites is a stage that takes place in the middle of a battlefield in urban warfare with soldiers shooting at each other on each side. It’s chaotic and and increases the excitement of the fight.
Stages can have multiple floors you can break through, but also have spots that can cause extra damage based on stage hazards. The battlefield stage, for example, has an area where if you knock a character into the side of a building, a missile comes careening in and explodes right where he landed. Some of these can be pretty awesome to watch.
Musically the game feels all over the place. There are some cool tracks that feel exciting and epic, then there are some bouncy techno bits and even some rap tracks. Between this and Tekken Tag Tournament 2, I’m beginning to wonder when rap became a part of Japanese arcade fighters.
Another cool little extra to the game are the Virtua Fighter guest characters you can unlock in the game. Pretty cool to have characters like Sarah Bryant and Akira Yuki added to the roster.
Outside of that, there aren’t many worthwhile unlockables. You can unlock some alternate outfits for characters but nothing much else. The game doesn’t have too many interesting playable modes, just usual options like Arcade, Time Attack, Online modes, etc. Basically if you are not absolutely in love with the fighting system there’s limited reward for playing it over and over again.
While I have issues with aspects of the game’s aesthetic, it does have a good fighting engine at its core. It’s fun to play but has little to explore outside of its fighting system. Story mode is mundane and outside of a few unlocks a complete waste of time.
If the developers are not going to put effort into creating a narrative that’s cohesive, interesting and makes us care about the characters we’re following, don’t waste time with cutscene after cutscene of nonsensical story telling. If you enjoyed the previous titles it might be worth picking up, but it’s not a game changing entry in the series by any means.