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Dead Or Alive 2 Remains One Of The Best Video Games Of All Time

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Dead Or Alive 2 Title - Sega Dreamcast

Dead Or Alive 2

Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Release Date: February 29, 2000
Available as: Physical and Digital (Dead Or Alive 2 HardCore on PSN; Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate on Xbox)

After the success of the first Dead or Alive, Team Ninja released an arcade-only follow-up titled Dead or Alive++. Based on the upgraded PlayStation version, this title would implement a simplified “hold” system and faster gameplay that would serve as the foundation for Dead or Alive 2. After debuting on Sega’s Naomi arcade in 1999, the sequel would release on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, followed by a Sony PlayStation 2 release later that same year. For many fighting game fans, this was the game that pushed the envelope on what was perceived as possible not just for a 3D fighter, but for the entire action game genre.

Dead Or Alive 2 was not my first fighter as that honor would go to Tekken 3. However, no other game had captivated me as a kid more than this game. At the time, console gaming in 1999 and 2000 was fair game. Some were amazing feats of technology, pushing boundaries and establishing fans like Ridge Racer Type 4 and Metal Gear Solid to name a few. Dead Or Alive 2 was the first game I ever played that made me say “This is the future.” If the Sega Dreamcast needed a killer app to show that the Naomi hardware was a cut above anything available at the time, Team Ninja created one with DOA 2.

Let's get our one Izuna Drop rule out of here already, this time as a stage transition.

Upon letting the game’s intro play, Team Ninja showed off the tech they have learned in the four years since Dead Or Alive with a flurry of in-game cutscenes and cinematic gameplay footage, all to a rocking soundtrack by the Japanese rock band Bomb Factory. Itagaki spared no expense on his promise in wanting to create the ultimate spectacle in fighting games. The animations for each attack were redone, and the clothing and body physics represented what the Naomi hardware could do, with free-flowing hair and fabric reacting to body motions and stage environments.

Fighting in a snow-capped valley during a blizzard shows the characters struggle to fight as the wind blows their hair in their faces. The snow makes an imprint based on the fighters' footsteps and wherever they may fall as well. Certain stages have stage transitions when the fighter is knocked out of the arena, revealing a new part of the stage. There are stages with slopes, altering the effects of certain attacks, as well as stage “hazards,” including the fighters struggling to stand up as they fight on slippery water.

Many gameplay elements that would feature in Dead Or Alive 2, including stage transitions, wouldn’t exist in other 3D fighters for almost a full decade. Due to how different Tekken 4 is compared to the rest of the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if the more realistic “urban serious setting” was influenced by Dead Or Alive in some regard. Dead Or Alive 2 was a beautiful game with realistic and animated facial expressions that still hold up to this day. I could go on and on about how amazing the game looks, but it was its explosive easy-to-pick-up-hard-to-master gameplay that solidified Dead Or Alive as an “action movie video game fighter.”

The Opera House was one of the stages to receive a makeover in Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate

Dead Or Alive 2 debuted the iconic “rock paper scissors” gameplay that would be a staple to the series for years to come. All throws are done by pressing the Free and Punch buttons at the same time. The Free button worked as a guard button, but also as a Hold when pressed with a directional input. Holding up-back and the Free button reversed high attacks, back reversed mids, and down-back reversed low attacks. By timing your opponent’s offense, the player can reverse their attack with a “hold” that deals considerable damage, placed the defender in an advantageous position, or depending on the fighter, outright turned the tides.

As enticing as pulling off a reversal Izuna Drop is, the defender can’t rely on spamming holds as they will be locked in an animation if the reversal whiffs. This means the attacker can bait this and then go for a different attack altogether. Doing so will cause a counter, which the fighter behaves differently in this game than Dead Or Alive. Getting hit with a counter will cause the fighter to stagger, meaning that the next big move or launcher will lift them higher in the air than normal. As the opponent can’t defend themselves in the air, this leads to heavily damaging juggle combos if the defender is bad at guessing.

