I’ve been playing the Dead or Alive series for the best part of fifteen years, jumping on the bandwagon with Dead or Alive 2 for the Dreamcast. I’ve been a huge fan of fighting games since my first experiences with Street Fighter II, and alongside Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter, the Dead or Alive franchise has remained amongst my favourites. I have to admit that as I’ve aged the series has become an increasingly guilty pleasure, and here, in almost certainly the last iteration of Dead Or Alive 5, the 1080p 60fps visuals may have reached their voyeuristic peak.
As the third home console edition of Dead or Alive 5, it’s starting to feel as though Koei Tecmo have truly embraced the Capcom business model for fighting games, and whilst the Last Round features many of the previously available costumes, there are yet more to be bought via DLC with this edition. However, those looking to try the series out may be pleasantly surprised to find that there is a Free-to-Play version of the game available as well, though buying all of the content through it in a piecemeal manner will cost at least twice as much as the normal release. Of course, it’s nice to have the option.
The developers Team Ninja have at least aimed to make a few meaningful additions over the earlier editions, first and foremost being the inclusion of two new characters which brings the total to thirty-six. Japanese schoolgirl Honoka is, somewhat unconventionally for the series, a more modest female character, though she has a mysterious side which sees her able to utilise various moves from other characters, as well as the ‘red mist’ energy, both of which she shares with the other newly introduced character Raidou.
Raidou himself was the original antagonist in the first Dead or Alive, and is the uncle of series mainstays Hayate and Kasumi. In Last Round he appears as an undead cyborg, revived by the shadowy Donovan for reasons unknown, and as a newcomer he doesn’t feature at all in the returning story mode, so you’re unlikely to learn anything more than that. He again shares moves with various other characters, indicative of his original role as a boss character, and isn’t particularly visually appealing, especially when you consider the series’ penchant for the gaudy.
Gameplay-wise there have been no additional features made for Last Round beyond two returning stages from earlier entries in the series, both of which are exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases of the game. The story mode remains as ridiculous, hyper-sexualised and campy as it was before, though fans will enjoy spending time with their favourite fighters despite the often-ludicrous voice acting and direction. It’s a shame that the new characters don’t appear in any form, which robs them of some of their fanfare, though they’re sure to gain fans at home and online despite this.
Beyond the story mode there are arcade, time attack, survival and team fight modes, as well as the offline versus mode. The online options extend to ranked matches and a lobby mode where you can line-up with a group of contestants and play ‘winner stays on’. I’ve always valued the ability to sit in a lobby and spectate other matches whilst waiting, and the addition of a text chat function makes Dead or Alive 5: Last Round an often enjoyable group activity.
From a technical point of view the game itself plays very well, running incredibly smoothly throughout bouts, with no hint of slowdown during the more spectacular stage destructions or explosive interactions. The visuals now reach the hallowed ground of 1080p and 60fps, and the characters have been given a more realistic look with the addition of Team Ninja’s ‘Soft Engine’ which makes skin appear softer. Of course, for Dead or Alive this means that the female characters and their often-copious amounts of visible skin now look better than ever. However, the background characters and cut-scene sets now look lacking in comparison, betraying their last-gen roots.
Sadly, a review of any Dead or Alive title wouldn’t be complete without some mention of its increasingly questionable portrayal of women. It’s unfortunate that along with the smirks and sniggers that some of the story scenes cause, no other title in recent memory has also made me feel quite so seedy and voyeuristic. There’s no doubting that Team Ninja are deeply enamoured with making attractive computer game characters – and in a tip of the hat to equality you can play with a number of the male characters in their underpants too – but any game that offers a ‘Breast Motion’ option, especially when it’s a technically sound and relatively serious fighting game, is doing itself a disservice. Fifteen years ago as a younger man, I headed straight for the age setting in Dead or Alive 2 which ‘enhanced’ the character’s upper body motion, but as so much else has progressed within the series this is one thing which should have been left in the past.
Unfortunately, there are also some technical issues with the game at launch, as I suffered crashes upon completing arcade mode which required a restart and at least one bug which saw the character’s hair fly straight up into the air rather than hang as intended. Team Ninja have also acknowledged at least one major bug that corrupts your save data when playing the tutorial mode in some European languages. It’s disappointing to see any release with such problems, let alone a revised version of a title that has been out for a long period of time, though hopefully they’re all issues that can be dealt with relatively swiftly.
Fundamentally, many of you may have been playing Dead or Alive 5 for the last two and half years now, perhaps with a sojourn into Dead or Alive 5 Plus on your Vita, before upgrading to Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate along the way. For the stalwart fan, it’s possible that Last Round contains just enough additions and upgrades to make a purchase necessary, especially when you consider its budget pricing, but for the less committed it may not be enough. Meanwhile, for those yet to play Dead or Alive 5, Last Round is the most complete and attractive version of an enjoyable, albeit ostentatious, fighter despite a few minor issues.
Version tested: PS4