RETRO REBOOT | Dead Or Alive 2 (Sega Dreamcast)

The first Dead or Alive made quite the splash in the fighting game circles, making it quite the surprise hit that put Tecmo back into video game relevance, as well as fitting in nicely in the burgeoning era of 3D tournament fighters. Tomonobu Itagaki's baby caught the world by surprise. A few years later, a sequel would capitalize on the success of the first, speeding up the gameplay, expanding the roster, and tinkering with environmental mechanics and physics.

Powered by the Sega NAOMI hardware, providing a significant improvement to the visuals and character models, Dead or Alive 2 was released in arcades in Japan in 1999. The Dreamcast version would be released worldwide in 2000, with upgraded console versions for the PlayStation 2 with Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. The Dreamcast version is based on the Japanese Millennium arcade update. 

Plot wise, following the murder of DOATEC's CEO Fame Douglas at the hands of assassin Bayman, the evil tengu Gohyakumine Bankatsubo escapes from his prison, aiming to drive the world into chaos. New character Helena, Fame's heir, enters the tournament to track down the killer of her mother. Helena is one of my favorite DOA characters, her style of fighting and grace was very appealing to me, and she fits in perfectly in the growing roster of Dead or Alive fighters. Ein, Kasumi's brother and a test subject of DOATEC (his real name being Hayate), joins the playable cast. He later regains his memory. Mercenary Leon 

The gameplay feels very similar to the first, the three-button circulation system between throws, strikes, and holds remain the anchor of the battle philosophy. Dead or Alive 2 also fleshes out its "stun system". Strikes that don't lead to a knockdown can leave you impaired, making attacking or defending impossible. When hit during this "crumple" state, any follow-up attack will change the direction you fall in, making for some potentially deadly chains. Especially when wall damage is implemented. The Danger Zone from the first game is replaced with closed-in arenas, giving some new implications for juggle combos.

The new multi-tiered stages can lead to huge damage. Following in the line of Virtua Fighter 3 which also included an emphasis on uniquely designed arenas, and it would become a staple in not only the DOA series, but breakable locations found their way into Tekken as well. In Dead or Alive 2, you couldn't be defeated by the fall damage, it certainly augmented the series' fast-paced action. 

The fighting styles among the playable roster are pretty diverse, with grappling centric pro wrestlers like Tina and Bass mixed with the more technical and defensive-based Lei Fang and Jann Lee's straightforward explosive offense, there is a deeper meta to explore with the Dead or Alive roster that goes beyond the rock-paper-scissors mentality. Similarly to the first game, there's enough depth to explore that it meshes well with its approachable arcadey madness.

Dead or Alive 2's graphics are very clean and polished on the Dreamcast. The water and snow effects on stages highlighted a lot of the advances this generation of hardware was beginning to show. The upgraded version, Hardcore on the PS2, sharpens the details, smoothes out the textures, and enhances the lighting effects. While a leap above the Dreamcast version, the DC build isn't a slouch. In some ways, I personally like the Cast version, the flatter colors give it more of a manga feel, and the backgrounds look a little cleaner.

Dreamcast DOA 2 adds a Tag Battle system, very similar to Tekken Tag Tournament, complete with unique tag throws and combos. I didn't have a chance to experiment much with this tag mode with other human players back in the day, but it's a pretty entertaining side mode that comes with the home version. Along with Team Battle, Sparring Mode served as a good training tool for players. 

Everything about Dead or Alive 2 is a leap above the original. With the lore expanding (Dead or Alive has low key one of the better storylines in fighting games. I will die on this hill), the gameplay exploring new ideas, the incredibly catchy OST (headed by Makoto Hosoi) and the roster growing, it holds its place as one of the standard bearers for 3D fighting games. Even the voice acting, I find legitimately better than most dubs. I feel this series holds up very well, and DOA 2, whichever version you may be able to get your hands on, is incredibly fun to play, even if there aren't the plethora of unlockables on this one. Perhaps grab Hardcore for a more definitive experience.  

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