Straight up, I need to tell you that I’m not good at fighting games. I’m passably okay on occasion, and I’ve been decent with specific characters in specific games in the past. I never have been someone who has the ability to soak up and remember long lists of moves, counters, and combos, though. I have skill envy and loads of admiration for folks who are able to pull off astounding displays of digital ass whuppery, but that’s a level of brain-hand coordination I just lack. Still, I love to play fighting games, and it feels really good to be able to win even when I’m admittedly not the most agile thumbed scrapper. I felt the need to establish my perspective on fighting games at the top here so that you’d understand where I’m coming from when I say Dead or Alive 5 is very nearly a perfect fighting game for me.
My experience with the Dead or Alive series began on the original Xbox when I picked up Dead or Alive 3 on a whim. I quickly became obsessed with button mashing my way to victory in solo matches. After playing with some friends who were more skilled at the game, I soon realized that even though I could do some cool moves by flailing my thumbs at the controller willy nilly, I needed to absorb a few actual moves if I wanted to compete with them. As it turns out, learning DOA moves proved to be a lot more accessible to me than did learning Street Fighter moves, and my love for the franchise was born. A lot of years have passed since those first DOA3 rounds I played, and I’ve been there for the ride through DOA4 and both volleyball spinoffs. Now that we’re nearing the end of this generation of game consoles, it’s time for a fifth main installment, and it outshines all its predecessors.
I’ve made a lot of noise about my not being the best at fighting games. The fact that Dead or Alive 5 suits me perfectly doesn’t mean that this is a simple or shallow fighting game, though. It means that the game is immediately accessible to newcomers and provides a gradual and comfortable ramp up to a deep and satisfying fight experience. Players who already have the chops (pun possibly intended) to play this sort of game can bypass that early game ramp and head straight into the standard battle fare. More than any other fighting game (with the possible exclusion of the most recent Mortal Kombat), Dead or Alive 5 is an inclusive game that doesn’t shut out newbies. It feels welcoming and awesome to players of any skill level. The Training mode alone is a much appreciated and rewarding addition that feels smoother and friendlier than in most other similar games.
All the expected game modes are included, both online and off. Online multiplayer offers matchmaking, and there’s a unique feature in DOA5 that allows random players to challenge you to duels while you’re playing through single player modes. If you’ve been challenged, an icon will flash on the lower right corner of the screen, and you’ll have the option to accept the challenge and jump into a multiplayer bout or ignore it and continue what you’re currently doing on your own. Single player modes include returning favorites like Arcade, Time Attack, Survival, and Versus, as well as the tried and true Story mode.
Dead or Alive 4 features different Story modes for each of its playable characters, but all the characters are tossed in together for one big, ongoing tale in Dead or Alive 5. This Story mode spotlights most of the game’s playable characters by making them playable for one chapter at a time. Each chapter usually consists of three different one-round fights, all strung loosely together by a bizarre narrative. As you should expect from Dead or Alive, the cutscenes and the story they tell are pretty ridiculous and serve only as excuses to pair up various assortments of characters to fight in all the game’s different arenas. Though much of the story is enjoyably nonsensical, it has something to do with evil corporations, clones, and ninja clans, just like the previous installments in the franchise. Playing through Story mode is advisable for new players, as each fight introduces a new battle concept, and you’ll also be able to unlock some additional playable characters as you progress.
Most of the familiar faces are back in the roster for this fifth game. You’ll see old favorites like Kasumi, Ayane, Zack, Bass, Tina, and the rest of the gang. Two newcomers to the DOA series make their first appearances here. The first is Mila, an up and coming female MMA fighter, and the other is Rig, a male foreman on an oil rig owned by DOATEC. In a franchise first, three characters from rival fighting series Virtua Fighter also join the DOA ranks this time. While the Virtua Fighter characters’ identities are pretty much common knowledge by now, I’ll not name specifics here, just in case you want to unlock them without spoilers. All told, there are 24 different playable characters in the roster.
The various battle arenas are pretty fantastic this time around. The settings are widely varied, taking you from South American jungles to offshore oil platforms to circus rings. The levels are themed extremely well, full of appropriate music and sound effects, as well as general environmental effects as appropriate to the settings. The oil rig features exploding fuel tanks and rocking platforms, while carnival music and prowling tigers play roles in the circus level. Danger Zones are present in many levels, offering environmental specific hazards that provide opportunities to do massive damage to your opponents, and even little details in each level give rewarding feedback, like knocking bricks off a wall when you slam your opponent against it.
Dead or Alive 5 overall carries a level of detail and polish that surpasses that of its predecessors and even of its current cronies in other franchises. The iconic characters have evolved with higher levels of detail, and as fights proceed they actually sweat and dirty up their outfits this time. DOA’s infamous boob physics make a return, but by now they aren’t the talking point for the game. Yes, all the female characters have improbably huge chests, but that takes a backseat to the polish and presentation of the fighting system and all the other components that make up the game.
If you are a fan of the Dead or Alive series, DOA5 is a must-get. If you are a newcomer to the fighting game genre and are interested in playing a game that doesn’t make you feel completely punished and useless, DOA5 again is a must-get. And, once again, if you want to play one of the best fighting games released on this current generation of consoles, Dead or Alive 5 is the game for you.