In a lengthy discussion with Famitsu on Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate (PS3, X360, September 2013), which we’ve translated in full below, developer Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi talks about the rationale behind adding Momiji, Ein, and Virtua Fighter 5’s Jacky Bryant to this iteration of the game.
He also explains why they could not roll out DOA5 Ultimate as a DLC upgrade for those who already own the vanilla version, and mentions that the freemium/free-to-play version of DOA5U revealed today for the PS3 (it will be rolled out to all PSN regions) may also be released on the X360 – negotiations for that to happen are currently underway.
Negotiating with whom? He didn’t say!
But here’s what he did talk about:
The addition of several popular characters!
—Let’s start the interview by talking about the reasons behind why you’ve decided to add Momiji, Ain, and Jacky into the game this time around.
Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi: We decided to call this title “Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate” because we wanted our fans to truly feel that this iteration is truly the definitive version of the series. As part of making sure our fans feel that way, we began by adding Momiji to the cast as she was a frequently requested character from the fans.
Then we added Ein because there were a lot of fans who told us that they’d like for us to “please bring him back”.
—In other words, they were basically popular fan-choice characters who made it in, huh? Wel what about Virtua Fighter’s Jacky then?
Hayashi: In Dead or Alive 5, which was released in 2012, we introduced three guest characters in Akira, Sarah and Pai. But actually we shortlisted four character candidates in the beginning. After we decided on Akira and Sarah, we couldn’t quite decide on who between Pai and Jacky we should add as a third guest character.
At the time, we thought that for the Dead or Alive series it’s probably a better idea to go with a female fight, and that’s how we decided on Pai. This time around, as Jacky is quite popular as a beginning character for the Virtua Fighter series, to the point that people will tell you “just start playing by picking Jacky”, we talked to Sega about it and managed to their approval for him to appear.
—Was Sega also involved in the production work for Jacky as a DOA5U character, like with past guest characters?
Hayashi: Yes. This time around too, the Virtua Fighter team worked together with us on the guest character. “Shinjuku Jacky” (a Sega employee who does planning work for them and who was regarded as one of the strongest players in the Virtua Fighter community) did the checking work on our Jacky Brayant, so I think the character will play quite true to his original series.
—Like I thought, [Jacky was picked because] you wanted to prioritise characters that were easy to play with.
Hayashi: Of course. As Jacky is an easy to use character in the Virtua Fighter series even for beginning players, naturally he’d be easy to use here. We think that most 3D fighting game fans who’s never played Dead or Alive before, will probably be familiar with Jacky, so we’re hoping that this will get more of them to try out the game, and from there, gradually learn the systems in Dead or Alive.
—What about Ein, whom you’re bringing back from Dead or Alive 2. Will he play the same way he previously did?
Hayashi: We’ve added quite a number of moves to his arsenal in this iteration. That said, the fundamentals with him are still largely the same, so we think fans who previously played him in DOA2 will be able to start playing him here without any problems adjusting, right away. Although in terms of the game’s storyline, Ein and Hayate are actually the same person, [we're treating them like two separate characters so] you can play a tag-team conprising Ein and Hayate if you’d like to. We sort of see this title as a compilation title for the DOA5 series, so this time we can include new characters who are not related to the game’s story at all. In that sense the atmosphere in this game is like that of a festival.
—Ninja Gaiden’s Momiji makes her debut appearance in the Dead or Alive series here. What’s her battle style like?
Hayashi: In the Ninja Gaiden games, Momiji fights with a halberd and she has a double-jump, but this time around she has to fight bare-handed. There are already a lot of fast and nimble ninja fighters like Kasumi and Ayane, so to give the game a good sense of contrast, Momiji will fight with Hayabusa-style Aikijutsu (mix of Aikido and Ninjutsu) and Kobudo (a type of Japanese martial arts).
Furthermore, she has her double-jump here as well, and can repeatedly perform aerial attacks. So her play style relies on using the opponent’s strength against them with traditional techniques, throw them off-balance, and then proceed to perform a flurry of attacks.
