Fighting games aren’t as popular as they used to be. The 90’s and early 200O’s were perhaps the golden years of the fighting game genre. Arcades were still relevant in North America and mainstream publications covered these fighting games as extensively as any other genre. There was no shortage of releases for fighting game fans. From the usual Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat to King of Fighters, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, etc… the genre was alive and kicking.
Unfortunately, as years passed by, the popularity of fighters waned. With each coming year, less and less new fighters released and even a juggernaut like Virtua Fighter was relegated to niche status. The fighting game that ushered in the 3D era of fighting games and spurred an upsurge of competitors died to all but the hardcore faithful.
Fighting games are still around. With the impending release of Street Fighter 5(as well as Tekken 7 and King of Fighters 14) stirring up excitement and more recently released(or re-released) fighters on current gen systems, the genre seems to be coming back. This generation alone in only 2 years has seen the release of Killer Instinct, Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, Mortal Kombat X, Ultra Street Fighter 4, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Extend, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Skullgirls 2nd Encore, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax(yes, it’s a last gen game, but it released this year) and Dead or Alive 5: Last Round.
Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is one of the best to release this generation. Dead or Alive’s inception in 1996 made splashes in arcade, though it was criticized for being a Virtua Fighter clone; A fair criticism considering Dead or Alive was built on a re-purposed Virtua Fighter 2 arcade machine and its combat with one punch, one kick, and a guard button didn’t help its case, though that’s not to say it didn’t have any tricks up its own sleeve. The two elements that set Dead or Alive apart and would come to define the franchise in the future were the counter system and danger zones. The series began life as nothing more than a casual fighter any person could pick up and play, immediately having fun and getting into the thick of it.
That accessibility and low skill ceiling meant the series thrived when the genre was big and more people bought these games, however as the genre came closer to reaching niche status, the majority of consumers of these games remaining that would keep the game alive for more than a few weeks were the dedicated. In this market filled with dedicated people willing to put in the hours to practice and learn the nuances of a game’s combat, Dead or Alive wasn’t going to cut it. These people needed more than what that franchise could offer. It couldn’t sustain itself if it continued on the road of accessibility.
That’s where the series’ fifth full fledged incarnation came in. Originally released on September 25th, 2012 on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Dead or Alive 5 made a point to re-brand itself with the running tagline I’m a Fighter. Series creator, Tomonobu Itagaki, was fired from Team Ninja prior to DOA 5’s development and without him putting a leash on the series, the devlopers made several changes to the series that would attract tournament level players. The tightening of the counter window was one fairly big change. Dead or Alive 2, the most popular entry upon release, had only a 2 point counter hold system. One for low strikes and one for both mid and high strikes. By Dead or Alive 4, the series had finally settled upon the 4 point counter hold system for low strikes, mid punches, mid kicks, and high strikes.
The biggest failing with Dead or Alive 4’s counter system was the relatively large counter window in addition to the damage dealt with a counter. Counters doled out such significant damage that a person could theoretically guess counters the entire match and have a decent chance at winning. It devolved more into a game of luck than anything. With Dead or Alive 5’s narrower window of opportunity, came lesser damage dealt with each counter. This re-balancing of the counter hold system allowed for it to be de-emphasized to the point that players wouldn’t spam counter while still making it a strategic option for the player to use intelligently.
The next big change came with the introduction of the stun system, leaving the player vulnerable for a certain amount of frames depending on the attack and type of stun. Power Blows and Power Launchers(Introduced in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate) were built around the concept of taking advantage of this stun system. Each attack can leave a person in a stun for a specified number frames, meaning a person that has done his/her own homework can use that frame knowledge to continue a combo without fear of a counter being thrown out to stop it. Fortunately, the stun system can not be abused as a certain number of stuns in a row leads to a critical threshold state. At that state, a player can either perform a critical burst(which can be countered) or attack again. Performing a critical burst will leave the player invulnerable until the body touches the ground whereas a follow up attack at critical threshold will immediately knock the opponent to the ground, resetting the situation.
There are several other tweaks to the Dead or Alive formula introduced in 5 and every version of it up until the Last Round iteration, however delving too deep into that would leave an intimidating impression on someone unfamiliar with the franchise or fighting games in general.
Make no mistake–Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is not the deepest fighter to ever be released, but it has enough depth to keep high level players satisfied. What remains most impressive about the game is that even with all the changes made to make it deeper, it still is perhaps one of the most accessible fighting games to be released in recent memory. It still only utilizes two buttons for any sort of offensive strikes and complicated directional inputs are nonexistent for all but a handful of characters like Hayabusa. Basic combos aren’t incredibly deep and intricate. Any newcomer can jump in and mash buttons or vaguely mimic button presses and motions of other fighting games and pull off visually stimulating moves on-screen. That visual stimulation is another claim to fame for Dead or Alive as a franchise. Interactive stages are more important here than in any other 3D fighter.
Gone are the days of the Dead or Alive of old whereby a danger zone just meant taking damage when being knocked out of a ring. In Dead or Alive 5, danger Zones are full blown spectacles. Ranging from being shot by rpg’s to being grabbed by a gigantic statue and smashed against the ground, DOA 5’s interactive stages are equal parts spectacle and strategy. If you’re looking for a new fighting game to sink your teeth into or just to casually enjoy from time to time, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is a safe bet.