Title Dead or Alive
Developer/Publisher Tecmo
Type 3D Fighting
English Version Available
Reviews #1, #2, #3

Review #1 by Kenneth Lee

The 3D fighting genre has become a very crowded arena in recent years. Unlike the earlier days of fighting, where there was clearly only one 'king of the hill' (Street Fighter II series), nowadays, the fighting fans have separated and branched off to many different games all defined by a particular style of fighting. For 3D fighters, the most popular games (and styles of play) are roughly broken into the "Tekken" camp and the "Virtua Fighter" camp. Almost by default, many Saturn owners are Virtua Fighter fans (since all the die-hard VF'ers bought a Saturn to play VF2 and Fighters Megamix), and many Sony PSX fans are Tekken fans (since Namco has brought their Tekken series only to the PSX). That's not to say that there aren't any VF fans owning PSX' and vice versa for Tekken fans. The reason this issue is brought up is that Tecmo Japan has seen fit to bring over their infamous arcade VF-style fighter, "Dead or Alive" to the Sony PSX, and it is effectively the first time (sans Zero Divide) that PSX owners get to play a 'Virtua Fighter' type game on the PSX. For those who don't know, Tecmo's "Dead or Alive" bears a striking resemblance to Sega's "Virtua Fighter 2" in more ways than one. One of the key reasons for its similarity is that Tecmo is one of only two 3rd party developers that licensed out Sega's Model 2 Arcade board technology (responsible for Sega Rally, Daytona USA, VF2, etc.).

Late last year, Tecmo brought over a near-perfect port of their fighter to the Saturn, and it was gorgeous: 60 fps, hi-res, no slowdown. They established themselves as the premier developer for the Saturn, by making arguably the best 3D fighter on the system (at least in terms of perfect ports). When it was announced that "Dead or Alive" was coming to the PSX, all eyes turned to this game - For this was the true test of '3D power' between the PSX and Saturn - it was the same game and it was already arcade perfect for the Saturn, what more could they do for the PSX one? Well, after seeing the gorgeous, 60 frames-per-second, Hi-resolution, fully Gouraud-shaded, transparency-laden, light-sourced insanity that is "Dead or Alive" PSX version, we now know that the PSX is clearly the 3D king (as if that needed proving), that "Virtua Fighter 2" would've been even better on the Playstation, and that above all this, Sony PSX gamers finally get the first true great fighting game of 1998.

Tecmo has chosen to go the way of Square's Tobal 2 in terms of graphics. Opting for a more simplistic, yet smooth, look with Gouraud-shading, the characters in "Dead or Alive" are the Best-looking 3D models ever on the Playstation, after Square's mighty Tobal 2. Rather than simply doing a direct port, the PSX version of DOA is truly excellence: They added Gouraud-shading to the fighters, added 'hit sparks' for more emphasis on big hits (which works very well and looks much better than Tekken 3's pixelly 'blood' sparks), more characters, more secrets, more moves, and light-sourcing from the heavens - seeing the sun rays having actual lighting effects, or seeing your character light up when an explosion occurs when you land in the Danger Zone (more on this later). The game now looks much more 'alive' and vibrant, and folks, you are looking at one of the all-time great 3D fighters. Tecmo Japan has now established themselves as one of the most talented game developers out there - after shocking Saturn owners with arcade perfection, now they have stunned us lucky PSX owners with an even greater achievement. On the downside, the backgrounds are 2D, like Tekken, SFEX+, and Tobal 2, while the playfield remains 3D, but that is minor, and actually, the 2D backgrounds work really well. Zach's beach stage is simply gorgeous to look at (as are most of the other stages' backgrounds). The animation for the characters are ultra-smooth and throws almost rival Tekken's in terms of 'power' and 'emphasis' - seeing Tina's "Japanese Ocean Bomb" in motion is a perfect example of Tecmo's prowess.

One final note on the graphics, ahem, to answer all those curious out there: "Yes," Tecmo's infamous (and well-animated ^^) Breast physics are intact and better than ever! For those who don't know, -this- (breast physics) is the exact reason why Tecmo's "Dead or Alive" gained fame (and notoriety) among the gaming community. All the female characters in this game (1) have mammary glands that have a unique propensity to defy the laws of physics; and (2) show their panties from time to time. As a buddy of mine put it: "It's for the Hentai in all of us" (^^;). Ultimately it doesn't really matter, as the game itself (thankfully) is just as eye-catching and fun, if not more so ^_^.

Aurally, Tecmo chose to do away with most of the original game music and gave us completely new tunes and some remixes of the tunes that did stay. The tunes they kept were also the best ones in the game (Character select, Raidou's BGM), so that was good. And perhaps one other area that gets a huge boost are the voices. On the Saturn (as with 95% of all their fighters), the voices get muffled and most of the time sound like, 4-bit, 11khz, mono-recorded garbage. But in the PSX version, what we get are crystal clear voices, and they've even given us a whole Extra set of voices and win taunts in the game! How cool is that?

