Dead or Alive 3 review
Living For This?


I've never been the greatest fan of fighting games, what with the likes of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter feeling so sluggish and shallow. However, 3D variants like Soul Calibur II showed me that sometimes developers understand what fighting games should be all about.

So, when I came across some demo videos of the Dead or Alive series of fighting games in action I thought to myself "wow, that looks kinda cool". It looked fast-paced with plenty of combo options. In other words, it seemed to match up with what I consider requirements for any fighting game. Later on down the line I happened upon this game - Dead or Alive 3 - sitting on the shelf in one of my local game stores. Well, I was hardly going to pass up this opportunity. Game was purchased and brought home. Having played it extensively I now feel ready to share my thoughts.

Obviously it was watching videos that got my interest initially, so it should come as no surprise that Dead or Alive 3 is a treat for the eyes. It is obvious that the development team has put a lot of work into making it look good, and it shows as the Xbox's graphical capabilities are put through their paces.

The character models are amazing. There is a lot of detail in the bodies and clothing. For example, you can see the denim pattern in Ayane's default black costume. That is how well they have done things. Their hair has individual strands and their eyes look real too. They have also put a lot of effort into the animations, resulting in some fluid movements that look completely natural. There is no awkward shifting of limbs and even their hair flows around properly, taking into account that it shouldn't be cutting through solid objects.

The stages are amazing as well. You have such variations as ruins, a snowfield and a temple. The designs are varied and intricate, making them not only realistic but stunning. Various stages even go so far as to introduce special effects like snowstorms, blazing torches or fish swimming in background aquariums. The way lighting dances around is also done very well too.

Aren't they cold?

The soundtrack on offer works well to compliment the game too. Each stage has its own music track that fits in well with the setting (such as the snow stage music being bleak in nature to match the stage). There is a good selection on offer too, so there should easily be something for every taste. Sound effects tend to fall under either the sound of fist/foot connecting with body, smashing noise or some form of electrocution. Can't say it's that varied but they do their job well enough.

Voice acting is in force too, although like DOA:XBV there is no option for English voice acting. There are some nice clips here, although perhaps a little limited in nature it isn't too bad. One possible issue is the translations. Now, I'm no expert on the Japanese language, but I don't think some of these translations match up with the actual spoken words. Nii-san is a term for brother or sister (since Kasumi refers to Hayate with it then it would be brother in this case) but the subtitles don't put brother. Perhaps the strangest occurrence is Tina's entrance dialogue. She actually speaks in English for it with "Hey, come on". However, the word "loser" appears out of nowhere in the subtitles. It's sort of stupid trying to beef up a script when anyone can see the spoken dialogue doesn't match. If you're going to stick with a Japanese script at least keep the translated subtitles close to the original language.

Fighting in DOA3 is strictly in the third dimension. Moving your fighter around the screen is done via the analogue stick or the directional pad. You can move forward, backwards and sidestep around your opponent. Initial thoughts were how sluggish movement was. Running required a double tap, otherwise characters would creep around. It does force some thought on movement but not all that fluid as I first hoped.

Every character is capable of punching and kicking (Y and B by default). Each character can also block (X). Some moves require pressing some of these buttons together, so these are assigned shortcut buttons as well. The most prominent one is the A button, which is assigned as a throw and is block and punch together.

Various different attacks can be performed with directional input with appropriate button presses. Even throws have numerous variations based on directional input. Each character has a rather extensive movelist, although chances are you will only memorise a select number of moves from a few characters. I mean, who would actually remember 80+ attacks? That said, some attacks are generally variations of other attacks that require a slightly different input (a three hit combo consisting of two initial punches may end in an extra punch, a low sweeping kick or a powerful roundhouse kick depending on the final input). I suppose my complaint here is that inputting actions seems a "by the numbers" affair where you follow sequences rather than having the freedom to mess around with possible combos.

It's worth noting how varied the combat styles are. Oh sure, you get a couple that don't seem to differ greatly (Ayane and Kasumi play fairly similar with their combo attacks) but mostly it is varied enough to work. Playing as Bass is a whole different experience to fighting as Christie.

Most throws are simple throws. Press the button to toss your opponent. Throws can't be blocked although many can be ducked under (whereby some throws are designed specifically to catch crouching targets). Some throws are special though, which are the combo throws. If Ayane presses towards her opponent twice and performs a throw she will perform an initial slam into the ground, then if the throw button is pressed at the prompt she will jump and land on the stricken opponent for extra damage. The actual combo throws differ, and while some add extra damage there are some throws that require a second input to cause damage in the first place.

