Tokyo Game Show 2018 (TGS) took place between the dates of September 20th to September 23rd in the Chiba prefecture outside Tokyo, Japan. It was my first time attending the event, and I had the fortune to visit it during the press-exclusive days of the 20th and 21st in addition to the public days that followed. I came to the event with one goal: To play as much Dead or Alive 6 that I could at the Koei-Tecmo booth. I had previously had the chance to try an earlier demo during the Evolution 2018 (Evo) championships event this past summer, and was looking forward to seeing what had been updated.
I focused primarily on the new character to the series, Diego, at the Evo event since my preferred character (Bass) was not available. I had heard murmurs from the other players that they found Diego to be too strong in such an early build, and wanted to see how he might have been changed. While it's too early to say whether a character is over or under powered, I would have to say that Diego isn't an over-powered character. Based on my experiences with the character at both events, and granted some "character bias" may be in effect here, I would say the character certainly has good throw damage, a good 1PP, and a nice 1K poke. However, he doesn't have much of a good critical game. That is to say, outside of a good Fatal Rush string, he doesn't have any real way to guarantee launchers or extend critical.
Evo was a more hectic and fast-paced event due to the demonstration booths being set up in a way to promote playing the demo with another player. Players would be escorted to stations in a two-man group. This is in contrast to the experience I had at TGS where people were being escorted on a single player basis. A lot of that design is most likely due to a combination of the atmosphere and the culture surrounding the event, especially on the Press-exclusive days. What this meant for me as a fan of the series since I first played Dead or Alive++ was that I would spend most of my time alone with the build. Trust me when I say trying to manage two controllers or arcade sticks to test frame specific timings is a difficult task. Furthermore, the TGS build did not offer an option to see Move Details, even though the option had been announced in the months prior to the event. This limited what I was able to figure out about the build.
The public days didn't fare much better, as the language barrier made it difficult to express desire to test or show things of the system. I had to also keep reminding myself that this was the first time 99.9% of those in attendance were even getting a chance to experience Dead or Alive 6 in any form. The players weren't afforded the opportunities I was by having not only the three days at Evo to get a baseline feel, but the two additional Press days I had with the TGS build. That being said, I was able to get a few matches in with other players like Miyabin and Demekun (Links are to recorded match videos), and it was certainly nice to experience playing Dead or Alive 6 with my preferred controller style of an arcade stick.
The first thing I wanted to test out was the idea of free cancelling the Break Blow cinematic. This was actually a feature from all the way back in the E3 announcement, but it was never announced or shown off properly. I didn't get any time to practice this feature during Evo because I did not find out about it until the stations had already closed. The Break Blow Cancel is done by pressing the Hold button during a small window after the Break Blow lands but before the cinematic kicks off. This effectively uses your full gauge to reset the Critical system and leave the opponent in a Fatal Stun, instead of using it for one hard knock back hit. This also means that since you can juggle an opponent with a Fatal Rush that automatically blends into a Break Blow should you have 100% Break Gauge, you can do a short juggle and re-stand your opponent to launch them again provided your opponent does not Break Hold with 50% of their gauge. Interestingly, if you mash on the Hold button while either in start up of the Break Blow or after the hit has landed, the game seems to ignore the cancel. So the cancel is something that has to be timed specifically with care.
Now, testing out the Break Blow Cancel I had many ideas and strategies come to my mind on possibilities of combo extensions, utilizing danger zones, and taking further advantage on an opponent who either had no meter to Break Hold or wasted it by whiffing one. However, while there certainly are long guaranteed combos that are possible, I began to notice that damage revision picks up rather fast once you have launched the opponent. Since Move Details were not available, it's quite difficult to guess at the percentage of revision. I was verified later by Team NINJA community manager Emmanuel "Master" Rodriguez that there is some heavy revision after a few juggle hits have occurred. Additionally, knocking an opponent into a danger zone, while giving them a possible opportunity to hold in some danger zones, doesn't appear to fully reset the Critical system as some combos in the initial Critical state wouldn't appear to work in these "reset" situations as it only allowed fewer hits. Eventually, I began to find combos where doing the Break Blow Cancel, extending the Critical stuns, and relaunching into a Danger Zone seemed to provide more damage than had I not cancelled to begin with. However, that is at the risk of an opponent holding out of the stuns should they gain meter and want to use them.
