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EGM Review:
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate

Posted on September 11, 2013 AT 03:09pm

Even more Deader and Alive–ier

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Dead or Alive series—and, no, not because it prominently features cute female characters with massive, physics-defying breasts.

When I was first introduced to the franchise, it was as an arcade release on Sega’s Model 2 board, the same hardware used to power their own fighting series, Virtua Fighter. I also enjoyed Virtua, but Dead or Alive added some interesting twists on the still-in-its-infancy 3D-fighter genre, such as the ability to counter your opponent’s moves and stage “Danger Zones” that offered an advantage if you could force your foe into them.

As Dead or Alive continued on, it grew away from its heavily inspired-byVirtua Fighter origins and into finding its own identity and style. At the hands of lead designer Tomonobu Itagaki, part of that identity meant refining gameplay to become a fast-paced, high-energy spectacle of combat—which now, even more, emphasized its female cast, who grew from slightly exaggerated characters into weird, fetish dollesque caricatures.

I was legitimately excited when the reveal of a post-Itagaki Dead or Alive 5 hinted at some rethinking of the series and its hallmark elements, as I hoped that a revised Team Ninja might feel the courage to try some new things.

The results were good, but also disappointing. One of the most noticeable changes? The game’s character models, which received an appealing design revision, dropping the “plastic toy” look while also staying clear of attempting to seem too realistic. Sure, female characters still maintained an almost-mass-produced sexuality to them—everyone from Kasumi to Hitomi had the same over-abundance of chest, while also reminding us that too many Japanese character designers forget that women in their home country can actually have an ass—but it was easier to find them appealing now that they don’t look like something you’d order off the Internet and have shipped to you in a big wooden crate.

Of course, a fighting game is far more than just its looks, and Dead or Alive 5 felt like a nice, logical revision to what we’d seen before in Dead or Alive 4. It also, sadly, felt like an effort that was afraid to stray too far from what had come before. One of the most promising additions to DOA5, for example, were its destructible environments, but the restraint shown in implementing them hinted that Team Ninja didn’t want to shake things up too much.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate does nothing to change most of the core complaints I had about Dead or Alive 5—and, to be fair, I didn’t really expect it to. Still, that’s an important point to make: This is a “Game of the Year” edition of the original game, if you will, and if you weren’t a fan of DOA5 as it was, Ultimate does little that will change your mind.

If you did enjoy the game—and, to be honest, I’ve warmed in my feelings toward it somewhat compared to when I first played—Ultimate adds a level of polish to the Dead or Alive 5 experience while also giving it that “freshening up” that any fighting game needs after a while. I’m not sure that I ever really felt like the original game’s content was lacking—well, except for the bizarre story mode that crammed every character into one long narrative—but pretty much every addition here feels worthwhile and never superfluous. Some of these additions come from the PlayStation Vitareleased Dead or Alive 5 Plus, such as the expanded Tutorial and Combo Challenge training modes, and the ability to select exactly what music plays throughout all portions of the game (a small, but quite enjoyable, option to have).

Plus also gave us Rachel, the demon/human hybrid from Ninja Gaiden. For those who never tried Dead or Alive 5 on Sony’s handheld, Rachel is an interesting inclusion, as—so far as I know—she’s the first female character in the series to be put into the heavyweight character class. Joining her are the return of classic characters Leon and Ein, Sega’s Jeet Kune Do master Jacky Bryant (giving DOA5 its fourth guest character from Virtua Fighter), and fresh new face Momiji. Like Rachel, Momiji previously made appearances in a variety of Ninja Gaiden titles, and it’s always nice to have roster additions in fighting games—even if, to be honest, she did little to catch my attention when trying her out.

Other gameplay additions are totally new to Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate. Most notable is the Power Launcher, which can be used once per round to knock your opponent into the air to open up more potential for juggles. While Tag matches technically aren’t new, their implementation in Ultimate is, as Tag can now even be played online when you’re looking for a break from the normal 1-on-1 pairings. If tag-teaming opponents isn’t enough, there’s Team Battle, where you can pick up to seven characters to take into a series of elimination matches. Beyond that, the package rounds out with a long list of bug fixes, a handful of new and classic stages, and the inclusion of a number of DOA5 DLC packs, bringing the amount of unlockable costume choices to 231 for those who love playing digital dress-up with the Dead or Alive cast. (Which, by the way, I do.)

Perhaps the most interesting element of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate isn’t even included in the game: Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate: Core Fighters. This free-to-play release gives players four characters—Kasumi, Ayane, Hayabusa, and Hayate—for free, with the rest of the cast being unlockable for $3.99 each. Why is this important to those considering the full release of Ultimate? Because Core Fighters will hopefully help keep the game’s online community active and alive, something that, sadly, couldn’t always be said for the original Dead or Alive 5. Sure, you might end up facing off against the same four characters disproportionately, but then again, everybody who plays Street Fighter IV is paying for the whole disc, and yet so many of those players stick to the same Shotoclones endlessly. (Which, by the way, I don’t.)

Unfortunately, it’s those two aspects—online and how you get the game—where I had my biggest reservations about Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate. We’re told that the online netcode and matchmaking options were improved in this release, but my real-world experience has been mixed. Finding certain types of ranked matches can be tough, and I feel as if I’ve experienced more lag in the matches I’ve played online than what I considered average in DOA5. Tecmo Koei seems to be working to improve the game’s matchmaking and lag, but at this point, I can’t promise you what your personal experience will be.

What can’t be fixed is the game’s overall release strategy. For owners of the original Dead or Alive 5, there’s no upgrade path beyond shelling out the $40 for a full copy like everyone else. And, if you don’t upgrade, there’s no balancing patch or anything that lets you at least play against those who own Ultimate. Replacing one physical release with another used to be the norm with fighting games; in 2013, I don’t think we should be as tolerant of that practice. Sure, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate provides a sizable chunk of improvements over the original game, but I find it hard to believe that this couldn’t have been done as DLC with proper planning.

If you’re new to Dead or Alive 5, then Ultimate is definitely the way to get introduced to the game. It’s a better, beefier version of Team Ninja’s latest fable of fisticuffs, and hopefully, both this full release and Core Fighters will help revive interest in the game’s competitive scene. If you already own the original Dead or Alive 5, then I’d recommend first giving thought to how much more playtime you’re wanting to put into the game—and whether the all-or-nothing method of upgrading to a new version makes the most sense.

Developer: Team Ninja • Publisher: Tecmo Koei • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 09.03.2013

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate is a more robust, refined version of Team Ninja’s work on Dead or Alive 5, providing a fighting-game package that’s a better starting point for players new to this iteration of the series. Current Dead or Alive 5 owners, however, will have to pony up the exact same amount of scratch to join in on the fun.

The Good Refined gameplay, more modes, better training options, and tons of DLC outfits for free.
The Bad The core game still feels unambitious at times, and there’s no easy way for DOA5 owners to upgrade.
The Ugly Half of the cast’s back problems in another 6 to 7 years.
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Primary version reviewed was for PS3.
Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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