So much has been made in the months leading up to Dead or Alive 6’s launch of its move to be taken more seriously. Early footage showed series’ star Kasumi fully clothed – gasp – and there followed a period of much consternation amongst a subset of DOA players; would a more serious fighter hide away the digital female flesh that has arguably been a defining part of DOA’s heritage?
The answer is unequivocally, and almost laughably, no. Dead or Alive 6 features the same excesses of titillation as that of its forebears, though there’s no longer an option to maximise the digital character’s ‘jiggle physics’ which could be seen as progress. Those opening moments of the story mode depict a bunches-toting maid mopping the DOA ring before being sent on an important mission, so it’s clear that whatever changes being made to the series’ DNA are purely gameplay-related..
The story mode is absolute bobbins anyway, and not necessarily because it doesn’t make sense. Dead or Alive has never been known for its storytelling prowess, but when you’ve got developers like NetherRealm putting out compelling narratives within fighting games what you’re given here feels like C-movie schlock at its worst. What makes it even more ridiculous is that the story missions unlock across a bizarre character board which forces you to trawl through the entire thing piece by piece, making Dissidia NT’s similarly convoluted set-up look like Shakespeare.
Each chunk of the narrative is generally made up of a short in-engine cutscene, followed by a single-round battle with one of the other characters. It only gives you a very limited amount of time with any of the fighters, though you can at least begin to grasp the new fight mechanics, but since they’re so short it just begins to feel like you’re moving from one loading screen to the next. There’s multiple character arcs going on, which range from the dull ‘there’s a new DOA tournament’ to the ridiculous ‘attacked by giant octopus aboard an old pirate ship’, but then this is a game that has six chapter categories in a row labelled “Last Chapter” so it’s probably too much to expect any sort of sense out of it.
I was left wondering though whether Team Ninja thinks Dead or Alive 6 is empowering. The male characters are often pretty dim, while the female characters are scientists, future governors or company CEOs. During one cutscene we see a male scientist ‘lusting’ after a blurred female body in a chamber, while NiCO looks on in disgust. Her response of “Urgh, gross”, might just sum up someone at the developer’s entire outlook on Dead or Alive’s famously flesh-heavy visuals and the subset of their audience that check in for that, but then it’s really hard to believe that when many of the female characters are only vaguely dressed.
It’s the line between compelling character design and pure titillation that Dead or Alive has so often crossed. In 6, the ninja characters are pretty well served by looking like actual ninjas, and most of the female characters have the option of character, role or age appropriate clothing, while still standing out from one another. In fact, the default costumes will make it pretty easy to have televised tournaments for DOA6 with costume locks which is another step in the right direction.
The costumes that you unlock the further you go though can veer all the way to out and out bondage gear, and for no sustainable reason beyond seedy fan service. As a luchadores wrestler I can at least make sense of Mariposa’s outfits. The same can’t be said for some of Christie’s numbers unless she’s assassinating a mark in an S&M club.
Is it any worse than previous entries? No, and without any additional DLC it’s currently a clear improvement on 5’s final form, but when such a big deal has been made about this title making a play for some kind of esports validation it’s clear that that was all a ruse – or something that Koei Tecmo have back-pedalled on for fear of alienating a chunk of their audience. What it does do, once again, is distract from the fact that Dead or Alive 6 is a great 3D fighting game, and the enhancements to the combat system feel intuitive and meaningful without losing the flow of the series’ trademark action.
Up until till now Dead or Alive has retained a simple purity to its combat. Punches and kicks flow together effortlessly, with throws, holds and counters forming the basis of the game’s tactical metagame. Dead or Alive 6 has kept this system as its foundation, but in introducing new attacking and countering options it’s both gained and lost something.
A lot of the game’s combat tactics now revolve around the S attack (mapped to R1 as standard) and failing to incorporate the different techniques it offers will put you at a serious disadvantage. The first, Fatal Rush, is a high strike attack that puts your opponent into a Fatal Stun, giving you the chance to really push home the advantage. The S attack also performs Side Attacks which see you dodge out of the way of straight-line punches and kicks before then retaliating which is clearly the answer to the previous game’s more or less perfect tracking.
There’s now a Break Gauge too, made up of two sections, and you can burn one portion of it in order to counter any attack – including a Fatal Rush – no matter the direction. Filling the gauge meanwhile allows you to unleash a devastating Break Blow which will land through your opponent’s attacks and take a good chunk from their health bar, though in practice it doesn’t feel like the automatic round winner that other games can suffer from.
Fights often feel faster and more one-sided, but when you put two players together who know what they’re doing there’s still that all important knife-edge of competition as you wait for your opponent to make a misstep. It unequivocally feels like Dead or Alive; it’s great-looking, with fast, fun and accessible combat, and there’s a few glimmers of hope that higher level play is going to have had a shake-up. It’s fair to say that it’s only going to become apparent when the community get hold of DOA 6 whether the additions pan out in the way Team Ninja hope, but as ever, Dead or Alive 6 is a polished 3D fighter that will likely still struggle for acceptance on the ‘serious’ fighting circuit thanks to the excesses of its character’s costumes.