Ten years have passed since Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. Fans rejoiced when Koei Tecmo finally announced the development of the third chapter of the series, only to be let down when they heard that it wasn’t coming west, and to cheer again after learning that the Asian version would have English subtitles. It certainly was a rollercoaster.
Two days ago, the game was finally released in Japan and Asia, and we can finally see if it lives up to its predecessors’ legacy.
The story isn’t exactly deep: Zack has created a third iteration of his island, but he’s busy on another job, so he entrusts the player to be the interim owner of the resort in his stead. For various reasons that have very little importance, nine heroines of the Dead or Alive franchise find themselves on vaction on the island. They’ll try to woo each other, while the interim owner, always dutifully dedicated to the mission, will have to please them all.
The game is certainly pleasing to the eyes, with most of the visual glitz focused on the representation of the beauties we’ll meet. The way their expressions are displayed are especially nice, while details like moistness, sweat and naturally building tans (and related tan lines depending on the swimsuits they wear) help in making them feel lively, instead of lifeless dolls that exist regardless of the environment around them.
The Soft Engine 2.0 also goes out of its way in providing natural bouncing, squeezing and body deformation in the right places. If this was a soft body physics simulator, the score you see at the top of this review would be a 9 (and if this is what you expect from the game, feel free to consider it a 9).
Further new visual features introduce see-though clothes and bikini “malfunctions.” If a girl falls in the water, her bikini strings will untie, gracing you with slightly more skin in sight, and an embarrassed stare. Don’t expect to see too much though. This isn’t that kind of game.
That said, there are some flaws in the visuals: most environments are pretty dull, with textures that don’t really live up to most high-end current generation games. Occasionally, the visual glitz is also disturbed by rather visible clipping, especially with hair and loose clothes. Nyotengu, with her charming long bangs and default swimsuit that includes a relatively long skirt, is a major culprit of this, and we’ll often see her hair clip straight into her arms and shoulders.
That said, most of the time those little distractions won’t detract too much from an experience that is mostly successful in making you stare. It also makes absolutely no apology for it, which is pretty refreshing in an era in which developers seem to be expected to apologize every time they drop this kind of eye candy into their games.
If you expect an apology from Producer Yosuke Hayashi, he’ll probably put on his lab-coat, adjust his glasses, and tell you with a very serious tone and expression that it’s for the sake of world peace.
The basic gameplay idea has you juggle dynamically between girl mode and owner mode across periods of two weeks. In girl mode you play a collection of minigames while trying to please the other girls on the island, especially one who you choose as a playmate at the beginning of each vacation (and that you can change at any point, even if a new candidate might refuse, if she doesn’t like you enough).
In owner mode your duty is to “silently watch over the ladies,” which basically means ogling their graces and taking pictures as they play games or relax.
Pleasing girls in owner mode is certainly not easy, especially because the game can be extremely punishing is you go out of the way to be a perv. Give a girl a swimsuit that she doesn’t like when it’s too early in your relationship? You’ll find yourself with a spare bikini that would look very awkward on you, and having to spend half of its price to re-wrap it again and try later.
If you manage to have her accept the bikini, you better not open your eyes while she changes into it. If you do, you’ll be treated to no more eye candy than the “bikini malfunctions” that you can see simply by having her fall in the water, and good luck repairing that damaged relationship with her.
If you save enough Zack Money to buy one of the tickets that will open the door to a sexy dance, you better be sure that your chosen lady absolutely loves you, or she’ll refuse, and you’ll have again to pay half of its super-steep price to re-wrap it. That’s an heart-breaking experience.
While owner mode is mostly about watching and choosing the right gift at the right time, girl mode involves a lot more actual playing, even if the minigames are a collection of hits and misses.
Beach volley returns as the mainstay of the series. It’s quite similar to Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, and while it’s fairly easy to learn, it’s very challenging to master. Controls are relatively simple, but using both sticks at the same time to control the positioning of both members of your team requires excellent hand-eye coordination.
Reflexes and timing are also very important, and spiking, feinting and blocking at the right moment makes all the difference in the world. It’s certainly the most fun part of the game, and since winning at it is also the most effective way to please the ladies, you better get good.
