Tecmo has always been one of my favorite developers in the past. Recognized for a number of great titles including Ninja Gaiden, Monster Rancher, and Rygar -- one of my favorite NES games of all time. But lately it seems that Tecmo's really been taking a ton of abuse from the gaming community. First they got it from diehard Dreamcast owners when they announced that Dead or Alive 2 would be going over to the PlayStation 2, complete with a couple of new characters, new arenas and slightly better graphics, while the DC version was an almost direct port of the arcade version. Then Tecmo received some harsh criticism when they announced that Dead or Alive 3 would be available only on the Xbox during the Winter Tokyo Game Show. You could hear the cries of Sony fans around the world when they realized that this series wouldn't be available on the PS2 (heh). Despite all of this, Tecmo has still put together a game that delivers an experience that no other series in the industry can match in Dead or Alive 3, the latest addition to their flagship series.
By now, most gamers have been able to experience the game for themselves, and quite frankly, first impressions are absolutely stunning. I really don't want to touch on the graphics that much because in all seriousness, there's nothing much to comment that hasn't been said already. Everything from the never-ending horizons on all of the levels to the awesome reflections to the stunning lighting effects make this the best looking game that I have ever seen. The characters themselves are awesome as well, each moving with graceful, fluid motions that really catch your attention.
The same can be said regarding the game's sound effects and soundtrack. A lot of other titles come off with really tinny sound effects when contact is actually made; sometimes it sounds like you're just hitting a training dummy instead of an actual person, but that doesn't happen here. One of the best things I like about Dead or Alive 3 is that you can actually feel the contact being made when you clock someone with a canned string. But you won't find those little choppy sounds as in other games -- you get something to the effect that feels like a Mack truck just hit you upside the head. And it's one of the more significant highlights in Dead or Alive 3, which only serves to further immerse the player to a greater degree. The soundtrack itself is decent, although my personal tastes favours somethings that's a lot harder (read: Guilty Gear X) than what's offered here. That being said, the tracks in Dead or Alive 3 are more than tolerable, although the inclusion of the Aerosmith songs are somewhat puzzling (Editor's Note: I supposed it does seem somewhat out of place), as the original songs certainly can more than hold up on their own.
Which brings us to the actual gameplay of Dead or Alive 3, which is a tough aspect to tackle. Quite honestly, it's the type of game that you'll come to love or hate. Personally, Dead or Alive 3 has really been an enjoyable experience, but it's also been a total exercise in frustration -- and I'll attempt to explain why. As with the previous editions, DoA3 is fast. Extremely fast. The pace really sets it apart compared to other fighting games. Where Virtua Fighter would be chess, Dead or Alive can be likened to a hard rock concert; one is slow and methodical, the other is fast and chaotic, yet both are extremely satisfying. While it doesn't seem that much has changed from the previous edition, Dead or Alive 3 incorporates a series of engine tweaks which drastically affects the gameplay atmosphere. Many of the details which won't be highly evident to players during their first experience.
Among the tweaks you will discover is regarding the Defensive Hold damage, which has been toned down drastically. No longer will Hi-Counter Defensive Holds take a third of your lifebar! However, it's sad to say that the actual window for counters hasn't changed. This is unfortuante for arcade purists in particular as Team Ninja has also made counter holds substantially easier than the Arcade Mode style in Dead or Alive 2, opting to go with the much more user-friendly Console Mode, and herein lies one of the main problems with the system. While counters don't do as much damage as they did in Dead or Alive 2, the ease of executing them has basically cancelled out the lesser damage dealt out. In order to implement Console Mode counters, Team Ninja combined the mid-kick and mid-punch counters into one generic motion (b+Free), which makes it even easier to counter a lot of moves. Many characters such as Helena have some great mid-level attacks, but they're weakened by a universal mid counter. While this problem was present (and much more problematic) in Dead or Alive 2, it still allowed for the inclusion of Arcade mode counters as well, a feature that DoA3 unfortunately does not have. In my opinion, it would've been far better had the developers toned down the damage and implemented Arcade Mode counters. But at least they made some effort to address the counter system.
Generally, the majority of the characters in the this latest installment don't play too differently from their past incarnations, namely Dead or Alive 2. However, almost everyone has received some sort of makeover in the transition to the Xbox. Most of the significant changes seem to come in what moves contain special stun properties, or changing said properties for the moves that already have them. Although several alterations were made to several characters' "canned combos", such as Kasumi's f,f+P,K and Hayabusa's P,P,b+P,d+P. What's really improved, thanks to the the introduction of some of these new canned combos is a much better high/low game than the one found in Dead or Alive 2. It's now a little bit harder to anticipate what your opponent will do in the middle of the string because there are more variants for each character unlike before.
The new cast of characters include Hitomi, Christie and Brad Wong -- each with their own distinctive unique fighting style. Despite the opinions of others, stating that Hitomi's style plays too much like Ein to considering her a new character, I find that to be false. While Hitomi does share some of the same moves used by Ein, the entire selection of moves as a whole feature a myriad of new moves which qualify her as a unique character. Christie is a excellent addition to the series, implementing a cool-looking sidestep command, which can be linked to other moves as soon as the animation is completed. This feature easily makes her one an fun character to use. And finally, there's Brad Wong, who without a doubt is the most complex character in the game, comprised of five different stances -- a fighting style that is based upon deception and baiting your opponent as opposed to a up close and personal fighting style adopted by the majority of the cast.
Another change that Tecmo has made to Dead or Alive 3 is an improved 3D movement system, which can now be initiated by pressing and holding Down, Up or Up/Back. The best part of the system is that it doesn't include holding down the Free button, a great step away from the old movement system, and gives the player a lot more freedom in their movement without being too cumbersome. The one problem I have with the free movement in DoA3 is that it's still not up to the job of allowing players to easily dodge incoming attacks, so while the actual motion for going into 3D movement has greatly improved, the movement itself is too slow to be of any real use, unless you are positioning yourself while your opponent is down. One of the major problems in Dead or Alive 2 was the inability to escape command throws. While you could easy escape a basic throw (Free+Punch), any throw that involved a joystick motion was unescapable, which obviously made a lot of fans who play Dead or Alive 2 competitively a little peeved.
Unfortunately Team Ninja hasn't made any significant progress in this area, as command throws are still unescapable. While I found this to be a glaring oversight in Dead or Alive 2, something that I could live with, I find it totally inexcusable that Tecmo would let this slip once again, considering that their main competitors in Tekken and Virtua Fighter have both been using this technique since their inceptions. During the period in which I composed this review for this game, I've endeavored to stay away from what's not in the game - and only look at what's presently available. Despite the the lack of any unique modes, a feature strangly absent from the game, it's not exactly missed. And with the promise of upcoming updates planned for the future, I am inclined not to criticize the game at this point for being somewhat bare-boned.
Despite its inherent flaws, Dead or Alive 3 is still a blast to play, there's no arguing that. There's something about smacking someone out of a tower and watch them plummet 20 storeys to the cement jungle below, and there's no other game that gives me a feeling of satisfaction when I shove someone's head into an ice pillar and watch the ice crumble into a million pieces. Dead or Alive 3 rides a fine line between being a game that's very accessible to casual gamers, while still having enough gameplay to satisfy more serious players. Unfortunately a couple of gameplay problems get in the way of Dead or Alive 3 being a title with lasting longevity, but that shouldn't stop anyone from at least renting the game. Although it's not on par with a Virtua Fighter title, Dead or Alive 3 has a distinct appeal which qualifies it as a perfect compliment to your Xbox collection.
· · · Reno