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The playable DOA5 demo here at E3 is significantly more than the four characters, single stage of the demo that was released via download code in the collector’s edition of Ninja Gaiden 3. I had told an old acquaintance from the 2006 World Cyber Games in Monza, Italy, Emmanuel “Master” Rodriguez that I would meet him at the booth  He’s there thanks to his ridiculous skill and the IGN Pro League. He and his friends there (all with history in the CGS) are clearly excited for DOA5, and it’s hard not to see why. The long coming sequel is dynamic, visually distinctive from previous games, while retaining the pace and feel that the fans love.

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Going into the back room, I’m introduced to Kohei Shibata, a veteran of Tecmo and Team Ninja, and now the Lead Programmer on Dead Or Alive 5. On the show floor, the demo build has 12 characters: Hayabusa, Hayate, Kasumi, Zack, Ayane, Lei Fang, Hitomi, Christie, Bayman, Tina, Akira, and Kokoro. Behind the curtain however, the latest build also includes Tina’s father Bass, and fellow Virtua Fighter staple (along with Akira) Sarah as playable characters, as well as more stages such as the moving raft  and the battle zone shown in the teaser trailers.

HayabusaShibata shows off the various aspects of the game for the benefit of those not entirely familiar with features that not only set DOA apart, but have been hallmarks for the series, like danger zones and interactive environments. He then shows us new stuff, like power blows, a charged single attack that has a canned animation on hit, and then lets you aim where your next vicious strike is going to send them flying into. These can also be used in tag battle mode, with an opportunity to tag your partner in after starting the power blow combination, and have them finish it. Cliff-hangers are another new mechanic in the environments, where a player will be hit out of the current area of the stage, and be hanging from the edge, allowing the attacker a chance to follow up in spectacular fashion, though the victim will have a chance to defend to avoid some damage.  Probably the most significant change is visual; the characters have she a few layers of anime fat and look a little more real (don’t get me wrong, they don’t look at all real, just the slightest bit less like cartoons). Throughout the fight, characters and clothes will get stained and smudged, and sweat will visibly run down their faces and make the clothing damp and transparent.

He asked if anyone wanted to play and I gladly accepted. After I beat him and my history with DOA (representing NZ at the World Cyber Games) was laid bare, he became more alert and it was obvious that the real fun to be had, as with any fighting game, comes from versus multiplayer.

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I asked him, after I tried my hand at playing as the flip-kicking Sarah Bryant, and asked how difficult it was to bring the Virtua Fighter characters into the fold yet keep the feel of them true to the DOA style. Through the mouth of his translator, he responded “Although DOA and Virtua Fighter are vastly different games, there are similarities  between;the two that allow for a good fit.” He’s right; VF and DOA share the rather unique characteristic of having a three-button, punch, kick, guard input. When Street Fighter X Tekken was conceived, a considerable amount of work had to go into reimagining the Tekken characters for a game style which has six attack button, rather than their native four. With that in mind, the major changes to VF moves would be to make them a little easier to execute, so no single-frame execution requirements

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DOA5 is as fast and furious as the series has ever been, and looks fantastic. After a few more matches, I ask if the counter-hold/reversal system has changed, as I was having some difficulty snapping out of a stun when under the assault of a combo. He confirms that there have been changes “There are certain conditions like the kind of attack or stun that will prevent a counter hold from execution.” Further to this, the active window for a counter hold has been tightened and the damage a successful reversal can do has been reduced, which has been a sore point for critics of the series that are more familiar to the conventions of other fighting game series.

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Dead Or Alive 5 is coming to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on September 25th.

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