It may technically not have been the first fighting game to go fully online on console, even on Xbox, but when the Xbox Live service revolutionised online gaming the platform could not have asked for a better premier fighting game than Dead or Alive Ultimate. It was essentially a compilation of the first two games in the franchise, but as the title suggests it was truly the ultimate edition which felt like a brand-new entry in every sense. The pack came with the original SEGA Saturn version of Dead or Alive, whereas Dead or Alive 2 was fully built up from scratch into what was the most graphically and technically impressive fighting game of that time.
People often forget how series creator, Tomonobu Itagaki, had a real love affair with the Xbox brand which stemmed from his love affair with SEGA consoles. Itagaki had a special nostalgic love for the Saturn and Dreamcast, and he often claimed how both Xbox and Xbox 360 reminded him of those classic SEGA systems in many ways. Make of that what you will, but this sentimental attachment largely determined the association of Dead or Alive with SEGA and Microsoft, that is until Itagaki parted ways with Team Ninja shortly after the completion of Ninja Gaiden 2 on Xbox 360.
The inclusion of the Saturn game was a nice little curiosity for Xbox owners, but ultimately it was all about the ultimate edition of Dead or Alive 2. When the game first landed on arcades and Dreamcast, it was revolutionary for not only its graphics and “physics”, but even more so for the interactive fighting stages. These arenas were multi-layered, multi-tiered, filled with all sorts of interactive segments to make the 3D fighting feel truly larger than any of its contemporaries. The core fighting mechanics were bliss too thanks to the fluid 3D movement and a sublime combo system based on Virtua Fighter. The ultimate remake on Xbox quite literally perfected this revolutionary classic, making it feel like a brand-new title in the process.
Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate on Xbox still looks stunning from a graphical standpoint, the coolest showcase being the final boss battle against Tengu where the season of the stage changes in real time during battle. That’s one of the things that made the game and series special, it wasn’t afraid to be daring and experimental with its graphics and stage design to really give players a visually stunning fighting experience. The visuals were arguably much cleaner than even the subsequent Xbox 360 launch title Dead or Alive 4.
Xbox One saw the One X enhanced Dead or Alive 6 this year, which is a highly enjoyable experience but it also represents the absolute worst of DLC and paywall practices in modern fighting games. In the good old days of Xbox and Dead or Alive Ultimate, this wasn’t the case at all. Rather than having costumes and colours being sold for extortive prices, Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate had a treasure chest of costumes and other unlockable treats all on disc. This meant completing story mode with a character multiple times to get all their costumes, but with the game being so fun it was a satisfying exercise to unlock all the different outfits. Sadly, we may never see this trend again just as new pricey costume packs continue to be released for Dead or Alive 6. To give you an idea of how bad this will eventually get, by the time Dead or Alive 5: Last Round had hit its peak the combined monetary value of its DLC had gone into the quadruple digits.
Dead or Alive Ultimate was quite literally the ultimate fighting experience on Xbox; that and Dead or Alive 3 as a launch title certainly gave Microsoft’s first console a formidable exclusive when going up against PlayStation and Tekken. Sadly, none of the classic Xbox Dead or Alive games (including Xtreme Beach Volleyball) were added to Xbox One backwards compatibility line-up. If Microsoft ever revisit the backwards compatibility project again then, hopefully, we will have the complete set in time for Scarlett. For now, you can enjoy Dead or Alive 6, but I wouldn’t recommend the season pass.