The Dead or Alive franchise is a series that has stuck around for nigh on two decades now and it is has become fairly well known, for better or for worse. The newest edition of the fifth official entry to the series, Last Round, promised to be just what its namesake suggests – the actual last round. Now if only Team Ninja would make this the final game in the series as well, all would be right with the world.
The fifth installment picks up after the last one with as many recurring characters as they could fit into the game. DOATEC has been rebuilt with Helena at the head of it and she announces a new Dead or Alive tournament, bringing all the old fighters out of the wood work to fight for victory again. Meanwhile, Kasumi clone Alpha 152 is still at large and Donavon’s dastardly plan of mass producing these perfect soldiers is moving forward. The ninjas, Hayate, Hayabusa and Ayane, work with Helena to uncover this mystery and finally put a stop to this evil plan. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what happens. The plot is so convoluted, nonsensical and rife with cringe inducing ‘jokes’ that it’s hard to actually know what was going on.
The storyline is nonlinear and goes back and forth through time until all the characters stories have overlapped, except for the ninjas stories about the evil clone. That story comes almost entirely after the tournament is over and 90% of the rest of the characters are no longer needed. Thinking the title of the game and the main plot would be the same was obviously foolish thinking by a non-hardcore DOA player like myself. Eventually, the story ends up making some semblance of sense, though my breakdown above is far more concise and intelligible than the ridiculous fight by fight layout of the story the game gives you. If you haven’t played every iteration of the series thus far, don’t count on knowing what’s going on for the majority of the game.
How stunning it looks, however, is a place to heap praise upon DOA5. Running at 1080p and 60FPS, it looks incredible. The environments are destructible, gorgeous and multilayered as you can smash your opponent into a different part of the arena you are in to continue the beat down. The character design is equally good looking. The characters interact with the environment which causes them to get dirty or wet etc. that stays with you for the entire fight. The character models are extremely detailed and look realistic even as they fly preposterously through the air to pull off a flying arm bar. Also, between the confusing cut scenes masquerading as story points to the fight arena is a seamless transition in both environment and in character model. The game simply looks fantastic.
The gameplay itself actually presents quite a challenge, if overly complicated. If you go through the detailed and in-depth tutorial, you are treated to a very extensive and thorough introduction to the move list. From the simplest of combos to stunning your opponent and carrying out an insanely long combo, the tutorial makes sure you are more than ready to take on the story mode. I say more than ready because as far as the rest of the game goes, the amount of detail given to the tutorial far outweighs the preparation you require to beat the game. Not that I’m complaining because it was extremely helpful but I found it rather difficult to pull off some of the more complicated combos when fighting the computer and ended up using quick punch more readily and effectively than say, a flying knee into a leg sweep into a front flip kick combo.
Knowing the combos and being able to pull most of them off rarely came in handy to someone who is ‘pretty good’ at the game. On the one hand, I played with a friend who hadn’t picked up a PS4 DualShock since its launch nor had he played a fighting game since SNES. His button mashing soundly beat me eight times in a row and these fights weren’t even close. On the other hand, when I went online, players who were much more adept at the game proceeded to also beat me in a merciless flurry of combos that I could hardly recover from to get even one shot in. This is what I found to be the way game played out. Either you were an adept who had mastered the combo list or you got by on button mashing and did pretty good for yourself. The rest of us who fall in the middle, well, we have to settle for hoping to land something special and squeaking out a win.
Fans of the DOA series will be delighted to find all their favourites in the roster. Everyone from the aforementioned ninja, to Christie to Hitomi to Bass Armstrong who is very clearly just a Macho Man Randy Savage rip off. Outside of the story mode, each of these characters come with a ton of costumes while some of the characters have even more available, Kasumi having a ridiculous 35 to herself. There are also some guest appearances from Virtua Fighter, the single most technical fighting game I’ve encountered, who are barely allowed to show their face in the Story Mode but are readily available in the other modes. Additionally, two new characters make their way in as DOA villain Raidou shows up in a new cyborg body and Honoka, a school girl whose reason to be in the game I couldn’t figure out for the life of me. The game also comes with a pair of new maps to all come together to make this an ‘upgrade’ from the Ultimate edition.
Say what you will about Anita Sarkeesian and her crusade, but this is exactly what she is talking about in terms of sexism in gaming.
Of course, no one conversation about DOA would be complete without a discussion on female body parts. Team Ninja seemed to have taken all the time they should have spent writing a storyline that made even a fraction of sense and put it all into mastering ‘Jiggle Physics’ for the new generation, so much so that you even have options for how much bounce you’d like to see. This is as ridiculous as you would expect. It came to a point where characters would be standing still and their over-the-top endowments would still be bouncing. Additionally, apparently the DOA universe is bereft of undergarments unless it adds a sexy nuance to an outfit. Some of the many unlockable outfits that you can acquire resulted in a friend and I having a battle where his character donned a thong bikini and high heels while my character was garbed in a sexy Mrs. Claus outfit.
This is relatively tame in regards to some of the other hyper-sexualized characters and outfits that you will encounter in this game. Say what you will about Anita Sarkeesian and her crusade, but this is exactly what she is talking about in terms of sexism in gaming. As a heterosexual man, the demographic that this is supposedly targeting, I was regularly mystified by the outfits, noises and suggestive positions that the female characters in this game would find themselves in at any given time. I’m aware that Japan and North America have wildly differing views on sexuality, but such an unhealthy representation is not only detrimental to the people playing the game but it takes away from the game itself. It’s hard to seriously talk about the pros and cons of a games fighting system when an 18 year-old Japanese school girl is on all fours and suggestively moaning amidst burning wreckage for no other reason than to simply have that scene in the game.
In the end, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round has some positive things going for it but more things detracting from it. The graphics upgrade makes this the best looking game in the series by far and may be the bench marker for how fighters should look on consoles this generation. The gameplay itself is easy to pick up and go but presents quite a challenge in the mastery of it. Although mastering the game isn’t exactly a necessity unless you plan on regularly competing against the best players online. The additions from the last version of this game are few and aren’t much of a selling point for a fan to repurchase the game. The storyline is almost hilariously nonsensical and is basically just an excuse for all of these characters to get into fights. Finally, the vaunted ‘jiggle physics’ are definitely well represented but even if you disregard the negative stereotypes this accentuates, it still only serves to distract from the rest of the game. When all is said and done, DOA 5 ends up being a great looking, middle of the road fighter that still heavily relies on absurd female characters in revealing outfits to sell copies. After nearly 20 years, maybe Team Ninja should try to figure something new out or finally put the franchise out to pasture.