The last time we saw Dead or Alive hit a console as a fighting game was over six years ago. Since then, the series has featured mainly on handheld systems, while the focus has firmly been on the more ‘titillating’ aspects of the franchise as a whole, leading to a sharp decline of the respect that it once garnered. Nevertheless, Dead or Alive: Dimensions was a very good reset for the series when it launched on the 3DS last year, prompting the possibility of a continuation of the series, which was finally announced at the Tokyo Game Show last year.
At this point, a handful of returning characters were revealed, along with the information that the folks at Team Ninja would be trying to ‘redefine’ the fighting genre with this game. That is a bold statement to make at the best of times, and this is a genre that has been iterated time and time again. Clues to the team’s method of doing so are sparse, but a large part of it seems to stem from making the environmental stages more interactive, which certainly is a novel feature. Unfortunately, any more details are, at this time, difficult to come across.
With such a lack of concrete information, one may be inclined to wonder why anyone would propose a doom and gloom scenario for this game. For the answer, one needs only look at recent events. In 2008, series creator and lead designer of all previous iterations, Tomonobu Itagaki walked away from Team Ninja. His presence in this series is absolutely integral, and he was so attached to it as to call the characters his ‘daughters’. He may have been out of line in allowing the creation of Xtreme Beach Volleyball and Paradise, but his focus for the excellence in gameplay puts him in a rare realm shared by few.
With Itagaki gone, team leadership fell to Yosuke Hayashi, who had previously been the director of Ninja Gaiden Sigma. As they say, the proof is in the pudding and, to date, he has not managed to prove himself of being in the same league as his former boss. The first game under his direction was Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which built upon the base version and released to a marginally better critical reception. Next came Metroid: Other M, a collaborative development between Team Ninja and Nintendo, of which Hayashi was a co-director. Many fans and critics were disgruntled by what had been done to Samus, but the game still did well enough.
Now, we have Ninja Gaiden 3. And it has been a disaster. Once firmly within the top tier of the action genre, the latest entry currently has a mediocre ratings average of 55. It is the first game that Hayashi has been in full control of and many view it as a blight on the name of the hallowed franchise. To go into specifics about why this is would be counter to the point of this article. That will be Nick’s domain in his review (which we’ll likely have to wait a couple more weeks for).
But Hayashi is, once again, the man in charge of Dead or Alive 5. We already know that he’s making changes to the winning formula, and it’s entirely possible that these will tie in with his declining track record. There is reason to worry about this new game, especially as there is only six months to go until its estimated release date, marking out a relatively short development period. Although, with a comparative lack of fighting games this year, it may just survive a trial by fire, with a wide enough gulf of time between major releases to overlook whatever flaws that appear. Or not. It’ll be interesting.