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Dead or Alive 6 Was Truly "Dead on Arrival"

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Dead or Alive 6

Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Available as: Digital and Physical

No Core Values?

As Combo Breaker returned over the past weekend to great fanfare, I couldn’t help but think about one game that was missing from its robust lineup. A game that I felt had all the potential in the world that I once adored. I understand this is a rare "1-Star" but this was one I didn't want to give away. I have my reasons and all of them are subjective. Honestly, I am a bit saddened because here lies the biggest disappointment I’ve ever experienced in a video game for the longest time. As of today, Dead or Alive 6 continues to be that large disappointment and I feel ready to talk about it in detail like a therapy session.

Never had there been a game that I once shilled for, coming from a washed-up scrub to a mid-tier competitive player at best, and spent so much time investing only for Koei Tecmo to slap me and the rest of the community in the face. It has been two years since Koei Tecmo announced that support for Dead or Alive 6 would cease following its April 2020 patch and many players were left holding the bag. The announcement came out of nowhere, completely unrelated to the COVID situation as countries were beginning to enter a state of emergency at the time. 

All Press Images Courtesy of Koei Tecmo Games

All Good Things Must Never Have A Chance

This decision was made months in advance, with producer Yohei Shimbori confirming that the series was “taking a break” during the first Fighting Game Publishers’ Roundtable in August. At least he thanked the fans for their support, even though the fans never received similar treatment from the developers. 

Beginning with the infamous “Evo Japan” incident, Dead or Alive 6 could have been considered doomed from the start as much of its controversy stemmed from what made the series a talking point for the longest time. During its exhibition, the overabundance of sexual content shown was enough for EVO founder Joey Cuellar to pull the game’s ad from the tournament, citing the game went against the “core values” that EVO represented.

Continuity Lived On Despite A Rough Start

On a corporate level, Dead or Alive 6 was considered too provocative to be considered “esports,” as protecting the public image was something that many organizers, such as EVO, chose over giving the game a chance. Reflecting on previous comments, the incident became a double-edged sword as Dead or Alive 6 was not featured as one of the main games for EVO 2019 later that year, but it became the talk among fighting game circles due to the absurdity of EVO’s response, turning the “core values” quote into a meme. 

Following that moment, Dead or Alive 6 was a rebellious game and an underdog compared to other fighters at the time. It was a game that, despite its sexualization, could be proven to contend with other 3D fighters including Tekken and Soul Calibur. The EVO Japan incident was the one push that the game needed to get pushed in the spotlight leading up to its March release.

Dead Or Alive 6 Continued To Be Poetry In Motion

Visually, the Dead or Alive series was always a beautiful game, not just for fighting game standards, but in general when compared to other titles outside the genre, and 6 was no different. The environments have always been diverse and unique, including fighting venues as simple as a stadium, a wrestling arena with electrified fences, and a research facility filled with dinosaurs that interact with the fighters. If the other fighters were meant to convey realism, Dead or Alive 6 was the most realistic anime fighter with its over-the-top stages and character roster.

Its Stages Were Peak Design In Any Fighting Game

My favorite stage in Dead or Alive 6 is also one of my favorite stages of all time that fits the “over-the-top” nature that the series is known for. As the name suggests, “Unforgettable” is a stage that takes place in a museum that consists of two floors, with each floor consisting of small portions of various stages from previous games. 

One floor has part of the final boss stage in Dead or Alive 2 and the war stage from Dead or Alive 5 while another floor would have the Vegas stage from Dead or Alive 4 and the original Danger Room stage from Dead or Alive. Each section of the “museum pieces” would change to their respective music in real-time as the fight moved from the different floors of the museum. That amount of attention to detail is where Dead or Alive 6 shines brightest.

A Gameplay Overall Opened The Door To A New Era Of Players

The gameplay complemented the visuals as Dead or Alive 6 is a fast-paced game that’s easy to pick up, utilizing only three buttons with a simple “rock-paper-scissors” format that is surprisingly in-depth. In the high-level play, players are often deciding what is best between an extreme rush-down approach versus finding a hole in an opponent’s offense using the many universal reversals each character has. Conversely, an overly defensive opponent can be opened up with hard-hitting throws that can obliterate health bars in the blink of an eye.

