Back in 2002 or so, my brother Patrick lived with our family for about a year. He brought his Playstation 2 with him. This is how I was introduced to Final Fantasy X. He also got me to try Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. Most of my memories of that game revolve around a complex series of in-jokes we developed during the many weeks we spent passing the controller back and forth. These jokes are the kind that have you laughing at 2AM until tears are coming down your face, but then the next day you try to explain them to someone else and you have no idea what made them funny in the first place. It’s was a two-person subculture built around a hundred “you just had to be there” kind of moments.
I’m not into fighting games. I’m too old and slow to appreciate the deeper systems. Playing against the CPU is random and boring, and I have no desire to play online. The only reason I have any interest in the game is because Patrick is living several states away and I’m looking for a nostalgia hit.
Hey Shamus, what do you think of the fact that the game has been turned into a vending machine for overpriced DLC, and that unlocking “everything” would run you in the neighborhood of $700?
Yeah. That probably sucks. I didn’t mess with any of that.
How’s the high-level play?
No idea. I just sort of mash buttons and laugh at the noises characters make when you boot them off a cliff.
How responsive are the controls when exploiting vulnerability frames during a throw counter?
I have no idea what that means.
What are your thoughts on the over-the-top fanservice?
I am not going near that topic.
How is the online matchmaking with random strangers?
This is your first visit to my site, isn’t it?
What about the roster changes??
I’ll be honest, a lot of these lunatics look the same to me.
You’re not going to properly review this game, are you?
No. I’m going to review the story.
It’s a living.
Reviewing The Story
Yes, I know this is a game where “you’re not supposed to think about the story”. I don’t care if I’m “supposed” to think about something. If I’m not supposed to think about the story, then what AM I supposed to think about when I’m watching the cutscene? Football? I don’t care if the designer “didn’t intend for it to be good”. If something bugs me, I write about it. I wouldn’t have bothered writing about this game at all, except the story is such a strange, inexplicable mass of nonsense.
I don’t mean it has “plotholes”. I’m not complaining they messed up the lore, or some people don’t have clear motivations, or the tone is off, or any of the other things I’m always complaining about in games. I mean the cutscenes do not tell a story. If DOA5 is a story, then a 300 page Markov chain is a novel.
When playing in Arcade Mode, the game has exactly as much story as you need: Zero. When a fight begins, the two combatants shout out some sort of taunt / threat / greeting / catchphrase that tells you about their character and personality. That’s it. If you want to know what sort of misadventure bought a Japanese schoolgirl and a professional wrestler together to do battle in an exploding science lab, you’ll have to come up with your own. And that’s the way it should be.
But in story mode, the game shows cutscenes between fights. You would assume these would explain who these people are, what their goals are, what’s going on in the world, and why everyone is fighting. The cutscenes accomplish zero of these goals. There’s an evil corporation, superscience, a fighting tournament, a ninja clan, a war, and none of them are introduced properly and most of them go nowhere. After the first 50 cutscenes the story finally settles on the science lab stuff. This means the last 20 cutscenes are a little more coherent than what came before, but it still doesn’t really gel into a “story” with a proper structure.
An example of one of the early scenes:
Kick Some Bass
BassPronounced like the fish, not the musical instrument., the burly pro wrestler character, is riding along on his motorcycle, cheering in excitement. The name “Tina” is on the tail of the motorcycle. Tina is the name of his daughter, who is also a pro wrestler. In a previous game, he entered the fighting tournament with plans to beat her up to prevent her from entering the fighting tournament. Yes, these two have a deeply strange and disturbing relationship. But that’s not the problem with this scene.
Bass is riding his motorcycle on what looks like an elevated road(?) on an oil rig(?) when suddenly a helicopter rises into view just ahead and fires a bunch of missiles. There’s an explosion, and Bass falls.
CUT TO: Bass is leaning against his motorcycle with his arms folded, idle. Suddenly he notices there’s a fire.
Hang on! What about the helicopter? Who was flying it? Why were they attacking? Were they trying to destroy the oil rig, or kill Bass? Where did it go? Was that bit supposed to be a dream sequence? No, because Bass was standing up, so he obviously wasn’t sleeping.
Everything is on fire. Bass and his buddy Rig (who runs the oil rig, of course) are running around, shouting at people to “get out of here!”
But… everything is on fire. Are they supposed to LEAVE THE OIL RIG? Are you trying to put out the fire, or escape? And what about the helicopter? Does Rig even know about it?
Bass heaves a fifty gallon drum over his head and tosses it off-screen.
I don’t… what is he doing? Is he trying to put out the fire by pelting it with heavy things? What about the helicopter?
FADE IN: The fire is out. Bass and Rig are walking through the smoke. They decide to go get a drink together.
What? Who put the fire out?
Within the context of the story, what is this scene for? We have no idea why anyone would attack these characters. It didn’t do anything to characterize them. It doesn’t even work as a vignette because the action is incomprehensible. Its not connected to the rest of the story.
Speaking Pidgin in the Language of Cinema
The dialog is a fever dream. People mention concepts without explaining what they are. People ask questions and then someone else replies with a non-sequitur. People have unexplained emotional reactions and blurt out excited things for seemingly no reason. Characters wander into the conversation without being properly introduced.
