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Dead or Alive
PublisherTecmo Disc(s)1
DeveloperTecmo RAM CartNo
Players1-2 OriginJapan

by Ken Lee (klee@interplay.com)

Lowdown:

    There have been very few games in the Saturn's recent history that have caused people to really take notice. Sure there was VF2, NiGHTS, and Panzer Dragoon series, but those all came out many moons ago. One area that has always been a hallmark for the power of a game system has always been in fighting games; particularly 3D fighters. While Playstation owners are fortunate enough to be blessed with the godly "Street Fighter EX+alpha" and Square's "Tobal 2," Saturn owners have had to put up with 3D fighting games that range from mediocre to utter garbage, such as "Last Bronx," and "Toshinden URA," respectively. Well not anymore. Along comes Tecmo Japan's "Dead or Alive," and it is easily THE BEST 3D fighting game for the Sega Saturn! If you thought Sega's "Virtua Fighter 2" was an impressive port, Tecmo has brought us a perfect translation of its arcade fighter, "Dead or Alive." This is one game that everyone (including Sega's AM divisions) should take notice of! Tecmo has seemingly done the impossible by bringing us a 60 frames-per-second, Hi-resolution, super-slick, NO slowdown 3D fighting game that is just as fun (if not more so) than VF2! Unlike the horrible flicker and slowdown-plagued "Last Bronx" (from Sega's own AM3 division no less) Tecmo delivers us the most graphically impressive - and FUN - 3D fighting game for the Saturn!
From the time you boot up the game and see the new, cool 3D movie intro, you know you're in for a treat. Then at the title screen you realize that this is more than just a 'port': Tecmo has given us SIX different modes of fighting, and an enhancement to each mode which I'll get to later. There's "Arcade" mode, "Time Attack," "V.S.," "Survival Mode," "Kumite" (where you can fight a set number of battles from at least 30 up to _100_ battles!), and "Training Mode." The "Options" menu lets you configure the basics like Difficulty, Life (small to unlimited, ala VF2), Bouncing Breasts, etc. ^_^ Eventually Extra Options open up ('Easter eggs') from playing (more on that later), and as you can see, it seems Tecmo has given us Saturn owners just about everything you could ask for.

While the cast of fighters seem slim (8 regular fighters and 1 boss), they are all very well done and they each have a distinctive array of moves. And personally, I'd rather have 8 cool fighters than, uh, 20+ fighters where only half of them are any good anyways (can you say "Fighter's Megamix"?). The cast includes: Kasumi, a female 'ninja' with lightning fast moves (like VF's Sarah); Jann-Lee, yet another attempt at a Bruce Lee-type character; Lei-Fang, a girl from China who plays like a cross between Pai, Lau, and Akira; Bayman, a Russian grappler (no, he doesn't have a mohawk and he's not covered with bear scars ^_^); Tina, an American grappler - finally a female grappler done right! (Can you say "Mary" from Tobal 2?); Ryu, Tecmo's own original ninja; Zack, a tough brawler who looks exactly like Dennis Rodman (yuck); and Gen-Fu, who's a powerful and somewhat boring 'typical' Chinese old master - something like an old Akira, mixed with some Shun Di. The Boss, Raidou, is the typical 'Mr.Badass'-type, sort of a 3D Akuma or Heihachi with way too much power.

Graphically, when you see the first match you will truly Know the Power of your Saturn! The fighters are Huge, and the 3D polygon models are very well-made. The only thing that comes close to rivaling DOA's gravity-defying breast physics ^_^, are its smooth fighting game animations. All of the characters animate smoothly, and Tecmo took great care in adding a much needed 'Emphasis' on many moves - basically, one critique that many people had against VF series was it's lack of 'punch' or 'emphasis' when power moves were done (mainly throws). This is one area where the "Tekken" series has always stood out in. Again, DOA delivers, as many of the throws and even basic moves exhibit more 'flair' and 'emphasis,' and what you end up with is not only a beautiful-looking game, but a beautifully animated game as well. When you see Tina's "Japanese Ocean Bomb" throw, you'll know that Tecmo knows what's up. And finally, Tecmo even gave us a great End Credits movie, where you're treated to nice renders of the fighters, and then just when you think it's over, a full motion movie comes on, and while not graphically ground-breaking, it exhibits some of the finest animation to ever hit a home system; when the fighters are executing their moves, the motion on them is so smooth it almost rivals "Soul Edge"s intro.