Worse, the opponent can opt to go for a throw instead. Throws beat holds, which means that no matter what happens, getting hit by a throw while in a hold animation will always lead to a Hi-Counter. Hi-Counters deal even more damage than a Counter and Hi-Counter Throws are some of the biggest health bar melters in the series. Being the victim of a Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex in real life by the hands of Manami Toyota already seems painful enough. Losing 70% of your health from a wrong guess to an eager Tina is even more devastating.

As a young fan of wrestling, I truly appreciated how dynamic the moves are and how faithful each wrestler is to their own aesthetic. Tina Armstrong flourishes as a wrestler using key moves from joshi puroresu and other famous Japanese wrestlers. Bass Armstrong, her father and obvious Hulk Hogan homage, uses American wrestling in his arsenal. Later titles will introduce lucha libre to a faithful accuracy as well, which goes for other martial arts and fighting styles. The programmers and animators really knocked it out of the park with the various references.

The Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex were one of many real life moves featured in Dead Or Alive 2.

The general rule of thumb in Dead Or Alive’s gameplay moving forward is that Attacks beat Throws, Throws beat Holds and Holds beat Attacks. If someone is baiting you to a hefty throw, the savvy player can attack, causing a hi-counter stun for their actions. In DOA, the best defense is also the best offense. This was what made the series different from other fighters in my opinion as its eccentric fast-paced gameplay is easy for anyone to play, but it had many hidden layers that will keep even veterans on their toes.

This would also be the first game to feature a fully fleshed-out story. The previous founder of the Dead or Alive tournament, Fame Douglas, is assassinated and is taken over by a wealthy evil businessman named Victor Donovan. Donovan is responsible for several Frankenstein-like experiments (ironic considering they share the same first name) and kidnaps Kasumi to be used as a base for an army of super ninjas. This will come up again in future Dead or Alive titles, but Hayate, a family relative of Kasumi, is also captured and used for Project Epsilon. The result of this proposed project is a failure and left to die, he develops a new personality as Ein, a karate master with amnesia for his real identity, Hayate.

Dead Or Alive 2 HardCore featured new cutscenes to give each fighter more personality.

Helena, the daughter of Fame Douglas and an opera singer, felt a closeness to her mother all her life. One night during her performance, her mother takes the bullet for Helena after a hit was originally placed on her daughter, to begin with. This, coupled with knowing her legacy due to her father being the founder of the original DOATEC tournament, is enough for Helena to enter the tournament to try and enact revenge. Unfortunately, this also shows off a key negative trait in Helena’s personality. She is incredibly adamant about seeking revenge and has an intense field of hatred within her.

This leads her to falsely accuse someone, Ayame, as her mother’s assassin when the only thing Helena could remember at the time was that the assassin had short hair. The killer would be revealed in Dead Or Alive 3 and I will continue this there, as Helena is arguably the most important character in the story, but it’s still amusing how she automatically assumed Ayame did it. In typical Ayame fashion, her stand-offish attitude did not do her any favors.

Ayame's antagonistic personality caused more trouble than a little bit.

During all of this, a powerful tengu known as Gohyakumine Bankotsubo, decides to transcend the human world and cause chaos because why not? This not only gets the tengu world riled up because no one likes him, but they also praise Hayabusa as he is canonically the “winner” of the tournament for defeating the tengu. The tengu is the final boss of everyone’s story, despite whether or not anyone has had any connection with him or not.

Each fighter from the default roster has a story to tell which leads to overlap and with each match being unique with cutscenes before and after combat. While other fighters have done this, it was never done to the extent of Dead Or Alive 2. I won’t lie and say that it’s the best story in the world and oftentimes it’s incredibly confusing to grasp without the instruction manual telling you the backstory. Still, seeing characters interact with each other and showing off their personalities was something that was basically unheard of at the time.

