Release Date: 19/02/2015
Played On: PS4
Available On: PC / PS3 / PS4 / XB360 / XBO
Time Played: 7h 52m
Progress: Completed Story / Lots Of Arcade Fights
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Fighting games have been favourites of mine ever since I played Mortal Kombat in the arcades as a kid. Sure I was terrible at them, but I've always enjoyed how different characters are designed and what super cool moves they would let you perform. They each had an element of fantasy as they shot energy beams at each other, or teleported around the stage with impressive flourishes of style.

Later I would learn that there was a deep system of fighting possibilities I had never encountered as a casual kid just trying to make my fighter do something cool. Watching tournaments of professionals fighting for the top prize seemed like looking at a completely different game.

These players only rarely used the flashy big moves and seemed to be really good at timing their attacks perfectly, or countering their opponent as if they knew what was happening ahead of time. It was no different to throwing a ball around and then seeing a professional win a game in a matter of seconds with a hail-mary pass on the buzzer.

It seemed overwhelming, but I still really enjoyed playing fighting games, and I enjoy them to this day.

Dead Or Alive is a series that I've always heard about and never had the chance to play. Infamously known for its setting to adjust how much the female characters' breasts jiggle, Dead Or Alive is often ignored as one of those funny Japanese franchises that westerners are bothered by. 

It's always an hilarious notion to me that a fighting game would be criticised for its sexual content, rather than violence. However, that's the way it goes for all media isn't it? As a society we're much more comfortable with people acting violently towards one another than we are with someone being overtly sexual. Let's also not forget that the male characters in Dead Or Alive are also beautiful buff sexy characters, but nobody seems to have a problem with that.

Something, something… that's a much larger discussion for a different time…

Anyway, it's nothing new for a fighting game to have sexy characters. They all feature characters in ridiculous outfits that look more like lingerie than fighting gear. With this in mind, I enjoy the way that Dead Or Alive has fun with it and doesn't try to pretend that it's not providing you with a bunch of beauties to fight with. 

There are literally hundreds of costumes you can acquire either by unlocking them or buying them in DLC packs, most of which are a little bit saucy. Some are literally even lingerie, which I like to think is the developer's way of embracing the trope and running with it. The fact that this applies to both men and women in the game really shows that it's not so much about sexism as it is about just having sexy characters. So I'm fine with that.

All this talk of sexiness is what I always thought Dead Or Alive was about, because it's all that was ever mentioned in the media. However, I decided to give it a go after hearing someone on a fighting podcast talking about how unique and deep it was as a game. Forget the window dressing of what the game looks like, apparently it's actually a deep and technical fighter as well. That was enough to convince me to try it out, so when I saw Dead Or Alive 5 Last Round on the PSN store it was a no-brainer.

Holy cow this fighting game knows how to fight!

Dead Or Alive sits within the sub-genre of fighting games that go with authentic fighting styles and moves. There are still special moves and entirely unrealistic abilities, but most of the time every character feels more grounded than I expected. Instead of using six buttons for high/mid/low kicks and punches, there's one button for punch and one for kick. There are still block/hold buttons and special buttons for select moves, but most of the variation comes from movement instead of buttons.

For instance, instead of hitting the high-kick button, you press the kick button while moving in a high direction. I'm not an expert so some of my terminology is probably a bit off, but this is how I understand it. 

Combos often involve pressing the same button, but changing the movement direction between hits to produce different results. Rather than memorising a sequence of buttons to press, this system can feel more fluid to a novice like myself as you can mash a single button while modifying it with the d-pad. It feel more intuitive and connects you with the motion on screen nicely. 

Similarly, defensive play has the same system behind it. For me, it means that defense is much harder than other games as there is no 'just hold block' button as you need to coordinate your defensive inputs with movement that counters the attack you are defending against. If your opponent comes at you with a series of high/low/forwards/backwards attacks, you have to block accordingly for each and every one. It's a nightmare for an untalented shmuck like me, as the complexity becomes overwhelming fast, but it makes sense and this level of complexity really adds to the experience.

None of this is anything new, as there are plenty of fighting games out there that use a similar system, but this is the first one that I've ever spent enough time with to understand what's going on. I might not have got as far if it weren't for the training mode, which does a good job of actually teaching you how to play the game.

A lot of fighting games suffer from that barrier to entry where they need to be deep enough to satisfy hardcore players, but then become impossible to play as a beginner. Most training modes in fighting games just show you what moves a character is capable of, which is the same as looking at a moves list. Thankfully the Dead Of Alive training goes a little further by walking you through the moves, then delving deeper into concepts and game flow.

I've played through some of the training a number of times to learn and re-learn certain aspects of playing the game, and I feel like I am a better player because of it. I'm still garbage, but I understand what's going on so much more, which makes a big difference. 

The story is as convoluted and ridiculous as any fighting game story, especially because it's told out of sequence to really mess with your head. By the end I felt like I had some kind of idea about what's going on, but there were parts that I feel would have made more sense if I'd played previous games in the series.

Almost all of the characters take everything so very seriously, which is a nice contrast to the slapstick way the story is told. It's cheesy and one hundred percent lame, but when that dumb carnival type music starts playing every time Zack is on the screen, I can't help but smile. It's nice to see a game give you a nod and a wink because it knows that it's a fighting game, and fighting game stories are always absurd.

Dead Or Alive embraces it's silly story telling and character motivations. even if the actual characters would have you believe otherwise. 

At the end of the day Dead Or Alive 5 Last Round feels like a martial arts expert wearing a silly hat. The core gameplay is technical and deep, with a good attempt at teaching you how to go further with its systems. At the same time the characters are all hilariously earnest, disproportionately sexy, and over the top pantomimes of actual fighters.

I've only just dipped my toe in the series, but I'm completely hooked and can't wait to spend some more time with it. This may even be the fighting game that makes me want to try it out online… against other humans… who will kick my butt.