—It seems like, compared to the past ninja characters, you’re pushing for a completely different type here.
Hayashi: That’s right. Well if you just hear about the double-jump ability, I bet you’ll get the impression that Momiji will be quite a difficult character to use. But Momiji is really quite a popular character and we expect that many players will want to pick her, and so we’re planning to make her play style one that’s suited for beginners. Also, as Momiji is a kunoichi who’s “still in training”, so we hope that through players will help to make Momiji stronger by discovering new things about her moves.
—Besides Momiji, Ein, and Jacky are you planning to add other characters as well? The parting scene in this following PV appears to depict a certain character we’re thinking of…
Hayashi: Who could that be? Well, since this is DOA5 “Ultimate”, there could be more characters (laughs).
Why put out a free basic version?
—Can you share with us what you hope to achieve by putting out a free basic version of the game?
Hayashi: The main aim with doing this, is to open the floodgates and rope every gamer into playing Dead or Alive, into wanting to get into playing fighting games. Personally, I believe that fighting games hold limitless potential, and we want for many gamers to experience this title and think “so fighting games can be enjoyed like this too, huh!”
In 2012, quite a few publishers put out a fighting game, and we feel that every single one of them were well-impressioned and performed quite favourably with their fans.
We don’t want this fighting game boom to just end with the core gamers appreciating it, and we hope to bring more gamers into the movement.
—In other words, it’s an attempt to reach out to people who’ve never played fighting games before, I suppose?
Hayashi: That’s right. Back in the heyday of Street Fighter and Virtual Fighter, the fighting game boom was such a great social phenomenon that pretty much everybody played them. We’d like to try and bring back that sort of boom. But for that to happen, we need to rope in a vast number of people, and so we think that the best way to make that happen is to somehow put out a free basic edition of the game.
Our goal is to get everybody who owns a PlayStation 3 to at least give the game a shot, and hopefully from there they’ll join and participate in the fighting games community.
—If the basic version is free, then it makes it easy to invite your friends to join in the fun too, huh?
Hayashi: Exactly. Amongst Dead or Alive 5’s passionate fanbase, we’ve had people who volunteered to run their own tournaments for the game, and event went as far as to invite us to come attend it. We’re really humbled by the the passion they’ve got for Dead or Alive, it’s incredibly admirable. But when those passionate fans of ours try to encourage their friends to join in the fun, usually they’d have to say something to their friends like “it’s a really enjoyable game, why don’t you buy it so that we can play together?” I’m sure there were a few friends who’d respond quite despondently to that. This time around, since there’s a free basic edition, it’d be easier to recommend the game to their friends.
—Fighting games are sort of unique in the sense that, if you don’t have an opponent then you can’t really play. In that sense, being able to casually invite your friends to join in on the fun seems like a really good idea.
Hayashi: Yep. Since Dead or Aliver 5 came out in 2012, there have been tens of thousands of players who’ve played the game online. But as more and more time pass since the initial release date, you gradually have this divide in skill between the really good players, and those who are at the intermediate and beginning levels – which further divides up the possible pool of players available only for a match.
So we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could make it so that players could ask their friends to join in on the fun easily, which would not only make it easy for beginning players to play against other beginning players, but also just create this casual atmosphere of playing for fun. We think we can achieve that by putting out a free basic version, and improve things on that front. When it comes to online, we want to popular the online servers with a lot of players at each and every skill level.
—When you’re playing with an opponent of the same skill level as you, when as a beginning player this makes for a very enjoyable experience.
Hayashi: When it comes to fighting games, there are players who’d learn every character and see that as depth, but there would also be players who can’t use more than one or two characters. In that case, we thought, why don’t we make the game accomodating of these different play styles by putting out a different way of purchasing the game (free-to-play plus paid characters)? With the free basic version, players could buy just the characters they play, and check out only the new characters that they’re personally interested in. Or if a player plans to spend several hundred hours playing with all the characters, then buying the retail version would make more sense.