The original roster for Dead Or Alive returns for Dead Or Alive 2, with Bass and Ayame being proper newcomers than console exclusives. The two brand new additions, Helena and Leon, a mercenary, were included with Leon having an altered moveset from Bayman who was notably absent in the game’s original release.

  • Kasumi
  • Tina Armstrong
  • Zack
  • Gen Fu
  • Ryu Hayabusa
  • Jann Lee
  • Leifang
  • Leon
  • Helena
  • Bass
  • Ayame

Dead Or Alive 2: HardCore

Released on the PlayStation 2 as a launch title for the North American release, Dead Or Alive 2: HardCore was an upgraded re-release from the original, complete with new stages, new cutscenes, new costumes, an updated art style, and other bonus content. This version is perhaps more infamously known for its unique English voice dub, which offered an interesting twist on the character’s voices. It was so bad that Team Ninja wouldn’t implement English voice acting until Dead Or Alive 5, over a decade later. Looking back at it now, it was pretty charming and the newer voices would take notes from this dub.

Tina is the furthest from a character to have any interaction with a tengu, but putting one in a Figure 4 is fun.

For the first time, Tengu was an unlockable playable character who was a slow bruiser that hit hard. Bayman also returned as an unlockable character, based on his Dead Or Alive move set. Once again, the analog controls weren’t added by default and upon toggling the option, the player is met with a very weird control scheme that is unlike the base game. 

Assigning a Free Step button, holding it, and moving in and out of the background remains the best way to play HardCore. Other than that, HardCore would remain the final Dead Or Alive title to be released on a Sony console until Dead Or Alive 5, which would begin Tecmo’s relationship with Microsoft.

Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate

This segues into 2004’s remake, Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate, which also came bundled with Dead Or Alive Ultimate. Unlike the latter, which was a port of the Sega Saturn version, Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate is remade from the ground up using the Dead Or Alive 3 engine. The menus, HUDs, graphics, and assets were all borrowed from Dead Or Alive 3, including its updated gameplay mechanics that would remain to this day.

I plan to discuss more about this in Dead Or Alive 3, but the entire Hold reversal mechanic was overhauled, separating medium punch and medium kick holds to back and front holds respectively. This meant that the defender now had a fifty-percent chance of guessing which attack to reverse, which also gives the attacker breathing room to alternate punches and kicks. This helped slow the gameplay down, which felt awkward going back to Dead Or Alive 2 with these improvements in tow. 

The upgraded graphic engine made an already beautiful game even more impressive.

There are new stages and each stage from Dead Or Alive 2 had received a major overhaul. The lab stage shows Kasumi’s clones this time around while the church stage takes place outdoors. There are even more secret costumes and the intro to DOA2U features, of all artists, Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” This will not be the last time Dead Or Alive will feature an Aerosmith song but I remember seeing the plight of Ayame and Kasumi and feeling stumped for the song choice.

Regardless of the changes, the songs and dialogue remain the same. Kasumi’s new voice had re-recorded all of her dialogue to match her Dead Or Alive 3 voice, hence there being two options. One for the new dub and one for the old. With three different versions, it’s hard to say which one is the “best” to play. I have a fondness for the Dreamcast version as it was my first introduction to the series, the HardCore version built upon the original, and Ultimate made it modern. I’d say try out all three versions as they each have something to offer.

Hitomi was a bonus character from Dead Or Alive 3 , which her inclusion makes sense considering her relationship with Ein.

Dead Or Alive 2 HardCore did re-release on PSN though I’m unsure if it’s still available via the PlayStation 3 PSN. As with DOA1U, Dead Or Alive Ultimate is backward compatible with the Xbox Series X, although it’s not the original. Regardless, this was a game that helped steer Team Ninja in the right direction and they would keep this momentum going with Dead Or Alive 3, which made for an impressive debut on the beefy-speced Microsoft Xbox.

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