Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

February 16, 2012

Let's Bounce

This beatdown was sparked by the letter H.

So Dead or Alive 5 is on the way -- and I, for one, am kind of excited about it.  Besides the fact that I’m better at 3D fighters than 2D (you’re looking at a Deity-ranked player of Tekken 5, people), it’s nice to see that franchise getting a new installment, especially after the snafu between Tecmo, Team Ninja, and series spearhead Tomonobu Itagaki a while back.

That said, there was a bit of news that piqued my interest recently.  Supposedly, the game aims to have more “realistic” women in its proceedings; what that pertains to has yet to be fully seen and appreciated, but early screenshots and statements give us clues.  In regards to the latter, there seems to be a push to make the female characters more well-defined, more human, more emotional -- I interpret it as a push to make them more well-rounded characters, writing-wise.  In regards to the former, the ladies in the latest images seem to be…ahem…carrying less of a burden.  And they’re fully clothed; though the two characters in question tended to be fully-dressed in their default outfits, it’s still nice to see they haven’t backpedaled...yet. 

Nevertheless, my response to Team Ninja’s claim was as follows:

I fancy myself as an “eternal optimist”, but I think in this case I have to hold up a hand and say “now hold on there, buckaroo.”  For those of you who don’t know, the Dead or Alive franchise is the leading breast physics simulator on the market  a 3D fighting game series featuring all manner of improbably buxom women fighters -- ninjas, wrestlers, commandos and more -- coming together to…well, fight.  The plots tend to vary from game-to-game, but there is some vertebrae-destroying jiggling connective tissue: rivalries between ninja clans/sisters, the sinister workings of the DOATEC organization, and beating down whatever nasty starts getting too big for its bra britches.  Contrary to popular belief, the game doesn’t just feature women to ogle mindlessly; there are male ninjas, male wrestlers, male martial artists, and male…uh…whatever Zack is supposed to be.  Alien entrepreneur Dennis Rodman, maybe?  Whatever the case, you can bet that there’s some extreme close-ups of perfectly-molded mounds of estrogen-born adipose tissue fast and furious fighting, using rapid-tap combos and a hefty counterattack system that offers some heated yet risk-laden battles.  So it’s not all bad.

Not all bad -- and then you remember that the spinoff games exist, where the girls gather on an island and play volleyball and other water-based minigames effectively date one another and wear too-hot-for-TV bikinis.  Also you take pictures of them as they pose and faff about.  Gameplay at its finest, people.

They sure put a lot of work into rendering these...

Dead or Alive…well, it is what it is.  Gelatinous appendages aside, I think it’s a cool franchise.  I haven’t played all the games, I admit, but I did seriously enjoy the fourth installment (at least before my Xbox earned its red rings).  Eliot and his Xing Yi Quan fighting style earned a special place in my heart, but -- even with the threat of bounciness ever present -- I had fun using Tina and having her Giant Swing ninjas off flights of stairs.  I tended to set the cheesecake factor aside; when you’re playing a fighting game, staring at lady parts the whole match is a surefire way to get your ass whooped.  I bet there are others who feel the same way.  I bet there are still others who look at all the cheesecake and think “Eh, that’s nice.  Now, time for the next round.”  And I suppose that yes, there is a subset of players who enjoy the franchise because they’re cheesecake enthusiasts.  I may not fully understand or approve, but who am I to critique taste?  I consider hot dogs as a legitimate gourmet dish.

So the audiences have different reactions; whatever the case, I don’t think that fanservice would necessarily be a deal breaker to DOA5.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a bit of decorum in my fighting games.  But let’s face it: DOA has a character and a reputation it won’t be losing anytime soon.  I doubt that the failings of DOA4 had anything to do with bust size; it was because some fighter purists could argue (successfully, no doubt) that the entire franchise was a bit too button-mashy and random to be taken seriously.  To say nothing of the fact that Street Fighter 4 exploded onto the scene, and pulled the rug from under DOA.  Nevertheless, the character of DOA was established, just as Street Fighter had its character.  In the same sense that SF relied on ridiculously-justified powers and racist caricatures, so too did DOA put stock in bosoms most easily described as “heaving.”  It would be the equivalent of hating a woman in real life just because she was busty. 

"A failure on every level." -- Idiots

The problem, I think, is that DOA went way too far in a certain direction.  What was originally a fighting game with jiggle physics became a caricature -- soon DOA was less about fighting and more about getting those girls back onto that island so they could showcase independent left-and-right breast physics.  The problem wasn’t helped by the fact that, again, DOA wasn’t as technically sophisticated as other fighters.  Yet Tecmo and Team Ninja seemed content with peddling their ladies, squandering the potential therein.  Yes, that’s right, I said it.  I see potential in the DOA girls.  This is what I mean when I say “eternal optimist.”