—It certainly is true that there are quite a lot of different styles of play when it comes to having fun with a fighting game.
Hayashi: And the thing when you’re talking abotu players who’d pick their mains and subs, and who’d want to try out the new characters, those are really folks who’ve been following the series for a while.
When it comes to new players, when they look at the character select screen with over 25 characters to pick from, they may get frustrated not knowing which one to pick. If they were to try out one character per match, then you’d need to play at least 20 matches to try all of them. To find a character that suits one’s play style, that’s even worse, you’d have to do several hundred matches.
So with regards to that, we’d also like to limit the barriers of entry by just giving beginners the characters that we highly recommend, to start with.
—You’re referring to the characters available from the outset in the free basic version, huh? Kasumi, Ayane, Hayate and Hayabusa.
Hayashi: That’s right. We picked characters that would give beginning players a good idea of what sort of game Dead or Alive is. Initiailly there was some discussion internally on whether it was really a good idea to give away the game’s lead characters, but in the end we decided, because they’re the lead characters, they should especially be the ones who are included in the free basic verison of the game.
—So four characters are selectable. Are there any restrictions in terms of opponents a player in the free basic version can fight with?
Hayashi: Not at all. While in the free version players only have permission to play as four characters, in online battle and the various modes offline, these players can still fight Momiji and the rest as their opponents. There are also no limitations on stage selection. All of them can be fought on.
—I see. In the future are you planning to increase the number of free playable characters?
Hayashi: We’re thinking of doing something like a limited-time-only promotional campaign where, for instance, “for this week only, Tina is free-to-play” so that players on this version can be encouraged to try the other characters. Apart from such promotions, every character outside of the initial four will have to be purchased.
—And players from both the free and paid retail versions will be able to play against one another?
Hayashi: Of course they can. Online there won’t be any sort of discrimination against a player who’s on the free version of the game, versus a player who’s on the retail version.
In the free basic version, the Story mode and additional characters are paid DLC, but apart from that there is no distinction between this and the full retail version.
In other words, the free basic version will include all the new features added from the PS Vita version of DOA5 Plus, such as deeper tutorial and training modes. Using these practice modes, it’s possible for a player to train and be the world’s best Dead or Alive player just with the free basic version.
—Recently there’s been a lot of livestreams for tournaments held all over Japan, huh? When a gamer gets hyped watching one such livestream, and decides to check out the game him or herself, the basic free versio nis really handy for that, huh?
Hayashi: As more and more of these tournaments are streamed live, the number of people watching and enjoying those videos increase. Yet at the same time, those people would actually need to buy the game to actually be able to play it, and so they don’t – that’s sort of how it’s always been.
With a free basic version, we feel that the barriers to entry have been lowered enough for gamers like that to join in on the action.
—By the way, for fans who bought DLC costumes for Dead or Alive 5, will they be transferrable to Ultimate?
Hayashi: All of that data will be transferrable to Ultimate. For the free basic version, these costumes will be useable for the characters they’ve paid to use in the game. From the free basic version, gamers will also be able to purchase DLC costumes that were initially released for Dead or Alive 5, to further customise their favourite characters’ styles. Of course, we also plan to release brand new DLC costumes for Ultimate.
—When most people think about the premium model, it’s hard not to think that there might be hidden charges or some sort of “gacha” lottery system for DLC content…
Hayashi: We won’t have any of that. The only things you’d ever need to buy in the free basic edition are the characters, and the story mode, and you’ll get exactly what you paid for.
Of course, there won’t be restrictions on how much you can play in a game either. We won’t be implementing those sort of freemium systems where every fight in the game costs stamina to play, or that you can only play X number of matches per day and have to use paid items to recover your stamina. There’s no such thing here, you play without restrictions as much as you like.
—That’s good to hear. I was thinking that if you were to implement a “gacha” random lottery system, then we might end up with a situation where I’ll buy a DLC costume and go “what the hell, I got Bayman’s costume again!” (Laughs)
(Translator’s comment: EA and Bioware, you taking notes?)