Another area that deserves mention are the cast of characters. Unlike another fighting game that came out recently (ahem, something featuring a sorry cast of bestial fighters and some vile mutated 'female' that looked better as a boar), "Dead or Alive" features a solid cast of -cool- looking fighters such as Kasumi, a Kunoichi (female ninja), Jann Lee, Chinese martial artist who's a tribute to Bruce Lee, and Ryu Hayabusa (he's the original ninja in Ninja Gaiden (!) which Tecmo made back in the '80's). Exclusive to the PSX version are 2 new characters, Bass, an American wrestler, and Ayane, a secret character. Bass deserves special mention. On the surface he sounds extremely lame, but after you see just a fraction of his moves and special throws (!), you'll soon come to realize that he is one of the coolest additions that Tecmo has made and by far, one of the most fun characters in the game.

Most importantly it is the gameplay that makes "Dead or Alive" standout the most. Controls are simple, with holding 'Away' on the joystick to block (a bonus for all of us who hate the 'Block' button), a "Hold" button, "Punch" and "Kick." At first it seems to be purely VF - beginners will undoubtedly hit 'Punch, Punch, Punch, Kick' all day long. But only after learning the "Hold" button does one realize just how amazing DOA is. The "Hold" button is basically a 'Parry' / Counter button. If someone throws out an attack, you just press the "Hold" button at the right time and you will -deflect- their attack! Sometimes this will result in a small counter attack, like a push back and hit, other times it'll just knock away their attack and leave the opponent vulnerable for a brief split-second. Since everyone has this "Hold" command, the end result is just Awesome: Like those classic fight scenes in a Bruce Lee movie, you can get exchanges where you throw out a big Roundhouse kick, the enemy deflects it, he throws out a spinning backfist Punch, you -catch- his arm before it connects and toss it to the side, and then you throw out a Low sweep, which he parries and pushes you aside and charges you, which you sidestep and then, BAM!! You connect with a huge shoulder ram that sends your opponent flying! It is -This- kind of cool, awesome, classic, Kung-fu type crazy exchanges that'll always have you coming back for more! Two fights are truly -Never- the same. Since you can Parry any attack (provided you have the right timing), just mixing up your attacks with Parries, and throws and then attacks again, will add huge replay value. Speed-wise, the gameplay is fast and furious (but not mindless).

After playing this, Tekken 3 will seem to be slugging along at its current pace. DOA also features a "Danger Zone" that you can turn on or off. Basically, instead of the normal ring outs, DOA's rings feature an outside border area that can be fought on normally, but if anyone gets knocked down, the surface will 'explode' and send them flying up into the air. Thankfully, you can also roll out of the way before you get hit by it, so that's good, and in the end it just adds a bit of a different spin to the typical fighter. Unfortunately, it also helps open up the victim for the only downside to this game: Air Juggles. Like Tekken 3, but not as bad, cheesy Air Juggles are in this game. Again, since the Parry button is a regular command for everyone, it isn't so bad, but it is still annoying at times, when you get ~70-80% of your health removed due to an Air Juggle combo.

In conclusion, Tecmo's "Dead or Alive" is beyond expectation, as we get one of the prettiest looking 3D fighters to have ever-graced the Playstation, as well as one of the most simple, yet extremely innovative, gameplay features as well: the Hold button. Arriving just before the most over-hyped fighter of the year, "Tekken 3," fighting fans should check out "Dead or Alive."In terms of production value, Namco's "Tekken 3" will be astounding - screenshots of the opening CG movie look stunning and the little extras and goodies will be great as well. While this subject will be better served in a forum, one statement needs to be said: At its highest form, "Tekken 3" (and the series as a whole) is about Air Juggles. Horrible character balance, pathetically cheeseball Air Juggles and tick-fights, make "Tekken 3" an 'Ok' fighter at best. Fun, but not the best, in terms of gameplay at least, IMHO. Fighting fans looking for a great, solid, and deep fighter should look to the current best fighter of 1998: Tecmo's "Dead or Alive."

Final Scores (out of a perfect 10):
+ Gouraud-shading helps add a great smoothness to all the fighters.
+ Gorgeous 3D fighters (with excellent models and textures)
+ Smooth animations for the moves and throws.
+ 60 frames-per-second, Hi-Resolution
+ 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
+ Cool, cleaned up Intro movie (better than the Saturn version)
- Broken end credits movie (missing/skipping frames compared to 
  the Saturn version).
- Slight polygon breakup in certain situations (very minor).
+ Competent (solid) sound effects for hits and throws.
+ Good variety of rockin' tunes.
+ Crystal clear voices for the win taunts.
+ Excellent voice cast, featuring top notch seiyuu like Sakura 
  Tange, and Yumi Touma
 (Deedlit (Record of Lodoss War), Urd (Oh My Goddess!)).
+ "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).

"Fighting fans looking for a great fighting game should check out Dead or Alive. One of the all-time greatest 3D fighters on the PSX, right behind Square's godly Tobal 2, and Capcom's Street Fighter EX+alpha."

Review Copyright © 1998 by Kenneth Lee. Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions or criticisms about my review. Thank you very much for your time.