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It is well known for its advanced graphics for that time. It was released in 1996 in arcades, followed by Dead or Alive 2 in 1999.
Tomonobu Itagaki has stated that he was dissatisfied with the way modern fighting games were presented, he missed the old arcade style of play and had another vision for the fighting game genre. Having worked for Tecmo for a long time, Itagaki was eventually given the opportunity to develop a fighting game. The game, the first Dead or Alive, was released in 1996 as an arcade game for the Japanese market. It had been a success in Japan, but not in the West. This was possibly because of the competing game Tekken, which was already a popular fighting game series for the PlayStation.
Dead or Alive was unique in its debut that featured fairly different choices in gameplay than other 3D fighting games. Its most defining features were its speed and countering system. Dead or Alive put an emphasis on speed, and relied more on simplistic commands and reaction time. Furthermore, its countering system was the first in the fighting genre to utilize different commands that corresponded to each type of attack. There are two kinds of holds, an offensive hold (OH) and a defensive hold (DH), furthermore, these commands are executed by holding back or forward on the directional pad along with the guard input to either force away or counter-damage an opponent. Finally, the game used an environmental addition called the danger zone, which surrounded the outer edges of the fighting arena (depending on the options, it could also completely consume it), and when a character came in contact with it, sent them in the air so the opposing player can execute a juggling air combo. However, this can be avoided with a Ukemi (defensive roll). Dead or Alive also became somewhat noted for the animation of the breasts of the female characters, which were comically large and would slowly bounce up and down whilst the character was fighting. Many jokes were made about this amongst the gaming community.
There are three different versions of the original Dead or Alive.
- The original version of Dead or Alive was released in arcades in 1996, utilizing Sega's Model 2 arcade board (it was also the first time Sega licensed their hardware to a third party company; in this case, Tecmo). It was later ported to the Sega Saturn in Japan on October 9, 1997. The game was never released for the North American nor European Sega Saturn. It was released in the United States and Europe for the Xbox on October 26, 2004 and February 18, 2005, as part of Dead or Alive Ultimate (see below).
- On March 12, 1998 in Japan, Tecmo released Dead or Alive for the PlayStation. This version included 2 new characters (Bass & Ayane), a different graphics engine, a slightly revamped fighting engine and new background music (BGM). The PlayStation version was released in North America on March 31, 1998, and later in Europe on July 1998.
- In 2004, Tecmo released a revamped version of the Sega Saturn version on the Xbox along with an updated version of Dead or Alive 2 in the same package. It was basically the original game ported to the Xbox, making graphics more colorful and smoother, sound from stereo to surround, and adding Xbox Live Online Gaming. This game along with Dead or Alive 2, Ultimate became the second fighting game with online play.
The original game, which ran on the Model 2 arcade board, had fully 3D modeled backgrounds. The Sega Saturn conversion used bitmap tricks and overlapping layers in the same fashion as the Sega Saturn version of Virtua Fighter 2 did. The original arcade used pure 3D on all the arenas. It was impossible to achieve this on Saturn hardware and the game was scaled down.
- Ayane (PlayStation and ++ version only)
- Bass Armstrong (PlayStation and ++ version only, Tina's father)
- Gen Fu
- Jann Lee
- Lei Fang
- Raidou (boss character, unlockable, Ayane's father)
- Ryu Hayabusa
- Tina Armstrong