Dead Or Alive 3

Year: 2001
Platform: Xbox
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Genre: 3D fighter
Review Date: 12/18/01
Rating: ****

As much as I love the "Dead Or Alive" series, Tecmo and Team Ninja continue to do things that utterly piss me off. The first, of course, is the fact that DOA3 is an Xbox exclusive game, forcing me to buy yet another platform for the sole purpose of playing the game. I guess it shouldn't be surprising, as I initially bought a PlayStation in order to play "Dead Or Alive" (1998), and "Dead Or Alive 2" (2000) caused me to buy a Dreamcast. I even bought a PlayStation 2 just so I could note the differences between "DOA2: Hardcore" (2000) and "Dead Or Alive 2", and performed the rather dicey modification to allow me the play the two Japanese versions of the game as well. (thankfully, I've finally found other uses for my PS2 since then...) So naturally I would buy "Dead Or Alive 3" solely on principal, well before ever owning an Xbox.

Initially, I was rather disappointed with the game, as it appeared to borrow more from "DOA2: Hardcore" than from the far superior "Dead Or Alive 2." The fighting engine is very similar to Hardcore, with the same sloppy and inconsistant controls that make it a random button mashing exercise. HOWEVER, after playing the game for several hours and taking Kasumi through her training exercises, I discovered that both Hardcore and DOA3 support analog buttons, which explains all of the horrible control issues. This means that the game engine registers how hard you press on the buttons instead of which buttons you press. (conveniently, this is an undocumented feature in both games) Thankfully, I finally discovered this absurd feature and turned it off, making both Hardcore and DOA3 play just like DOA2, and consequently making both games considerably more enjoyable. Unfortunately, another annoying control issue in DOA3 that can't be turned off is that XZ movement has been moved to the primary D-pad instead of the brilliant Dreamcast implementation of using the analog thumbstick. It's even more cumbersome to use than "SoulCalibur's" 8-way movement, and it eliminates your ability to crouch or jump, thereby making it impossible to defend against certain attacks. Most unfortunate... The final control issue I have is with the Xbox controller itself, whose skewed button configuration doesn't map nicely to any other controller, which makes it very confusing to use. That's not Tecmo's fault, though.

The next problem area is with the game elements themselves. Apart from a fun and intuitive game engine, the biggest selling point of the "Dead Or Alive" games has always been that they focussed on the strengths and the backgrounds of the female characters, with the male characters being little more than non-descript punching bags for the girls to beat on. Another big draw for the series was the large amount of fun and interesting costumes that the characters had to choose from. From the beginning, the DOA games have been about the characters, and that has always made the franchise unique among its peers. Unfortunately, with DOA3 it seems that Tecmo wants to play with the big boys and is desperately trying to "legitimize" the franchise so that it's palatable for unimaginative mainstream audiences. This, of course, involves toning down all of the elements that made the earlier games so fun and unique in the first place, since they have no place when standing next to "serious" male-oriented fighting game franchises like "Tekken" and "Virtua Fighter."

Immediately, the first example of this is in the packaging itself, which features a picture of Jann Lee on the cover. Huh?!? Possibly the most annoying character in the series (second only to Ein/Hayate), he has always only existed so that Lei-Fang could beat the crap out of him. (That, and he was a wonderful parody of all those Bruce Lee clones and Ryu-type characters that every other fighting game has...) The second example can be seen as soon as you open the instruction manual which states that Ryu Hayabusa won the previous "Dead Or Alive 2" tournament. Huh?!? It seems strange that the developers would just come out and say that there was a definitive winner of the previous game, since everyone plays with their own favorite characters and obviously experienced much different endings. It introduces a bizarre lapse in continuity, even though the continuity in the series is seriously questionable to begin with. So before even playing the game, the focus of the franchise has obviously shifted from Kasumi, Lei-Fang, and Tina to Jann Lee, Hayabusa, and Hayate. Kasumi doesn't even show up in the intro movie until right towards the end! This does not bode well... (imagine if Capcom decided that Zangief was going to be their new star player for their "Street Fighter" series)

