Dead or Alive has never really been about its gameplay. It started as a fighting game, and they’ve always been solid, but the franchise has always marketed itself on one simple idea: titilation. The mostly female cast of fighters clad in skimpy outfits with their…assets shown off. All of which got to the point where the franchise’s fanservice-y volleyball spin-offs were more relevant than the actual fighting game the characters started in.
It’s a reputation that Team Ninja have been fighting against with the release of Dead or Alive 6. Director Yohei Shimbori has stated in interviews that he wants the series to be taken more seriously as a fighter, and the team wanted to focus more on satisfying in-depth gameplay, all while still maintaining the series’ campy spirit.
And after spending about two hours in Dead or Alive 6, I can say the fighting is noticeably more crisp and in-depth than prior entries. And there is still some sex appeal around…just not as obvious.
The first thing I did when booting up the game was checking out the new character of Nico, a nerdy scientist trained in Pencak Silat in the Arcade mode. The very first thing that stood out was how kinetic and impactful each of her blows were. Quick, effective, and to the point, a perfect translation of the fighting style. And there is just enough anime-branded silliness with some of her combos ending with her shooting lightning out of her hands thanks to THE POWER OF SCIENCE.
The series’ signature Hold system, the ability to counter and retaliate just about every attack has also been significantly streamlined. Originally, there were Holds to counter just about every single attack an enemy can throw at you. Low, Overhead, Throws, anything could be reversed if you were quick enough with your input, which made high-end competitive play a stressful case of “guess the counter.” In DOA6, you can still reverse attacks, but they’re broken up into two types. A regular Hold, which can be done anytime, can stop and counter regular attacks, but anything more aggressive like a combo string or a powerful overhead is something you will have to block or avoid. Then there are Break Holds, which take from an energy bar you slowly build up as you fight. These can stop and punish anything your opponent throws at you, but if you misread their attacks, you can end up wasting your energy for nothing.
It makes each match feel more dynamic. Rather than just memorizing Holds and shutting down everything the enemy does, there’s a greater sense of move and countermove, making the technical elements of each fight more crucial.
Unfortunately, the same can’t exactly be said for Dead or Alive 6’s story mode. The plot itself is still a quintessential DOA plot: a convoluted hodgepodge of secret ninja clans, mad science experiments, clandestine terrorist organizations, eccentric billionaires, and also a martial arts tournament. All cheesy schlocky fun, but the way it is presented leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of sticking to the perspective of several characters for long periods of time, similar to how Netherrealm Studios handles the story modes in Injustice and Mortal Kombat, the story jumps back and forth between multiple locations and character perspectives, making the whole thing feel unfocused and scattershot. Maybe it picks up after the first couple of chapters, but it doesn’t exactly put its best foot forward.
Finally, yes, there are some alternate costumes for the characters. Thankfully the selection isn’t as ridiculous as DOA5, which included stuff like swimsuits and school uniforms, and there are notably more conservative wardrobe choices like armored bodysuits and tasteful sweaters. It is still goofy to take a character you enjoy playing as and basically play dress-up with them, but the more considerate wardrobe choices do help make it feel more silly than creepy.
I still need to put more time into Dead or Alive 6 before giving my final thoughts, but overall I am enjoying what Team Ninja have done here. It’s a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t completely divorce the games from the reasons why some people play the games.