Review: Dead or Alive Ultimate

For my latest playthrough/review, I decided to return to the Xbox shelf and pick up a title that I’ve been waiting to review for quite some time. That game is Dead or Alive Ultimate. This title is actually a remastered collection of the first two games in the Dead or Alive series. Dead or Alive is a franchise I’ve never discussed on this site before. So before I dive into what makes this collection so unique, let’s take a moment to talk about the games themselves.

Dead or Alive is a series of competitive fighting games. Like most fighting games, the first Dead or Alive game actually got its start as an arcade title. Later, the game was ported to the Sega Saturn, where it found mild success. But it wasn’t until a version was released on the Playstation that the game really grew in popularity. The first two entries in the series are pretty much synonymous with the Playstation here in the US. But by the time the third game was released, the developers had teamed up with Microsoft in an attempt to “re-home” Dead or Alive as an Xbox exclusive. Part of this deal included a re-release of Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2 on the Xbox. This is the Dead or Alive Ultimate collection that I’ll be looking at today.

As I mentioned above, I’ll be focusing on the Ultimate versions of these two games for this review. But, as is often the case with fighting games, there’s a number of different releases to choose from. So before I dive in, let’s takes a moment to gloss over these different variations.

Dead or Alive:

First up is the arcade release of Dead or Alive. Originally released in 1996, the arcade edition was extremely popular with fans of the fighting game genre. Its success led to a revised version called Dead or Alive Arcade ++. This update to the original game added some minor tweaks and two additional characters to the battle roster.

Next we have the Sega Saturn version of the game. This version was only released in Japan but closely mirrored the elements found in the original arcade release.

The third version of Dead or Alive is the Playstation port. This is the one most US players are familiar with. This edition of the game includes the new characters from the Arcade++ version, improved graphics, and more play mode options.

Finally we have the Dead or Alive Ultimate version. Being the most recent version of the game, you’d think Ultimate would be the definitive DOA experience. The graphics are better than the PS1 release. But the downside is that the content for this version of the game is based on the Sega Saturn port. This means it does not include the two additional characters found in the Arcade++ and the PS1 release. So while the game looks incredible, it actually has less playable content than most fans were expecting. For this reason, many DOA fans consider it a subpar release.

Dead or Alive 2:

As was the case with the first game, Dead or Alive 2 saw its initial debut in the arcade. When compared with the first entry in the series, the sequel saw improved sound and graphics, an expanded roster, and a number of game mechanic changes (more on this later).

The first home release for the game in the US was actually on the Sega Dreamcast. This port of the game was nearly identical to the arcade version. However, due to the fading popularity of the Dreamcast, this release received little attention in the west.

Next up we have DOA2: Hardcore for the Playstation 2. This is the version of the game that most US players remember. Hardcore features several updates to the original arcade release; new characters, new arenas, character costumes, and new game modes.

Finally, we have the Ultimate version of DOA2. This edition of the game was actually released after Dead of Alive 3 had hit the scene. In fact, DOA2 Ultimate was actually rebuilt from the ground up using the engine from the third game. This version features all of the PS2 updates to the original game, but with even better graphics and sound.

NOTE: Both games in the Dead or Alive Ultimate collection also featured online multiplayer via Xbox Live. These were only versions of the games to do so. Unfortunately, the online multiplayer is no longer functional. (Of course, local multiplayer is still available).

When reviewing games, I usually avoid collective reviews like this one. I’d much rather post a full review for each game individually. I’m making an exception in this case for a couple of reasons. To start with, unless you have a physical copy of the first Dead or Alive game, you won’t be playing it. At the time of this writing, there is no digital release here in the west. That being said, DOA2: Hardcore is available via PSN for Playstation 3 consoles. But, if we’re going to resort to playing on a legacy console anyways we might as well just go with the Xbox collection. Plus, the Xbox is often considered by many to be unofficial home for the DOA series. For these reasons, I decided to go with DOA Ultimate for my playthrough.

Dead or Alive 1 Ultimate

Before discussing the gameplay mechanics of both titles, let’s take a brief look at the story behind Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2.

