Interview: Creative Director Tom Lee discusses Dead or Alive 5: Last Round

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is set to launch soon and close the book on the latest entry in Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja's famed 3D fighting game franchise. After getting some hands-on time with the updated title, which will mark the series' debut on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, I sat down with Team Ninja Creative Director Tom Lee to discuss the past, present, and future of DOA.

GameCrate: Judging by the title, DOA5: Last Round, is it safe to assume that this is the last version of DOA5?

Tom Lee - Team NinjaTom Lee: Absolutely. This is the bookend to DOA5. We've had three other iterations of that: the original DOA5, DOA5 Plus on Vita, and up until now it's been DOA5 Ultimate, which was also a co-release in Japan as an arcade system. This is it. We're leaving it with DOA5: Last Round — bringing it to current-gen systems and PC.

GC: What's been the fan response to this version and previous versions of DOA5?

TL: You know, it's been great. It was a seven-year gap since DOA4 and DOA5 — a really long time. One of the things we wanted to accomplish two years ago when we launched DOA5 was to come back not only as the DOA that people know — you know, beautiful women and awesome environments — but we wanted the fighting game community to take the game seriously. And I think in the last two-and-a-half years, we've gotten that respect and grown in the fighting game community in ways that we never imagined.

I think one of the great things and one of the great receptions that we've had is that fighters from other franchises are taking a second look at DOA. We just announced our DOA5: Last Round tournament — it's called Battle Royale 2015. It's 12 majors leading up to the finals at NEC in December. EVO is one of the stops for us as a qualifier for the majors. We've really made headway in that. So not only is DOA5 a pretty picture, but it's a solid fighter.

Sorry if that was a long answer to your question.

GC: It's perfect! Actually, that brings me to my next question. You said that DOA has grown amongst the fighting game community. How much growth have you seen from the very beginning of the series up to DOA5? And what do you expect in regards to that growth with the next installment when that inevitably comes?

TL: To give you an idea, when we launched DOA5, the DOA fighting game community was rather small or dismal at best. They would have, maybe, 15-man, 20-man tournaments. At this point, to have most of the major tournaments throughout the country putting us on their roster as an official title on their tournament circuit and having 80, 90 people showing up to our tournaments — we've never had those numbers — I think that we've grown that quickly in two-and-a-half years is a testament to not just DOA5, but just the fans themselves. They have really become our ambassadors. It's been an interesting ride for us to see that.

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GC: Obviously, since this is DOA5: Last Round, you have to look to the future. Do you have maybe some top-secret DOA6 plans that you may or may not be able to share?

TL: (smiles) Unfortunately, I was advised by my PR staff that I am not allowed to speak about anything other than DOA5: Last Round, so we have to keep the focus on this.

GC: Alright, well, I might as well just ask, because this is a hypothetical, but the big thing in DOA5 — and I remember this when I first checked it out at E3 for the first time — was “fighting entertainment.” That was the big hook. Personally for you, what would you like to see as a hook for DOA6? Purely hypothetical.

TL: I mean, if I used one word it would probably be “cinematic.” DOA is always pushing that and trying to go for that and getting to that point where fighting games look like you're watching more than just a match. Because we have interactive stages and so much of the environment plays into it, and the way we design our camera angles, we really always try to give the users a cinematic experience.

And also, we take the audience into consideration. That's one of the things that I think is scoring big at tournaments. It's not just great for players but for the audience watching as a viewer. It looks great, and I would love to see this continually progress toward a more cinematic experience.

GC: Do you feel that maybe the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are perfect for that ambition to come true?

TL: This is hardware that lends itself to that. Obviously, we're just scratching the surface of its capability, so once we figure this thing out — once we really get in their and start exploiting its full potential, it'll be really interesting. We're going to have a lot of fun, I'm sure.

GC: Just one last question for fun. For you personally, what's your favorite DOA? And what's your favorite fighting game outside of the franchises?

TL: Well, this might sound kind of corporate, but I'd have to say my favorite is DOA5: Last Round right now. I just think it really is the best of all the series combined. It brings all the spectacle that DOA is known for. It obviously has all the eye candy and beautiful characters, but I also think that in terms of a true fighting game, it's the most balanced, as well.

What was the second part to your question?

GC: Aside from DOA, what other fighting games do you really like?

TL: Am I allowed to say that? (laughs)

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GC: (jokingly) Not necessarily a game you like more than DOA5, but you still like this other game.

TL: I mean, I won't lie, I'm looking forward to the next Mortal Kombat game that's coming up. I have a lot of respect for those guys. Obviously, as fighting game fans and as fighters, we have to forever give kudos to Capcom fighters. Always.

The other guys — Tekken and all these other guys — they're our competitors in the 3D fighting space. So, you know, we respect them, but we fight for our recognition with those guys.

Oh, one thing I do want to say is, you know, in regards to the fighting game community, I know the movement or the trend in the last handful of years has been just dominated by 2D fighters. And again, no disrespect to the 2D fighters. They are the guys that set the standard, but I really want to put it out there to not just our community but to the 3D fighting community that if we are going to get our place in the FGC and maybe in the greater e-sports world, I think 3D fighters need to figure out a way to unite.

I want to speak with community heads or development heads and publishers of other 3D fighters and think of ways that we could empower ourselves to have our own scene within the fighting game community.

GC: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!

TL: Sure!


DOA5: Last Round will be available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on February 17. The PC version is slated for release on March 30. For an in-depth look at the game, check out our hands-on preview from Koei Tecmo's recent San Francisco media event.