I played DOA4.  I got all the endings -- some of them twice, since auto-save wasn’t on the first time through.  The underlying plot was that opera singer Helena Douglas was forced to take over DOATEC in place of her father (for…some reason), and most of the characters’ final battles ended up in a secret lair where beating a turquoise jelly clone of ninja girl Kasumi would…you know what?  I’m at a loss on how to make sense of that.  The point being that most of these characters show up at DOATEC HQ, beat up one of the jelly clones, and then you get the FMV ending.  What’s Kasumi’s ending?  You know, the ending of one of the franchise’s main characters?  Cut to her suddenly turned into a mermaid, with nothing but a few bubbles covering her naughty bits, as she swims around and sings a song.  And then she wakes up in her room, tangled in her sheets.  Bear in mind this is seconds after a life-or-death battle with her clone.  I know standards and expectations were low, but even the most basic of narrative closure would mean something.

Well, maybe that was an isolated incident.  Hey, what about Lei-Fang’s ending?  She’s one of my favorite characters, too.  A genius college student and Tai Chi Quan user out to prove her mettle to Bruce Lee pastiche Jann Lee?  There’s gotta be something worthwhile there.  Maybe she reconciles with him a- oh, no, she loses her balance in a train and gets groped by a salary man.

Okay, how about Hitomi?  She’s a half-German martial artist looking to revive the family’s ailing dojo.  Maybe she’ll work with fellow fighter Ein a- oh wait, we cut to her making breakfast in a minimum of clothes to the tune of a flighty pop song.

Dammit, fine.  How about Christie?  She’s a sadistic assassin out to take Helena’s life.  And in her story, she goes after Helena; did she deal the final blow, or maybe she had a change of he- oh COME THE HELL ON.  You put her in a strip club so she can gyrate around in leather gear?  And then that same gear is an unlockable costume?  THAT’S our reward?!  You’re not even trying!

But on the other hand, there are some endings that have a bit more weight behind them.  Ayane’s ending has her fighting alongside fellow ninja Hayate and blowing part of DOATEC up.  Helena’s ending, I suppose, is the official canon ending that ties all the others’ together; it features Kasumi actually fighting her clone, and Helena herself narrowly avoids getting fricasseed after triggering DOATEC’s self destruct.  And Tina?  Even though her story boiled down to “get hella-famous as a rock star,” at least her ending followed through on that; you see her as a skateboarding lead guitarist who plays a block-busting solo.  To say nothing of the fact that the endings of the other DOA games feature more insights into the characters -- Kasumi’s escape from her ninja duties, Hitomi outgrows her family’s dojo, Lei-Fang…beatin’ up dudes in an alley…maybe there’s hope yet.

So what am I trying to say here?  It’s simple.  The women of DOA are diverse, have their own personalities, have backstories, and are at the forefront of the franchise rather than being side characters or love interests.  Arguably, Tecmo and Team Ninja have already taken steps towards making these ladies fully fleshed out.  They just have to remember not to degrade into mindless fanservice.  Can you imagine what Harry Potter would be like if the series’ climax just amounted to Hermione getting a massage?

“Well now,” you say, stroking your chin and nodding.  “That’s a very true point.  There may be some potential realized if focus is directed elsewhere.  And considering the statement earlier, I’d say they’re on the right track.”  And to that I say yes…BUT with some points I want to address.

Number One: There is nothing inherently wrong with large-breasted characters (and by extension, characters that offer fanservice); it’s how you portray them that problems start to arise.  Let’s be real here: fiction is full of women (and men!) with proportions that defy belief.  But I’m of the opinion that they can be written well, as long as there’s a focus on what makes the character tick -- not just what sets her physics into motion.  DC Comics’ Power Girl is bosomy as all get out, but behind that veil of estrogen lays a competent, intelligent character.  Tales of Symphonia features Sheena, a ninja girl with jiggle physics -- and the weight of her past failures and a current mission to save her dimension from destitution upon her.  And Wonder Woman?  Well, you look me straight in the eye and tell me that she hasn’t become an icon…in spite of wearing little more than a star-spangled bustier.  Do you see what I’m getting at?

Number Two: In order for DOA5 to surpass its reputation, it needs to identify the real problems.  If there’s one thing that bugs me about DOA, it’s not the bust sizes.  It’s the faces. 

