[While this may seem like an opinion piece out of left field, this comes from finally playing Dead or Alive 6 which I picked up for a steal during PlayStation’s summer sale earlier this year combined with me now being closer to the age of telling kids to get off of my lawn and resurrecting the Aging Gamer]
For over two decades and a span of consoles, Koei-Tecmo and Team Ninja have maintained the Dead or Alive series as their flagship fighter. My first exposure to it was back in college precisely 20 years ago with their PS2 edition of their second entry – Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. And I won’t lie it was fun as hell. It was before online matchmaking lobbies when multiplayer was that the loser passed the controller while the winner stayed on. The game engine provided fast and smooth gameplay with a counter system that was fresh and fun in the land of fighters, enabling delight for those that mastered it and frustration for those on the other end.
The problem – well not the “problem” per se when I was 19 by virtue of me being 19, was that as game engines allowed for better graphics, Koei-Tecmo started focusing more on fanservice than anything else. Different modes of play or win conditions unlocked more outfits for the fighters, which is a pretty common mechanic, but it was easy to see that the majority of them were for the female fighters, and sometimes got more scant as the payer progressed. This combined with clandestine options in the settings to um… alter the degree of chest-related physics took the fanservice over the top. For example, in DOA2:HC, the jiggle factor was controlled by a setting called “age” which could be set from 1 to 99. 1 was close to human while 99 was, well… not. In the latest DOA6 the setting is called “softness” if you feel like removing yourself from reality. They even had a spinoff series in Xtreme Beach Volleyball where the DOA ladies participate in beach themed activities in scant and scanter garb, essentially turning it into a seaside gravure game. As a reference to how ridiculous these got in their later iterations, you cannot buy them in the United States.
Maybe it’s just the maturity that comes with 20 years of aging but my reaction has since gone from “haha funny” to “holy hell that must really hurt.” Come on Koei-Tecmo, grow with us. Sure it’s toned down for DOA6 in the sense that the unlock-through-gameplay costumes are far more conservative and I’ll admit, cool, but some of those DLC packs (how about “Sexy Bunny” as a start?) kind of change that up a little bit.
It becomes a more complex issue when you look at how the characters have aged (huuuuge air quotes here) over the last 20 years. Take a look at Kasumi for example, arguably the most popular character in the game. According to game canon, she is 17 years old in the first four DOA games. In DOA5 and DOA6, she’s 19. And that’s pretty consistent for the female characters. Then there’s Marie Rose, introduced in the later games, who is advertised as 18 but animated like she’s 15. It’s pretty ridiculous, especially considering she also appears in the Xtreme Beach Volleyball spin-offs. This aside, these characters’ ages just don’t make sense. While there are still some young male characters they’re at least in their 20’s, and a good chunk of them are in their 30’s and 40’s like Bayman and Brad Wong. That aside, by all characters only aging 2 years from first to last, what kind of character development can possibly happen, and why should they even have faces at all?
And don’t get me started on Ryu Hyabusa. He’s 25 in DOA6, and I’ve known him since Ninja Gaiden in 1988.
But I digress. Well a little.
Financially, they’re making more money on DLC than they are on sales of the actual game, which they offer a limited version of free of charge. These DLC packs and season passes add different themed outfits for the characters (again, mainly for the ladies), and can set the completionist back over $500. Some of them are swimsuits from their XBV franchise, some from mashups with other games, and some are even destructable to show more skin while taking damage. Some are downright “why on earth would someone wear that?”
If only they took some of this cash to develop the game some more, because it could be soooooo much better. The fighting system is fantastic, and is still very fun. Their strike/hold/throw “triangle” system of gameplay creates great matchups and exciting fights, and even provides the ability to enjoy AI vs AI matches. It has a story, kind of, which is to say the story mode is far expanded over the near non-existent story modes in previous games which amounted to a couple of very short cutscenes per character. Even players that have played every game in the franchise will agree with me though that those dregs of story are entirely convoluted and don’t stitch together without some invented headcanon to bridge the gaps. Dead or Alive 6 maintains the gameplay fun factor though, and is very easy to pick up both for folks that have been playing for years as well as those new to the series.
I know fighting games are abandoning a single player experience to be more viable for e-sports, and that’s why I started moving away from them a while ago. But what I want is to take the DOA franchise’s near-perfect gameplay and insert it into something that has a story and maybe some character development. While DOA characters have remained unaged, they’ve also remained completely stale and one-dimensional, and I for one think that there’s potential here to make a fighter that develops these characters into a rich story that combines ancient Japanese culture with sci-fi technology, which they’re trying hard to merge together already.
Maybe it doesn’t even have to be a fighter. If money can be put into sexy spinoffs, why not another game based in the same universe? I loved the idea of resurrecting Ninja Gaiden into the modern series in 2004, and there were some great games in the PS3/Xbox 360 era. These all starred Ryu Hyabusa as well as other characters from Dead or Alive. If the canon is already there for all of this happening in the same universe, I would love to see something like this happen with the full character spectrum.
DOA6 announced their last DLC pack this past April, sparking rumors of a DO6 special edition or even a DOA7. So let me see something set 10 or 20 years into the future. Let me see how Helena is trying to hold DOATEC together. Let me see the results of their various covert experimental projects and continued conflicts with Mugen Tenshin. By aging the characters we could see some actual character development, which would also allow Koei-Tecmo to bring a new generation of young sexy characters to life. Let go of a bit of the fanservice and build around that gameplay system.
I’m an aging gamer, and in the midst of the conversion to cranky old man. But the thing is while I wish I only aged 2 years in the last 20, I’ve actually aged the full 20. I know there’s something to be said for staying young and catering to that market of players who can’t or can barely legally drink, but we’re all growing around you, and I think there’s something here for all of us. There has to be some sort of change because otherwise, this franchise is lost. At least for players that want a game and not a peep show.
.. or age them a bit and just sex EVERYONE up, including the men.