The Xbox One launched with a pretty killer fighting game – that little exclusive known as Killer Instinct, to be precise. Microsoft has implemented innovative pricing strategies with Killer Instinct, allowing players to use one rotating character for free, and then buy either individual characters or a season pass containing a group of characters. But how would a Japanese company handle piecemeal character delivery in a fighting game?
The answer is Dead or Alive 5: Last Round from Koei Tecmo, recently released on Xbox One and 360 and PlayStation consoles (the Xbox 360 version is simply an update for DOA Ultimate). Last Round is the latest evolution of Dead or Alive 5, with all the characters, stages, and modes from the previous versions of DOA5 plus some new characters and features. Fighting fans can buy the whole game outright for $40 (a steal), try a free demo with four characters, or grab the Core Pack of eight fighters for $10.
Does Last Round stack up with fighting game greats? Find out in our detailed review with video!
1. Fighting mechanics
Although Killer Instinct and Dead or Alive are both fighting games, the former plays "two dimensionally" while the latter plays in three dimensions. Thus they look and play quite differently from each other, to say nothing of the difference between Western and Japanese art styles and character designs.
Like most 3D fighters, DOA5 keeps its button layout simple. Attack-wise, punch and kick each have but a single button (whereas each gets three buttons in Killer Instinct). Pressing different directions on the d-pad or stick at the same time performs a different punch or kick, as do different combos of other buttons. Thus the gameplay adapts quite well to modern consoles' four face buttons without sacrificing any depth.
The other two face buttons are Throw and Hold/Guard. Throw is obvious, but Hold is where DOA5 gets deep. Hold it to block, or just move the d-pad/stick back. But tap Hold and the proper direction on the pad or stick at the exact time an opponent attacks and you'll catch his or her limb and perform a reversal.
Knowing when to perform a Hold and which direction will defend against the incoming attack requires plenty of skill, understanding of the opposing character, and fast reflexes. Too much for my blood, to be honest! But the Hold system is basically DOA5's equivalent of the Street Fighter III parry system. High level players will love it, while lower level players will hate when the CPU or better players use holds to turn their attacks against them.
2. So many characters
If you want to get by on the cheap, you can grab just the Core Pack of eight fighters and then maybe pick up another character or two you're interested in. But buy the full game and you'll get 34 characters, including every character from previous versions of DOA5, four guests from SEGA's Virtua Fighter, and two combatants who are new to Last Round. The lineup is quite diverse and evenly split between men and women.
On the downside, the sole black male fighter Zack comes across as a bumbling caricature of a black person during his story sequences and pre- and post-fight sequences. His goofiness is played for laughs, and it's not like there are many black people in Japan for developer Team Ninja to base Zack's portrayal on. But still, I wish Koei Tecmo's American branch could help them improve the character.
The first of the new characters is Honoka, a Japanese schoolgirl. She wears traditional high school outfits and displays a cheerful personality. The other new fighter Raidou actually returns for the first time after the original Dead or Alive, in which he was the non-playable final boss. Formerly a scary Akuma-type man, Raidou now wears cybernetic enhancements that make him look rather silly.
3. So many modes
Last Round offers a multitude of modes to keep players busy, starting with Story mode. The story menu consists of multiple pathways dotted with battles. These battles star a variety of different characters, giving players a taste of the game's cast and some of their relationships with one another.
Gameplay-wise story will entertain you for a few hours, but don't expect a compelling narrative. The writing is a few steps above the Resident Evil series, but still largely nonsensical. Comic-relief characters bumble around making jokes that aren't funny, and every little interaction results in a fight. But the death of a certain character did catch me off guard!
Other single-player modes include Arcade, Time Attack, and Survival. None of these has story-based endings (like you might expect from Arcade), but they're all good fun. Each offers the choice of fighting in solo or tag battles. During tag battles, both sides can swap back and forth between two fighters at will. Tag throws and power blows involving both team members give tag an extra dimension over solo play.
If two characters per battle aren't enough for you, Team Fight ups the ante by letting each side pick seven characters and fight until one team gets exhausted. Team Fight is just a single 7-on-7 throwdown as opposed to a more involving mode like the others though.
All non-Story modes allow the player to select from eight difficulty levels. Unlike Mortal Kombat, the easier difficulties really are easy. I love that because casual players can select an appropriate difficulty and actually do well against the computer. Experienced players will want to pump the difficulty up a bit though.
Whichever non-Story mode you're playing, whether it's Arcade or even Free Training, by default you'll receive "Throwdowns" as you play. These are online challenges from other players. When a Throwdown notification pops up at the bottom of the screen, hit the View/Back button to accept it and instantly jump into an online match.
Throwdowns are brilliant because you needn't sit staring at a matchmaking screen when you want to take on other players. Just hop into a single-player mode and the challengers will come to you. And you never have to accept a Throwdown, so they won't mess you up when you feel like playing solo.
If you like Achievements, you'll be pleased to know that nearly all of Last Round's 48 Achievements can be unlocked by players of any skill level.
You'll get an Achievement for practically everything you do, including checking out your fight record, changing the music for a stage, taking photos of the fighters, and much more. Even the "fight 100 online battles' Achievement isn't a big deal because the fights are so short and fun!
Only two Achievements will prove too difficult for mere mortals: completing all Tutorials and all of a character's Combo Challenges. Both require players to complete tons of moves and combos with very little advice on timing or what they're doing wrong.
Unfortunately, Last Round has a "Platinum" style Achievement for unlocking all other Achievements, so that's three Achievements you won't get if you're not good at complex combos and maneuvers.
5. A Last Round of thoughts (and video review)
The Dead or Alive series is well known in gaming circles for the exaggerated bounciness of its female characters' bosoms and their frequently revealing outfits. Last Round brings all that to the table, but you can select a new "Natural" setting that tones down the bounciness to realistic levels or simply turn it off completely.
Another sticking point for some gamers is the vast quantity of DLC outfits available for purchase – mostly carry-overs from the previous Xbox 360 version. You could easily go broke buying expensive outfit packs, but the full game already provides a ton of outfits (many which must be unlocked by playing single-player modes with each fighter). Just ignore the DLC if the pricing bothers you, or wait for a sale.
I hadn't played a DOA game in a long time before Last Round, so this one caught me off guard with its quality. The character models all look fantastic and the backgrounds overflow with color. Many have destructible walls that reveal whole new areas, adding a ton of excitement to the fight. The huge arsenal of characters, stages, and modes – as well as smooth online play – make the full game a fantastic value.
Last Round belongs in every fighting game fan's library. If $40 is too rich for your blood, at least grab the Core Pack and start kicking some butt!