Not pictured: a pterodactyl. No, really.
Of all the fighting series that have come and gone over the years, only two have managed to consistently grab our attention: Mortal Kombat (due in no small part to nostalgia) and Dead or Alive. Now, after seven years and seemingly dozens of spin-offs, Koei-Tecmo is finally releasing a proper sequel in the form of Dead or Alive 6. Looks like it’s time to don our skimpiest outfits and throw down!
Series veterans will instantly recognize the “rock, paper, scissors” priority system at work in which strikes override throws, holds (DoA‘s version of counters) override strikes and throws override holds. It creates a bit of a cat and mouse approach to fights as you’re trying to anticipate what your opponent will do and then thwart it — sure, it can lead to some silly looking moments when both combatants spam holds, but it’s an established gameplay formula.
In addition to the three basic types of moves, punches, kicks and grabs can be aimed at various heights (high, mid, low) to keep your opponent off balance. Crouching, advancing and withdrawing, and side stepping are all important defensive machinations as well, making Dead or Alive 6 one of the more technical fighters out there. To its credit, though, you can do a fair amount of damage with the basics regardless of skill level.
To help you along the way, the game features a robust tutorial that walks you through everything from the simplest tasks to the most complex combos. In addition to the primary tutorial, each character has their own walkthrough in which you can see (and execute) all of their moves. Our only real complaint is that the demo feature isn’t as helpful as it should be. Yes, it shows you what the move should look like, but it offers no clue as to what you might be doing wrong (perhaps including a controller overlay that shows button timing would help).
While Dead or Alive 6 doesn’t stray far from its established combat, it does offer one new addition of note: the break gauge. As the name implies, the break gauge is used primarily to break an opponent’s combo, though it can also be used as a powerful attack. What you can do is based on how full your gauge is, but it’s an invaluable tool in a game in which it’s relatively easy to extend combos and juggles to deal considerable damage in a hurry.
An enhanced female roster is arguably what the DoA series is best known for, and there’s still plenty of suggestive jiggling going on here — though many of the most suggestive outfits will need to be unlocked (more on that later). Beyond that, everything animates smoothly, and those sequences in which fighters trade counters and combos can look choreographed. Environments don’t feel as dynamic or interesting this time around, which is disappointing.
There isn’t much voice work, even in the story mode, and what’s there is passable. The BGM creates the usual up-tempo vibe for combat games, and the various impacts and yells from combatants are good.
If you’ve never played a “story” mode for Dead or Alive, what’s found here is just the logical evolution of its incoherent predecessors. Basically Fighter A encounters Fighter B under some random pretense, a one-round fight ensues, followed by a brief cut scene and then more sections to play are unlocked. There’s a loose thread tying it together, but it’s very loose. DoA 6 even does away with the objective-based story fights of the last one, making these straight one-on-one encounters.
Those objective-based fights have been moved to “Quest Mode,” which feels like the far more vital of the two primary single-player options. Each fight gives you a list of three items to accomplish — land X number of low kicks, do Y amount of damage, execute Z amount of throws and so on — and awards one-to-three stars based on how successful you are. Those stars are then added up and used to unlock the next set of challenges.
More importantly, Quest Mode doles out unlockables with each star corresponding to a reward such as money or additional lore. Clear them all and you’ll unlock costume points, which are used to unlock more costumes for the fighters… but not at your discretion. No, instead of allowing you to spend these points to unlock the costumes you want for the fighters you use, it’s all random. In other words, clearing a quest with Hayabusa might net you 500 costume points toward unlocking “Outfit 7” for Hitomi.
There are over 100 of the quests, each following the same three-star approach, and they end up getting pretty tedious once the goals start encompassing multiple fights. Not only that, but “unlocking” an outfit doesn’t grant you immediate access to it. Instead, you still have to buy it with gold. Even worse, there are times a 500-point quest ends up getting assigned to a 200-point outfit, meaning you permanently lose those 300 points. It’s pretty frustrating.
While the moment-to-moment fighting is really fun, DoA 6 just misses the mark with content, eliminating tag battles, which have been around since DoA 2, and cutting the roster to 24 characters — down from 34 in DoA 5: Last Round. Making matters worse, online play is limited to ranked matches only, though lobby mode is supposed to be added in the future. At least the fighting was generally smooth with minimal lag.
There is a handful of other modes (arcade, time attack, etc.), but they offer up so little in terms of rewards it’s debatable why you’d sink your time into them. Clearing an old-school arcade ladder might literally give you fewer than 10 costume points, and there’s not even a quirky little ending to watch.
Based purely on its competence as a fighter, Dead or Alive 6 is a success, offering up an “easy to play, hard to master” experience. Its lack of content is a bitter pill to swallow, though.