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Team Ninja faces a daunting challenge when they release Dead or Alive 5: Last Round in February (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360). Unlike their obstacles with the Ninja Gaiden series, it isn’t fighting post-Itagaki blues. It’s also not about the franchise being a prime exhibit in the sexuality debate.

It’s about being relevant in a genre that has hit a saturation point.

The modern fighting game genre is a tough arena to crack into. Players have a ridiculous amount of titles to choose from compared to ten years ago. This is problematic when the nature of the genre’s gameplay requires these two key things: a serious time investment on the part of the player in order to learn the game and a competitive base of participants that is going to pay off that commitment.

If the majority of the fighting game audience haven’t emerged from the comfort of their preferred competitive games to adopt previous versions of Dead or Alive 5, what about Last Round is going to convince them in 2015?

While I got the chance to bang around an early build of Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, I had an opportunity to grill key members of Team Ninja. Producer Yosuke Hayashi, director Yohei Shimbori, and creative director Tom Lee. In part one of this two-part interview, we discuss what Team Ninja’s intent with this release is, their viewpoint on the modern sexuality culture clash, and what they’re looking forward to after Dead or Alive 5: Last Round.

From left to right: Tom Lee, Yohei Shimbori, and Yosuke Hayashi of Team Ninja

Above: From left to right: Tom Lee, Yohei Shimbori, and Yosuke Hayashi of Team Ninja

Image Credit: Team Ninja

GamesBeat: What is Team Ninja’s intent with this release?

Tom Lee: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is the final and most complete edition of Dead or Alive 5. It allows fans and new users to experience Dead or Alive 5 on the latest current-gen systems in glorious 1080p at 60 frames per second.

As the final edition, it’s loaded with all of the exciting content released up to this point as well as two new characters and two new stages.

Simply speaking, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is a celebration of Dead or Alive 5 and we want to share this experience as one last swan song for our fans before we look ahead to the future.

GamesBeat: The $25 price for this upgrade gave me a bit of sticker shock. Upgrading Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition to Ultra is $15. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown was also a $15. Are there other things in the works, other than two stages and two characters, that customers should look out for?

Yosuke Hayashi: We plan on supporting Dead or Alive 5: Last Round long-term. This includes adjustments to game balance and maybe even adding additional modes. That long-term support for the game is what we were considering when we set the upgrade price at $25. You can of course buy the extra characters for just $4, but for just an extra $15, you can get the full game on PS4 or Xbox One.

We want players to be able to choose what is best for them from within a variety of options. But we are sure that whatever option players choose, they will definitely get their money’s worth and more.

EVO championships

Above: EVO playing that Mahvel

Image Credit: EVO

GamesBeat: In a previous conversation,Tom Lee mentioned that Dead or Alive 5 is gaining traction in the competitive community and is being featured in some majors in the U.S. What do you feel needs to happen to give the game the push it needs to hit the next level? Especially being featured at something huge like EVO?

Lee: I think consistency is the key for making progress in the competitive scene. We have been active in supporting our fighters out in the grassroots tournaments as well as majors throughout the year. And we certainly plan to continue our involvement and support for the Dead or Alive fighters in these offline tourneys moving forward.

We’ve built solid relationships with many of the tournament organizers and FGC (Fighting Game Community) notables across the country in the past two years and they are committed in supporting Dead or Alive as a part of their main staple of featured titles moving forward. We’re confident that our tournament numbers will continue to grow as they have been since the launch of Dead or Alive 5 back in 2012. We would like to engage with our fighters & veterans in the competitive community by featuring their player profiles, player tips, tutorial videos, etc.

I think by allowing our best fighters to show off the game and keeping the focus on “fighting” it will have an organic effect in advocating Dead or Alive as a serious fighting game within the greater FGC.

Nothing suggestive about this....

Above: Nothing suggestive about this. …

Image Credit: Team Ninja

GamesBeat: In the West, the games industry is going through an extremely volatile time when it comes to sexuality and gender representation in games. Dead or Alive is one of the medium’s prime examples of females being overtly sexualized. Is this controversy on Team Ninja’s radar? If so, what’s your viewpoint on these issues?

Lee: Gender equality, misogyny, gamer gate are all industry topics/issues that we are certainly aware of and paying close attention to.

As a fighting game, our position on Dead or Alive is that we are creating female characters in an obvious fantasy setting where they compete with other male and female characters using extraordinary abilities. They are each strong and unique in their own individual way. And they are no less powerful than any of their male counterparts/opponents.

So, if we’re going to showcase strong female fighting characters in a game, why not make them look beautiful as well? Obviously, beauty is a subjective thing and everyone has their own opinions or interpretations of it. And that opinion of beauty also changes and varies from time to time and from culture to culture. We choose to represent our fantasy female characters in the manner in which we’ve become notable for.

But, we also don’t feel that we are demeaning women by doing so and we certainly don’t condone that type of attitude or behavior. We want to portray our female characters as strong, sexy, confident and attractive fighters.

Sure, some people may find our presentation of this notion in poor taste or even juvenile. Even within our own team, we have our differences in opinion about what is tasteful or appropriate. And we’re well aware of our critics who continue to accuse us of objectifying females.

However, we as well as most of our fans around the world don’t share the same sentiments as our critics. We are creating video game characters in a fantasy setting. Their actions, aesthetics and overall visual presentation is more than obviously set in a light-hearted, over-the-top, candy coated universe. The dissimilarity from REAL life women, situations and settings should be pretty apparent as soon as you start our game. And we feel most gamers in this day an age are sophisticated enough to make this distinction quite easily.

Ni-Oh concept art

Above: Team Ninja’s pet project?

GamesBeat: I’ve been waiting for this post-Itagaki Team Ninja to really break away and do something that defines it. Is there movement to do such a game, with a brand-new IP outside of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden?

Hayashi: We have a number of titles in development. Some of those are new challenges for us in terms of new IP and new kinds of gameplay.

GamesBeat: In relation, what has happened to Ni-Oh? It seems like this has the potential of becoming the Team Ninja defining game I am describing, but it has been massively delayed.

Hayashi: I have heard rumors that it’s been stopped, but it’s actually very much in development. We still need a little time before showing it off, but it is starting to come together and feel good. You should definitely keep an eye out for it in the future.

Part two runs tomorrow. 

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