Musically, Tecmo has given us a solid group of tunes, mainly rockin' guitars mixed in with plenty of synth. It's cool and compliments the fighting. One of the best songs is the end credits song, and it's a bummer that you can't select it while fighting. Sound effects-wise, the punches and kicks are still a bit on the weak side (something that still plagues all Sega fighters), but they are better than VF's and in the end, they get the job done. Some of the sounds (from throws and certain moves) are done very well though. The voice samples are still muffled, but nowhere near VF2's horrible 2-bit sounding garbage. Most of them are very well done, and when you see the end credits you realize that many top-class Japanese _seiyuu_ (voice actors) contributed to this game, such as Sakura Tange, and Yumi Touma (voice of "Deedlit" in "Record of Lodoss War," and "Urd" in "Oh My Goddess!").

As all fighting fans know, 'Gameplay' is what makes or breaks a fighting game. It doesn't matter how nice it looks - if it doesn't play well, then nothing else matters. It is here that "Dead or Alive" breaks away from the VF series and stands out. The biggest change is that there is No Block button! Just holding 'away' on the joystick will defend.

Instead we have 3 buttons: "Hold," "Punch," and "Kick." P and K still do the same things as VF, but the innovation is the "Hold" button. Basically it is a button that allows you to 'swat away' or 'push aside' incoming attacks, and gives you the chance to Counter. This is the one thing that could put all 3D fighters into the 'Next Level.' What the VF series has been accused of by its non-fans is that it is very 'stagnant,' most of the time one person blocks and while the opponent does Punch, Punch, Punch, Kick (or something like that). Then he blocks as the other person does his 'punch, kick' sequence. And it goes that way the whole battle. What Tecmo delivers is the Potential to have Cool, Wild, Dynamic fights, that look like you're watching a good martial arts flick! Imagine throwing a punch, and the opponent 'Deflects' it, then he comes back and throws a low Roundhouse kick, you grab his leg before it hits you(!) and toss it aside, and you come back with another big punch, only to have him block and deflect it and then BAM! Someone lands in a big hit and sends the other person flying! THAT is what "Dead or Alive" delivers! At the same time, it can be played just as a 'VF-game' if you prefer. DOA's outstanding achievement is in it's very unique "Hold" button and the HUGE Dynamic quality that it creates. Basically no 2 matches will ever be alike (even against the computer)! And when you push aside an attack or your leg gets tossed aside, etc. all of it is animated so smoothly that it is almost perfection.

While DOA seems to have it all, it is also in the area of gameplay that DOA's greatest weakness lies. Maybe to compensate for the "Hold" (parries, etc.), Tecmo's fighting engine seems to have a _very_ minute 'lag time,' when executing moves. Note: this is not something very noticeable (nothing like the crap that is in the Dragonball games, etc.), but something that is different from the VF series. Whereas VF2/3 have very _tight_ control (when you hit a button it comes out instantly), here there seems to be some kind of tiny delay that might throw you off at first. But after spending a good day or so with it, the gameplay becomes second-nature and now, I have no problems with the engine. Another area that is problematic is the learning curve. This is a Fighter's Fighting game. The learning curve is High. By that I mean that even though you may have played it for a while, a 'button masher' can come in and still have a very high chance of beating you. This is perhaps DOA's most problematic area: By giving you the "Hold" button, anyone with decent timing can have the potential to knock away most of your moves and basically every fight is a 'challenge.' That is good, and it is bad. All you Street Fighter fans know that unlike VF (or DOA), if you are a Good SF player, you _know_ that you have a high chance of taking out any 'rookie' player. Not so here. I know it's still early, but I still don't feel like I have the 'confidence' to take out a newcomer 'easily.' We held a DOA 'tournament' over the weekend, and as a case in point, I had 2 VF tournament-level players playing, and they both lost to a 'button mashing' friend of mine (who's _never_ played VF or DOA before!). Another related point is when you fight the computer: The matches are _very_ short, averaging around 10 seconds a fight! I consider myself an average VF player, and I've learned all of Kasumi's moves. Here's a typical example of what happens (on Hard, Very Hard especially): I meet up with Gen-Fu for example. First round, he _Perfects_ me! Next round I ended up _Perfect_ing him in less than 8 seconds! Third round he beats me again. I continue, and beat him easily in 2 rounds. "Raidou" the boss is very tough (and cheap), and after pummeling me for 4-5 matches straight, I Perfect him TWICE, both in under 7 seconds! What?! I let my VF buddies try it out also, and many similar things happen. In some matches they get rolling and just steam roll past a CPU for the first round, and then 2nd round they get completely trashed. It's really problematic.

