“If the genre gets lifted, then we rise with that as well; we’re really happy at the opportunity, we’re really glad that things have worked out like this, and we’re really confident that Dead or Alive 5 will be able to ride that wave.”
—Yosuke Hayashi, producer, Dead or Alive 5
Hayashi’s answer comes in response to my asking him about the timing of Dead or Alive 5. It’s an interesting topic: Dead or Alive 4 was released at the beginning of the Xbox 360’s lifecycle back in late 2005, but the mainline series has sat dormant ever since. Confidence in fighting games seemed like an outdated concept, so Dead or Alive—much like many other franchises—were abandoned, as their parent developers went on to do other things.
Things changed, however. Fighting games came back—or, more precisely, the fans did. It’s hard not to see Dead or Alive 5 as a product of this resurgence, but it’s also hard to blame Team Ninja for seeing an opportunity and running with it. Especially, of course, when we’re looking at this current Team Ninja, a team hungry and eager to prove to the world that they’re more than just one man.
Thus, Dead or Alive 5 has goals on multiple fronts. First and foremost, it needs to be a worthy new chapter in the Dead or Alive series. In doing so, it has to make longtime fans happy, while also bringing enough new features and innovations in order to justify its existence. Then there’s an even bigger-picture hope that Hayashi and the rest of Team Ninja have: that they can be part of that fighting-game resurgence and help make the genre better in their own way.
“For us, it’s been about thinking about how we can advance Dead or Alive 5, and Dead or Alive overall as a series,” Hayashi said during our E3 conversation. “We’re focused on making this the best Dead or Alive game that it can be. Looking at how to evolve fighting games in general, we’re aware of all of the fighters that are out there—and, of course, we look at them. But, we’re confident now that—internally—we have our own ideas and we have our own focus for the direction of Dead or Alive 5. So, it’s a good time to bring it back out.”
For me, one of the biggest changes has nothing to do with anything relating to the game’s fighting engine—it’s the new character designs. Dead or Alive always had a very distinctive look to the game’s cast, especially those of the female persuasion. Some would describe the style as heavily influenced by Japanese anime or based on the fantasy of how men want women to look; others described them as nothing less than virtual RealDolls. That visual style has now drastically changed; the plastic look is out, and more realistic proportions and more Western-friendly features are in. I asked Hayashi about how fans have reacted so far to the change—he told me that fan feedback has been very positive, and that his team’s working hard to keep the essence of what made the characters special while also providing their own take.
Of course, character designs are far from the only differences coming in Dead or Alive 5, and Hayashi introduced me to two gameplay-related ones: Power Blows and Critical Bursts. Once a player’s life gauge is below 50 percent, they’ll be able to pull off a Power Blow—a devastating maneuver that knocks an opponent into part of the surroundings. If a Power Blow lands, the camera switches to a behind-the-back view of the player who pulled it off, where that player can then make some quick tweaks to the direction they’ll be sending their opponent flying in. Where, exactly, that opponent lands will have differing results. As one example, Hayashi perfectly positioned a CPU-controlled Bass to be sent flying directly into the mouth of a giant clown head in the background—which then proceeded to swallow Bass, only to shoot him out of a cannon a moment later. One of Dead or Alive’s trademarks has always been the danger zones around the rings. Now, Team Ninja’s doing some really interesting things with that concept, making key points and objects react in dynamic ways, versus simply causing extra damage to the player knocked into them.
In conjunction with Power Blows comes the Critical Burst, a new type of stun move that can’t be countered with the typical Dead or Alive reversal system. Alone, it can set opponents up for combos or special moves—yet some players will also be able to combine it with Power Blows for an even greater depth of tactics.
“We think that advanced players will be able to use the Power Blow in combination with the Critical Burst and work that into their repertoire of moves,” Hayashi told me. “Actually, one of the pro players that we have here at the show said [that combination] is almost like the ultimate taunt—being able to pull that off in a match. But then, casual players will be able to just watch and have fun with it, and if they’re casual players playing together, it’ll be enjoyable to see who’s going to pull off the Power Blow first.”
At the start of our brief meeting, Hayashi explained to me that Dead or Alive 5 was “fighting entertainment”—a core fighting game mixed with the type of spectacle that casual players enjoy watching. Everything I got to see at E3—a better look at the new character designs, the new interactive environments, added techniques like Power Blows and Critical Bursts—suggests that concept is alive and well here. Of course, questions still remain: Can Dead or Alive 5 survive in the now-crowded pool of fighting games, and can the series truly continue on without its longtime creator?
At least for now, I eagerly await discovering answers to those questions. Though I may have a few reservations about the game—reservations that are more presentation and attitude than style or gameplay—I can say that Tecmo Koei’s attempt to rekindle interest in the Dead or Alive franchise has certainly worked for me.