Dead or Alive 6 has an identity crisis. On the one hand, it wants to break away from the franchise’s legacy of being nothing more than cute girls in cute outfits with a fighting game tacked on, but at the same time it doesn’t want to alienate the very fanbase that shows up for that lewd content. My first impression of the game did show a streamlined combat system that made each match pop with blood-pumping excitement; the outfits worn by the fighters less revealing and more stylistic.
But once I broke through the surface and dug a little deeper, Dead or Alive 6 drops its pretenses of being taken seriously and falls back on its worn tropes.
Punch, Kick, Block, Hold
To its credit, Dead or Alive 6 still has the spirit of old-school arcade fighting cabinets. Keeping modes like Arcade, Time Attack, and Survival mode around complete with high score leaderboards. However, it does at the cost of accessibility due to a very brief and barebones tutorial. Hit the attack buttons, then learn to block, then you’re done. No major explanation of the series’ counter-focused Hold system, no bread and butter combos. Just a quick explanation, then you’re thrown into the deep end.
Thankfully the slack is picked up by the brand new DOA Quest mode. A large collection of challenges that focus on specific characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Everything from “counter three high strikes” to “finish the match with a 10-hit combo” is present. But what helps elevate it is its use of contextual tutorials. If you fail a challenge, you can hit a button and the game will drop you into a practice room and give you some helpful advice.
It’s a little odd to have something like DOA Quest not more integrated into the tutorial. Fighting games have always had trouble getting casual players more familiar with their in-depth systems, and with a bit more refinement, DOA Quest could be a great step towards lessening that barrier to entry. It gets close when coupled with the game’s more streamlined combat, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
How Do I Look?
Unfortunately, there’s an elephant in the room that comes with Dead or Alive 6, and it’s the progression system. Completing challenges in DOA Quest or winning matches in the various modes rewards you with in-game coins, which you can use to purchase alternate costumes. With more and more costumes becoming available to purchase as you play.
At first, these incentives seem harmless enough. Different colored versions of their existing get-ups, a hoodie and some tasteful leggings, a different type of flowing coat, all standard stuff. But as you continue to play, the outfits become less and less about making their characters seem distinct – albeit in broad terms like Mila’s plucky grounded attitude or Tina’s flair for flamboyant extravagance – and more about fanservice. Skintight catsuits, latex, fishnets, the list goes on.
This isn’t to condemn Dead or Alive 6 for going this route, but the fact it sticks out so much shows just how much this production feels pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, the actual fighting gameplay is the tightest it’s been in the series. A more technical affair of spatial awareness and combo chains. But then in the exact same breath it still has overwrought breast jiggle physics and ridiculous costumes. Even worse, the day of the game’s official launch already boasts a Season Pass that costs about $93, which contains 62 different costumes… and 2 new fighters. A practice that also happened with Dead or Alive 5 across its seven Season Passes of content.
It’s a complete shame since the fighters themselves haven’t looked better. Animation is fluid and energized with a satisfying punch to each blow, with each respective fighting style given its proper due from the long-reaching sweeping kicks of Tae Kwon Do to the quicker more calculated flips and blows of Systema. Relying on titilation winds up cheapening this work, which is saying something considering Dead or Alive’s whole setting is audacious and strange in a way most video games aren’t anymore.
May The Best Woman Win
Unfortunately, the refined combat doesn’t fully make-up for some half-hearted content. Online is perfectly functional, although at time of writing there are no Lobbies, and while modes like Survival or Time Attack work exactly as intended, the Arcade mode feels lacking. You fight eight randomly generated fighters, sometimes fighting the same fighter twice, then it just ends; no dedicated arcade ending for whoever you won with.
But the crown jewel of half-measures ultimately goes to the game’s Story mode. As mentioned before, Dead or Alive’s story is convoluted. A total mishmash of criminal organizations, scientific experiments gone wrong, mind control, betrayal, martial arts enthusiasts, and eccentric rich people who like to punch eachother while wearing expensive suits. All of this is pretty standard fare for fighting games, Street Fighter setting the gold standard for utter weirdness, but the way Dead or Alive 6 decides to tell its story this time around is downright baffling. Instead of a continuous steady rhythm of cutscenes broken up by fights with each chapter in the narrative focusing on a single character’s perspective, the story continuously jumps around between characters and scenarios with barely any reason. Worse still, every single fight or cutscene ends with you being thrown back to a confusing chapter select menu, with multiple chapters opening across it like a malfunctioning Excel spreadsheet. It’s like trying to binge watch an entire season of something on Netflix except you get interrupted every two minutes and the scenes keep getting shuffled around.
Making this even worse is the fact that several of these chapters go absolutely nowhere. Two fighters hang out for a while, have a sparring match, then that’s it. Two characters awkwardly bump into each other for some awkward anime-style shenanigans, then that’s it. For all of the major plot centric stuff involving the sixth Dead or Alive tournament and the criminal organization known as MIST, there is a lot of deviations that just make the whole thing feel alienating, confusing, and just headscratching.
Dead or Alive 6 has some of the most polished combat of the series to date, but it’s buried under a lot of its own bloat and loaded baggage. Wanting to be both a serious fighting game as well as softcore pixelated titilation, it winds up being an uneven and barebones production that trips over itself. Fighting game fans and those with an eye for more lascivious content would be better served elsewhere.