The offline content in the game includes a pretty in-depth training mode complete with a tutorial and trial mode, offering more out-of-the-box than other fighting games comparatively at the time. The story mode, however, was a joke as it had done nothing for the Dead or Alive story up to that point. While fighting game stories have always been lackluster, especially Tekken 7’s “story,” Dead or Alive’s attempt at a plot comes out more as if Koei Tecmo wanted to promote their darling new characters while snubbing its more iconic characters, casting them to the side. 

I Was Willing To Ride It Out As Long As I Could

I mentioned earlier that I had played the game competitively and what made me interested was the community itself. On the East Coast, anyway, Dead or Alive has a dedicated community filled with players who have supported the scene since Dead or Alive 4. They were always inclusive of newcomers and the tournament organizers who gave the series a chance were always at the forefront. I played Dead or Alive 6 before its release at Big E’s Winter Brawl 3D that year mainly because I grew up with the series and it was free entry, so it was a no-brainer. I left the tournament thoroughly impressed after giving it a fair shot, buying the game on day 1.

Over the years I would enter various side tournaments, which would usually have a handful of competitors who loved their game enough to want to engage in sets for prolonged periods. That said, the writing was on the wall for 6 as the developers pushed its controversial DLC practices. Since Dead or Alive 5, the series has been plagued with bonus costumes for various characters, mostly based on themes, but also based on other existing IPs through partnerships. Historically, the game’s total cost in DLC alone equates to hundreds of dollars, which I find impressive even to this day. What ends up becoming a scam, however, is that the majority of the costume DLC in Dead or Alive 6 are simply repeats of the previous game. 

Where The Money Resides, Where The Money Resides

Many of 6’s assets were borrowed from Dead or Alive 5, including the bonus characters that became DLC, which was a questionable choice from the beginning. During its lifespan, of the DLC characters included in Dead or Alive 6, characters like Nyotengu, Phase 4, Momiji, and Rachel were all from the previous game. Even Mai Shiranui from King of Fighters returns from the previous title as DLC, leaving many scratching their heads as many had to pay for the characters twice in both games. In total, there were six additional DLC characters, with four from the previous game, also as DLC.

The two new bonus characters were Kula Diamond, also from King of Fighters, and an entirely new character, Tamaki, who was originally from the volleyball game. Adding on to the two new characters, Diego and Nico, who are already included in the game, Dead or Alive 6 ended with only four completely new characters. In comparison, Tekken 7 on launch had Kazumi, Claudio, Lucky Chloe, Josie, Katarina, and Shaheen. The fact that a game, on launch, had seven new characters compared to Dead or Alive 6’s four new characters total, two being DLC, is laughable.

C’est La Vie

Many fans, including myself, felt that Koei Tecmo had a really good game under their belt that could have been more, but, the sudden cease in support was a major letdown as not much was done for the game itself. What good is potential if it's not fully utilized? Why advertise the game as an “esports” title when very few were done to make it “esports” aside from a single tournament series with only a handful of tournaments? 

The reality of it was that Koei Tecmo took the easy way out, favoring old habits such as milking the casual fanbase who would dress up their favorite characters in specialized outfits. Somewhere between Dead or Alive 6’s release and its inevitable decision to cease support, Koei Tecmo decided that it should invest most of its support to the successful Dead or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation title instead, despite already having a dedicated fanbase from the fighting game.

At Least The Beach Fans Win In The End?

For the uninitiated, Xtreme Venus Vacation is the free-to-play gacha version of Xtreme, the latest addition in the Dead or Alive Volleyball series. While, humorously, the game isn’t available for the western audience, it’s Koei Tecmo’s worst kept secret that much of its financial success as of recent stems from Venus Vacation as “sex sells” and all.

Unfortunately for the fans of the fighting game, some who have played since the first game in the mid-90s, its player base has become a joke to Koei Tecmo. When Dead or Alive became “dead on arrival” and placed on “break,” everyone could read the room and knew what was going on behind the scenes. That, in itself, wouldn't be a big deal had the company been transparent and honest. 

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Nowadays, the scene kept the game alive well enough that monthly tournaments were still a thing. It’s sad when the game’s developers don’t care what happens to their product, instead rather going where the money is greener. For that, I cannot recommend Dead or Alive 6 for its business practices, and understandably my bitterness, alone even though I’ll always love the series as a whole.

Dead or Alive 6 is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One

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