Ranking the mainline Dead or Alive games

Team Ninja’s latest entry in the Dead or Alive franchise, titled Dead or Alive 6, is set to release on March 1 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. In anticipation of the upcoming fighter, now is a great time to look back at the main series’ best games. Though many fans outside of Japan may associate the property with risque images of girls on beaches, they should rest assured knowing that the heart of Dead or Alive has always revolved around compelling gameplay mechanics. The following ranks each mainline entry in the franchise in order from worst to best.

5. Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive

Oddly enough, the worst game in the series so far is the original Dead or Alive for Sega Saturn and PlayStation. Unlike most other fighting properties at the time, the title replaces the guard mechanic with holds. Every hold command corresponds to a different attack, allowing for a more complex form of rock-paper-scissors to play out on the battlefield. The game also forces combatants to remain within the center of the stage, lest the cross the outer edges and explode.

While these mechanics are noteworthy enough to be featured in subsequent Dead or Alive entries, the title does little else to separate itself from the crowd. It’s similar to Sega’s other respected fighting franchise, Virtua Fighter, in its look and gameplay. There’s a reason why the original Street Fighter games are fondly looked back upon by many enthusiasts today, as those titles single-handedly revolutionized a genre. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the first Dead or Alive.

4. Dead or Alive 4

Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive 4 attempted to change up the franchise’s signature gameplay style to mixed results. Changes to blocks and throws are a bit hard to get used to, even for returning veterans. The new counter system is especially difficult to learn, as the window of opportunity for counters from Dead or Alive 3 has decreased in frame count by nearly half. As much as it wants to alter things mechanically, Dead or Alive 4 preserves many presentation assets that are used in the series’ previous iteration. The title ends up looking a an enhanced version of the third iteration rather than its own game.

Despite the above, the game offers an abundance of content in the form of unlockable costumes, hairstyles, characters, levels, modes, and more. The online component is fun and addictive, and its customizable aspects help ensure that players enjoy matches based on their preferred combat parameters.

3. Dead or Alive 3

Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive 3 shares the original game’s flaw of not offering anything new. Almost all controls and commands are unchanged from Dead or Alive 2, and the title doesn’t do much outside of what other fighting games released in the early 2000s do. Perhaps as a result of these familiar gameplay mechanics, the entry is considered too lenient when up against AI and attempting to clear the story. There’s also less content to unlock compared to the title’s predecessor.

Thankfully, the game substantially improves the series’ presentation and takes full advantage of the original Xbox’s power. Graphics and stage sizes are impressive even by modern standards. The title’s leniency also invites newcomers to focus less on juggling combos and more on improving their offensive and defensive holds, which remains a staple from the first title. While Dead or Alive 3 doesn’t represent the pinnacle of the series, it does its best to appeal to a wide group of fighting game fans.

2. Dead or Alive 5

Dead or Alive

The Dead or Alive series can be over the top sometimes. Dead or Alive 5 doubles down on this nature, offering fans gorgeous graphics alongside flashy interactive stages. Some fighters teleport around opponents and kick them with reckless abandon. Others shoot vortexes out of their hands or slap their enemies a dozen times before launching them back with a swift punch. Each power blow is a joy to witness in action, especially as worlds break down and crumble beneath each combatant.

Dead or Alive falls short of completely overhauling the series due to a nonsensical story. It takes the franchise’s online mode a step back, too, as it doesn’t offer nearly as many customizable options as one might expect after the fourth iteration. In a similar regard, practice mode is surprisingly bare bones. Despite these few shortcomings, one can’t go wrong with playing this iteration as they wait for the newest title to hit store shelves soon.

1. Dead or Alive 2

Dead or Alive

There’s a reason why Team Ninja has developed so many enhanced versions of Dead or Alive 2. The series found its identity in this title, as much more emphasis was placed on the circular relationship between holds, throws, and blows. Its punishable attacks ended up being a key feature that separated it from its competitors. It’s here where blow-based offensive tactics become risky. This adds a strategic layer to the standard fighting game formula — something that the original game didn’t fully explore.

Additionally, the game includes multi-tiered stages that transport players to other areas if a combatant falls off a ledge or breaks through a wall. The awesome spectacle of having a world transform depending on the actions of the player makes them feel powerful. The title also features a surprisingly robust story mode that presents fans with unique endings for each character, which is hard to find among games released in the early 2000s.

It’s not hyperbole to state that this second entry is truly what diversifies Dead or Alive from every other fighter in the market, as it established the fundamentals that make the franchise so much fun to play today.

There’s no denying that spin-off series like Paradise and Xtreme have certainly garnered attention in the decades the franchise has existed. However, players shouldn’t let all the fan service fool them into thinking that core Dead or Alive entries don’t offer more than just pretty faces to look at. Playing through the classic Dead or Alive 2 or the more modern Dead or Alive 5 should prove that Team Ninja pays close attention to mechanical detail in most fighting games it delivers. Dead or Alive 6 may keep in line with the studio’s pedigree, though fans will have to wait just a little while longer to be sure.