Another thing: Will users who currently own Dead or Alive 5 for the PS3 and X360 will be able to upgrade to Ultimate via DLC?
Hayashi: This time we couldn’t do that, as we had to make many root changes to the game’s system in order to improve the overall play experience. We’ve made severe tweaks to the game program, and as such it would be incredibly difficult to roll it out as an update.
But this time around we’re doing both a retail version and a downloadable free basic version, so for fans who’re still on the fence on Ultimate, they can try before they buy with the free basic version.
At the moment, the free basic version has only been announced for the PlayStation 3. That said, negotiations are currently underway as to whether or not we could also put out a similar solution for the Xbox 360 version. We’d very much like to do it on the X360 as well, but as this is something new we’re trying, we can’t promise at this moment that it will be doable on the platform.
—I think that’s something a lot of Xbox 360 users will be looking forward to, so we’re hoping for good news on that. By the way, when you say that severe tweaks were made to improve the game, does that include tweaking the online experience to be better as well?
Hayashi: Yes. We’re planning to make huge changes with that too. With Dead or Alive 5 we were able to change a lot of things that weren’t so good initially, with game patches. And with Ultimate we’re improving the game even further than that.
For that reason, DOA5U is not compatible with DOA5 or DOA5 Plus, not even in terms of letting players from each version play against one another.
—Previously you organised an official tournament with Dead or Alive 5. Do you plan to do that again with Ultimate?
Hayashi: Yes we do. As fighting games are also about determining who’s the strongest, we’d like to be able to present some sort of target for fans to try and aim for. At the moment we still don’t know how far we can go with those tournament plans, but personally I’d like to do some form of events that we could take all over Japan. And at those events we could give out special player titles/tags/descriptions.
—When it comes to organising a nation-wide fighting games tournament in Japan, I think that’d be quite difficult to do without the aid of arcades. Do you plan to roll out an arcade version?
Hayashi: Since 2000’s Dead or Alive 2 Millenium, we have not released an arcade version of Dead or Alive. So it’s been about 13 years.
After Dead or Alive 5 was released, a number of folks asked us if we were going to do an arcade version, and there are certainly requests for that to happen. Personally I’d like very much to make an arcade version as well.
—Looking at the arcade scene lately, there’s been a resurgence of interest in 2D fighting games ever since Street Fighter Iv’s release. So please, we hope for an arcade release of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate that may bring about a resurgence for 3D fighting games the same way that Street Fighter IV did for 2D.
Hayashi: Recently we’ve been studying the arcade business by literally visiting arcades ourselves. While we were there we did notice that 2D fighting games were noticeably more popular than the 3D ones. As a 3D fighting game maker ourselves, we were quite dispirited by that. We’re hoping that Ultimate will bring about a resurgence in popularity for 3D fighters, and hope that as a result, the entire fighting games scene gets more hype.
—Lastly, do you have any parting words for the fans?
Hayashi: When we released Dead or Alive 5 last year (2012), we received a lot of positive feedback from fans, which we’re very grateful for and which we see as a form of encouragement.
However, at the same time, we were also aware that there were imperfections with the game, and we’ve tried to be well on top of that. We see Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate as a result of our hard work improving on all those flaws fans saw in the previous release, and in that sense, we want to bring out the absolute best game that we can to our fans, in Ultimate. So please look forward to the game’s release.
As for gamers who’ve yet to try the Dead or Alive series, this time around we’re launching a free basic version so please do download it and take your first step into the world of fighting games with it.
Furthermore, the free basic version will not just be distributed within Japan, but also to the entire world simultaneously. We hope to create a well-populated online scene where hundreds of thousands of gamers from all over the world would hop on. So everyone, please join the community. We hope you enjoy the game!
Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 comes out in the US September 3, 2013. The Japanese and European release dates are September 5 and 6 respectively.