Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate Preview

Get your free ninjas!

At this point, you either acknowledge that Dead or Alive 5 is a legitimate fighter that gets played by both men and women at the professional level, or you still think it's one big joke being played on horny teenagers. I'm aligned with the former, as I've always adored the franchise, and 5 is easily the best of the bunch. Now it's getting an “Ultimate” edition, much like DoA2 received many moons ago, but it's getting more than just four new characters and five new stages—it's getting an entirely new business model as well.

With the free-to-play Tekken Revolution suddenly launching during the week of E3 2013 and the reboot of Killer Instinct for Xbox One being confirmed to go the same route, free-to-play seems to have become the hot new direction for fighters overnight, and DoA5U is going to join the ranks as well. Some would say this is a natural, possibly inevitable move as console publishers search for ways to reach wider audiences and find new revenue streams.

But if we have no choice but to accept that free-to-play isn't going away, then we should at least examine how companies choose to implement it and decide what's in good faith and what isn't. After having a chat with DoA5's director, Yohei Shimbori, I feel a tiny bit better, but I still think more can be done to truly make this model a value for players.

Before I dig in here, bear in mind that final North American pricing for the free-to-play version hasn't been discussed yet, so all of this could change. That said, the plan right now is to offer a full-disc release for $39.99 or a free-to-play version that costs nothing upfront, and comes with them four damn ninjas: Ayane, Kasumi, Hayate, and Hayabusa. You'll have access to every mode and feature besides story mode so whether you want to get some online matches in or hit the lab to optimize your combos, you won't need to pay a dime.

However, access to the story mode is going to be priced at 1,500 yen which is approximately $16.00 US, and characters will go for 400 yen or roughly $4.25 US. If the US prices stay even remotely close to the Japanese ones, some quick math shows that purchasing all the content a la carte will cost more than double, possibly triple the amount of buying the entire package outright. Yeesh.

On the one hand, you get four free characters who are wildly popular with the fans, meaning that for many players, the free-to-play version will give them everything they want: access to the most widely used characters and every mode besides story mode (a mode nearly no fighting fan ever cares about). But on the other hand, you could end up spending a fortune in the long run if you want to expand your matchup knowledge by learning other characters.

Thankfully, unlockable costumes aren't sold as microtransactions, though given the… ahem… popularity of the female members of the cast, it would have been an easy way to make bank. I see an attempt here by Tecmo to capture a wider audience and offer a true value for certain kinds of players, but in order for free-to-play to gain real traction with players, the a la carte pricing will need to be brought more in line with the cost of purchasing the full version.

All that said, assuming you purchase the full retail version, this is the same great game, with every character unlocked from the start, all your unlocked costumes carried over, two new costumes per character, four brand new fighters, and five new stages. Jacky Bryant joins his sister Sarah as the fourth Virtua Fighter to guest star, fan-favorite Ein returns from past versions of the game, and Momiji and Rachel from the Ninja Gaiden franchise make their way over as well. It's a great way to get started for new players, but whether it makes sense for owners of vanilla DoA5 will depend on just how much balancing goes on. Either way, it should be interesting to see how Tecmo's new business decision pans out.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate fights its way onto PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 3, 2013.