In a movie, an individual scene usually has a sort of mini-plot. Person A wants information from person B. Someone wants to escape danger. Someone is exploring a place in search of clues. Or maybe there’s just some exposition we need to dump on the audience. But in DOA5, not only is the overall story a plotless soup, but individual scenes don’t even have a plot. We’ll have a scene where we don’t know what anyone’s goals are, or why they’re having this conversation, or where the conversation is taking place.
Consider this chain of scenes:
EXT: New York. Day.
Kasumi is like a Ninja that forgot to wear pants. She’s walking along, minding her own business. Lisa, a rich-looking woman notices her.
Lisa: Kasumi? What are you doing here?
Kasumi: I’m looking for Alpha-152. But then, I’ll bet you already know.
Lisa: (Completely mock innocence.) Whatever do you mean?
EXT: New York rooftop. Day.
Kasumi is standing on the roof. She’s leaning against the railing, looking into the distance. Suddenly Ayane – a purple-haired ninja girl – drops in.
Ayane: Finally got you! Prepare yourself, you traitor!
Kasumi: Ayane, I don’t want to fight you, but I must.
EXT. Glacier. Day.
Subtitle: ANTARCTICA, A FEW DAYS LATER
Bayman is a huge muscle dude in winter gear. He’s crouching in the snow, staring off into the distance. Kasumi comes from behind cargo container which is inexplicably here in the middle of the frozen wilderness. She’s still running around with no pants on.
Kasumi: Why are you following me?
Bayman: Hm. (Chuckles.) Pretty sneaky, ninja. I’m looking for something.
Kasumi: What would that be?
I can’t even tell what story is writer is trying to tell, here. These three scenes are supposed to be part of Kasumi’s story, and after this point the story jumps to following a different character. Not only do the individual scenes make no sense, but taken as a whole they’re just non-sequiturs. Kasumi has a goal, but we can’t tell why she’s going to any of these locations, what she’s doing when the scene starts, and by the end we have no idea if she’s made any progress.
Like a Porno
I think it’s fair to say the story in a fighting game has the same purpose as the story in a porno: People don’t really care about it, and it only exists to give context to the physical action. And that’s fine. But The story of DOA5 can’t even accomplish this rudimentary task.
In The Big Lebowski, we see a small clip of a porno movie. A television repairman arrives at a woman’s apartment. There’s some stilted flirting, and even though we don’t see more, it’s pretty obvious the scene is going to end with them screwing.
If that scene had been written by the person who wrote DOA5, then it would go like this:
EXT: Public Park. Day.
A woman is sitting on a park bench, looking up at the sky.
WOMAN: (To herself) Is it always like this here?
TELEVISION REPAIRMAN: (Jumps out of the bushes.) I'm here to fix the television!
The woman stares at the nearby fountain. We go close in on her face, which is expressionless.
REPAIRMAN: Hey! Are you even listening? I'm here to fix the TV.
WOMAN: (Mutters quietly without looking up.) I don't have a TV.
REPAIRMAN: No! That's impossible!
CUT TO: The two of them screwing in a circus tent.
That’s what this story is like. It’s this strange, disjointed series of camera cuts and dialog lines. You can see it sort of mimics the style of cinema in terms of shot composition and tropes. People linger over their alcoholic drinks, strike dramatic poses, and pause a long time before answering simple questions, but none of it actually makes any cinematic sense. It’s like it was put together by an alien species who doesn’t understand the purpose of movies.
Which, fine. You don’t have to explain what is happening or what the characters are doing. It’s a fighting game, not a movie. But if you didn’t want to write a story, why did you put a story mode in your videogame? If you just wanted people to show up an punch each other, you didn’t need to make over seventy cutscenes, record all this dialog, and build all of these sets. Reading reviews of the game, its obvious the audience doesn’t care about the story at all. It doesn’t feel like anyone particularly wanted to make this story. Why did they spend money making something neither they or the audience cared about?
You might argue the cutscenes are just here as a showcase of technical prowess, like the lavishly produced movies Square Enix puts into the Final Fantasy series, but the truth is that these scenes look awful. They’re in-engine, not pre-rendered. The lighting is often flat, the walk animations look like robotic late-90’s keyframe loops, and everyone has plastic, emotionless faces.
Remember when Team Ninja made a Metroid game and it was a complete disaster?
Everyone assumed Team Ninja was filled with hack writers who shouldn’t be allowed to write anything more complex than a greeting card. But after playing DOA5 I worry that the problem isn’t with skill, but sanity. These people are batshit loco.
No Harm Done
I want to stress that this terrible non-story doesn’t “ruin” the game. It’s completely harmless. This game didn’t need a story and you’re not forced to watch any of it. You can play multiplayer, versus, or arcade mode and enjoy your button-mashing face-kickery without being subjected to the insanity. All you have to do is not click on story mode and you’ll be safe.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but for me the story seems to transcend its own ineptitude and enter the realm of “so bad its good”. My daughter and I watched a few of the stories, howling with laughter as inexplicable things happened. The story has a certain Ed Wood style charm. The writers were aiming to make disposable trash, and still managed to fall short of the mark. It’s impossible to watch cavalcade of surreal balderdash and not wonder what the writers thought they were saying.
I’m not mad that the story is so terrible. I just want to know why they went to all this trouble.
 Pronounced like the fish, not the musical instrument.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
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