Above the thumping bass at the Infusion Lounge and over the excited cheers of IPL’s I’m a Fighter Dead or Alive 5 finals, it was still easy to detect the giddy relief in the voice of Director Yohei Shimbori. Dead or Alive 5 is here after seven long years. With much trepidation in the fan community, largely generated by the absence of series creator Tomonobu Itagaki, Team Ninja had a lot to prove. While we’ll have our full review shortly, I can tell you from my time with it so far, that it is an engaging and enjoyable experience both to play and to watch.
I’m relatively unskilled, especially compared to those that showed up on Tuesday night to duke it out for a $10,000 grand prize. Heck, I couldn’t even survive my first round in a media member tournament (though, the ringer who won seemed to have had some practice). That also means that I did nothing but gaze at the grand prize.
My conversation with Shimbori-san that night wasn’t the first. I had the chance to chat with him and Localization Director Peter Garza at E3. This time out, we had a chance to talk more about Shimbori-san’s history with the series, what it was like to take over a much-loved franchise and what lies ahead for Team Ninja.
Michael Futter: Congratulations! This is the first time I’ve had a chance to play the final version, and I can’t wait to play more. How do you feel now that the game is out after seven years?
Yohei Shimbori: I am elated right now. Overflowing. I wanted to make this kind of game. The fans have been waiting for this game. Now that we’re here and it’s finally out, I couldn’t be happier.
MF: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started in the series, because I know you were on the team long before this.
YS: I originally worked on Dead or Alive Ultimate, and then I worked on Dead or Alive 4 as the main combat designer. After that, there was Dead or Alive Online and Extreme and a few smaller projects, including Dead or Alive Dimensions. I was the director of Dimensions, and now I got to be the director of Dead or Alive 5.
MF: How was working on Dead or Alive 5 different than working than DoA Dimensions, since that was your first project in a lead role. Did your approach change from that first lead role to Dead or Alive 5?
YS: For Dead or Alive Dimensions, I made that with the producer (Yosuke Hayashi), and we were focusing on getting new players into the Dead or Alive series. It was really more of a beginner-focused game. With Dead or Alive 5, we focused more on delivering a solid fighting game experience to the existing Dead or Alive fans while making sure we kept it accessible to a wider audience.
For Dead or Alive 5, when we talk about focusing on the core fans, we really wanted to make sure that the game pleased the existing fans that have been supporting the series for all this time. We needed to make sure that the solid core fighting system was there and also that it was a fun game to play. We also wanted to really up the entertainment aspect and deliver the blockbuster stages and really take our existing strength and take it up a notch. Part of that was revamping the character artwork and the models. Again, they have to please the core audience, but also be open and draw in a new audience.
MF: After seven years between DoA4 and DoA5, there was a bit of skepticism in the community, especially after Itagaki-san departed. You were watching the message boards and were you aware of the trepidation, or did you put it out of your mind?
YS: First off, yes. I was definitely seeing that feedback. Even some of my friends who were Dead or Alive fans asked me, “What’s going to happen to the series now that Itagaki’s gone?” I was definitely aware of that sense of unease. Even before I worked on Dead or Alive 5, I worked with Itagaki. I’ve seen how he works, and I know how he thinks. I’ve seen a side of him that most people have never experienced. In making Dead or Alive 5, I saw a reflection of that soul or spirit in the game, and I could see some of the things that he was thinking and the decisions that he was making in the design. You could tell that from the design of the game.
We knew that we had to make a game that resonated with fans. We needed to keep the things that worked. There are other things like the character models. We needed to revise them now, and if we didn’t, there would be no future for Dead or Alive as a series. We didn’t want to change it completely. We wanted to stay true to the characters he created and the concept, but still make them better and updating them. We didn’t want to throw everything out.
MF: You’ve mentioned about support after the launch and DLC, but specifically, is Bayman going to find his beret?
YS: [Laughs] With regard to DLC. There will be DLC, and a lot of it will be things that we heard from fans that they want to see. We didn’t have time to put them on the final disc version, but now we have a little bit of time to bring that out as DLC. We should be able to share plans for that in the near future. We hope that Bayman finds his beret (which he typically wears), he seems a little cold, a little distant… maybe a little bit angry.
MF: With the seven years between DoA4 and DoA5, any thoughts on next gen? Are we going to have to wait seven years for the next entry?
YS: We’re not going to wait seven years, we don’t want to wait seven years. Obviously, we have a bunch of ideas. With regard to next-gen hardware, there was stuff that we couldn’t do technically this go-around. That is definitely something that we hope we can merge with whatever spec comes in the next generation. Maybe we can pull of those ideas. We definitely have more ideas for more fun stuff. Hopefully, that merger of tech and ideas will make it into the game of the future.
We’ll have our review of Dead or Alive 5 up in the coming days.