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In 2015, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round emerged as both the final evolution of DOA5 and an interesting experiment in offering a fighting game as both a free to play and premium game – a model recently followed post-launch by Dissidia Final Fantasy NT. Earlier this month, Dead or Alive 6 launched as a premium game, only to be followed a couple of weeks later by a free “Core Fighters” version. While the free version is a great way to check Dead or Alive 6 out, the full game is more than worth a purchase.

Dead or Alive 6 launches with 24 characters, a slight step down from DOA 5 Last Round’s roster of 34. Nyotengu, the crow woman, is available as a $4 DLC purchase, and the Deluxe Edition of the game includes Phase 4, a clone of Kasumi as well. New characters include Diego, a Latino American street fighter with spiky hair, and NiCO, a blue-haired scientist who wears electro-shock gloves. Fighters from Last Round who didn’t make the cut in 6 include Rachel, Momiji, Leon, Alpha-152, and the Virtua Fighter guest characters. Overall, the current lineup is colorful and charming, though, somewhat lacking in racial diversity.

The core gameplay closely resembles that of the previous game, with a few tweaks. The four face buttons, like in Last Round, include punch, kick, throw, and hold. The hold button is the key to DOA’s great depth. Hold it to block, or just move the d-pad/stick back. But tap hold and the proper direction on the pad or stick at the exact time an opponent attacks and you’ll catch his or her limb and perform a reversal. Sidesteps, incidentally, are now performed by pressing the special button (R1/Right Bumper by default) and up or down simultaneously rather than double-tapping up or down.

As for new mechanics, they revolve chiefly around the new break gauge which fills up during fights. When full, the Break gauge allows players to easily perform a combo called the fatal rush by hitting the special button four times in succession. Fatal rushes look cool and dramatic, so casual players will love them. But the break gauge can also be used for more advanced maneuvers like break holds and break blows, so it also adds depth for serious players.

The number of moves and mechanics in DOA6 can be daunting, but thankfully, the game offers quite a lot of training content. Tutorial mode consists of a whopping 40 lessons to go through. Once you have the basics down, you can try Combo Challenge, which tasks players with completing 20 increasingly complex combos in one sitting with the character of their choice. Both modes have multiple Achievements/Trophies. Command Training, in which players must complete all 100+ of a character’s moves one after the other, thankfully doesn’t have any Achievements.

DOA6’s story mode is presented as a series of nodes on a grid, with each row representing a different phase of the overall narrative. An individual node leads to either a cinematic, a fight, or both. Completing one of these unlocks more nodes elsewhere on the grid, often during previous phases of the story. It jumps around a lot, but I like getting to see what the various fighters are up to while everything goes down. The narrative itself is the standard Japanese gobbledygook involving the DOATEC corporation’s machinations, but the likable characters and nonlinear presentation keep things entertaining throughout.

The other significant single-player mode is the all-new DOA Quest mode. Presented as a simulator run by NiCO, it consists of numerous short quests to complete. Quests have three completion criteria, all of which award stars. The more stars you earn from quests, the more quests you’ll unlock. Quest goals include earning high scores, achieving high combo counts, performing specific moves, and much more. If players get stuck on a goal’s requirements, they can even jump directly to the related lesson from Tutorial mode. Completing quests also rewards you with coins and costume parts.

Costumes and season passes have been a controversial part of DOA6. Yes, the game’s first season pass costs $93 and includes dozens of DLC outfits. But the season pass content, other than its DLC characters that will be sold separately, is extremely inessential. The game itself comes with anywhere from 6-15 costumes per character, so it’s not like Koei Tecmo has shorted players on content.

Unlocking costumes is a time-consuming process, though. Completing Quest, Arcade, Time Attack, Survival, and Ranked online fights awards players with costume pieces. Once you have enough pieces AND coins (also earned from fights) for a costume, you can unlock it. Initially, the pieces earned from fights weren’t even for the same character you played as. That has recently been fixed, so now you can specifically grind for costumes pieces for your character of choice. Despite the grindiness, the costume system (which will surely be tweaked more in future updates) provides more goals to work towards, so I enjoy it.

Online multiplayer is the one area in which DOA6 truly falters at launch. Koei Tecmo plans to add unranked matches and lobbies soon. But at present, the only online option is ranked matches. That means friends can’t play online together just yet. Ranked players can at least choose to rematch instantly, but it truly is a rudimentary online system. I’m not a very skilled fighter, either, so I anxiously await the arrival of player matches.

Dead or Alive 6 features a new graphics engine, one with improved hit effects, clothing damage, and blood and sweat – all optional. Lighting has been improved as well. The overall look, to my eyes, is not worlds different from the previous game. But these games are always extremely colorful and pretty, and DOA6 is no slouch. On PlayStation and Xbox, players can choose to prioritize either graphics or frame rate, presumably to take advantage of the power of the Pro and X consoles. An in-game description of the advantages of Graphics mode would’ve been helpful, though.

The series’ trademark sexiness has ostensibly been toned down in a few ways. For instance, many characters’ bust sizes appear to have been reduced, and their default outfits tend to cover more skin than before. However, exaggerated breast physics are still only an option’s toggle away, and skimpier outfits can be unlocked as well. The clothing and bust size represent a fair compromise between the wishes of western critics and Asian fans, though Koei Tecmo seemingly can’t please everybody.

The recent arrival of the free-to-play “Core Fighters” option means that anyone can get a substantial amount of playtime from DOA6 for free. Core Fighters provides access to a rotating cast of four characters and all of the game’s modes except for Story – even DOA Quest mode! Free players can choose to buy individual fighters for $4 each, the full roster of 24 default characters for $50, and/or Story mode for $20. Buying the game outright for $60 is a better deal, but you can’t fault Koei Tecmo for making the game accessible to pretty much everybody.

Dead or Alive 6 is the long-awaited and extremely solid latest entry in the world’s most underappreciated fighting game franchise. The new DOA Quest mode complements the series’ always robust stable of single-player content. The Break gauge and Fatal Rushes make the game even more accessible to beginners without sacrificing depth. Sure, the costume system and online matches launched in an awfully rushed state, but those annoyances will be forgotten in a few months’ time. Provided Koei Tecmo keeps the characters and content updates coming (not just endless premium costumes for players who like to play dress-up), Dead or Alive 6 should keep fighting game fans busy for years to come.

Dead or Alive 6 costs $59.99 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. Alternately, players can grab the free Dead or Alive 6: Core Fighters on the same platforms and then individually purchase additional content. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 review codes were provided by the publisher for this review.

 

Dead or Alive 6

8.6

Graphics

8.5/10

Audio

8.0/10

Gameplay

9.0/10

Entertainment Value

9.0/10

Pros

  • DOA Quest mode is the standout, engaging new single-player mode.
  • Gameplay that’s simple enough for beginners but complex enough for serious players.
  • A colorful cast of characters, huge stages, and flashy effects make DOA6 as exciting to watch as it is to play.

Cons

  • Online multiplayer is limited to Ranked matches at launch.
  • Tag team fights are MIA in this installment.
  • Unlocking costumes is currently an overly time-consuming process.
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