But it has plenty of both
Dead or Alive is inarguably my favorite 3D fighting franchise. Hell, it’s my favorite fighting game series period. I was introduced to it with Dead or Alive 4 and it was like lightning in a bottle. The fast and fluid gameplay as well as the addition of Lisa Hamilton to the roster — I love some lucha-libre fighting action — absolutely gelled and I’ve been hooked ever since. Dead or Alive Dimensions remains the most played fighting game on my 3DS and I imagine Dead or Alive 6 will hold a similar crown on my PlayStation 4 when it launches next year.
Last week at a Koei Tecmo event in San Francisco, I was able to go hands-on with the upcoming title in both single-player and versus action. The build was the same used last month at Tokyo Game Show and it gave me my first look at the new engine for the series, new fighter Diego, and some of the characters I missed by not picking up Dead or Alive 5: Last Round.
The video above was captured directly from a PlayStation 4 Pro and gives a good look at the brand new engine Dead or Alive 6 is utilizing. The engine, which has no name, has been in the works for about three years and contributes to what Yohei Shimbori, director and producer of DoA6, refers to as “Fierce Fighting Entertainment.”
“There are two parts to that,” Shimbori explained to me shortly after I’d tried the game out for myself. “The first part is largely the visual aspect. We have a new game engine for the title, so I think the way the characters look, you can see them sweat, you can see when they get dirty, bruises, and marks on their faces. So I think you can really see on their face the results of the intense battles.”
He continued, “The second would be the gameplay itself. We have a new button we added, the special button. With that single button you’ll be able to press it to unleash some pretty cool moves. For people that are completely new to fighting games, I think it will really broaden the entry point for those fans. As well we also added the ‘Break Gauge’ to the series. Through that, when the break gauge fills up you’ll be able to execute a special break attack.”
On the PlayStation 4 controller, the new special is tied to the R1 button. As the Break Gauge fills, players can press the button in tandem with a directional button to activate a variety of moves. You can perform a special side attack, or special breaks that give players the upper hand on their opponents. When the gauge is at max, pressing the special button four times in a row unleashes the Fatal Rush. This is a series of strong hits that ends with a Break Blow, doling a great deal of damage to your opponent.
There is a catch. If you go for the Fatal Rush and miss, your Break Gauge completely drains. If you connect your attacks but your opponent uses a Break Blow, they lose part of their gauge but you keep all of yours.
“With the gauge, there is also an element of strategy to it,” Shimbori said. “Obviously, when it fills up you’ll want to use it right away, but the more expert players will want to use it as part of their strategy, saving it for a more opportune point in the match. I think, for all players, it creates additional elements of strategy. And it’s not just for the players but for people who are watching the game. They’ll see the break gauge fill up and can probably anticipate something major is about to happen.”
Shimbori said he’s interested to see how the new fighting mechanic will be received by the fighting game community, as well as the new graphics engine. In action, the engine doesn’t look entirely different from DoA 5 until I notice the small details such as the sand getting on the fighters clothes or the sweat on their chest as they go into their victory pose. The touted bruise and facial damage feature is less convincing. In the heat of battle it’s a nice addition to the character, but when viewed up close it looks like a bit cheap. Shadows, particularly those around the neck, still need some work but the appearance of leather, particularly the leather found on Marie Rose’s signature outfit, is probably the most realistic I’ve seen in a video game.
Since DoA 6‘s reveal earlier this year, and the announcement Team Ninja wanted to take the series from “sexy” to “cool,” there’s been some consternation among the fanbase. Some people don’t believe the developer’s intentions, pointing out the exact same thing was said ahead of Dead or Alive 5‘s release before the game was inundated with $1,000 worth of erotic costumes. It becomes more difficult to take the “cool, not sexy” claim seriously when it’s already been announced there will be a $200+ version of the game that comes with three mousepads that exemplify either big breasts or big butts.
For a lot of people, especially its detractors, the Dead or Alive series is nothing but a fan-service fighting game. But Shimbori sees it otherwise.
“How we see the Dead or Alive series is that is has a lot of different points that appeal to different people,” Shimbori explained after I asked how his team is balancing the wants of longtime fans with the new direction the series is taking. “There are fans who are there for the fighting element, some who are there for the stages or the characters or there are some who enjoy the sexy depictions. We don’t really look at it on a scale of 0 to 100. We definitely need to look at the balance of how we do things. Even within the characters, there are various designs and themes, sort of their own characteristics. We even have different outfits for each character. It’s not an either/or situation for us. There’s going to be something for everyone, something that each person will like. That’s the balance we’re looking at for this game. In terms of how do we judge it, it’s a matter of instinct.”
Whether or not Dead or Alive 6 will follow in the DLC footsteps of Last Round remains to be seen. Shimbori told me nothing has been decided yet about post-release support or if the game will go with a single SKU that’s constantly updated, so the player base isn’t fractured with new editions. I asked if a Switch port was at all discussed during development and Mr. Shimbori said that it was considered, but there were various aspects that made it difficult to do. He did confirm the characters introduced in Dead or Alive Xtreme: Venus Vacation will not make the DoA 6 roster, but wasn’t able to tell me how many characters will be in the final product at launch. So far, 19 characters have been confirmed for the game, including two pre-order bonuses and one new character named Diego.
I asked Mr. Shimbori why a series most associated with young, beautiful women would choose to introduce a new male character first. He said male characters are more popular with western audiences than female characters, and Team Ninja’s Tom Lee gave a little bit more insight into Diego’s creation.
“Traditionally we have very fantastic characters in DoA like ninjas, wrestlers and assassins and those types of things,” Lee said. “I felt that for a new character in 2019, we needed a character that was modern and relatable to most characters so it doesn’t have to come from fantasy. I felt it would be really cool to introduce a character who kind of feels like somebody we might know. He doesn’t even need to necessarily come from a martial arts background, he’s a scrappy guy who’s just resourceful with what he has. I think that’s the genesis of Diego.”
For the brief time I spent with him, I actually like Diego a lot. He’s fast, which is a necessity for me in a fighting game, and his reversals can be devastating. But the character who is most fascinating to me from the demo is Honoka. Introduced in Last Round, Honoka is a high school student who practices “Honoka Fu,” a nonsense fighting style that includes some capoeira influences. Eddie Gordo and Christie Monteiro are my go-to fighters for Tekken, so I felt right at home kicking ass with her. If Lisa Hamilton doesn’t return from Last Round after being caught in an exploding building*, she’ll no doubt become my new main.
Dead or Alive 6 launches February 15, 2019, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
*Spoiler alert: I can confirm that Lisa Hamilton, like GLaDOS, is still alive.