So this is what it comes down to? I go for months without a new fighting game blog, and when I come back it's just covering a game I've covered before? For shame, me!
There's even games I haven't covered yet, like Street Fighter IV, Third Strike, and Injustice. I picked up some new fighting games since last time, but here we are. With a game I've already done. What a slacker I am.
Fighting games have the tendency to do this. If you wait a while after the original release, you're almost guaranteed to get an “ultimate” edition with balance tweaks and new features. Normally I wouldn't cover the same game twice, but I feel like Ultimate deserves praise. I was kind of lukewarm on DOA5, but this update pulled me back in with its promise of excellent training systems for new players. If you're bad at fighting games like I am, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate goes out of its way to help you.
I criticized vanilla DOA5 for burying its tutorials in the Story Mode, with no easy way to revisit them. This time around, there is a huge 42 part tutorial that covers every single concept in the game. Even things that weren't explained in the previous game's tutorial and systems I have never heard of are explained. They're accompanied by brief text boxes, clear on-screen instructions, and tests that make absolutely sure you grasped the concepts by having you perform them in a battle.
It's one of the best tutorials in any fighting game I've ever played. There's even a brief section that touches on frame data into easy-to-understand terms, teaching the concepts of startup and recovery. It's not only the perfect tutorial for learning DOA, it's a good lesson to learn if you're picking up any 3D fighting game.
As great as this mode is, it isn't perfect. The biggest issue I had was the aggressive AI during the test/mission sections. You have to complete a specific objective while fighting an opponent. As the challenges got more difficult, the AI gets increasingly aggressive, to the point where I found it difficult to even START doing my mission before I got knocked out by the AI. Helena and Ayane in particular are so tough that they're keeping me from finishing a handful of missions.
Some of the more esoteric concepts could have used more instruction than a text box. What would have helped a lot would be a demo, so I could see the computer finish the mission. At times I didn't know if I was timing my moves correctly and had to look up videos online.
I used to lose to Christie 100% of the time in DOA5. Now I lose to Helena.
Dead or Alive has a large cast where each character plays very differently. So while you will get down the basics of the game in the tutorial, you won't get far without actually learning a character.
I praised the Command Training in the original game, and it's relatively unchanged here. They even added a shortcut to view demonstrations of the moves: Back+RB. The command was previously "click the right stick" which is impossible on arcade sticks, so good on them for fixing it.
There's another feature that is crucial to learning your character of choice: the brand new Combo Challenge.
I love this feature. Every character has a long list of combos that you can complete as a check list. I feel like it's a feature that many fighting games don't bother to include, because they expect players to learn combos by experimenting or observing others playing the game. Still, it's incredibly helpful for new players who might have trouble putting together a bread-and-butter combo from scratch. I'm one of those people who always ends up looking for combos on Youtube because I have trouble forming my own, but this puts that feature right in the game.
Of course, it doesn't teach you the most optimal, flashy stuff you'll see in tournaments. It does waste the last couple of slots on tag combos which I never use because I don't play Tag mode. And my biggest complaint of all is that there is no Demonstration function here, so you can't tell if you're timing your hits correctly.
Despite that, Combo Challenge is a brilliant addition and a feature I want to see in more fighting games. The last one I remember doing so was Persona 4 Arena.
I chose to show Rachel's Combo Challenge because she's a new addition and my main character in the game. I never really settled on a character in the original game because none of them fit my playstyle, but luckily for me, one of the new ones did. She has a limited moveset and is slower than most characters. However, she also has a lot of moves that stun or knock down on hit, and hits like a truck when she connects.
Command Training is a good way to test and see if you can even play a character, but Combo Challenge helps even more. By finishing all of her combos in that mode (even the Tag ones I'll never use), I knew I found my main character.
One aspect of the game that still needs some work are the online features. In Rank Match you get this screen.
