- Dead or Alive has been part of the fighting game industry for over 20 years, but is often seen as a B-tier license compared to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
- The Xtreme spin-off series is known for its fanservice and revealing outfits, but the gameplay of the Xtreme games is lacking compared to the mainline entries.
- Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is considered the definitive version of the game, with improved visuals, animations, and a smoother frame rate, making it a standout in the franchise.
Debuting in 1996, Tecmo and Team Ninja’s fighting franchise has been part of the industry for more than two decades. Despite the series’ mainline entries being of mostly decent and consistent quality, Dead or Alive tends to be seen as a B-tier license rather than a direct competitor to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
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A fondness for fanservice has helped as much as hindered Dead or Alive‘s mass appeal and reputation; however, at the end of the day, any such features are merely distractions. What are the best entries in Koei Tecmo’s franchise? Are any of the Xtreme spin-offs worth playing?
Updated January 8, 2024 by Mark Sammut: Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive has been dormant for a few years, with Koei Tecmo having yet to announce plans for a seventh entry. Hopefully, that day will eventually come to pass; in the meantime, fans can revisit some of the best DOA games of all time.
As some entries have “Ultimate,” “Hardcore,” “Plus,” or free-to-play versions, only the best variants will be considered to avoid too many repeats.
10 Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune
Along with the mainline fighting games, Dead or Alive is primarily known for the Xtreme spin-off series. Sold as a collection of mini-games, this trilogy of games mainly serves as an excuse to present Dead or Alive‘s attractive cast with as few clothes as possible. Basically, it is gaming’s equivalent of anime’s beach episode. Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is the worst of the bunch, as it barely expands upon the gameplay modes of the previous entries. Sure, the characters have never looked better, but some stylish swimsuits are not enough to justify this game’s existence.
9 Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
- January 22, 2003
Silly as it might seem, Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball actually garnered a solid reception upon release. Due to a surprisingly fun volleyball mini-game and a respectable selection of cosmetic options, 2003’s game proves to be competent enough to work as a relaxing and superficial time waster. As long as someone does not expect anything too substantial or challenging, Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball can be a fun time.
8 Dead Or Alive Xtreme 2
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
- November 13, 2006
Once the second game launched, it became obvious that Dead or Alive Xtreme was relying on its cast’s assets to ship copies rather than the gameplay. Technically speaking, this is probably the best entry in the spin-off franchise since it does improve the volleyball mini-game over the previous entry. That said, any improvements are minimal, while the new mini-games are a chore to play through.
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These spin-off titles could even rival the main entries of the game series they came from.
Ultimately, very little separates the three entries in this “unique” subseries, and while they can certainly be fun in the right situation, they are not particularly good games.
7 Dead Or Alive 5 Plus
Dead or Alive 5 Plus
- March 19, 2013
With an underwhelming tutorial and an awful story mode, Dead or Alive 5‘s base game is the worst entry out of the main series. Surprisingly, despite Team Ninja’s multiple home console editions, Dead or Alive 5 is at its best on the PlayStation Vita. The most impressive part of Plus is that it manages to maintain a steady frame rate of 60 while largely preserving the great visuals and gameplay of the home console version.
Plus is not just a straight port of Dead or Alive 5 either, as Team Ninja introduces various new features. One particularly interesting addition is the Touch Play mode, which presents matches through a first-person view.
6 Dead Or Alive 6
Released in 2019, Dead or Alive 6 is the most recent entry in the main series and is also largely regarded as one of the franchise’s lowest points. So, does this mean this sequel should be avoided at all costs? Not necessarily. In terms of gameplay, Dead or Alive 6 is the ideal starting point for beginners. New mechanics like Fatal Rush and Break Gauge help streamline the action, while Team Ninja refined the franchise’s quintessential countering system to near perfection.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer component is quite disappointing as it is short on options, while the single-player campaign is a mess with a few bright spots but not many. DOA 6‘s launch version was lackluster in several key areas, and it lacked so much content that it was difficult to recommend to anyone but the most die-hard fans. The project’s monetization practices also didn’t help. While things have improved since then, the game is still rough around the edges in most areas outside its very good combat.
5 Dead Or Alive: Dimensions
Dead or Alive: Dimensions
- May 24, 2011
Published in 2011 on the Nintendo 3DS, Dead or Alive: Dimensions serves as the perfect entry point for players seeking to get a taste of the franchise’s history. Selecting a handful of separate character storylines from the first four console games, Dimensions almost comes across as a greatest-hits collection.
While it is recommended to turn off 3D to ensure a steadier framerate, Dimensions does a fine job of replicating the franchise’s trademark fast-paced action on a handheld device. The main story mode is a muddled mess, although that should almost be expected from a Dead or Alive game.
4 Dead Or Alive
Dead or Alive
- March 31, 1998
The original Dead or Alive has aged better than many of its contemporaries’ initial efforts, primarily thanks to its revolutionary countering system. Even if the sequel improved upon this mechanic, Dead or Alive‘s system was still polished and satisfying to use.
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Obviously, 1996’s entry feels rudimentary compared to its sequels or even 2004’s Dead or Alive Ultimate, but that does not lessen the brilliance of Team Ninja’s groundbreaking fighting game. Even to this day, Dead or Alive is still a blast to play.
3 Dead Or Alive 4
Dead or Alive 4
- December 29, 2005
An Xbox 360 exclusive, Dead or Alive 4 wisely opted to only refine its predecessor’s brilliant combat. When something works well, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. As the franchise’s seventh-generation debut, Dead or Alive 4 does feel like a side-step rather than a leap forward.
That’s not to say Team Ninja played it completely safe, as the countering system was modified to be less forgiving. Consequently, matches flowed better and rarely boiled down to just a string of counters. The game implemented a few tweaks to the mechanics that tend to be polarizing compared to the core gameplay of the previous entries, but it is still great by most metrics. It also has a lot of content, including a fun story.
2 Dead Or Alive 3
Dead or Alive 3
- November 15, 2001
Prior to the release of the sixth main entry, 2001’s Dead or Alive 3 was generally regarded as the franchise’s “beginner-proof” sequel. Changes revolved around making the AI easier; for example, the countering system was made more accessible in terms of damage and timing.
Along with being a great entry point for newcomers, Dead or Alive 3 is simply a confident fighting game and one of the best on the original Xbox. The sequel stuck close to its predecessor’s blueprint, a wise move since DOA2 set an extremely high bar for 3D fighters in general. Still, it does have a few neat changes, including implementing less restrictive movement. Nowadays, its lack of innovation is not a timeless criticism, and what is left is a game that plays well, looks great for its era, and has a great roster of fighters.
1 Dead Or Alive 2: Hardcore
Dead or Alive 2
- February 29, 2000
Dead or Alive 2 is fantastic in any form, but the PlayStation 2’s Hardcore edition is the definitive version. The visuals and animations were improved from the Dreamcast’s original release, while the frame rate received a welcome boost to 60fps. For a fighting game that prides itself on delivering free-flowing and fluid combat, this change alone justifies the existence of the Hardcore variant.
Most importantly, Dead or Alive 2 perfected the franchise’s trademark reversal system, which generally plays out like a (complex) game of rock-paper-scissors. Combined with visuals that have aged splendidly over the years, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore remains a wonderful fighting game that is well worth revisiting even in 2020.
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