Friday, May 6, 2011

Third Rate Game Play 003: Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore

Game: Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore

System: Playstation 2

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo

Player: Tony

Experience: Purchased, Played Before

The Dead or Alive series was brought into creation from the creative mind of Tomonobu Itagaki, who joined Tecmo’s development crew in 1995. While his first major project was Tecmo Super Bowl, his claim to fame would be the creation of the Dead or Alive series, which came about after he showed disdain toward the trend of fighting games at the time. The original Dead or Alive arrived in the Arcade, but ports were made to Sega Saturn and Playstation. Itagaki-san would grow up the ranks until, in 2001, he became the head of Team Ninja, the development team behind the Dead or Alive franchise.

Dead or Alive 2 would grow from the success of the original title, and Itagaki wanted to ensure that the game would be full of details barely seen in other fighters, including realistic body movements and intricate character relationships. Also an arcade-original, the game was brought to the Dreamcast in 2000, but Team Ninja was not entirely pleased by the results. After releasing multiple updates to the Dreamcast version online, a culmination of gameplay tweaks and additional levels and costumes would result in what became Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore for the Playstation 2.

Tecmo was formed in 1967 as Tehkan, originally focused on selling cleaning equipment. It changed its focus to look toward entertainment products a few years later. After some years of releasing arcade games, the company changed its name to Tecmo in 1986. Its major franchises up to Dead or Alive included Ninja Gaiden, Solomon’s Key, and Rygar.

"The world has become chaotic and disoriented since the tragic murder of Fame Douglas, the sponsor of the legendary Dead or Alive I World Combat Championship. Now it's up to you to ensure that the world returns back to a state of peace. With 12 characters to choose from, your mission is to win the championship and save the world from the Tengu Disaster that will take place at the end of the century. Your ability to battle using various fighting techniques will determine your character's fate."

Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is a fighting game which is, for all intents and purposes, an enhanced port of the Dreamcast title, Dead or Alive 2. As stated in the Background, Hardcore features a large number of additional modes and extra content so as to create the ideal package of Dead or Alive 2. Characters were made more realistic, and fighting animations were tweaked for better performance.

The game, like the Dreamcast original, has a Story Mode in which players can explore each character’s influence on the greatly intertwined plot built within the series. On top of this, there is a Versus Mode, as expected, and a team-based battle mode in which players choose two duos to fight one another rather than the usual one-on-one match. There is also a survival mode, in which players continue to fight AI opponents until they lose, trying to get the most wins in a row.

Among the original Dreamcast modes, a few new modes were created specifically for Hardcore. For one, the game added an Items Collection feature, in which players earn and can view items as they play in matches, which range from food items to small tanks. A CG Gallery section was also introduced, featuring renders of female characters in various dresses and poses for players to watch at their leisure. Other additions include an increased framerate, more outfits, and new voiceover work.

Team Ninja and the Dead or Alive franchise thrived following the release of Dead or Alive’s next title, Dead or Alive 3, which launched with the Microsoft Xbox. Following the great Western success of the series on Xbox, Team Ninja focused almost all of its energy on producing games for that console. A remake of Dead or Alive 2 was made in 2004 with online capabilities and extra content from Dead or Alive 3, renamed to Dead or Alive Ultimate. When the Xbox 360 started development, Team Ninja was there to produce a fast-paced, HD experience by the time the new system would launch. This product, Dead or Alive 4, even included a Halo-based character, "Spartan-458” or Nicole, as well as a Halo-based stage for characters to fight in, further showing the company’s loyalty to Microsoft’s brand. Following Dead or Alive 4, however, the mainline series has remained quiet, but a new iteration for the Nintendo 3DS will be available in 2011, entitled Dead or Alive Dimensions. In fact, in a similar act to Dead or Alive 4 with Halo, Dead or Alive Dimensions will feature a Metroid-based arena in which fighters encounter Ridley and Samus Aran (and no, she is not a playable character).

Perhaps the big reason for the five-year disappearance of mainline Dead or Alive games is the departure of Itagaki-san himself. On June 3, 2008, the Dead or Alive creator left Team Ninja and filed a lawsuit against Tecmo, citing that Tecmo management had not provided him bonuses he earned for the success of Dead or Alive 4. Despite this, Tecmo stated that he was fired just shortly after his departure. After leaving Team Ninja, a number of employees left as well, forming what is now Valhalla Games, producing Devil’s Third for current generation consoles.

