Interview with Team Ninja and Preview of Dead or Alive 5

We’re going to give this another try. Last time out, there was a bit of criticism over my coverage of Dead or Alive 5. This time, I tried to arm myself a little better so that I could ask the questions that diehard fans were interested in. Before we get started, I’ll throw the door open wide (just like last time). If there is anything you still want to know about DoA5, hit us up in the comments and we’ll try to get answers.

With that said, I had a blast speaking with Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi (whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing before) and director, Yohei Shimbori. They took the time to show off two new characters, returning favorite Bass and another Virtua Fighter cast member, Sarah. The inclusion of Akira drew a lot of interest, and now with Sarah, it looks like the relationship between Tecmo’s Team Ninja and Sega is a tight one. I asked how the partnership came about.

“If there were no Virtua Fighter, there would be no Dead or Alive. We have a great deal of respect for that team, so we showed our prototype to Sega. They were very positive about bringing in their characters. We’ve worked closely with their development team, and it’s a very good relationship.”

One of the things that Shimbori was quick to point out is that they had to do a bit of tweaking to Akira and Sarah to give them the tools to fight in the Dead or Alive world. Sure, the two still carry the very technical pedigree of their home series, but they now have throws (something absent from Virtua Fighter) (Ed note: This could have been a mis-translation as we have since been informed that Virtua Fighter does include holds. We believe that they intended to say “counter holds.”) . Other than that, nothing has really changed, and the duo fit in well among the cast of over 20 characters. I pried a little bit at whether this was the end of the Virtua Fighter announcements. I wasn’t told, “no,” so fans should continue to hold out hope.

Of course, fans want to know what has transpired since Dead or Alive 4 was released in 2005.

“We’ve had seven years in between to prepare,” Hayashi said. “We want to bring a sense of character presence to the game; bring them to life as people within the world of Dead or Alive. That means making them part of the stages, using the danger zones and making the world more interactive and responsive to player actions within that environment.”

Dynamic stages and creative danger zones aren’t all genre fans are interested in. Online play is a significant factor. I asked about that part of the experience and, specifically, improvements to the netcode.

“We’re thinking about ways that we can bring new players online. So often, a new player will suffer a major defeat and never come back. Our main goal is create a system that allows for player growth while also giving longtime players what they want.”

They declined to speak specifically about the netcode, but did assure me that it would be significantly better than that of Dead or Alive 4.

I had a chance to see the changes to the Power Blows. These charge attacks should be used carefully, as they are easily punishable. Pulling one off, though, will trigger a unique danger zone, like launching an opponent into a hovering helicopter or through a clown’s mouth before launching out human cannonball style. In order to use these, your fighter’s health must be under 50%. In past games, these were one button consistently. Now each character triggers them differently, which prevents their use from being too easy.

I was also shown the Critical System. There are moves that trigger a Critical Stun mode, which is represented both textually and via part of the health gauge. Each successive move that connects during Critical Stun shortens the amount of time you have to pull off the next one. If you manage to use your combo-ending move just before the stun meter winds down, you’ll trigger a Critical Burst.

Bursts put enemies into an extended stunned state, from which they cannot defend or attack. This is a perfect opportunity to start charging up a Power Blow or simply get in a few more hits. Visually, this Burst looks like the character is falling over from one too many punches to the cranium. In other words, you won’t miss it happening.

I was also shown the returning Tag Mode. Stringing combos together seems fluid, and there are unique tag moves depending on which of your characters triggers them and who is in your team. There are also Tag Power Blows, which are visually exciting but also afford extra hits and a tag-out at the end.

Finally, I was shown that there are two different display schemes: casual and pro. Casual has all of the hit effects in place, while pro turns those off for tournament play. The camera is also static during Pro mode so as not to be disorienting,

This prompted me to ask them about the trends that the duo saw in the genre now that it’s making a big comeback.

“Everyone is looking for the future of the genre,” Shimbori told me. “For us, that means expanding the fighting game audience. We think that only playing to the core diminishes the audience. We want players to enjoy the spectacle. We want them to have fun with Dead or Alive 5.”

I wanted to know more, specifically about the delicate balance of making a game fun to play versus fun to watch.

“The genre gave birth to pro gamers. It’s a dream come true to see that, but more and more games are being made for professionals only. It’s no fun for new players to lose because they allowed the first hit which starts a combo that takes all their life. That only leads to games that people want to watch, not games that people want to play.”

You’ll be able to find out for yourself on September 25, 2012, if Dead or Alive 5 is a game you want to play. If so, you’ll find me online… be gentle.