Due to how many options there are, finding matches is more difficult than it should be. The “opponent strength” option is good for finding people in your skill level, but your rank isn't shown on this screen. I found myself setting the region and connection to “any” just to get matches because there aren't too many people online. There should be a “quick match” button here, and simplify the opponent strength to a single menu with three options: Stronger, Weaker, Same Level.
There is an option to search for matches automatically during Training mode, which I used more because I didn't want to stare at a “searching...” menu for too long. However it seems that this search doesn't take your rank in consideration, so I kept getting matched up against opponents that were much stronger than me.
The online connection still needs work. It was mostly unplayable in DOA5, but it has been improved to the point where most matches are pretty good and have little input delay.
However, the game doesn't compensate for lag well. Either the game runs well with minimal lag, or it's a slideshow. Also, the connection bars don't really show how the game's connection will really be. They could be full, green bars and the match will still lag terribly.
Despite the issues with online, I came away with a pretty positive opinion on the game. With better character balance and having a character I actually know how to play, I'm enjoying Ultimate much more than I thought I would.
I'm getting a better understanding of how each character's combos work. Most characters have quick strings that are fast high-low mixups, which can be pretty tough to block due to their speed. That's where the Holds come in. In theory they're combo breakers that can get you out of impossible vortexes if you guess correctly. In practice, it's a lot tougher to Hold properly than it seems.
As I've played the game more, I've found that blocking has gotten increasingly difficult, putting more emphasis on Holds. So now I'm in the point where I'm studying characters in training mode to see which moves hit high or low so I can react with a Hold properly. It's a lot to memorize especially in the middle of a match. I'm understanding the system better but losing most matches because I'm not reacting quickly enough yet.
So while the game is more balanced than before, it will take a LOT of time to get truly proficient at it. I've played about 100 online matches now and I've got a 30 percent win rate, losing the majority of my matches. Dead or Alive is a long-running series, and it strikes me as the type of game that will be easier for veterans: they already have seen which moves hit high, low, or mid through years of practice and are know when to Hold and counter them.
Still, the new game balance goes a long way in cutting down frustration. I feel like I only lose to players that are clearly better than me, not just because I suck at fighting the ninjas (the ninjas are still top tier though). Matches go by quickly and being able to beat up a training dummy while waiting for matches cuts down the frustration a bit.
I'm nowhere near good at the game, but actually being taught how to play the game helped a lot. I've already played Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate a lot more than the original version.
What I Liked
-Tutorial Mode is one of the best out of all current fighting games. It teaches every single aspect of the game in an easy to explain way, and tests you frequently to make sure you understand the concepts.
-Combo Challenge gives new players a foundation to build from. It teaches you the moves, and also when and where to use them.
-The presentation is still excellent. Character models change over the fight (getting dirt on their clothes and sweating), and the environments are varied and well designed.
-The character balance is very good. Even the top-tier characters in the game have clear weaknesses so they're not unreasonably difficult to fight.
What I Didn't Like
-Online netcode is inconsistent. In matches with good netcode, it's nearly lag free. If there is some latency, the game utterly fails at compensating for it. The framerate becomes a slideshow, and you can feel the delay between hitting a button and getting a response.
-Online menu system is a little too complicated and occasionally locks you in points where you cannot back out to the main menu.
-No Demonstration for harder tutorials in Combo Challenge and Tutorial. It would have helped to see how to time my moves in these tutorials.
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate sets an incredibly high standard for what fighting game tutorials should be. It teaches every system and concept of the gameplay, teaches you all the moves for your character of choice with Command Training, and even gives you some basic combos with Combo Challenge to help you get started. I found the online competition pretty tough and the netcode needs work, but the majority of online matches were smooth.
If you're not a fan of the game's focus on Holds and stuns, Ultimate won't change your mind much. But if you're even a little bit interested in the game, try out the fantastic tutorial modes and see if you can get into it. It'll give you a fighting chance even if you're as lousy at fighting games as I am.