The Big Game: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round

Now one of Koei Tecmo’s flagship franchises, Dead or Alive started out as the result of a bet.

Finding Tecmo (as it was then) in a financial slump in the early 1990s, programmer Tomonobu Itagaki bet the publisher’s president that he could create a hit IP. Named Dead or Alive for its decisive status in the company’s future, the fighting series took off – and almost two decades later continues to boast a fervent fanbase.

In fact, the DoA community is so passionate that the series’ developer, Team Ninja, was convinced to bring the franchise’s latest instalment – Dead or Alive 5 – to PS4 and Xbox One almost solely on the back of fan support.

“Dead or Alive 5 had already been released for PS3 and Xbox 360, but we heard a lot of requests from the public saying that they would like to play on PS4 and Xbox One after the hardware launched in the West,” recalls Yosuke Hayashi, Team Ninja leader and producer for the title.

“This is the primary reason for the launch of Dead or Alive 5: Last Round.”

Yohei Shimbori, director for the title, adds that the team decided to further reward avid players.

“Simply porting the game to the current generation of hardware means nothing to us or our fans,” he explains.

“So, we enhanced the graphics accordingly – exploiting the upgraded hardware specs – and added new characters, stages, costumes and hair styles, which we based on requests from the DoA community.

He says that making the game with the help of fans counters any concerns about having to convince existing DoA 5 owners to purchase the title again.

“Last Round was born in response to our fans’ voices. So we are confident the game is something they are very keen on.”

Last Round was born in response to our fans’ voices. So we are confident the game is something they are very keen on.

Yohei Shimbori, Team Ninja

Last Round isn’t just about rewarding existing fans – it’s also designed to attract brand new players to the franchise.

One way in which Koei Tecmo hopes to do so is via a free digital ‘upgradable demo’ of the game on PS4 and Xbox One entitled ‘Core Fighters’.

This includes four playable characters (eight on Xbox One) for use in any of the title’s modes and stages, with the exception of Story Mode.

Players can then purchase additional characters and unlock Story Mode for their favourite fighters – meaning they only pay for what they want.

It may seem like a move made to battle against the growing might of more popular genres such as the first-person shooter, but Hayashi retorts that DoA’s audience has never been bigger.

“We have a much larger player base than ever before, and consumer interest is much hotter,” he reveals.

“We don’t feel any pressure from other genres because you can have all different kinds of fun playing fighting games; we know it and users know it. So we are confident.”

As well as marking DoA’s debut on PS4 and Xbox One, Last Round is also the very first entry in the series to make it to PC, via Steam.

Asked why the series has waited almost two decades to make the move, Shimbori highlights the growing acceptance of PC as a mainstream platform.

“The adoption rate of high-spec PCs and related peripheral devices has traditionally been lower than consoles,” he comments. “But these days, the perspective of PC gaming has changed drastically and we expect more fighting games will be released for PC users.”

Despite this, he warns that one of the PC’s most active scenes – the modding community – should be careful not to turn off publishers looking to make their debut.

“We have to deal with mod issues from an IP holder perspective,” he explains.

“We would like to ask PC users to play our game in good moral and manner. Otherwise, we won’t be able to release a title for PC again.”

Consumer interest in Dead or Alive is much hotter than ever before.

Yosuke Hayashi, Team Ninja

One reason for Shimbori’s concern over PC modding may relate to one of Dead or Alive’s most infamous traits – a roster filled with scantily-clad, titillating women.

A staple since the series’ induction, many have taken against the franchise’s approach to female representation.

And the question of taste could once again rear its head with Last Round.

But Hayashi remains steadfast with regards to his team’s attitude.

“Our characters, male and female alike, are created in a fantasy setting and are using extraordinary abilities to compete with each other in a clearly light-hearted, over-the-top universe,” he states.

“Their abilities are very balanced and we want to present all of them as dynamic, strong, sexy and confident.”

He adds that Last Round’s multi-regional release should be also appreciated by detractors. 

“What is important to remember is that Dead or Alive is a series developed in Japan, where the interpretation of beauty is very different to that of Europe or the US,” he says.

“Our philosophy is to try and make a game that our fans can enjoy, both in the East and the West, and regardless of gender."

Our philosophy is to try and make a game that our fans can enjoy, both in the East and the West, and regardless of gender.

Yosuke Hayashi, Team Ninja

Last Round is the first fighting game in a year filled with blockbuster brawlers; Mortal Kombat X lands in April, with Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 rumoured for release in the back half of 2015.

Dead or Alive may not be as big as those franchises. But it’s still highly popular among fans, and thanks to Last Round’s pre-emptive place in the fighting game calendar, Hayashi concludes that the title will be able to hold its own.

“We think those fighting games are all good and we don’t intend to compete with them,” he says.

“Frankly speaking, being the first fighting game on shelves is good. We hope that people who have never played the game pick it up and give it a try.”