The record ain’t broke, but it is a bit scratched!
I’ve been a huge fan of the Dead or Alive series since its inception, and with that in mind, you can imagine how I hyperventilated with the news of the fifth installment making its way to the Playstation Vita.
What I’ve always loved about the series is its accessibility to new entrants and fighter enthusiasts alike. It’s easy to pick up, without the need to memorize ridiculously complicated button combinations, unless you really want to. Dead or Alive has always excelled for its simplicity. And whilst mostly known for its busty female leads, the series has also been notable for raising the benchmark for all other fighters to be aspire to.
The series peaked long ago with DOA2 Ultimate, with its perfect character roster, balanced gameplay mechanics, varied fighting styles, and highly replayable modes. Problem is, once you’ve perfected something like a fighter, there really isn’t anywhere else for the franchise to go. Therefore, Tecmo have often made changes, not so much to improve, but to make for a different enough experience to justify a sequel. Hence, we’ve seen complaints of future installments not reaching previous entries’ high notes.
Perhaps what makes the series so distinct (besides the obvious eye candy, of course) is its `triangle system’, where just about any move can be overcome by another. Attacks can be countered, counters can be beaten by throws, and throws can be halted by attacks. This mechanic has been the staple mark of the series, with its greater reliance on timing than your ability to string elaborate combos together, something proven to be somewhat tedious for everyone outside the circle of hardcore fighting enthusiasts.
With Dead or Alive 5 Plus, fighting is still as incredibly fast, fluid, and easy to jump into as it’s always been. However, a few significant tweaks have been made, and admittedly, not all of them for the best.
For starters, timing counters needs to be a little too specific this time round. There’s still moments where I swear I pressed dead on time, but was denied, yet opponents seem to nail it nearly every time. In gameplay videos I’ve watched, I note players rarely using counters at all, if they know what’s best for them, and I think this stands to that very reason.
More often than not, you’re better off blocking, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the great many moves that can now break your guard, leaving your character vulnerable, and at the mercy of whatever flashy combo the enemy feels like showing off.
That’s right. Contrary to what I said previously, there’s more emphasis in chaining combos this time round, particularly when fighting the AI above normal hardness setting. And, boy! Does this game get hard on the settings above!
In fact, it’s fairly commonplace to see the AI take up to 50% of your health, without being able to throw a single punch in between. And for many of us, there’s nothing more infuriating than watching, helplessly, as the AI juggles you in the air, chipping away at half your life meter.
Honestly, it seems like every other move has the ability to stun and render you a sitting duck, in wait for a good pummeling. Now, admittedly, this is a criticism of most other fighters, yet I felt that what escalated Dead or Alive was it’s devoid of such elaborate chain attacks.
Of course, the reason for these changes is to promote more aggressive play, theoretically making matches more intense. And whilst in a way this is true, what you also sometimes get is a more frustrating gaming experience.
One final criticism is that, on occasions, impacts just don’t register when I feel like they ought to, with attacks glitching through fighters, particularly when they’re down. However, its not always so much accidental glitches as it is Tecmo being too lazy to program when they didn’t want X move to hurt the opponent on Y scenario. This has a tendency to confuse when an attack, which would logically hit your opponent on certain occasions, just goes right THROUGH them. Unimpressive for a game in 2013.
This isn’t game breaking by any means, but in a fighting game, where the emphasis is on making every attack count, this can be a bit upsetting.
Admittedly, all of the above are minor offenses really, and as a whole, are fairly minor on the grand scheme of things, at least to anyone not taking the game too seriously. And despite these minor quibbles, bouts are more climactic than any other fighter on the market today.
The beginning roster of 24 characters has a near perfect variation of fighting styles. You’ll have a lot of fun picking characters specialising in throws, strength, combos, guard breaks, counters, speed, and a list of other attributes. All previous characters, besides bosses, are present here, with no drastic alterations to their fighting style, so long-term fans will have no problems diving right on in. Special mention to characters Sarah, Akira, and Pai; all from Sega’s flagship and influential `Virtua Fighter’ series, their styles fitting perfectly into the DOA universe.
Your typical arcade, time attack, survival modes are all accounted for here, including a rather intricate training mode that helps improve on the basics, expert techniques, and combos. But not all are explained as clearly as they could’ve been, nor are they particularly fun.
