E3 2018: Dead or Alive 6 is All About Combos

When broaching the topic of Koei Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 6, it seems wisest to begin by addressing the double-D elephant in the room. The buzz that followed the game’s announcement didn’t focus on the fact that fans were going to receive a new numbered entry in the long-running fighting franchise, but on the fact that the hypersexualization of the cast would be dialed back for western audiences. Speaking to the game director and producer, Yohei Shimbori,  he confirmed the fact that this was a business decision, made with the belief that the current social climate wouldn’t tolerate the unrealistic proportions and physics that helped make the series famous. My initial thought process was one of disappointment. I don’t like to see an artistic vision, even one as silly as this, be compromised by what a company thinks would be acceptable. It’s not that I want to ogle the women; they are simply digital constructs, after all. I just want people to make the thing they want to make. It’s not like I mind that type of thing. Heck, I even bought an import copy of Dead or Alive Extreme 3 out of curiosity (that one isn’t very fun, by the way).

Upon further reflection, I also have to understand that some are bothered by the cheesecake factor and simply want to play a good game without feeling like a deviant. While games that focus on the male form, such as Cho Aniki, don’t bother me, even the titillation found in those games is designed to attract the male gaze of those who are interested in that type of thing. I don’t know, and can’t directly comprehend, how the fairer sex feels about this. The wife isn’t too much help in this respect as she is just as amused by the silliness things like the Senran Kagura series bring to the table. As such, I neither approve nor disapprove of Koei Tecmo’s decision at the base level before taking the state of the game itself into account.

Here’s the truly amusing thing about the whole situation: by dialing back the sexuality, Koei Tecmo accidentally made the ladies “hotter.” Moon boobs are a source of amusement, but they always break the suspension of disbelief. As my wife likes to exclaim, “Breasts don’t do that! If they did, health insurance would refuse to cover concussions for women.” The sleek look that Kasumi now sports is just so much more attractive. It’s like listening to a favorite song on full blast and then dialing the volume down. It goes from being a wall of noise down to a level where the harmonies and intricacies of the arrangement can be appreciated. Because of this, one of the gameplay loops that will be present in Dead or Alive 6, unlocking costumes and skins through play, seems much more likely to become a dedicated pursuit. It also renders the outcry of those disappointed moot. Those fans are getting something sexier, which might turn out to please everyone.

With that out of the way, the fighting in the game itself is absolutely up to the standards of the previous entries. Designed to be easy to pick up and string combos for newbies, while allowing for frame specific counter attacks and strategies for those that know what they are doing, the fighting system is a perfection of what made the battles work before. I’m the first to admit that I’ve never done well at 3D fighters, with the possible exception of Soul Caliber, but I was able to hold my own reasonably well against a fighter that the director stated was tuned to his level of skill. I still got my clock cleaned while playing as Zack, but I also made the AI work for it. He was knocked through countless crates, and received quite a few punches, kicks, and juggles before he broke my chain and sent me reeling. By the time the three rounds were over, my opponent was covered in bruises and cuts, breathing heavily, and looking as though he has a rather bad day. It was enough of a consolation prize that I didn’t mind losing.

In the hands of the director himself, the game is a thing of beauty. Shimbori-san took control of Ryu Hayabusa and proceeded to tap dance all over his opponent’s face. Using moves from the now classic Ninja Gaiden reboot series and more than a few throws and counters, the match flowed like it was choreographed, with Ryu making ample use of wire stunts that would be found in some of the more insane martial arts epics. All of this was done on a stage called The Throwdown. Boxes and onlookers on surround the ring, and they both play a part in the fight. The boxes serve as an environmental hazard, naturally, while the audience won’t hesitate to push the fighters back into the middle, as though they were lining a mosh pit. This is just one of the examples of the ways that the different stages will play a role in the matches. True to the series’ norm, players can expect all sorts of ways to trap and harm enemies for bonus damage or to just turn the tide of the fight by making expert use of their surroundings.

Single player fighter fans should also rest assured that the story mode will continue where Dead or Alive 5 left off. This will have a long, full fledged story to enjoy, spanning multiple characters and battles. For those who skipped the last iteration, it’s similar in structure to the Injustice and recent Mortal Kombat games, except with less “dial-a-combo” gameplay, and more acting and reacting based on the flow of the fight.

What we’ve seen of this newest entry shows that the latest DOA is shaping up to be a great one. Right now, only six characters are announced: Ryu, Kasumi, Helena, Hayate, Zack and Jann Lee. Many more, however, will be coming to fill out the roster (crossed fingers for Ayane, though that does seem like a sure thing). With a deep story, engaging and understandable combat mechanics, real time damage to character models, along with a great look and the environmental hazards that Dead or Alive loves to use, the latest iteration has all the signs of being the best yet in the series. Expect to see it early 2019, when it launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam.