Dead or Alive 5: Last Round offers more than just a cosmetic upgrade

I first played Dead or Alive 5 three years ago at E3 2012, just a few months before the game's North American launch. At the time, I was impressed by the inviting gameplay, attractive visuals, and interactive environments. The thing that really caught my attention, however, was the term that developer Team Ninja coined to describe the overall direction of the series with its latest installment: “fighting entertainment.” DOA5 would embrace over-the-top, cinematic style in a way that made it silly at times, but, true to the term, always entertaining. That still didn't force the game to sacrifice gripping fighting action, though.

Here we are, three years and three editions later, and the team behind the game is ready to write the final chapter in the DOA5 story with Dead or Alive 5: Final Round.

It's no secret that some (or most) folks aren't too fond of the fact that a fighting game almost never launches as the one definitive edition. No, usually, that takes a few years. We've seen this trend rise across many fighting franchises, and, questionable as it may be, it doesn't seem like things will change any time soon. So if you've yet to pick up one of the previous versions of DOA5, or if you're just looking to get a great fighter on newer hardware, DOA5: Last Round is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable titles you'll find in the genre.

Refined, expanded, and updated

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I got to play DOA5: Last Round at a Koei Tecmo press tour in San Francisco this week. After a few rounds against the computer AI, other press types, and Team Ninja Creative Director Tom Lee, it was instantly evident that this is the same great DOA5 gameplay with a few perks for new adopters. Almost all DLC (characters, stages, and costumes) will be available in this latest edition. That includes practically everything that was included in DOA5: Ultimate and more. Though there will be a few exceptions in terms of costumes, if you own any DLC that's not included in DOA5: Last Round, it'll all be transferred over.

Interestingly, two more characters are joining the roster this time around. Raidou, who was previously killed off, is now returning with a cyborg makeover. I played a few rounds with Raidou, and though he's a lot slower than most of the other characters, his reach is vastly superior and his power is insanely high. The second returning character is Honoka, who's small and fast but mimics other characters' moves to deliver a sort of cornucopia of offense. Because her moves are all over the place, I'm not sure if she'd be ideal for beginners, but in the right hands, her varied offense could be deadly.

In addition to Raidou and Honoka, two new stages are available in DOA5: Last Round. Danger Zone from the original DOA returns and offers up explosive hotspots where you can toss and juggle your opponents. Another classic stage that's returning is Crimson from DOA2. Filled with neon signs and decrepit alleys, there's a striking Honk Kong vibe in the Crimson stage. These two inclusions are definitely solid choices to include in what's being dubbed the “bookend to DOA5.”

If you've yet to play previous iterations of DOA5 and are wondering exactly how much content is on hand here, well, there's a lot. A total of 34 characters round out the roster. There are 26 stages in total, and there are over 400 costumes. Of these costumes, 31 were designed by fans, which should be a nice little treat.

Cinematic fighting action

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Of course, all of that content aside, how exactly does DOA5: Last Round play? As previously mentioned, this latest edition plays as well as the previous versions did. The 3D fighting is fast, heavy on the action, and massively cinematic. Interactive environments create a battlefield that's destructible and multi-layered. It never gets old juggling another fighter and tossing him off a cliff and then watching as he plummets to another part of the level below. When done right, fighting games can make for an invigorating experience, and DOA5: Last Round is no slouch. The action is flashy, smooth, and visceral.

Aside from being the final version of DOA5, also notable is the fact that this is the series' first foray into the new console space. Though it will be available on older hardware, Team Ninja decided to move forward with the series and test out the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. To be fair, DOA5 already looked really good on the previous consoles. Still, I couldn't help but notice the jump in graphical quality. It's clear that the devs used the current-gen hardware to make an already-nice-looking game look even better.

DOA5: Last Round will be available at retail and digitally on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $39.99. If you stick with the last-gen versions on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, you'll get it for an even cheaper $29.99, though availability on these consoles is relegated to the digital marketplace. All of these versions will launch on February 17. Whichever way you go, Team Ninja assures that both current-gen and last-gen versions play identically and offer the same amount of content. The differences are purely cosmetic.

A gift for PC players, but also a delay

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Of course, there's also the PC version, which marks the first time a DOA game will be available on the platform. You can download the game for $39.99 at launch or pre-purchase it on Steam for a discounted price of $35.99. If you go the PC route, you'll have to wait until March 30 to play, but some folks — particularly those who've been waiting a long time to see the series finally make its way to PC — may find that the wait is well worth it, especially if the game plays like its console brethren.

It didn't take much for me to become enamored with DOA5 when I first played it. Simply put, the game is a blast, and it's a great example of how 3D fighters can stand tall alongside their 2D counterparts. DOA5: Last Round may not reel in players who've already invested in the previous versions, but if you've yet to play it, now would be the time to do just that.