While numerous repackages and spin-offs have been released since 2012, Dead or Alive 6 is the first proper numbered sequel in the Dead or Alive series to debut during the current generation. Notorious for its oversexualized characters, Dead or Alive is a franchise held back (or improved) by its own roster. Frequently dismissed by those unfamiliar with Team Ninja’s license as a series founded on fan-service rather than gameplay, Dead or Alive is unlikely to stand alongside the likes of Tekken or Street Fighter, at least in terms of mainstream appeal.
That being said, the franchise is one of the most consistent fighters on the market. Created by the same studio behind 2004’s Ninja Gaiden reboot, it should come as no surprise to learn Dead or Alive 6 boasts incredibly smooth combat mechanics, perhaps the best in the industry.
Adapting to the current market, 2019’s sequel opts to tone down the sexual content. The characters’ default costumes are befitting of deadly shinobi fighters seeking to participate in a widely-publicized tournament. On the other hand, the purchasable outfits are far riskier, with a few barely covering much of anything. Dead or Alive 6 caters to all kinds of players, regardless of whether they are interested in the combat or the attractive roster.
If there is one thing Team Ninja’s series cannot be faulted for, it is the gameplay. Despite its numerous shortcomings, the fifth entry’s combat is nothing short of fantastic. Rather than reinventing a perfectly excellent system, Dead or Alive 6 focuses on introducing elements designed to lower the entry barrier for new players. Considering seven years separate the two most recent numbered titles, veterans of the series may feel disappointed by the lack of significant improvements. Nevertheless, Dead or Alive 6 has arguably the smoothest gameplay out of any fighter currently on the market.
Adhering to tradition, Dead or Alive 6 utilizes a rock-paper-scissors system revolving around counters. Every fighter has access to strikes (punches and kicks), throws, and holds. Crucially, each category serves as a defensive measure against one of the others. Strikes can be countered using holds, which are susceptible to throws. Permitting the correct timing and directional button are entered, almost every attack is reversible.
The Break Gauge is the one notable extension to the gameplay. Designed with newcomers in mind, this meter permits a simple combo or an all-encompassing counter players can execute by mashing the right trigger button. While slightly useful during the opening hour or two, the Fatal Rush combo feels rather pointless since Dead or Alive 6’s roster mostly shares similar combo strings. That’s not to say the 24 core characters feel identical, but bouncing from one to another is not particularly jarring.
Conversely, the Break Hold and Break Blow are worthwhile additions. Once enough of the bar has loaded, players can use a Break Hold to counter any strike regardless of direction. Requiring a full meter, the Break Blow counters any type of attack and can lead into a Fatal Rush.
Once players attain a degree of familiarity, matches begin to resemble dance choreography as fighters seamlessly trade combos and counters. It is a sight to behold.
Dead or Alive 6 comes packed with multiple single-player modes and a somewhat barebones multiplayer. Focusing on the former, Team Ninja’s story mode attempts to humanize the characters through dozens upon dozens of short episodes. Along with the central plot, players can gradually unlock character-specific chapters.
The main story goes like this. Newcomer NiCO attempts to capture Honoka in hopes of learning how to clone Kasumi. Meanwhile, Zack and Helena announce the sixth official Dead or Alive tournament. A couple of amusing moments aside, cut-scenes seldom last longer than a minute and often feel trivial. Due to a jumbled presentation, optional chapters following no specific order, uneven voice acting, and poor lip-syncing, the three-hour story comes across as a confusing mess that fails to gather momentum.
Along with a fantastic and deep tutorial, Dead or Alive 6 introduces DOA Quest, a challenge mode filled with objectives that players can complete to earn points for unlocking new costumes. Serving as an entertaining teaching tool for players, DOA Quest may just be the highlight of the entire package. Frustratingly, the mode suffers from a reward system that automatically assigns points to a random character’s locked outfit. As it is impossible to decipher who will be chosen, hours can pass without your favorite fighter even receiving a single point.
With the exception of two new fighters, Dead or Alive 6’s roster holds little in the way of surprises. Sadly, NiCO and Diego are both rather forgettable, particularly when it comes to the latter. At least, NiCO plays a crucial role in the story, but Diego could be replaced by basically anyone. Outside of cut-scenes, Dead or Alive 6 resembles a slightly more polished version of its predecessor, although character models finally show the wear-and-tear of combat.
For the most part, multiplayer works well, even if lag is not too uncommon. Originally, Dead or Alive 6 only offered Ranking matches, but a later patch added Online Lobbies. If someone is primarily interested in multiplayer, it may be worth trying out Dead or Alive 6’s free-to-play version to guarantee a respectable performance.
Despite its brilliant fighting mechanics, Dead or Alive 6 is nothing more than a slightly above average game. With the exception of the enjoyable DOA Quest and an extensive tutorial, the single-player modes are unspectacular. The multiplayer does the bare minimum but nothing more. Dead or Alive 6 represents a side-step rather than a leap forward for the franchise.