Additionally, the Critical state itself seemed to have been lessened. Overall, I got a feeling that while stuns were longer due to the removal of Stagger Escape and of long Fatal Stuns, the game seemed to have more focus on the Neutral game. That is, similar to Dead or Alive 2 and Dead or Alive 3, the first hit is the most important. Couple all that with the removal of the Critical Threshold Launch system introduced in Dead or Alive 4 where the closer to full Critical meant a higher launch, and the game feels like a return to the Stun-Launch system of old. This means that you are no longer required to play the Critical game. Your launch height is the same regardless of whether the opponent was early or late in the Critical Threshold system. The lack of Stagger Escape then also makes a lot of critical stuns be "Must Hold" situations.
On top of that, I was able to verify that the Critical System's Damage limits also have had a reduction. By testing with Hayabusa's jab (it's always been 10 damage in every Dead or Alive game) I was able to verify that Dead or Alive 6, at least at the time of the TGS build, has a smaller Critical System. It still plays off the core change introduced in Dead or Alive 4 where the attack putting the opponent into Critical won't count towards the damage threshold. Specifically, I was able to verify that the new damage limits are at 25/30/35 for normal, counter, and hi-counter blow. This is different from Dead or Alive 5 where the limits were 28/35/42. This further leads to the idea that Dead or Alive 6 appears to be having a more focused effort to strengthen the neutral meta-game and lower the amount of time during a match that the game is spent playing the Critical meta-game.
Another area I tested out was the side step system. It practically was unchanged from the Evo demo where the neutral side step felt exactly the same as Dead or Alive 5 and the side step attack felt extremely evasive. However, one instance while playing a pro player in the game stands out to me. I was demonstrating a lot of the system changes to the player, and during our casual matches I was abusing his very linear Hitomi with the side step attack. He exclaimed in shock, "I feel like I have to be careful with how and when I attack!". Instantly, we both felt that strengthening of the neutral game the system now has. To actually have the experience where the game wasn't all about the Critical system was very relieving for me as a player. I had other areas of the game I could focus my strategies on. I'm unsure if I can completely put into words my feelings at that moment, but I just remember me growing a smile.
I like that the Fatal Rush is a high attack, this makes high and low holding stronger, which in turn makes mid-hitting launchers more powerful. Keep in mind that launchers are scarier now as you don't have to play that stun game to get a good launch. While low holding might seem more powerful than a high hold, it's good to keep in mind that a launching attack will launch an opponent higher if they are in crouch state or holding low when hit. One good hit and you can find yourself on the receiving end of a danger zone, especially if your stage positioning and character match-up knowledge is poor. I feel that having the Fatal Rush as a high helps the balance of the attacks, the critical meta, and the game - at least in my view.
That being said, from my experiences at both Evo and TGS, I can say you can still play the game similarly to the style of Dead or Alive 5. It's just that the style may not be the optimal style to play this game, though it currently is the most popular due to players having seven years to practice the Dead or Alive 5 style. Of course, players haven't been given a lot of time with the game due to limited demos and the game is still changing as development continues. It excites me to think of what could be discovered once the game releases in February.
On September 22nd, shortly after the event stream was turned off, I was able to get some time to talk to Dead or Alive 6 Producer and Director Yohei Shimbori. The interview was being done through a bilingual interpreter, and in doing so it is possible some of the wording may have been altered from Shimbori's original intent.
Matt Ponton (MP): The players have noticed that there is no Stagger Escape in Dead or Alive 6's demos. What was the thought process that went along with that decision, and why was it removed from the game after being in the system since Dead or Alive 2?
Yohei Shimbori (YS): So we started to remove the Stagger Escape mechanic because we didn’t want people to struggle with it; we don't want that to be an artificial skill barrier in order to become good at the game. Players aware of Stagger Escape were able to really speed up recovery and generally did so to the fastest degree, but for people who are new to the game the inclusion of Stagger Escape is hardly noticeable. So we really wanted to make the entry point a lot easier for newer players to the game by making fast recovery the default. So that's one of the reasons why we decided to remove it.
MP: With that in consideration, are you also keeping other areas of the system in mind in regards to balance, such as the Free Step Dash Cancel bug?
YS: The Free Step Dash Cancel bug is something we're looking to fix if it hasn't already been done. Were you able to perform it in this Tokyo Game Show demo?
Master: I have not been able to reproduce the Free Step Dash Cancel bug in the Dead or Alive 6 demo.
YS: So, that's something a small portion of the audience would like something like that, but really for the larger audience we definitely don't want that to be in the game. At one point we did consider incorporating that into the system, but then we thought that it would make it even harder for newer players to enter the game and so we decided against it.
MP: In my own tests on this demo I wasn't able to reproduce it as well. I wanted to make sure that the lack of Stagger Escape wouldn't be abusable with such a bug in the existing Critical System changes. In those tests I also noticed that the critical threshold has been shortened from 28/35/42 to 25/30/35 for normal/counter/hi-counter blow critical stun. It seems that there is less time in critical stun throughout the total time of the round itself. What led your team to decide to lower the amount of time spent in Critical state?