Like many fighting games, Dead or Alive focuses on contestants in a martial arts tournament. In this case, the tournament in question is called the Dead or Alive World Combat Championship. The contest is hosted by a mega-corporation known as DOATEC who lure the world’s greatest warriors to the tournament with promises of fame and fortune. Each fighter in the game has their own unique backstory. However, the character of Kasumi tends to have the spotlight in the game’s promotional materials.

The following characters are playable in Dead or Alive:

Kasumi – A young kunoichi (female ninja) who abandons her clan so she can enter the tournament. Her ultimate goal is confront a man named Raidou who was exiled from her clan after attacking several members of her family.
Gen Fu – A wizened martial arts master. He is competing in the tournament in hopes of using the prize money to provide medical treatment for his sick granddaughter.
Bayman – Bayman is a Russian mercenary who has been contracted to kill DOATEC’s leader.
Ryu Hayabusa – Yes! It’s Ryu from the Ninja Gaiden series! He’s back and competing in the tournament to test his skill against the world’s best warriors.
Jann Lee – A famous martial artist who has entered the tournament to compete against the world’s best fighters.
Leifang – As a young girl, Leifang was once attacked by gang members but rescued by none other than Jann Lee. Offended that Lee didn’t consider her capable of defending herself, she has entered the tournament to challenge him.
Zack – An up-and-coming DJ and kickboxer. Zack hopes to use the tournament to gain attention to his career.
Tina Armstrong – Tina is an American wrestler who signs up hoping to find fame and fortune.

*Raidou – Raidou is actually Kasumi’s uncle. He was exiled from his ninja clan after attacking Kasumi’s mother. Raidou is the final boss in Dead or Alive. His character is unlockable by completing the game with every fighter.

*Ayane (Only available in the Arcade++ and PS1 version) – Ayane is a ninja from the same clan as Kasumi. She has been tasked with assassinating Kasumi as punishment for her leaving the clan. Ayane is a secret character that can be unlocked by obtained every costume for every character.
*Bass Armstrong (Only available in the Arcade++ and PS1 version) – Bass is Tina’s father. He believes his daughter has entered the tournament out of vanity and hopes to prevent her from winning.

The story for Dead or Alive 2 makes a few assumptions about the outcome of the original game. For starters, it assumes that Kasumi won the first tournament. After winning, she is captured by DOATEC where she is analyzed as part of a super-human cloning experiment. She manages to escape, but not before DOATEC is able to create an evil clone of her. This game also assumes that Bayman was successful in assassinating DOATEC’s CEO. As a result, DOATEC elects a new leader, a man by the name of Victor. Unlike his predecessor who was motivated by greed, Victor is a man of pure evil. His ultimate goal is to bring about the end of the world via a demonic invasion. To ensure no one stands in his way, he holds a second Dead or Alive Championship. His plan is to lure the world’s greatest fighters to their deaths by having them go up against a powerful demon in the final round.

The following characters from the original game return for this second installment: Kasumi, Ryu, Zack, Jann Lee, Leifang, Tina, Gen Fu, Bass, Ayane, and Bayman*    (*as an unlockable character).

The following new characters are introduced:

Helena – Helena is the daughter of DOATEC’s founder and original CEO. She has joined the tournament in hopes of uncovering her father’s killer.
Ein – A mysterious warrior with amnesia. He joins the tournament in hopes of uncovering clues about his identity. In truth, he is none other than Kasumi’s brother Hayate.
Leon – Leon is an Italian soldier who wants to honor the memory of his murdered lover by winning the tournament.

*Tengu – A demon and the final boss of Dead or Alive 2. Tengu is unlockable in DOA Ultimate by finishing the game with every character.

*Hitomi (Only available in Dead or Alive Ultimate) – Hitomi is actually a character that was originally introduced in DOA3. Since DOA Ultimate was released after DOA3, she’s included here as an easter egg. Her character is only available if they player has an existing DOA3 or DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball savefile on their Xbox.

