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There is one absolute truth in the universe that cannot be contradicted, no matter how hard you try: men love women in titillating outfits. As it turns out, men also love fighting. Not necessarily getting pummelled in the face day after day, mind you, but at very least watching other people fight. Since the advent of the fighting game, designers discovered they could add a little pizzaz to the beating by adding a bit of sex appeal. Hence, Chun Li and her long legs, Mai Shiranui and her bouncing breasts, E. Honda and his...well, no, never mind that.
And then there's Dead or Alive. Introduced in 1996, Tecmo's new fighter looked to be little more than a Virtua Fighter clone - which made sense, given that it ran on the same hardware. Fearing that it'd get lost in the crowd, the Dead or Alive crew (later named Team Ninja) decided that they weren't just gonna add a little bit of sexiness, they were going to make sure people would take notice. All of the female characters were extremely well endowed - not new, by any video game practice, but these things jiggled. They bounded up and down, as if the game took place in some male fantasy universe where gravity simply did not exist. And the characters wore an assortment of flesh and panty baring outfits, which got increasingly fetishy as the series went on.
One could assume that this was just a ploy from Tecmo, yet another attempt to use beautiful women to sell utter garbage, the gaming equivalent of a Girls Gone Wild video (the actual attempt at that kind of skullduggery, The Guy Game, actually is one of the worst games of all time.) But somehow, against all kinds of logic, the game somehow turned out to be good. Not just vaguely good, but the kind of good that eventually led it to become one of the best 3D fighting game franchises out there.
The fighting is actually pretty similar to Virtua Fighter, if it were given a swift kick in the ass and given at least a fair amount of caffeinated sugar. Using only a punch, a kick button and various combinations of the directional pad, you could execute tons of moves that all flowed smoothly into each other. Everything moves with such incredible speed while still maintaining most of the depth of other 3D fighters. Still, the speed and ease of which you can execute most moves means that Dead or Alive is a particularly button masher friendly game, much to annoyance of hardcore fighting freaks worldwide.
The biggest - and probably most controversial - change to the formula was the additional of a counter button. If you time it right, you can grab your opponent's attack and either toss him aside or cause extra damage. It's great for those with lightning quick reflexes, as they're tough enough to execute so you're not entirely invincible. But it cheapens play against the CPU characters, who can counter your attacks precisely to your utter annoyance.
The series started off using Sega's Model 2 arcade hardware, and this was eventually ported to the Saturn. Dead or Alive 2 has been ported to the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, in several iterations. However, from Dead or Alive 3 and beyond, all titles have been at home on the Xbox, without even coming out in the arcades. Most Japanese developers have stayed away from Microsoft's behemoth, mostly since it sold terribly in Japan. However, Team Ninja's games, both the Dead or Alive games and Ninja Gaiden, are the best selling games for the system over there.
The doe-eyed "star" of the series introduced in the first game, Kasumi is a runaway ninja who practices the Mugen-Tenshin martial arts style, and also has an incredible dislike of pants. She's 17, although the American games list her age as "unknown".
A female wrestler from Texas who desires to be a movie star and fashion model. Starts off a brunette in the original Dead or Alive, but turns bottle blond in the later games.
The Chinese girl with some cool hairstyles, lots of crazy dresses and hypnotic stances. She's been around since the first game, and owns an amusing amount of black leather costumes.
The creators wanted to put a ninja in the game, so they looked in Tecmo's catalog of games. They dug up Ryu from Ninja Gaiden, and here he is.
Fighting game cliche #1: the Bruce Lee ripoff (Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat, Fei Long from Super Street Fighter 2, Marshall Law from Tekken). That being said, his dragon tatoos are kinda groovy, and his battle cries are classic.
Fighting game cliche #2: the sluggish old man character no one ever really uses (Jubei from Fatal Fury 2, Shun Di from Virtua Fighter 2, Gen from Street Fighter).
Clearly ripped off of Dennis Rodman (who provides his voice in Xtreme Beach Volleyball), Zack is a self-taught Muay Thai kickboxer looking for fame, and plays the role of a would-be pimp. Enjoys groundhogs, male sports bras (or should I saw mansierres?) and weird shiny alien costumes. It appears he was first conceived as a rip-off of Street Fighter Alpha's Adon, before getting a complete redesign (see Japanese flyer below).
The enormous Hulk Hogan-esque wrestler. He's Tina's dad and much like any father with a daughter, would prefer if she didn't skank up the fighting arena in those absurdly slutty outfits.
