Dead Or Alive 6

Year: 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Team Ninja
Genre: Fighting
Review Date: 2/18/21
Rating: ****

"Dead Or Alive 5" seemed like the final word for the DOA franchise, so I was surprised when DOA6 came out. It's a highly polished and refined fighting game that maintains the same high standards as the rest of the series, but it does little to distinguish itself from DOA5. The graphics definitely look sharper and more detailed, and the cinematics look less awkward, but it doesn't feel like a full blown sequel. However, that doesn't diminish the gameplay, and it's still a lot of fun.

The game roster contains thirty-one characters, eight of which are downloadable add-on characters. The only classic characters that are missing are Leon, Ein, and Gen Fu. Raidou makes a surprise comeback, which is a nice callback to the original. The only new default character is a street fighter named Diego, who is actually quite charming and endearing. The add-on characters include M.I.S.T.'s new mad scientist NiCO, Nyotengu and Phase 4 from DOA5, Mai Shiranui and Kula Diamond from "The King Of Fighters," Momiji and Rachel from "Ninja Gaiden," and Tamaki from "Dead Or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation." Overall, the female characters outnumber the male characters by 2:1, which is something I always appreciate. The characters look fantastic and the hair physics continue to improve. Some of the costumes suffer from inevitable clipping problems, but overall they look great. Some of the shoes are also unattractive, and the ninja heels are downright ridiculous, but that's simply a distraction and not a showstopper. The infamous DOA breast jiggling is slightly toned down, but there's no option to vary it or turn it off completely. The game does feature options for sweat, dirt, and graphic violence, but I preferred having all of those turned off. I'm not a fan of seeing my girls roughed up, and the sweat effect is just distracting. Lei-Fang has been my favorite character since the original game came out in 1996, and she looks absolutely amazing. Interestingly, Kasumi has lost her girlish charm and now has a hard and unattractive edge. It's also interesting to note that Phase 4 is essentially a sexy bad girl version of Kasumi, and she gets all of the racier outfits. It's like Team Ninja is trying to preserve Kasumi's purity and innocence by channeling her darker aspects into Phase 4.

Similar to previous entries, the stages are a mixed bag and are mostly underwhelming. The standard "boxing ring" arenas are dull and uninteresting and the A.P.O. is a tight hallway that inevitably ends up with both players trapped in a corner. Forbidden Fortune and Lost Paradise are silly multi-tiered stages that feature a kraken, tyrannosaurus, and pterodactyls, but the novelty wears off quickly. Chinese Festival and Seaside Eden are just modified versions of The Crimson and New Zack Island from DOA5, which are both fun. Seaside Eden even includes a fun interactive dolphin area, which made me burst out laughing the first time I encountered it. Even though they're small and not interactive, Miyabi and Hidden Garden are my favorite stages, and are simply breathtaking. The game also includes a large multi-tiered stage called Unforgettable, which is a mash-up of classic stages from previous DOA games laid out in a museum exhibit format. It's a neat idea, but in practice it's not very interesting, and ironically ends up being pretty forgettable. There are also a couple of stages that are only available in Story Mode, which is annoying. Overall, the stages fail to live up to the best of the series, and falls a bit short of DOA5. It's also unfortunate that no new stages are available as DLC.

Story Mode is fun and not overly difficult, and the bite-size cinematics are delightful. However, the story progression is annoyingly non-linear and it's very difficult to follow what's going on in the various character threads. The main arc involves the Tenshin Mugen clan (Kasumi, Ayane, Ryu, and Hayate) going after M.I.S.T. when they discover Donovan's attempts to resurrect Raidou. Helena is still trying to crush M.I.S.T., but Donovan keeps hiring new mad scientists to work for him. Helena also hosts the sixth DOA tournament with Zack's help, and Jann Lee finds a worthy opponent in Diego. Tina cuts her political career short when she discovers she's too young to run for office, and jumps back into the ring with Bass as her partner. Nyotengu stirs up mischief in the human world by sending Lei-Fang and Hitomi on a dangerous treasure hunt, and also tricks Brad and Eliot into chasing down some mystery wine. These two short adventures prove to be the most satisfying in the bunch. Other play modes include the usual Arcade, Versus, Time Attack, Survival, and Training options, plus a DOA Quest mode that requires you to perform certain objectives. Arcade, Time Attack, and Survival offer multiple difficulty options from Rookie to Master, making the game accessible to beginners and experts alike. Even after playing DOA for the past twenty years, I'm still only comfortable playing at the normal level. Unfortunately, these modes also feature mirror matches, which is annoying and breaks your immersion.

Of course, what would any DOA game be without a wide range of costumes for all of the characters? Sadly, this is where Team Ninja really dropped the ball. While some costumes can be purchased as DLC, unlocking the default costumes is a soul-sucking grind. Playing through the various modes (except for Story and Training) earns both patterns and player points. Patterns are used to unlock costumes, and player points are required to then purchase the unlocked costumes. When the game first launched, the pattern rewards were so small that it was literally impossible to unlock any costumes. They were also given to random characters and even applied to costumes that were already unlocked. Subsequent patches increased the pattern reward by 100x (which is still a chore), fixed the problem with patterns being applied to unlocked costumes, and defaults to applying patterns to the character that you're actually playing. However, you still can't choose which costumes to apply your pattern points to, so you end up having to unlock them all. Player points are earned in every match, and the quickest way to gain them is by completing quests in DOA Quest mode. The first fifty or so quests are easy money, but later ones are frustrating and become a waste of time, so you'll spend the majority of your time mindlessly grinding through Arcade mode.

Here's some simple math:
It took about 300 fights to unlock all of Lei-Fang's outfits and you need about 120000 player points to purchase them. Each fight lasts about two minutes and you earn roughly 100 player points per fight. So...
120000 / 100 = 1200 fights, * 2 minutes per fight = 2400 minutes, or 40 hours of play time. For ONE character. Multiply that by 30 characters and you've got 1200 hours to complete JUST the costume portion of the game. Which means you have to narrow down which characters and costumes are most important to you, because running the entire gauntlet just isn't going to happen within your lifetime. And that's super disappointing. Another disappointment is that the DLC is overly pricey, and you can easily spend over $300 on additional costumes, which feels like a shameless money grab.

Overall, "Dead Or Alive 6" is a superb fighting game with outstanding graphics and wonderful characters. However, longtime fans of the series will likely be disappointed by the mundane stages and the painful costume grind. For players like myself, costumes are a huge part of the game and a major incentive, but in DOA6 it feels like they're more of a punishment than a reward. The costume system definitely received a lot of backlash, so hopefully Team Ninja has learned their lesson and won't repeat this mistake if they ever decide to make another sequel.