The Dead or Alive franchise is infamous for its efforts to oversexualize its female fighters. That reputation has been helped along by the Dead or Alive: Xtreme spin-offs, a collection of titles that put all the women in skimpy bikinis as they play beach volleyball and seaside party games. The main series has also been difficult for newcomers to jump into, as each game lacks the type of single-player campaign that would help a beginner acquaint themselves with the combo-heavy system of strikes, holds, and throws.
Team Ninja's last entry in the franchise, Dead or Alive 5, did make an initial effort to broaden its audience by choosing to clothe the fighters in slightly more modest attire and write in a science-fiction story. However, the game still launched with the franchise's well-known mechanic of choosing your preferred levels of "boob jiggle physics," and DLC expansions brought many of the series' racy and fetishized outfits back into the game. The story mode also expected a certain level of skill from players, and since the tutorial system was a grind-fest of memorizing button combos, it was still difficult to learn the nuances of the game.
Dead or Alive 6 is trying to do what its predecessor could not and de-emphasize the sex appeal of its female combatants while also making the gameplay more approachable. The exaggerated jiggle physics are gone, and new mechanics and a more cohesive story are being added to help make the game more accessible. We spoke with Yohei Shimbori, director of Dead or Alive, at E3 2018 to further discuss the franchise's new direction and what exactly Team Ninja has in store for Dead or Alive 6.
At E3 2018, the only female characters available were Kasumi and Helena. I immediately gravitated towards the former, who's been the primary protagonist for the franchise since the original 1996 game. Kasumi's facial structure looks a lot older in Dead or Alive 6, and her new body model is a physically fit teen and not the oversexed supermodel child it's been in the past. "The boobs are smaller as opposed to before because we wanted the girls to appear more human. We don't want to reshape them smaller or larger just on a whim," Shimbori said.
Kasumi's outfit has also undergone considerable changes. She's abandoned her loose-fitting kunoichi for an armored bodysuit. Though not as noticeable a transformation, Helena is also rocking a new, more combat-ready outfit. "They'll be back," Shimbori said, when asked if the fighters' original outfits would make a reappearance in the game. He and his team want to make strides towards removing sexual fanservice from Dead or Alive, but they acknowledge that certain mechanics and aspects of the franchise are too ingrained in the series' DNA to abandon completely.
That seemed to be the underlying theme to everything Team Ninja had to show off at E3--maintaining the roots of the Dead or Alive franchise while taking strides towards making this entry both more approachable and accessible. Most of the core Dead or Alive experience remains in Dead or Alive 6. If anything, the more extravagant aspects of the franchise have simply been toned down. For example, you won't be high kicking prepubescent girls into spinning helicopter blades during stage transitions, but new stage hazards, like bystanders who trip up fighters, maintain the constant need to simultaneously read the battlefield and your opponent.
The intensity of the combat has returned as well, made all the more brutal through a new system that realistically portrays the types of injuries fighters would sustain in an actual fight. A fast roundhouse kick to Kasumi's face left a visceral cut across her cheek, and getting repeatedly pummeled in the stomach left a noticeable dent in her body armor. "This is an intense fighting game. Female or male doesn't matter. They are going to get dirty. They are going to get damaged. Their faces are going to be injured. All kinds of things," Shimbori said.
I immediately wanted to know whether this new combat damage mechanic would be used for a new game mode. The injuries act as an easy indicator for figuring out how much damage your fighter is taking without even having to look at the UI, but Shimbori denied the existence of any type of mode where there wouldn't be a health bar. "We actually haven't thought about that, having that type of game mode," he laughed. He wanted to reiterate that this is still the same Dead or Alive, with the same recipe. The added mechanics and features are simply new flavors.
And it's true. Despite her new appearance, Kasumi handles pretty much exactly as I remember. The one exception was her new Fatal Rush and Break moves, which are both new to the franchise. Every fighter has their own, and players can unleash them after performing combos that fill up a special meter. With the click of a single button, fighters can lash out with a powerful strike, and continuing to do so engages a Fatal Rush that temporarily slows down time and dishes out some serious punishment. That same button can be used while in retreat to perform a Break Blow (counter) or Break Hold (parry) to immediately respond to an opponent's attack, regardless if it's delivered from high, mid-level, or low.
"Also, another reason: who doesn't love eSports?," Shimbori continued, in response to the inclusion of the new moves. "Spectators who watch the game can more easily pick up on DOA6's action. The new moves create slow motion effects that allow the combatants a moment to check out their competition, the audience to see if either contestant is nervous, and announcers to catch up to the action of the fight. These new moves are as much for the spectators as they are for the players."
But Shimbori doesn't just want more of the eSports community in on the action, he wants the casual gaming audience to enjoy Dead or Alive 6 too. So Team Ninja is really focusing on telling a cohesive single-player story for any who want to play the game solo. "For Dead or Alive 5, we made one continuous story," Shimbori said. "We're going to continue that story in Dead or Alive 6. DOA5 had a problem, though, in that people didn't completely understand what was happening. It wasn't always clear. We want to use DOA6 to clarify the storyline."
Dead or Alive 6 will continue to tell a science fiction, so the evil clones and cyborgs aren't going away. Shimbori and his team just want to put a little more reasoning behind the twists and turns in the story and broaden its appeal to Western audiences. "Timeline-wise, DOA6 starts immediately at the end of DOA5," Shimbori concluded. "It won't be seconds after, but DOA6 picks up the storyline right after DOA5."
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Dead or Alive 6 is easier to get into than past DOA games and, despite being a multiplayer game, goes out of its way to make a space for those who want to play on their own. The sex appeal is no longer exaggerated either. Yet, in spite of all those changes, it's not difficult to see the old Dead or Alive beneath the surface of the series' sixth game. The triangle system of combat is still intact. Holds overcome strikes, which beat out throws, which can counter holds. The provocative outfits are still there for players who want them as well. Dead or Alive 6 does just enough for a newcomer to have a chance at dipping a toe in the franchise and not have to worry about memorizing convoluted control schemes, easily losing to a veteran while playing online, or being labeled a pervert.
Dead or Alive 6 is scheduled to launch for Xbox One, PS4, and PC in early 2019. So far, the only confirmed fighters are Kasumi, Helena Douglas, Hayate, Ryu Hayabusa, Zack, and Jann Lee.