DEVELOPER: Team Ninja
RELEASE DATE: 10/26/00 (US), 12/14/00 (JP), 12/15/00 (EU)
Fighting game sequels are always better than the originals. Specifically, the first sequel, the entry with ‘II’ on the end. Street Fighter II is the obvious example. The first Street Fighter was a moderate success, but the sequel pushed the genre forward and revitalized arcades for the 90s. Mortal Kombat II is still considered the best 2D iteration of the franchise. Virtua Fighter II and Tekken II were staggering improvements over their predecessors’ groundbreaking, but unbearably clunky mechanics. Hell, even Smash Bros. Melee is seen as the pinnacle of Nintendo’s four-player fighting frenzy.
You get the point. Fighting game sequels – more so than other genres – are almost always better than the originals. And while we haven’t played the original Dead or Alive for PS1 or Saturn, we’ve seen video and, well… it actually doesn’t look too different from Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore.
Look at those swift battles and surprisingly smooth polygonal characters. To be honest, I’m surprised that this is a mid-gen PS1 game and not an early PS2 title.
Still, I know my take about fighting game sequels always being better than the originals is the correct one. Dead or Alive doesn’t appear to be a terrible fighting game by any stretch, but very few discuss it today outside of the hardcore DoA fandom. Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore, on the other hand, is considered one of the best fighting games of all time and one of the best PS2 launch games. I’m not sure where it ranks in my personal Greatest Fighting Games List, but the game absolutely holds up two decades later.
The first Dead or Alive game emerged in 1996, three years after the first Virtua Fighter and 18 months or so after Tekken‘s arcade release. Both Sega and Namco’s 3D fighting franchises were massive hits when Dead or Alive showed up. While one might think that the arcade/home console market had more than enough fighting game franchises in the mid-90s, surprisingly, this was not the case. Dead or Alive also became a smash hit and supposedly saved Tecmo from complete bankruptcy.
Where Virtua Fighter is more sim-like and measured in its approach, and Tekken allows for greater control over its characters, Dead or Alive is all about constant aggression. Strike characters until they can’t breathe anymore. Knock them into electric generators or through a wall and off a building. Juggle them in the air before smashing them on the ground. Fighting quickly and mercilessly without letting up is literally the name of the game. Go aggro and stay alive, or get pummeled and die.
Dead or Alive is also hailed for its unique countering system. From the Dead or Alive wiki: “Beginning from the original Dead or Alive, players could input a backwards directional input in co-operation with the respective guard button to defend against a character’s attack while dealing significant damage to the victim’s life bar. Counter holds must be timed correctly with an attack, and also must be executed correspondingly with the area of attack. For example, a character that successfully counters a low kick attack from another player must time the input as well as place a downward directional push on the joystick” (Gameplay, Dead or Alive Wiki).
Aggressive combat, innovative counters, and… unreasonably large boobs. Dead or Alive certainly isn’t the first fighting game to offer fan service, but it is the first to make the fan service as much a feature as the mechanics themselves. Cleavage and panty shots are everywhere, so much so that I’m surprised the series was ever rated “Teen” in its earlier iterations. I absolutely don’t approve of half-naked cartoon women fighting around me, but at the same time, it’s hard to take any of it too seriously. Also, if you’re really playing the game, you’re not focused on anyone’s unmentionables.
Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is committed to its madness, and that’s why it’s great. This is not your typical fighting game tournament. The characters are ridiculous. The stories for each of the characters are appropriately psychotic and follow very little logic. The English dubbing is simultaneously some of the worst and greatest we’ve ever heard.
But don’t take our word for it. Listen/Watch for yourself:
Brilliant, no? Truly, we are blessed to live in the same world as this entertainment.
THE BEST DOA2: HARDCORE CHARACTERS
Bass – Bass is an old American wrestler who looks like Hulk Hogan and sounds like he just emerged from the Texas badlands. He hates seeing his daughter Tina (another playable character) wearing skimpy outfits and using her sex appeal to become famous. He’s such a devoted father that he will suplex his daughter into submission just to make her stop. It’s ok, though. They make up in the end.
Zack – an African-American kickboxer who wears outrageous clothing and has the hots for Tina, Bass’ daughter. She’s not having it, but that doesn’t stop Zach from fighting for her (and for money, according to the Dead or Alive 2 wiki). He’s so obsessed with Tina that, at one point, he ventures out into the desert, makes friends with a prairie dog and names it Tina. Now that‘s a plot twist.
Ryu Hayabusa – The original ninja from the Ninja Gaiden franchise is stiff and emotion-less, but that’s why we love him. Pre-match, Ryu busts out non sequiturs like “For my friend’s sake, I can not lose.” He has a sword, but he never uses it in a match. And did you know he’s a curio shop owner? Hayabusa truly contains layers.
Gen Fu – an elderly Chinese man and practitioner of xinyi liuhe quan. Gen Fu needs prize money from the tournament in order to save his granddaughter from a rare disease. He’s grouchy and irritable, but I don’t blame him. He’s fighting for a good cause.
Ayane – the jealous half-sister of Kasumi, stealth kunoichi, and sometimes partner of Ryu Hayabusa in the modern Ninja Gaiden games. Ayane is a lovable brat with real anger issues. She makes remarks like “You’re annoying me again!” and “You scum!” Helena Douglas accuses her of murdering her mom, and Ayane doesn’t confess or deny the charges, even though she didn’t commit the crime. Mostly, she wants to take down Kasumi and win the tournament, presumably to show the world that she’s greater than her sister. She’s a freaky one, alright.
The Story mode provides the most fulfillment here, but there are a plethora of other modes to choose from. In no particular order: Time Attack, Survival, Tag Battle, Sparring, Team Battle, UPS Mode, and Battle Rec Mode. Some of these modes, like Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle and Tag Battle (akin to Tekken Tag Tournament‘s battles) are self-explanatory. Sparring is a Practice mode. UPS stands for User Profile System and will allow you to save battle records and various player records for each character you use in the game. Battle Rec Mode allows you to save Replays of different matches that you fight.
This might sound like a lot of extra content, but unless you’re a fighting game fanatic who enjoys experimenting with various setups, or you always have another player ready to jump into the battle with you, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore really lives and dies by its bonkers Story Mode. Lest we forget, Sony didn’t have an online infrastructure for the PS2 at launch. No online means no fighting online means… hope you have lots of IRL friends who are just as excited about Dead or Alive as you are.
Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore still feels good to play all these years later. That said, if the game didn’t dive head first into insanity, would it be as entertaining? Probably not. DoA 2: Hardcore works as a whole because of the over-the-top characters/stories and the polished fast-paced battles. Remove one or the other, and the game wouldn’t be as fully realized.
Not as serious as Virtua Fighter, not as flashy as Tekken, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore carves its own crooked path. I love the ludicrous Story Mode and the fighting mechanics, but I wish the female characters weren’t so scantily clad. There’s a lot to explore here if one’s so inclined, but for filthy casuals like myself, the Story mode works just fine.
Listen to our DOA2: Hardcore podcast here.
*thanks to Nintendo.co.uk, Hey Poor Player, Dead or Alive Fandom, Moby Games, and Arcade Museum for the screenshots/flyer!