The X button is to block, and like other fighting games you can stand or crouch to block attacks, and can therefore still be hit (standing guard won't protect your feet). It's a solid system that offers more than just a mindless button-bashing experience. DOA3 also offers a counter system that is both cool but ultimately overly complicated.

Pressing one of the three directional inputs away from your opponent (up-back, back, down-back) in conjunction with the X button produces a counter move where, if successful, will not only negate your opponent's attack but also deliver an unavoidable and unblockable counterattack. Sounds awesome but it is very difficult to pull off and one of the major contributors to the lower score. First you need to time the counter so you catch them as the attack is about to hit. That's hard enough, but you also have to use the right kind of counter. Trying to use a high counter against a low attack will result in you still getting your butt kicked across the stage. Considering the fast-paced gameplay it is near enough impossible to know which counter to use. It is possible to pull these off in the middle of an enemy's combo attack, but again it's difficult to do it right.

Unsurprisingly, the computer at higher levels seems rather adept at pulling off these counters. It is possible to reduce the amount by mixing up the types of attacks you use, but it is still slightly frustrating all the same. Fail to mix things up and expect most of your attacks turned back at you. I suppose it works as incentive to vary your approach, but it is pretty unnatural to be so skilled at that aspect and the payoff for successful counters can be abnormally huge.

There is a solid challenge from the computer overall though as, aside from countering, they will sidestep around, execute varying combos, slam you into walls, attempt throws and numerous other variations. There is also a solid concept of a difficulty curve. There is a proper gap in difficulty as you move up, so the earlier opponents are more easily knocked about and less aggressive then their later selves. It's just the counter system that tends to ruin things here.

Still, all this sounds good and all, but it's not really that massively different from what other 3D fighters try to offer. It's definitely great content, but is that all? No, it isn't, as there are two gameplay mechanics that separate this game out from the rest, and these features work well.

The first is the interaction of the stages. These aren't just barren arenas to fight in. The snow field has rocks that opponents can be slammed into. One arena has the walls electrified to punish whichever poor victims are blasted into it for massive damage. Perhaps the most interesting trait comes from the multi-tiered stages. Some stages start off in one part, but with the right attacks you can knock the opponent off the stage and fall down to a different area. In this case the other fighter will jump down after them, although will receive no damage on landing, unlike their victim. This interaction certainly makes battles more interesting.

That probably hurt.

The second mechanic is tag battling. Some modes allow you to charge in with a two-person team. In this type of game you have an extra command at your disposal - the switch-out command. This is effectively done by pressing block, punch and kick together, although since that is awkward the black button is assigned as the same input.

So, why switch characters? First of all, the character not in play slowly recovers their health, which can provide a lot of tactical play. Beat up the opponent and then switch out to a fresh character to recover. The second is that this opens up a lot of combo attack opportunities. I can start a three punch combo with Ayane then switch out and follow up with a four hit combo with Kasumi before they've had a chance to recover.

There is an initial problem with such a system though, which is how awkward it is to switch characters. As mentioned previously, pressing three buttons at once is awkward, but the black button is in a horrible position anyway. If you try to switch during a combo strike by the time you've moved your thumb down to the black button, pressed it and moved back up again the enemy has already recovered. Thankfully, a quick visit to the controller configuration menu and setting the command to the left shoulder button (which inexplicably isn't used for anything - why not set it to that in the first place?) makes the system work perfectly. No points deducted for this since it is so easily fixed by the player.

DOA3 offers a wealth of game mode options for players to dive into, which are: Story, Versus, Time Attack, Survival, Tag Battle, Team Battle and Sparring. Tag battling is an option in all except story and team battle.

Story mode is designed to be the "meat" of the single player experience. Player's pick a character and work through a series of fights to the finale. Unfortunately, story mode is the weakest link here.

The first problem is a generally lack of difficulty. I was able to breeze through this game mode with every character, including those I hadn't even bothered practicing with. I just tossed out random combo attacks and actually won, with only needing to continue a couple of times.

The second problem is the duration of battles. DOA3's gameplay is fast-paced enough for battles to be over quickly, and story mode matches only consist of one round matches too. The unique stage play mechanics have difficulty being put to use when fights are over so quickly.

The final battle also takes on a strange twist that really doesn't work. In this fight the camera moves to a position behind your character'¦ well, slight to the left or right of your character's rear and close to the ground. While this may look dynamic it then becomes virtually impossible to judge the distance between you and your opponent and it comes off as awkward. Thankfully the final boss is a wimp, otherwise this would be a nightmare.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that a mode that proclaims itself as the story mode doesn't manage to convey the story very well at all. Every character's backstory is found in the instruction manual, which isn't so bad I suppose. There is some solid detail in there.