Volleyball is a hit, even if the loss of multiplayer reduces its potential.
Butt battles and tug-of-war are simple in their implementation, but surprisingly tactical: being too aggressive and constantly on the offensive will have you end up in the water quite often with anyone but the easiest opponents. On the other hand, goading your adversary into making a move and countering it by using her own force against her (in perfect martial arts style) will allow you to beat the strongest girls when you get the timing down. These two are also pretty good hits.
Pool hopping and rock climbing are basically just collections of quick time events. They’re fairly boring, and especially rock climbing offers no challenge whatsoever, unless you’re really bad at quick time events. I’ll chalk both at big misses.
Flag races are unfortunately another miss. They’re basically just button mashing.
The casino feature is basically your best money maker, and can be used both as a girl and as the owner. Roulette and Black Jack are impressively full-featured, offering rules like insurance and split, that often aren’t included in this kind of game. Unfortunately, they’re very much based on luck, and while they can be fun, they can also be frustrating if your purpose is simply to pad your in-game wallet to buy more goodies.
Poker offers the best experience, and it’s the most consistent money-maker. The nine heroines play with recognizable personalities, and that adds to the experience.
On the down-side, I found pretty much all of them to be a bit too vulnerable to brute-force bluffing. If you maximize the chances for them to fold by raising as little as possible every time your turn comes, most of the times you’ll manage to push them into dropping their cards.
Unfortunately the game seems to be a little light on features compared to its predecessor. The loss of jet-ski races and multiplayer is a rather relevant hit, and the cast of only nine girls can be disappointing, especially if your favorites did not make the cut.
On the other hand, a lot of attention has been put into making each girl feel different from the others, with her own personality, lines, tastes and play style. That’s definitely something that we can appreciate. They also feel a lot less random than they did in previous games, and it’s now a bit easier to predict when they’ll accept your gifts and when it’s better to wait.
Audio unfortunately suffers from lack of variety in music tracks, especially in comparison with Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. On the contrary, voice acting is definitely good, even if you could say that it’s par for the course for a game featuring a Japanese voice track.
The localization is also quite good, which isn’t too surprising, considering that it’s not specifically aimed at a western audience.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is very, very grindy. This isn’t automatically a problem, as some enjoy that kind of slow and steady progression (and I happen to be among that group). Yet, if you dislike having to work long and hard for every bikini, especially in owner mode, and having to go through multiple vacation cycles to finally soften the heart of your charges, this certainly isn’t the game for you.
Luckily, most of your effort carries over to following playthroughs. Playing multiple vacations will see all the girls you played with retain their wardrobe and inventory, and become easier to please, provided that you treated them right. This creates a steady improvement curve that can feel very satisfying and rewarding on the long run.
Ultimately, the score you’ll see at he top of this article paints only part of the picture, and balances two entirely different points of view. Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 feels a bit rushed to the finish line, and while its certainly more glitzy than its predecessors, it offers less in terms of pure gameplay.
On the other hand, unless the grind/steady progression is something that turns you off, whether you’ll enjoy this game or not depends a lot on what you expect from it.
If you expect a title that with a heavy focus on deep gameplay, instant gratification and complex mechanics, this game most certainly isn’t for you.
Conversely, if you want a whole lot of eye candy that is better played in a relaxed fashion, without needing to rush through all the content on the menu, then Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 has the potential to offer countless hours of fun. It’s certainly a game that I see as a great way to wind down after a hard day at work, or a long week. Not all games need to be emotionally deep experiences, action masterpieces, or playable documentaries on the meaning of life, and this one does a good job of just letting you turn off the left side of the brain and enjoy the sights.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is far from perfect, and I don’t see it bringing home any Game of the Year titles, but in today’s gaming landscape it’s certainly fairly unique. If that kind of uniqueness is what you enjoy, then you’ll most probably feel right at home on Zack’s new island. I certainly did, and plan to continue doing so for quite a while.
Since the game won’t be available on the western market, the review copy used for this article was kindly provided by Play-Asia.
The review copy provided to DualShockers was for the PS4 version. The PS Vita version includes different features and a different visual presentation, so consider this review valid exclusively for the home console version.