Dead or Alive has never been my fighting game franchise of choice. To be fair, few fighting games are my go-to choices for anything. The entire concept of fighting games has never really resonated with me, for the same reason I’m not into boxing, MMA, Pro Wrestling, or even Kung Fu movies. I have no problem with violence in media, even when it’s totally senseless. I just don’t see the appeal.
Fighting games (and the entertainment media that the genre is loosely based on) have always felt other, to me. As if I didn’t belong. Like I wasn’t wanted. Even when my brother brought home Mortal Kombat 4 for the Dreamcast, I was “too young” and too much of a girl to play. I was always kicked off the Street Fighter cabinets at the arcade because “girl’s don’t play games.” So, like many other girl gamers, I stuck to the genres that were more friendly. I played action games and RPGs. I picked up the story driven titles and the endless grindfests. I kept to single player.
Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. for the N64 was pretty much the only game in the fighting genre that I played for many, many years.
When I was older and more tempted to laugh in the faces of anyone calling me too girly for anything, I was too out of touch with the games. None came with helpful tutorials and some even made fun of the player for not knowing the controls. Which is hilarious, until you get that screen over and over and over. Fighting games still weren’t my scene. I was still too other, too unwanted.
And no fighting game has quiet the same reputation for being hostile to women as Dead or Alive. Because of the fan service. The boob jiggle physics. The endless Beach Volleyball editions.
There was a time in my life where I didn’t know DoA was even a fighting game.
And here I am, invited to a demo event for the sixth game. For the second time.
Just like at E3, Dead or Alive 6 threw me off. Because I enjoyed it. The controls are reactive and fast, the combos are brutal if you know what you’re doing, and the team at Koei Tecmo went out of their way to help the hapless reporters figure out how combos worked. We got three hours of free time to play around in the game as much as we wanted with expert help and some friendly competition. They even let us get our butts kicked by pro-player and community manager Emmanuel “Master” Rodriguez as Hayabusa. Sure, he racked up a ton of easy, no contest wins, but that was the point. We got to see the game in the hands of an expert without needing to be one ourselves.
While many of the female characters stick to absurdly sexy fashion choices, the costumes are less risqué than previous installments. Kasumi even wears pants. The boob jiggle physics is toned down a ton. I’m sure the bikini DLC will change that, but for the base game, everything is remarkably tame.
I didn’t so much go hands on with the demo build of the game this week at Koei HQ as I went head to head with my own preconceived notions of the series and fighting games in general. I sat on the flight home thinking about how to condense all my thoughts, and promptly realized that there is no way to do it. Too much of my feelings for DoA 6 are tangled up in memories of boys kicking me off arcade cabinets and telling me to go away. Of games that expect you to walk in knowing everything.
Because this time I was part of the scene.
Dead or Alive 6 has a quest mode that puts you in pre-set matches with three objectives to fulfill during the match. The objectives are ranked based on difficulty, and you can rack up points, achievements, and new character costumes through the quest mode. But the neatest feature is that the quest mode is essentially a training mode. It requires you to perform specific attacks, dodges, or counters, and if you can’t figure out the move during the match, the game will recommend you go into a training demo to practice your skills.
Because the training mode is designed to focus on one specific move objective, the AI makes sure to do nothing but give you relentless opportunities to practice. So you aren’t preforming moves in a vaccuum like you do in other fighters.
Ignoring my personal history, the social context, and everything external about the demo: Dead or Alive 6 is a solidly built game. The visuals, even on PS4, are gorgeous. The characters take damage according to what happens during the fights, which is a neat little button to put on the end of a fight. The controls are speedy and reactive. The break blows are powerful, but not instant kills. The stages all react differently based on what goes on and how the fighters move, sometimes in surprising ways. You might get blown up when forced into the edge of a barrel in a warehouse, or thrown down an elevator shaft in a laboratory. You get kicked over hedges, piles of trash, even tanks.
The game watches how you play, offers feedback and hints, and even offers tailored tutorials on how to execute specific moves. I’ve honestly got nothing bad to say about DoA 6 at all.
While I’ll never feel like an expert on fighting games, and Dead or Alive 6 certainly doesn’t make me love the genre, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. Even the struggle to figure out the controls with the provided reporter cheat sheets.
And I’m actively looking forward to March 1st when the game releases. Which is something I never expected.