I know anime.  I know that the developers were opting for style and such.  But all the faces in DOA4 looked unsettlingly wrong -- doll-like.  Lifeless.  Plastic.  And when they do try to show emotion, it just comes off as creepy.  The same could be said about the hair; I remember switching Lei-Fang to her braids just so I wouldn’t have to see the game try and fail to make natural-looking and moving hair.  You could maybe argue that it’s just DOA4 showing its age, but a look at the games that have come out since then suggests otherwise.  The Ninja Gaiden series (where several of the characters pop in) has the same problem; likewise, the recent Dead or Alive Dimensions does little to remedy the situation.  It looks like DOA5 is primed to change that, but the early screenshots still have them look a bit…derpy.

Real ninjas fall asleep in the middle of battle.

But what’s more important is the fighting system.  Early reports suggest slowed-down combat, a shifted emphasis on the arena itself, and what sounds suspiciously like the much-loathed quick-time events.  This doesn’t inspire confidence.  Thinking back to DOA4, falling off a bridge or getting blown into a log could make me lose up to half my health in one go.  The fighting was fast-paced, but fair; in fact, that fat pace invited button-mashers to go nuts, and therefore make themselves more susceptible to counterattacks.  Knowing the properties of your moves and when and how to use them was a part of the game’s strategy.  And quick-time events?  Really?  This is how you’re going to compete with Capcom?

It’s hard to judge right now -- and as I’ve said, I’m not an expert on the series as a whole.  But in spite of my fears, I think it’s possible that they can pull off a win.  Except…

Number Three: Whatever you decide to do, do it WELL.  In DOA4, Hitomi gets into a fight with Lei-Fang over some cabbage.  Later on, she gets into a fight with Jann Lee after he saves her life by kicking a T-Rex in the face, believing he had no right to hurt such an innocent animal.  The bar is not set very high here.

Dead or Alive Dimensions -- the latest installment, post-Itagaki -- isn’t much better.  Kasumi, the commando Bayman, and the assassin Christie are all on a helicopter heading for a cruise ship (doesn’t that sound like the start of a bad joke?).  Christie says “Hey Bayman, I bet you’re not as tough as Kasumi here.”  Bayman says, “What did you say?”  Five seconds later, Kasumi and Bayman are fighting on said cruise ship, and you can knock Bayman down dozens of decks if you so choose.  After the fight, Bayman says “Huh, you’re pretty tough.”  End scene. 

I imagine that the story mode as a whole is full of meaningful moments like this.  Though the less said about Zack’s English voice, the better.

I...I don't...is this...I'm sorry, I have to go.

The greatest in-game story that the company’s put out was in Tecmo Bowl.  The more serious and classy and realistic you try to make a franchise like this, the more likely you are to arse it up.  How are you going to justify playing the story mode of a fighting game when fighting games are about competing against others?  How are you going to reconcile the utterly silly moments that make DOA what it is and the realistic elements you aim to promote?  How are you going to de-sexify the women of the franchise you’ve promoted as such for years now?  And no, forced breast reduction is not enough; in the same sense that a woman with big breasts isn’t automatically a sex icon, a woman with moderate proportions can still be lusted over -- you know, like in real life.  Rule 34 exists for a reason; if a Google image search for The Magic School Bus can reveal porn of Ms. Frizzle, you’re better off not trying to be something you aren’t.

And really, that’s what I think is going to make or break this game: whether or not it can handle its identity crisis.  Is it going to successfully become a serious contender in the fighting game community, with depth and realism and a de-emphasis on the fanservice that made it famous?  Will it try its hardest to become what people want it to be, while falling flat on its face and resorting to old tricks?  Is this all just a claim made by Team Ninja to gain notoriety, when in reality DOA hasn’t changed a bit?  Lord knows that’s a real possibility; Trauma Team’s developers espoused a more realistic take on its medical fiction, but subsequently introduced a superhero, a ninja, and an investigator who got messages from the dead.  But none of that was to its detriment.  In fact, those elements helped ensure that Trauma Team had a memorable style and character.  It embraced wackiness, but could play up its drama and suspense at a moment’s notice; it’s one of the few games that actually made me cry.   I wonder if DOA can do the same.  I really, really, wonder.

And to be honest, I hope it succeeds.  I just hope the developers make the right changes for the right reasons.  As a reviewer from IGN once said, “Anyone who says that DOA is anything but a set of hooters is just kidding themselves.”  Shocking, but true.  So what comes next?  Who knows.  But as I said, whatever you do, Team Ninja, do it well.

People have a habit of liking high-quality things.  It sucks, I know.

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