Another major disappointment is that there aren't many costumes to choose from. All of the characters have only two costumes, and sometimes a choice of colors. For example, Lei-Fang's traditional Chinese dress from DOA2 comes in either red, blue, white, or black, depending on which buttons you press. Kasumi, Zack, and Ein all have a third hidden costume that can be unlocked by performing certain feats. And in another Tecmo move that infuriates me, the Japanese version of the game is going to get all of the extra costumes that you would normally expect from the series. (the US Dreamcast release of DOA2 suffered a similar problem). Tecmo claims that a US booster disc is going to be made available that has the extra costumes, which I will obviously have to buy. On the plus side, the method of selecting costumes is a vast improvement over the clumsy and confusing interface in DOA2. (and thank god Bass has traded in his embarrassing cowboy outfit for something more reasonable) Also, the infamous (and ridiculous) "bounce guage" is absent, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I merely found it an amusing and nostalgic remnant of the daring and unapologetic original game. Those days are far behind this decidedly more "grown up", and yet less interesting game.

The final complaint I have about the "selling out" of the franchise is the inclusion of Aerosmith on the soundtrack. What?!? Why in the world are they on here? Hearing Aerosmith in the background is just awkward and inappropriate, especially in an otherwise very Japanese game. I'm sure they didn't come cheap, either... (oddly enough, it becomes less grating the more you listen to it) On the flip side of that, a big plus in the music department is with the characters' themes. They're extremely good and appropriately dramatic. Turning away from the more techno-flavored music in DOA2, the DOA3 character music is much more reminiscent of the original DOA game and more pleasant to listen to.

Of course not everything about the game is disappointing. The graphics are absolutely stunning and the stages are huge and painstakingly detailed. However, the game tends to favor more realistic environments instead of the more fantastic looking arenas found in DOA2 (I haven't seen any Easter Island heads yet). Similarly, the characters themselves are starting to look more realistic and beginning to lose their more anime-styled features. The unfortunate side effect of this is that they're starting to look more like wax dolls instead of cute anime characters. Even though the spotlight is now off of the female characters, two new women make their debut in the game: 18 year old karate expert Hitomi, and a white-haired assassin named Christie. More female fighters is always a plus. The game also features a collection of beautifully rendered story cinemas, although the story mode is even more cryptic and convoluted than in DOA2. You also have to fight the most ridiculous boss monster I think I've ever seen - he's cheap, annoying, and a pain in the ass. But the ending cinemas are well worth the fight - they're inspiring, exciting, touching, and sometimes utterly hilarious. They even make it worth playing through the game with some of its more irritating characters.

Notes On The Booster Disc: The DOA3 booster disc adds twenty-five new costumes to the game and includes the gorgeous opening cimema that the Japanese and European versions of the game got (minus the annoying Aerosmith tune). While the sequence with Lei-Fang is utterly breathtaking, the intro oddly doesn't feature Kasumi at all! She has definitely taken a back seat to Ayane this time around, whose presence is more prevalent than ever. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the fact that Kasumi is tired of fighting and is only looking for peace and quiet. Anyway, the new costumes are a mixed bag and fairly conservative. Looks like we'll never see the likes of the pink bunny suit, nurse uniform, and cavegirl outfit again. The new costumes range from classic (Kasumi's dark blue school uniform and Bayman's scuba gear) to familiar (Lei Fang's sexy black dress from DOA2) to racy (Tina's cowgirl outfit and Helena's harem girl attire) to absurd (Gen Fu's Robin Hood duds and Bass's viking outfit). Hitomi gets the most new costumes (three) and her schoolgirl outfit is quite adorable. But whatever happened to Gen Fu's bitchin' Hawaiian shirts? I miss those... All in all, if you like the girls in DOA3, the booster disc is definitely a worthwhile investment.