Dead or Alive 1 Ultimate

By the time the first Dead or Alive game was released, fighting games were an established genre. To make sure their game stood out, the developers of Dead or Alive made a few bold decisions. To start with, they decided to embrace cutting-edge technology. Drawing inspiration from games like Virtua-Fighter and Tekken, Dead or Alive presents itself as a horizontal fighting game, but with full 3D graphics. The game is also famous for its mature presentation. Usually when you see an “M” rating on a fighting game, it is due to blood/violence. That’s not the case with Dead or Alive. In fact, the blood in this game is kept to a minimum. For DOA, the “M” rating is earned due to controversial subject matter and scantily clad females. Nearly every female fighter in the game is presented in an overly-sexualized way. They wear skimpy outfits and have (excessively) bouncing breasts. Visuals aside, many elements of the game’s story are also just very mature in nature. For example, Kasumi’s backstory implies that her mother was attacked and raped by Raidou. Even today, such subject matter is still considered pretty taboo in video gaming.

Another thing that makes DOA unique when compared to the competition is the control scheme. DOA’s big feature is the “hold” system. Most other fighting games allowed players to either guard or attack, DOA eliminates the ability to block incoming attacks and replaces it with holds. For example, if you are being attacked by another player, instead of simply guarding against the attack, you can grab or “hold” their limb and either evade the attack completely, or strike back with a counter-attack.

The first game also takes place in arena that’s armed with an explosive floor. If fighters are thrown out of bounds, the explosives go off doing massive damage.

Dead or Alive features a number of modes of play; Tournament (aka: Story Mode), Time Attack, Versus (aka: Free-Play Mode), Survival, Kumite, Training, and Team Battle.

Dead or Alive Ultimate included all of the modes listed above, plus the following online-only modes of play: Winner-Stays, Online Tournament, Team Battle, Survival, Loser-Stays, and Kumite.

For its time, the original Dead or Alive was a pretty solid competitor in the fighting game scene. In my opinion the PS1 release is the definitive version of the game. Once upon a time, I might have given that honor to DOA Ultimate, simply because of the wonderful online options that version added. However, now that the online functionality has been stripped, DOA Ultimate just doesn’t hold a candle to the PS1 release. Online features like “Winner-Stays” (a mode of play where the winner of the match would stick around to challenge the next opponent) were a real joy to play. But without this added functionality, DOA Ultimate ends up feeling a bit lackluster. These days, unless you’re curious about the series’ origins, there’s very little reason to spend a lot of time on the original. All of the characters from the first game are available in the sequel.

Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate

As I mentioned above, Dead or Alive 2 takes everything good about the original game and makes it even better. It mirrors the hold-based combat system from the first game and adds a new twist: stuns. Stunned character cannot attack or defend, but they can still “hold”. This might not sound like much, but in reality, the stun system add a whole new level of strategy to the fighting experience. DOA2 also makes the arenas more interactive. In the previous game, out-of-bounds areas were rigged with explosives. That has been done away with in the sequel. Instead, some levels feature “hot spots”. These might consist of patches of ice or pools of water. Characters hit while standing in a hot spot are automatically stunned. Also, characters can be thrown through walls or off of cliffs – landing off screen. When this occurs, both fighters move to the new area. The Ultimate version of DOA2 also adds a few features from DOA3. These include freeform camera controls, new environmental hazards, and a slightly revamped “hold”system.

Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate features a number of modes of play; Story, Time Attack, Versus, Tag-Battle, Survival, Sparring, and Team Battle. All of the online modes from original Ultimate game are also available in DOA2 Ultimate.

In my eyes, this collection is a pretty good representation of the first two games in the series. Yes, the PS1 version of DOA is probably the superior edition when compared to Ultimate. But on the other hand, DOA2 Ultimate is light years beyond DOA2: Hardcore. With that in mind, it is fair to say that this collection is a bit of a mixed bag. Regardless, players who want to see where the DOA franchise got its start should look no further.

Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate

Version Reviewed: Xbox

Difficulty: Hard –  Both games start out with some pretty easygoing matches. But it doesn’t take long for the difficulty to start curving upwards. As is the case with any competitive fighting game, practice is key. Thankfully, both games include a practice mode that allow diligent players to practice special moves. Learning the ins-and-outs of each fighter is crucial to mastering the game. As always, the difficulty rating mentioned above is exclusive to the single-player experience. When playing against others, the challenge is entirely dependent on the skill of your opponent.

Multiplayer:  Local  (Online play was originally presented in DOA Ultimate, but has since been retired).

Story: To the casual observer, games like these are often perceived to be light when it comes to storyline. But nothing could be further from the truth. DOA 1&2 both feature some pretty deep character backstories. DOA Ultimate does a great job of enhancing this with new cinematic scenes.

Originality: It is true that most fighting games are similar. DOA tries to break the mold with a higher degree of complexity and an overall more mature tone. On top the that, the “hold” system introduces a new level of strategy to the genre.

Soundtrack: Regardless of which version you play, the music in these games is amazing. The character themes are well composed and catchy. The voice acting is also very well done and fitting for each character. DOA Ultimate also features surround sound and remixed tracks. The soundtrack for this version of the game is superior to any other. Oddly enough, DOA2 Ultimate also features a song by Aerosmith in the opening cutscene.

Fun: For me, the best way to enjoy these games is with a friend. The single player experience is well presented. And collectors will have lots of fun trying to unlock all the various costumes and characters. But in the end, nothing beats going head-to-head with another player. DOA Ultimate had the unique honor of being the first entry in the series to feature true online multiplayer. Sadly, this functionality is no longer available.

Graphics: The original home releases of both games featured pretty good graphics for their day and time. DOA Ultimate is by far the best looking version of these two games. The details in these games are just stunning. Of the two, DOA2 is naturally the best looking of the collection. Rumor has it that the developers even invested in a special physics engine to make the female characters more “bouncy” in this version of the game…

Playcontrol: Often times, fighting games can suffer from overly complex controls. That is not the case with DOA Ultimate. Both games feature a pretty simple control scheme and very accurate playcontrol. One of my complaints about the original PS1 version of DOA was that is suffered a bit from clunky, imprecise controls.  That is not the case with the Xbox version.

Downloadable Content: None

Mature Content: Mature themes, suggestive visuals.

Value: Copies of the DOA Ultimate can be found on eBay for around $20-$30. Even with the lack of online mulitplayer, this is a pretty fair price. Players hoping to collect the original PS version are likely to pay a bit more. When it comes to the Ultimate collection, you get two complete games. Each with hours of unlockable content. With this in mind, $30 is a pretty decent price.

Overall score (1-100): 70 – This is a tough one to rate. The games themselves are both excellent, and probably worth of at least an 80 out of 100. But when looking at the collection as a whole, things start to get a little muddy. Fans of the DOA franchise will find plenty to enjoy in this collection. The versions of the games included in Ultimate are both unique. So, from a collector’s standpoint they certainly hold some value. The biggest selling point for DOA Ultimate was the inclusion of online multiplayer. Of course, these days the lobby servers are closed and the online functionality is dead. This leaves players in a weird situation. DOA1 Ultimate is lackluster when compared with the PS1 version. DOA2 Ultimate is still fun, but this version borrows heavily from the third Dead or Alive game… so why not just play that game instead? What I’d really like to see is these two games included in a proper collection at some point in the future. Until then, Dead or Alive Ultimate is a decent placeholder.

Original System: Xbox   – (The original version of DOA was available on PS1,  DOA2 was available on PS2)

Available today on: Not Currently Available  (Ultimate version)    –   (DOA2:Hardcore is available on PSN)

Best Modern Experience: PS3 (DOA2)   –   (As of Fall 2020)

 

Other Games in this Series: 

Dead or Alive   –   Dead or Alive 2   –   Dead or Alive 3   –   Dead or Alive 4   –   Dead or Alive 5   –   Dead or Alive 6

Dimensions

Xtreme Beach Volleyball   –   Xtreme 2   –   Xtreme 3