The purple haired bitch girl introduced as secret character in the PlayStation Dead or Alive. She likes to adorn her hair with silly looking bows, but gets an awesome ninja outfit in DOA3. She's Kasumi's half-sister and nemesis, which they like to play up in the laughable cutscenes.
An army fellow with a retarded name and a goofy red hat. He is the only standard character ever taken out of the series, as Dead or Alive 2 originally replaced him with Leon, only to bring him back as an unlockable character in later revisions.
Fights very similar to Bayman, although later games made the two a bit more distinct. He appears first in Dead or Alive 2 with a silly turban, but puts on a Hollywood executive style ponytail and glasses to kick some ass in DOA3.
After her father is murdered by Bayman, Helena becomes the de-facto leader of DOATEC, but also personally takes part in the tournaments. Proving the "fat opera chick" stereotype to be wildly inaccurate, Helena also has the most ridiculous set of triangular bangs known to mankind.
Ein / Hayate
Appearing as Ein in Dead or Alive 2 (it's German for "one"), he's actually Kasumi's brother with amnesia, and has something to do with the ludicrous cloning storyline in the games. He later regains his memory and name in Dead or Alive 3, along with an awesome ninja outfit. He exists either because the series needed a bishounen to balance out all of the girls, or as a wish-fulfilling author insert for Itagaki, your call.
Icy haired assassin whose bare behind is prominent not only in the Dead or Alive 3 ending, but also the Xtreme Beach Volleyball intro. First introduced in the third episode, but Dead or Alive Dimensions retcons her into the events of the first tournament.
A German/Japanese kung-fu mistress with a baby face and adorable pink headband. After losing his memory, Ein trained karate at her fathers Dojo.
Relive your memories of the Drunken Master movies with this guy who likes to hit the sauce. He is sent out by his master to search for a mystical wine called "Genra". Funny coincidence that the big bad of Dead or Alive 3 carries the same name.
Lisa / La Mariposa
A sophisticated city girl who was initially introduced in Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Shows up as a masked wrestler in Dead or Alive 4, and in the story of Dimensions turns into an evil DOATEC scientist.
A geisha-in-training, with long, gorgeous flowing hair (which causes a lot of clipping errors) and more-or-less traditional Japanese outfits.
A young pretty boy who's been trained by Gen Fu, and takes his place in Dead or Alive 4.
Spartan-458 / Nicole
As a result of Itagaki's friendship with Microsoft, Dead or Alive 4 got this Halo tie-in character, together with an adequate stage in a spaceship hangar. Since she comes from a Microsoft IP, it doesn't surprise that she's the only character who doesn't reappear in Dead or Alive Dimensions.
The boss of the first game. He is Shiden's brother but was driven out from the Mugen-Tenshin clan, mostly for being an evil maniac. It is suggested that he raped Kasumi's mother and thus fathered Ayane.
Gohyakumine Bankotsu-bo (Tengu)
A criminal escaped from the Tengu realm. He's the first boss character to reoccur in the series, as he's not only the boss in DOA2, but also a hidden character in episode 4.
Omega / Genra
Formerly Ayane's foster father, Genra has been turned into a killing machine by DOATEC experiments. He is the boss enemy in the third tournament.
DOATEC's ultimate weapon for Dead or Alive 4 is yet another clone of Kasumi. Only this one is extremely fast and wicked. And nude.
Works at the casino in Dead or Alive Paradise and so far only appears in that game.
Kasumi's and Hayate's father and current leader of the Mugen-Tenshin ninja clan. He appears as a special boss in some of the modes in Dimensions, but is only playable with a special input.
Helena's father, the original president of DOATEC and organisator of the first Dead or Alive Tournament, is assassinated immediately afterwards. Like all of the supporting cast, he never appeared on-screen before Dead or Alive Dimensions.
The mysterious scientist that plotted Douglas' assassination and is trying to take over DOATEC afterwards. Even Dimensions always shows him in angles that conceal his face, although in the end it is suggested that he was wearing a mask all along, anyway.
Ryu Hayabusa's CIA partner from the classic Ninja Gaiden trilogy was briefly mentioned in his backstory for the very first Dead or Alive, but dropped afterwards. Only Dimensions brings her back in full swing - and with blond hair.
