Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo's Dead or Alive franchise is the unsung hero of the fighting game genre. A bold claim, admittedly, especially since this is a brand that has been around since 1996 and has produced six mainline entries, countless upgraded versions of previously released titles, and even a relatively successful spin-off series. How could Dead or Alive possibly be underrated?
The thing is that Dead or Alive is quite a niche property, despite boasting accessible combat mechanics that have been fine-tuned splendidly over the last two decades. Sure, Team Ninja's license has amassed a dedicated fanbase, but a Dead or Alive sequel is never going to garner the same level of hype as a new Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. Does it deserve more? Well, let's take a look at Dead or Alive's best ten games to find out! As a rule, we will be limiting each game to just one edition. So, there will not be three versions of Dead or Alive 5 scattered throughout this list.
10 Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3
Time to come clean: Dead or Alive has essentially only released 10 games. Putting aside a short-lived online game and a couple of mobile titles, the franchise has mostly gone down the Street Fighter route of padding out its release schedule by just re-releasing slightly improved versions of Dead or Alive 5 and other numbered entries.
Depending on a player's platform of choice, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 comes with an array of sub-titles. Regardless of the iteration, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is consistently awful. The Xtreme spin-off sees the franchise's cast engaging in a bit of beach volleyball, but the third title lacks any of the previous games' goofy appeal. Sure, the characters have never looked prettier, but the insipid gameplay is unlikely to keep anyone but the staunchest of fans interested.
9 Dead Or Alive Xtreme 2
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 demonstrated that Team Ninja was not particularly concerned with using this spin-off for anything other than highlighting the ample features of its roster. As a collection of minigames, Xtreme 2 mostly retreads the same steps as its predecessor. While not necessarily awful, the lack of any noticeable gameplay improvements firmly cemented Xtreme 2 as one of the worst projects linked to the DOA brand.
To be fair, Xtreme 2 did implement impressive 'chest physics,' which might have been enough for certain fans. Hey, we ain't judging.
8 Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
A convincing argument can be made that Xtreme 2 and 3 are complete wastes of time and money, ones that serve to only worsen Dead or Alive's reputation as a franchise more interested in titillation than gameplay. While the sequels are pretty bad, Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball does actually work pretty well as a casual beach volleyball game with light social sim elements.
Xtreme Beach Volleyball is far from a masterpiece, some may even question whether it is a good game, but the spin-off delivers on its promises.
7 Dead Or Alive (Sega Saturn Version)
1996's Dead or Alive has aged fine, all things considered. 2004's Xbox remake is based on the Sega Saturn and tends to be regarded as the definitive version, even if there is very little reason to pick up the original over any of the subsequent entries. The plot may not be that important in fighting games, but Dead or Alive has generally always put in the work to try and establish its fighters as personalities worth seeking out. Unfortunately, DOA is largely awful at creating a compelling narrative.
As any decent mechanics in Dead or Alive - like the rock-paper-scissors counter system - can be found in the sequels, there is no point in revisiting the original.
6 Dead Or Alive: Dimensions
Dead or Alive has a pretty decent track record when it comes to portable games, even if Dimensions is the only title exclusively made for a handheld console. Released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, Dimensions gathers elements from the first four numbered entries to create an enjoyable --albeit somewhat messy-- experience.
Despite the 3DS's limited hardware, Dimensions' gameplay is surprisingly smooth and effective, at least when not playing online. Like most of the DOA titles, the story mode is a jumbled mess held together by decent cutscenes, but the gameplay is a great deal of fun.
5 Dead Or Alive 4
Four years and a console generation later, Dead or Alive 3's sequel was released exclusively for the Xbox 360. Putting aside the natural graphical improvement, there is very little to separate Dead or Alive 4 from its predecessor - which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The greatest change to the gameplay was more of a tweak rather than a full-blown innovation. The counter system - arguably Dead or Alive's stand-out mechanic - was revamped so the time frame for reversing attacks was reduced, causing matches to become significantly harder.
4 Dead Or Alive 6
Dead or Alive 6 is such a difficult game to judge. Purely in terms of gameplay, 2019's entry finds Team Ninja at the top of its game. While new additions like Fatal Rush are designed to be more friendly to newcomers, the combat remains as challenging as always. Dead or Alive 6 is among the best playing fighting games on the market.
Sadly, everything else is relatively disappointing. The singleplayer campaign is confusing and just plain boring, while the online component launched with barely any modes. Combined with the ludicrously grindy customization system, Dead or Alive 6 took one step forward and two steps back.
3 Dead Or Alive 5 Last Round
There are - no joke - four different variants of Dead or Alive 5, all coming with their own subtitles. All versions are pretty good, but Last Round is rightfully hailed as the definitive version of Dead or Alive 5. Benefitting from the extra power provided by eighth-generation consoles, Last Round looks great and plays even better. The higher framerate permitted by the hardware translates to buttery smooth combat that truly allows the counter system to shine.
Last Round does little to fix Dead or Alive 5's awful campaign and the PC version is better avoided, but there is still a lot to enjoy about this entry.
2 Dead Or Alive 3
Dead or Alive 3 is simply a more accessible version of its predecessor. As such, this entry is either going to be regarded as one of the series' best (if not the outright best) or a disappointing step back that caused Dead or Alive to stagnate and lose momentum. In many ways, both opinions are true.
Dead or Alive 3 is slightly more forgiving when it comes to executing counters, causing the AI to offer far less of a challenge. While that may disappoint hardcore fans, 2001's sequel is an absolutely fantastic place to start for those new to the fighting genre.
1 Dead Or Alive 2 Ultimate
Released in 2004, Dead or Alive Ultimate contains the Sega Saturn edition of the original game and a remake of 1999's sequel. The latter is right up there with the best fighting games of all time, a claim that is only strengthened by the improvements implemented for the remake.
While the graphics are on par with Dead or Alive 3, the second entry's less forgiving combat is maintained. Combined with the possibility to play online through Xbox Live, Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate elevates an already great game to a whole other level.