It should be noted that Team Ninja has produced more than just the mainline Dead or Alive titles since Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. In fact, the developer created two spin-off titles using the characters of the franchise: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (and its 360 sequel, Dead or Alive Xtreme 2), and Dead or Alive Paradise for Playstation Portable. All of these games involve interaction between the unseen player and a number of the Dead or Alive women, all dressed in scantily-clad bathing suits. Beyond the Dead or Alive franchise, Team Ninja produced the newest renditions of the Ninja Gaiden series: Ninja Gaiden (and Ninja Gaiden Black, its rerelease) Ninja Gaiden II, and Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS. Both mainline Ninja Gaiden games were enhanced for Playstation 3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.

After rebooting the development team and shifting its focus after Itagaki left, Team Ninja released a Nintendo-collaboration project for the Wii: Metroid: Other M. Otherwise known as Project M, the game is a third-person shooter which puts Samus into a space station under attack from an unknown entity, facing her past and her future along the way. The game emphasized the story surrounding Samus’s early years in the Galactic Federation, and the game retained some Metroid gameplay elements while shifting toward Ninja Gaiden in some regard. Its reception has been met with some controversy among fans, but we will not delve deep into that here.

Tecmo grew slightly as a result of the Dead or Alive franchise and its success, but its financial problems grew as other projects failed and franchises ebbed. The company faced not only Itagaki’s lawsuit but another involving 300 employees who had not received particular wages promised by Tecmo. Square Enix offered to purchase the company, but Tecmo would later choose Koei as a merging partner. Together, in early 2009, the companies formed Tecmo Koei Holdings, which would oversee the works of both developers. Tecmo as a developer was disbanded in late February 2010, only to be reestablished mid-March as a game developer under the Tecmo Koei publishing label.

Currently, Team Ninja, headed by Yosuke Hayashi, is working on Dead or Alive: Dimensions for Nintendo 3DS and is believed to be working on Ni-Oh, a massive action game taking place in 16th century Japan. Rumors say that a 3DS Ninja Gaiden is in the works, as is Dead or Alive 5. However, as of this article, only Dead or Alive Dimensions can be confirmed. Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore director Itagaki, as stated above, is working on Devil’s Third for his new development company Valhalla Games, with THQ sitting as the current publisher.

In this third part of the Playstation 2 launch title series of episodes, we had to face the realization that we were going to be playing the game with minimal fighting game skill. Either way, the game was in our possession, and playing it would, therefore, be necessary.

In this episode, we explore through the game’s Story Mode with both Zack and Ayane. Afterwards, we bring the battle to each other in Versus, where you get to see which of the two is the least horrible at fighting games. We also watch a dual match between two computers to better show off the fighting styles of gamers who know how to play the game. Following that, we look at the Items Collection mode and take a gander at the CG Collection, sure to create awkward moments for everyone.

As a launch title, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore was probably the quickest way to happiness for gamers. While it lacks a lot of flourish, the game plays quickly and offers plenty of interesting locations to demonstrate both artistic and technical beauty from a new generation of gaming. Being the only fighter at launch, it probably also benefitted catching the at-the-time niche console fighter market. Comparing it to the rest of the launch lineup, it seemed to have more polish but still failed to deliver when it came to content.

The amount of additional modes is welcome, but at the same time I feel that some modes were added strictly to pander to particular audiences. The CG Collection was clearly not a gameplay addition of high merit, nor was the Items Collection feature. The tweaked animations and additional graphical and audio upgrades were much more acceptable, in my opinion.

In today’s eyes, though, one has to compare it to the improvements made to both the genre and the Dead or Alive series in general. It stands as the improved version of what became the base of all Dead or Alive titles, and it would act as the doorway through which the fighting series left the arcades in favor of console online battling. I guess your mileage will vary with your enjoyment of DOA2: Hardcore, especially considering its lack of additional content compared to the swaths of characters and additions in today’s fighters (MvC 3, SSFIV, even DOA4).

If you like fighters and have a friend to play with, DOA2: Hardcore might be worth the pocket change. Otherwise, there are probably better Dead or Alive experiences out there for you to enjoy.

3RM Says: I'm not sure how you can be wanted Dead or Alive for a second time.
Not to mention that I'm apparently wanted to be Hardcore, too.

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