The whole Dead or Alive series is the brainchild of Tecmo's Tomonobu Itagaki, known to be very outspoken on his opinions of other games on the market (he was quoted in one Gamespy interview as saying "Tekken 4 is shit".) After the success of the DOA games, he became the head of Team Ninja, one of Tecmo's most prominent divisions that also created the Xbox Ninja Gaiden. He's said that he thinks of the girls as "his daughters", which sounds pretty off-kilter on so very many levels. Since Itagaki left Tecmo in 2008, the new Team Ninja leader Yosuke Hayashi has been in charge of the series.
The original version of Dead or Alive was first released in the arcades on Sega's Model 2, and later ported to the Sega Saturn (along with a limited edition that included an artbook and a rather scandalous picture of Kasumi on the CD). Dead or Alive offers eight playable characters and a boss character, none of which display any spectacular innovation. The throwaround in the formula comes with the the Danger Zone - a large portion of the perimeter of the ring is laced with explosives, so if you knock your opponent to the ground, you'll inflict extra damage, and usually causing them to skyrocket straight into the air - as well as a simplistic counter system. Dubbed 'holds', you had an easy-to-execute command with which to intercept the opponent's attack and use the momentum to send him to the ground. This was used to implement the rock-paper-scissors system that would become a concept for the entire series, namely counters beating normal attacks, throws beating counters, and normal attacks beating throws. In contrast to later updates, however, most holds were used as openers for your own combos with little to no own damage rather than the devastating throws they are known as from Dead or Alive 2 onwards.
The achievement that bought Dead or Alive the attention back then, though, was the graphics - this is, quite simply, the finest looking 3D title on the Saturn, especially being that the system is not known for producing decent looking polygons. The game was quite infamous for its exorbitant soft object physics, which was not limited to get hair and clothes moving. Female bust animation was done before in 3D games, keen eyes spot subtle movements in Soul Blade's Taki in the arcades. The way, however, in which Dead or Alive shoved the facts in players' faces, caused a lot of excitement, positive and negative.
The arcade version uses fully 3D backgrounds and really looks excellent. The Saturn version sacrifices that for using a flat image, and the character models aren't quite as detailed. The Saturn version also features a redbook audio soundtrack with higher quality music, as well as a crappy animated FMV intro. Besides the regular version, it was also sold in a special edition, but the only extra was a booklet with insubstantial thumbnail images of the FMV and four pages of interesting concept art of the added costumes. The enormous jiggliness totally crosses the line of absurdity, but the "Bouncing Breast" option can be turned off if it annoys you. Unfortunately, the game is pretty light on modes - there's the usual arcade, training and time attack, but there's no real endings, another feature that didn't make the transition to the home console. But even in the arcade, they were mere text on a pitch black background. Beating the game on the Saturn will unlock a few costumes and extra options, but otherwise there's not much incentive to play the single player modes over and over. Still, it's a great start to a great series.
Dead or Alive was also included in the Dead or Alive Ultimate collection. That is based on Itagaki's alledged favourite version from the Saturn, despite the inferior graphics compared to the Arcade and the lack of the added characters and costumes on PSX. The term "Ultimate" seems unfitting, contrary to the great treatment Dead or Alive 2 got for the package. This version can also be played in HD on the Xbox360, but then the low resolution of the 2D backgrounds really shows in comparison.
When Tecmo brought Dead or Alive to the PlayStation, they didn't just port it, they practically made it into a semi-sequel. The graphics this time are even better - as with its predecessor, Dead or Alive is one of the smoothest, most gorgeous game on the PSOne, having benefitted from even better character models and some shading to round the edges. All of the backgrounds have been changed, and while the Saturn version retained the basic image of the original, this port replaces them with completely new - sometimes uninspired looking - wallpapers. Also included are several new music tracks, including the most porn-esque piece of music you'll hear come out of a PlayStation, complete with orgasmic moaning.
Two new characters have been added as well - Bass, the gigantic wrestler, and Ayane, the secret purple haired ninja girl. Alas, there's still no real endings for the characters, but on the flipside, there are a lot of costumes to unlock. Most of the male characters don't have very many, but the females have up to 14 each.
This version was also brought to the arcades as Dead or Alive++, again sporting a few major changes. The gameplay now began a shift towards what is to be expected with Dead or Alive 2, giving it a very fluent feel and revising the counter system. For the first time, there is a tag mode available, though it still is little more than playing the next round as another character, similar to King of Fighters (only 2-on-2). The arcade release lost all the unlockables, stepping down to a total of four costumes per character, which are freely selectable from the start. On the other hand, it reinstates the text endings that had been in the Model 2 version but were taken out on consoles.
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