I was surprised to find a scarcity in the way of tag-team modes though. This was a mode the second installment famously streamlined, so its exclusion outside of story mode is somewhat surprising.
Ah, the new story mode. Rather different to previous games. It’s a long-winded, slightly convoluted narrative that attempts to consolidate all the characters in a fairly nonsensical plot. The best way to imagine it is if Michael Bay directed a martial arts flick, combined with the hammy dialog and scenarios of a midday soup opera, all written, cut and edited while blind, deaf and, perhaps, paraletic.
It makes for some great entertainment in a `it’s so bad, it’s good’ way, most of the time, as characters face-off for the most daft of reasons; whether it be Bass fighting Rigs for badmouthing his broken motorcycle, Zack tripping over a sleeping Brad Wong in the middle of the street, or Ayane and Hitomi bumping into each other in the middle of a freakin’ South-African jungle! I’m not making this up! Frankly, it wouldn’t have surprised me had I seen two characters fought over a pretzel, or dropped their personal vendettas to play a match of beach volleyball…
However, things do drag on at times, particularly when the story starts taking itself seriously, and because battles are only one round, lasting maybe a minute, you’ll spend most of the time watching ludicrous cutscenes than actually playing the game.
On top of that, a completely new addition to the Vita is the unique `Touch Mode’. A simple first person view mode that has you tapping and swiping the screen to attack, throw, and block against your opponent, all the while viewing the girls (or guys, if that’s your thing) in their most revealing angles.
I wasn’t surprised to find the inclusion of an arbitrary gimmick mode. What I was shocked to find is that this it’s actually a heck of a lot of fun in short bursts! Sadly, it’s only available as a single player. A shame, considering this could’ve been a riot when played with friends or online.
Speaking of which, the online is something of a mixed bag, with times where I can find a game,just like that! Other times, I’m waiting with no games available, even on one occasion when I knew for a fact a friend was searching for a game also.
The most notable change is not in the gameplay however, but the graphics, which have gone for a more realistic look this time round. And not just in the character design, but locations also.
What this means; gone are the colourful markets, beautiful Asian house interiors, and exquisite natural surroundings; replaced with uninspired Iraq like warzones, urban rooftops, or dirty shoebox apartments; stuff I’d thought to have likely seen in a Call of Duty title than a Dead or Alive title.
Not only that, whilst older levels had several branching set pieces to knock your opponents into or out of, locations are somewhat smaller here. It all feels like a step backwards really. Boring. Especially after seeing what the creative minds at Namco Bandai have shown us with the more recent Soul Calibur entries.
Not sure whether to call this a plus, or a negative either, but for better or for worse, the sex appeal in DOA5 has been toned down a notch or two. Whilst the revealing outfits, typical squeals by the ladies, and emphasis on their most… obvious assets, have all been retained, there’s something about the new look that makes it all a little less obvious. Perhaps I’ve just been de-sensitised.
Disregarding the aforementioned bother with the new aesthetics, graphics are what you would expect from the average Vita title. Very clear, however, not quite as spectacular as it could have been, with aspects such as water and lighting affects appearing fairly basic, everything degraded slightly from their console counterparts. What is most important though, is that everything keeps at a solid frame rate when playing offline. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed slowdown. The same when online, a great majority of the time (playing against PS3 players, or people the other side of the world, tends to perform some some lag).
A final, minute problem to mention is the rather lackluster soundtrack that’s on offer here. The music quality has gotten progressively worse with every installment after the DOA2, with this one being the most forgettable so far. In fact, a lot of the time, you won’t notice the music at all. Considering the game goes out of its way to make everything else so dramatic, with burning buildings, exploding warzones, and trains crashing through the highstreets, it’s surprising to find the soundtrack so un-involving.
What’s even worse is that this is one of the few Vita titles which will not allow you to listen to your own music while you play! Despicable, Tecmo! Despicable!
Overall, Tecmo have made for a more complex game. And yet, digging a little deeper finds, consequently, this has come at the expense of gameplay balance and, possibly, fun. Never-the-less, anyone in the market for a fighter, particularly with sexy ninja battles; DOA5+ packs enough punches, kicks, and knicker-shots to make it your number one fighter for quite some time.
But with the series’ increasing number of changes; whilst this record ain’t broken yet, it has been scratched up a bit.