Dead Or Alive 5: Last Round, Released: March 30, 2015, Reviewed on: PC, Also available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Genre: Fighting, Developer: Team NINJA, Publisher: Koei Tecmo
I consider myself to be a fighting game aficionado. I’m not a pro, I’m not a stream monster, I’m not even the tournament junkie I used to be, but I still know what makes a fighting game good when I play it. I’ve played just about every fighting franchise that matters and then some: multiple iterations and multiple generations. Since 1992, I’ve seen, watched and played just about every fighting game worth mentioning. And today, I’m going to tell you all about my experience with Dead Or Alive 5: Last Round.
Dead Or Alive 5: Last Round is nowhere near the best fighting game I’ve ever played. With that said, it is nowhere near the worst one I’ve ever played, either. And the version I’m playing is the new PC port on Steam, which comes with its own unique issues and problems that cannot and should not be ignored or glossed over. With all that said, the game is still a lot of fun to play, but your satisfaction with it will largely depend on what you’re looking to get out of it. And youíll have to settle with not getting very much in terms of what most have come to expect as a well-established standard.
First, I’ll address what it gets right. A long time ago, I had come to the conclusion that I would be greeted by three constants every time I played a DOA game: a robust yet broken combat system, breast physics that constantly made female body parts independently move in what seemed to be random directions of their own volition, and a story that made zero sense whatsoever. This time, the combat system seems less broken than ever. The other two things are present and accounted for, and will be addressed later. But for now, let me say that for the first time ever in the series’ history, I didn’t feel like I was playing an utterly watered-down fighting game. It’s still simplistic, but it feels much less like random chance is a driving factor between victory and defeat.
The combo system still relies very heavily on juggles, blocking and punishing during recovery of unsafe moves (almost all of them are woefully unsafe on block or whiff, it seems) and using the counter function in order to intercept hits and reverse them. Now, the counter system has been tuned to the point where you need to effectively time your catching of an opponent’s blow, but it doesn’t feel so strict that you’ll need to know how to nail single-frame windows consistently. You just need to know how to block, what attacks will be likely to come out fast enough to interrupt a string in progress, and how to catch an incoming blow at the proper height. That’s pretty much it. There are new attacks and mechanics such as the Power Blow, but I never really relied on it, even though aiming the attack so it blasts the opponent in the direction where you want them to go is a nice touch.
I promised that I would come back to the story and to the subject of visual bounce, and for the sake of brevity, I’ll try my best to keep it as short and sweet as possible. The story mode will bore you to tears, unless you’re quite literally amused by anything. It’s told in selectable chapters that have a cutscene-fight-cutscene formula, where the movie sections usually involve very little in the way of cohesive plot and a whole lot of fanservice-targeted camera angles in order to compensate for it. Then, you’ll have a one-round fight against a character, because that’s what you do in DOA. After the fight, the people who were just at each others throats for very thin amounts of story-based reasoning go back to wishing each other well as if they weren’t just hitting each other with the intent to kill.
As for the franchise’s (in)famous breast physics: Yes, of course. It’s a DOA game. Bouncy idle animation is to DOA what Fatalities are to Mortal Kombat: the reason a fair amount of franchise devotees showed up. However, there is an toggle setting in the option menu to adjust the amount of jiggle that takes place, so you can make it as nonexistent or as blatant as you prefer.
The game certainly seems more tightly tuned than past iterations, but still can’t shake feeling like a casual button-mashing fighting game fan’s sort of jaunt rather than the strict and rote mathematics of Street Fighter 4 or the insane finger gymnastics required to even attempt playing Persona 4 Arena. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, as DOA5: Last Round is still a lot of fun to play, and provides a much lower bar of entry for players that are new to the genre. I feel that the game tends to be more forgiving than other, more traditional fighting games, which is a fantastic way to get new blood into the genre. But if you’re playing the PC version like I did, you’d better have a friend and another controller, or else you’re going to be playing all by yourself. And that gets old quickly.
Here’s where we start getting into some major missteps. First of all, there is no online multiplayer. For a fighting game that’s releasing for $40 on a digital download service, let’s face the facts: this is pretty much unforgivable in 2015. Secondarily, you cannot modify the keyboard layout, so if you have a friend and lack a second controller option, they’re stuck with the standard keyboard setup with no way to edit it to suit them. Third, while the game does look very pretty at higher resolutions and with antialiasing turned on, the shadows, stages and character models are of noticeably higher quality than the particle effects.
There are no Steam achievements nor are there trading cards to earn. The vaunted Soft Engine that made everything look super-detailed and pretty on the Xbox One and PS4 versions is absent here, on a platform that could probably run it best and where people routinely push things beyond recommended limits. There are also two missing stages not present from the console version, one of which is Danger Zone, a explosion-filled staple of the DOA series since time immemorial. Seriously, it’s like saying an entire season of That 70’s Show never once featured Eric Foreman’s basement – that’s the kind of “wow, really?” moment this was for me. If you’re just getting into the game as a new player, this may not matter as much because you won’t know that you’re missing anything.
On top of all of these problems being included in a $40 product at launch, Team NINJA/Koei Tecmo have made DLC costume packs available at a price point that borders on dark comedy. This game isn’t launching with online multiplayer (to their credit, they have promised that a patch is coming in about three months), but they can certainly charge $54.99 for one DLC costume pack and $64.99 for the other during the interim. That’s two cents shy of a hundred and twenty dollars of DLC costumes they have on offer, and both of these costume packages cost more than the actual game does just for vanity’s sake. The fact that you can’t play online with friends is some sort of cruel punchline at that point. I find it very difficult to see it as anything else, because it’s not like you’d be using those costumes to show them off online.
While it makes very little difference on the state of the overall package, one last bit of sweetness to cut all that sour was seeing a few characters from Virtua Fighter in the game. Jacky Bryant vs. Jann Lee was a bit of a Jeet Kune Do dream match, and that did get a pretty large smile out of me. Jann Lee has been my go-to guy since DOA2 on Dreamcast, and Jacky is pretty much the only character I use in Virtua Fighter. There was a fair bit of hype when that match happened, so if you’ve played your share of 3D fighters over the years, you may have similar feelings.
In closing, let me just say that I wanted to like Dead Or Alive 5: Last Round. It’s a shame, really. The game itself is, admittedly, the best it’s ever been. The platform where I played it on is more than capable of getting the most out of the engine, the community could have been able to rally around the definitive, end-all-be-all version of DOA5, and this review could have ended on a much lighter note. In spite of all the things it gets right as a game, it does so much wrong as a product that I can’t recommend buying this.
Before I deliver my final score, I want this to be known: the score is not representative of the game itself, as it is totally worth your time to at least try it out. I just suspect that it’s more worth your time on another platform, where the package deal isn’t nearly as compromised. And the overall score here must suffer as a result, because the failures on display here are completely inexcusable, no matter how well put together the actual game itself is. However, it is not a dismal failure. It’s only a very good and fun game that’s been hampered – if not outright crippled – by a set of very unfortunate decisions.
The review copy of this title was a digital code provided by the publisher.