Finally, there are air-juggles galore, and on the higher difficulty settings the cheap air juggles that the CPU does (and that you can learn) are just that: Cheap. The CPU easily does 60-95% damage juggles and combos. Not cool. What adds to the air juggling is an 'innovation' by Tecmo called "Burst Zones." Basically every arena you fight in has a normal area to battle, and then it is surrounded by this 'Burst Zone.' If you get knocked down onto these areas, it will explode and send you flying into the air, completely vulnerable to the opponent to air juggle you to death. Also, as aforementioned Tecmo included a new mode called "Burst" mode. By holding down L+R shift buttons when selecting the mode you want to fight in, the whole battle arena becomes a "Burst Zone." In other words, if you fall _anywhere_ at anytime, you get popped up, ready to be air-juggle bait. It is 'fun' for a few matches to check out, but in my humble opinion, it is utter garbage. Let's just say that 100% 'Death Combos' are all over the place. That's a Huge 'no no' in my book. Also, interestingly enough, it is in this 'extra mode' that the only slowdown occurs - basically from so many explosions and the camera being too close. In the end, I'd recommend just skipping that mode.

In regards to the 'Goodies,' let's just say Tecmo gave everyone a very cool incentive to keep playing the game again and again ^_^. There are alternate costumes, ability to adjust ring size, change the announcer's voice, turn off the Damage Zones (or Burst Zones), etc.

In conclusion, Tecmo Japan's "Dead or Alive," despite its flaws, is THE Best 3D fighting game for the Sega Saturn, and should be something every Saturn owner should check out (if not buy). I have not been so impressed with a game since Square's godly "Tobal 2." This game just screams "Quality," and the 60 frames-per-second, lightning fast, Hi-res fighting action should please any fighting fan.

Category Comments
Graphics: 10
  • + Gorgeous 3D fighters (with excellent models and textures)
  • + Smooth animations for the moves and throws.
  • + 60 frames-per-second, Hi-Res
  • + Excellent blend between the 2D backgrounds and 3D fighting arena.
  • + Nice breast physics ^_^
  • + Very nice alternate costumes.
  • + No Slowdown in any of the normal modes
  • - Slight polygon breakup in certain situations (very minor).
Sound/Music: 8
  • + Competent (solid) sound effects for hits and throws.
  • + Good variety of rockin' tunes.
  • - Muffled voice samples for the win quotes (not as bad as VF though)
Gameplay/Control: 8.5
  • + "Hold" button takes DOA to the 'Next Level.' Breaks away from typical VF gameplay.
  • + "Hold" button allows you to have awesome 'kung-fu movie' style fights/exchanges.
  • - Air juggling. 100% air juggling death combos suck.
  • - Crap AI. Cheap.
  • - Excessive damage at times (especially in Arcade mode). Some _single_ moves do 90% damage! (You can adjust your life bar, though).
Lasting Power: 8  
Overall: 9

  • A Masterpiece.
-Ken




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