Counting Up to Number 5 – Dead or Alive Feature #1

Dead or Alive

One of the most underrated fighting video game series of all time is coming back for its fifth iteration. The game has been in development for 7 years. Hardcore fans of the series thought that this sequel would never see the light of day since creator Tomonobu Itagaki left the helm as leader of Team Ninja, a development team within TECMO, known for the bloody Ninja Gaiden series and the bouncy Dead or Alive fighter.  Dead or Alive 5 will be released to a new generation of gamers in September of this year. The series started with a bang and grabbed the attention of gamers with its beautiful female characters, chest physics, and of course, the unique counter-hold system and interactive 3D environments.

To predict where Dead or Alive series is headed, one must know the history of the series. In 1992, Itagaki was hired on to program a new game that would turn around the imminent fate of a faltering TECMO. This would be the only chance that TECMO would have to survive as a game development company, as it was the game that would make the company dead or keep it alive.

The History of Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive 1

Dead or Alive 1 first hit the arcades in 1996 on the Model 2 arcade board, the same one that Virtua Fighter 2 ran on. Both games had a similar graphical interface and hit mechanics, but that was where the similarities ended. Dead or Alive might have looked like Virtua Fighter and ran on the same arcade board, but it improved upon Virtua Fighter in many key ways.

One of those ways was the introduction of a counter system that focused on holds that one can use to fend off an opponent’s punches and kicks and retaliate in kind. There was a clear emphasis on risk taking by countering rather than safely blocking an incoming assault. One would hold high to catch an opponent’s high/mid punches and kicks, and hold low by pressing the hold button and down on the directional pad to catch low punches and kicks. Some characters just parry the incoming attack out of the way and input any attack to receive frame advantage, while other characters parry the move and automatically deliver an attack animation that deals damage. Of course, countering too much does have its consequences if one’s opponent decides to perform a throw. The player performing the counter will take extra damage if an opponent decides to throw. Knowing this, players can decide to hit the opponent, instead, which would in turn beat out the throw.  This is the heart of the Dead or Alive series—its “yomi” system. Within this system, counter-holds beat out kicks and punches, which beat out throws, but throws have priority over counters, and the cycle is complete.

Think of it as a “rock, paper, scissors” style of fighting in which one is constantly trying to outguess the opponent next move. No two matches are the same, and no two opponents will fight the same way even if they use the same character. An opponent could be a great hitter but poor at using counter-holds and vice versa. Some characters in the game such as Bass and Tina, a father-daughter wrestler duo, deal more damage by utilizing multi-part combo throws could be more appealing to players who like to grapple opponents.

In addition to its refreshing counter system, Dead or Alive was one of the first games to have explosive ground environments called “Danger Zones”, in which characters who fall into the outer edges of the stage ground are exploded into the air and are left exposed to combos by the attacking character. Regular combos go up to 5-hits, but after bouncing an opponent off of the danger zone combos can be extended into 8 or more hits.

The roster included 8-playable characters:

  • Lei-Fang-a Chinese college student
  • Jann-Lee-a Jeet Kun Do fighter
  • Gen-Fu– A martial arts master
  • Tina-A rebellious female wrestler
  • Kasumi-A female shinobi
  • Bayman-A commando and assassin
  • Zack-A Muay-Thai fighter
  • Ryu Hayabusa-A super ninja
  • Ayane and Bass are playable on the Playstation and the DOA+++ version in the arcades


Each character had a distinct fighting style ranging form Tai Chi Quan to American wrestling. What set Dead or Alive apart from the other fighting game series was its personable characters, which had anime-like expressions and winning poses. Characters had gigantic eyes and vowed to obtain vengeance for their siblings.

Underneath the playful nature of the game lies a more somber story of DOATEC, a mysterious organization that held the Dead or Alive World Championship with the motive of recruiting the best fighters to use their genes for genetic experiments in order to create a biotech weapon. The ancient art of Ninjitsu  practiced by ninjas like Kasumi and Hayabusa are contrasted against the technologically advanced DOATEC organization and their scientific experiments. Although this entry laid a great foundation for a great fighting game, Dead or Alive was mostly known for its beautiful graphics and faster fighting style, but was not yet regarded as a legitimate fighter. The game did not appeal to the fighting community at large until the arrival of Dead or Alive 2.

To Be Continued…

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