During story mode there are two cutscenes that are designed to move the story along, but some don't make much sense as you're struggling to figure out what connections characters have or meanings. They don't really go on long enough to develop a proper understanding in some cases, and while that is good for keeping the gameplay flowing it doesn't help a player understand the reasons.

The biggest flaw comes from the endings, as many of them make no sense at all. You have a couple of endings that work nicely (such as Tina's and Zack's) but most of them just seem so totally random and they lack a proper conclusion. Kasumi has something about ninjas chasing her and sitting in a tree and Helena appears to go swimming. What does any of that have to do with the reasons they entered the tournament? I would not call those endings as nothing is seemingly resolved.

Versus is simply your standard two player gaming experience. Set the options, pick the characters and choose a stage. As usual, this mode demonstrates that fighting computers can't ever beat fighting a real human player. The gameplay comes across well, so if you have an extra controller and a buddy then you're likely to spend a lot of time battling it out here. Tag battling allows for four player action, although it is still effectively only two fighters at a time.

What a lightweight.

Time attack puts you in a series of 2-round fights in an attempt to set the fastest time. For singles battles you must work through eight matches, while tag battling puts you through five matches. The difficulty increases with each fight you complete, so it is natural to understand that the final battle is somewhat of a nightmare to overcome.

Survival is a test that throws fighters at you one after the other to see how long you can stay fighting. Each fighter knocks the difficulty up a notch too in an effort to see you out. This mode takes place in the same arena every time too, with explosive walls.

I must say that this mode is a definite treat I wasn't expecting, thanks to two elements. First is that when one opponent is defeated the replacement jumps into the arena while you're still moving about, which keeps the action moving along fluidly. The second are the items. See, the goal isn't just knocking out as many opponents as possible. It's about point scoring too. Successful attacks will rack up points, but so will collecting items. Opponents drop items either when they are knocked out or if they are struck with a down attack while lying on the ground. Of course, picking these up while avoiding getting pummelled isn't easy, so you must prioritise between items and staying alive.

Survival mode does offer some form of health regeneration though. Defeating opponents restores some health (actually, quite a substantial amount, although not quite enough to fill practically the whole bar). In addition, some of the items dropped are food items that will also restore health. If in a tag battle then switching out will still restore health at a slow pace too, although bear in mind that only the active fighter receives health for KOs and foods collected.

Tag Battle is the only one that doesn't offer a singles option. For multiplayer battles this is really no different than tag battling in versus, aside from the computer taking over for any spots not taken by a human player. However, the big difference here is that a single player can also dive into this mode for a set of five battles against computer opponents.

Team battle is simply an extension of the standard versus, except that the single player can go against the computer in this mode too. Here you pick a team of up to 5 members, then pick the arena and fight it out. No health is restored here and, like survival, a knocked out character is quickly replaced by another team member while the action is still ongoing. This isn't tag battling though, so you can't just switch out by choice.

Sparring mode is basically the practice mode. You can pick your character(s) and your opponent and an arena. Then since both fighters have unlimited health you can practice as much as you want. You can even ask the opponent to do specific actions. Stand and do nothing is the default action, but you can also ask them to guard, perform a basic combo and even act as a normal opponent. Command lists for the character you're controlling can also be accessed here.

An interesting feature is the exercise option. This is not available if you're in tag battle mode, but in singles play you can select this. Here button input instructions appear on screen and wait for you to follow them. Your opponent will also act for certain moves to allow you to perform them (they will attack when you need to perform a counter and will duck if you need to do a move against a crouching opponent). This is an excellent way of getting used to how a character handles and what they can do exactly.

In terms of unlockable extras it is a little disheartening. Generally, the extras take a while but they don't seem worth it. There is one extra fighter, although he is essentially just an alternate form of Hayate. Each character also has a third unlockable costume. Now, maybe this is just personal preference speaking, but I tended to prefer the costumes characters start with over the unlockable ones, so I often felt the effort I put in to unlock them was somewhat wasted.

DOA3 isn't a bad gamme but it's not a particularly good one either. Elements like tag battling and stage interaction is cool but this is offset by the story mode being weak and the counter system being awkward. There are other fighters to invest in first but if you've finished with them then DOA3 might be worth a visit.

was this review helpful to you?
1 member likes this


0 thumbs!
Stalagmite Jun 13, 08
I think the problem with the endings, is that you have to:

Have played Dead Or Alive 2
Play Dead Or Alive 4

Nonetheless, this is a very good review. I might actually go play it now.
In order to comment on this user review you must login
About the author
Based on 15 reviews
Write a review