YS: Similar to the previous answer, we wanted to make something for every player. It's something that for people really good at the game they can more easily recover from that, but it's a lot harder for people who are newer. So we've adjusted that as well to make it easier for various types of players. We think it adds an additional layer to the strategy that's involved into the game. You know, it's not just simply about mind games that you're trying to fool the other player, but you really have to think and analyze things through. So this makes it even better for the more expert players.
MP: What led to the decision to remove the Critical Level Launch system that was featured in Dead or Alive 4 and Dead or Alive 5, where a higher Critical Level would reward a higher launch? Is this in relation to the theme of making it easier for new players and decreasing the amount of time a match is spent in Critical State?
YS: That's right. It is the result of decreasing the time spent in reading the critical game and emphasizing the neutral game.
MP: There's a lot of fans out there of Dead or Alive 4 and Dead or Alive 5's ground game. So what changes can they look forward to seeing in Dead or Alive 6 to help them keep pressure and perform setups against players laying on the ground?
YS: So in terms of the ground game, this is something that requires a lot of precise adjustments. You know, one wrong move can really upset the entire system. So it is something that we are still balancing at this point. It's not completely about force teching, and so we want to make sure that there are options for players who want to decide to take it on or want to try and counter it. Also, we are giving people the option of whether they want to get up on their own when they are knocked down. The significance of this may depend on the skill level of the player. But, let’s see how this evolves as we are still adjusting and balancing this feature.
"We are looking to provide the game equally across all platforms. So we're not just focusing on Steam, but we are concentrating on all platforms being equal."
MP: Speaking of giving players an option to decide, Dead or Alive is the only major 3D Fighting game currently without a universal throw break system. Are there any plans in the future of adding more throws that are breakable on reaction?
YS: A universal throw break system is something that always comes up each time we make a new Dead or Alive game. Dead or Alive is really known for the triangle system, and that's something that we really value for this series. So if immediately you could just always do throw breaks we don't think it will make it a well-balanced game. So having all characters and all moves being able to do that is not something we are planning on incorporating. But one thing we are kind of looking at from a technical level is having around a five frame window for the throw break, and so the speed at which you break the throw will alter the advantage and disadvantage of the throw break. We think if we implement too much of it then it would really change that balance of what Dead or Alive is.
MP: So the throw system is something that's still being worked on like the ground game?
YS: Yes, very much so. We're still working on many parts of the system as we come closer to Dead or Alive 6's release.
MP: Dead or Alive 6 appears to be using Steam as its lead platform. Since Dead or Alive 5 Last Round was the series' first foray into the personal computer world, is there anything that Steam users can look forward to specifically with Dead or Alive 6?
YS: We are looking to provide the game equally across all platforms. So we're not just focusing on Steam, but we are concentrating on all platforms being equal. We are aiming for them to be all equal, so the fact that there's a lobby feature is something that we would implement in all versions. That is something we are aiming for right now. Obviously, we are still in the middle of development so we can't exactly say what is going to be in the final product. Our plan is to aim to make the game equal across all platforms. So no matter which platform you own, we hope players should expect the same thing. Specifically for PC or Steam, everyone has different specs for their computers. So in terms of people who have high system specs, we are making it so that the graphics are the highest quality possible. For people who have lower system specs, something we are looking into now is how far we can support the lower end PCs and so that's something that's still under review.
MP: So Phase 4 and Nyotengu are two characters who are going to be early DLC characters. Fans of those two characters were a little upset that those two characters weren't added to the Dead or Alive 5 story upon their release. How will these two characters participate in the Dead or Alive 6 story?
YS: It depends on the character. We did just mention on the Tokyo Game Show stage that Nyotengu is getting a bit of a story for herself, but in terms of Phase 4 we don't really know at this point. It's a secret.
MP: So the story hasn't been finalized yet?
YS: We do have the story, but we just don't have the visuals to go with it yet.
MP: I unfortunately am being told I'm almost out of time here so I have one more hopefully quick question for you: Is Lisa dead?
YS: Lisa is alive. Actually, In Dead or Alive 5 when the M.I.S.T. laboratory exploded, she... Oops I cannot say any more.
That concluded my time with Yohei Shimbori and my experience at Tokyo Game Show. Dead or Alive 6 will be releasing on February 15, 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. The next playable demo for Dead or Alive 6 will be at the Dead or Alive Festival 2018 event at the Ochanomizu Sola City Conference Center in Tokyo, Japan on November 18.