Dead or Alive 6: Guide to the neutral game
Putting aside its pervy gaze, Dead Or Alive 6 is a pretty high-quality game. From my brief time playing ranked matches online, I’d say the competitive balance is there too. I’d put it at just behind Tekken in terms of overall quality, but way past Tekken in terms of ease of play.
I got well acquainted with DOA2 back in (oh my god) the early 00s, when DOA2 on the very first Xbox was the only fighting game that worked reasonably well online. I was heavy into Virtua Fighter and Guilty Gear back then, but I had to travel to the arcade to play those games against other people. At home, it was DOA or nothing… so I’d pine for my favorites while I played the weird game and put up with its issues. (Guilty Gear XX online was a pretty terrible experience.) As such, I know a little bit — a little bit, mind — about how the basics work and I thought I’d offer some tips.
Overview: holds change everything
The signature feature of the DOA series is the hold. Every character in the game can catch and counter any incoming attack by guessing the type of incoming attack with precise timing. Though some characters in Tekken and Virtua Fighter can do this against certain moves, in DOA everybody can, against every move.
Not only that, but the damage incurred from a successful hold can be massive, turning around the fight in an instant. You can even use holds *while you’re being hit*, which means that even turning a successful hit into a combo has some risk attached to it.
Needless to say, this awareness defines the way you fight in DOA. No move is ever truly safe, and predictable attack patterns are extremely easily punished. Therefore, as a player you have to be unpredictable in absolutely everything you do. Some characters are best at overwhelming their opponent with unpredictable attack strings that establish pressure that never ends. Others are best at tricking their opponent into big mistakes, which they punish with big damage. Either way, if you can confuse your opponent, you can win.
What we call “neutral game” in fighting games is the stage where there isn’t a clear-cut attacker or defender. Both players are simply moving around each other and trying to get into position to start an attack. They might poke with long-range attacks to test their opponent or try to charge in. Once one of the players opens up the other’s defense, moves in, and starts attacking in earnest, that’s when the neutral phase ends. Neutral effectively resumes when both players are at a distance again.
A major surprise in DOA neutral compared to most games is that poking is fundamentally less safe due to holds. In Street Fighter V, I can get Karin into perfect range for her standing medium kick and just harass my opponent with it. From the edge of that move’s range, most characters have to block and deal with it. So it’s a go-to move when I’m standing at that distance. My opponent knows this as well, but again, most characters can’t actually do anything about it even if they do know, so they have to just block.
In DOA, if I can correctly guess any move is coming, I can counter it with a hold. That means that if my opponent is standing at the perfect range for a mid kick poke, and they tend to use that move at that distance, it’s not unreasonable for me to guess that and throw out a mid kick hold.
In DOA neutral, just having the *best* move for a situation or range isn’t enough. Rather, you need to figure out three or four different solutions — and some will be weaker than others — to make sure your opponent can’t keep a consistent read on your moves. Faking and delaying your actions can also trick your opponent into taking action too soon, opening them up for a counter.
Close game, chains, and Critical Stun
In Tekken, once you’ve landed that counter hit with a combo starter move up close, all you have to do is continue with the exact, optimal combo sequence that you’ve practiced. Sometimes you’ll be juggling your opponent for five or ten seconds and there isn’t anything they can do about it. The Critical Stun system in DOA is an answer to this.
Most counter hits put the opponent into Critical Stun, a dizzy state where their only option for defense is to guess your next move with a hold. Low holds duck under high attacks as something of a bonus, but otherwise the defender has to guess exactly what move you’re going to attack with. So combos are breakable and counterable for big damage. But with 4 different directions to attack from and throws to counter holds, the odds are way in the favor of the attacker. Different moves inflict different durations of Critical Stun (and counter hits change this), so it’s up to you to figure out when you have a combo on your hands.
Unlike in Tekken, it’s not enough to have one ideal combo once you’ve landed that counter hit. To get the best damage out of your character, you need to consider a combo from a high attack (generally the first hits of a Fatal Rush), a mid punch, a mid kick, and even a low attack option. I favor launchers, so that I can immediately get my opponent into a damaging air combo they can’t counter with a hold.
Also, this makes mashing out certain chain combos very dangerous. If you’re using 6PPP over and over again, and that chain is all mid punches (as it usually is), your opponent is going to catch on and counter with a mid punch hold *even if you’re hitting them with the move*. Try to favor chain combos that can branch off into many different sequences from the very first hit: this way, even if your opponent is familiar with the attack pattern they it’ll be harder for them to guess that’s coming next. Even with two high jabs in a row, a really fast opponent can just use a hold on the second punch.
When you notice a player using holds excessively — for example, every time they’re stunned — consider it an opportunity to be exploited. Throws beat holds, after all, and they do quite a bit of damage in the process. Bait out a hold by landing a hit and then waiting a split-second to see if your opponent throws a hold out. If they do, throw immediately and enjoy your damage. If they don’t, move to the next hit in your combo. Smart players who notice you doing this will simply refrain from using holds in Critical Stun, and once they’re doing that you’re free to do what you will with your combos! Make your offense into a win-win situation.
I mentioned that low holds both catch low attacks and duck under high attacks. Clever players will use these a lot to cover both outcomes if they see you’re not using a lot of mids, especially because if they duck under a high they’re in a pretty advantageous position. This is a move that you have to bait out, but thankfully the punishes — either a low throw or a mid launcher — will both get you a hell of a lot of damage and establish that they’re not getting away with that one again.
Knockdowns and wakeup pressure
Dead or Alive takes its knockdown game from Virtua Fighter. Unlike Tekken, where aggressive players can hound the downed player endlessly on the ground, in DOA the downed player has a bit of invincibility when standing up and powerful — albeit risky and predictable — rising attacks that can potentially start a combo. Once you’ve downed an opponent in DOA it’s a good idea to back up a bit out of the range of their rising attacks. Let these moves miss, and punish the whiff with a move that’s fast and covers the distance.
Newbies really like to stick to the mid kick rising attack, because it gets them a big Critical Stun that can lead to a combo payoff. In DOA you need to punish repetitive plays every time you see them coming, and this goes double for rising attacks. If you’re standing directly over a downed opponent, the only attacks they can use on you are (usually) a mid kick or a low kick. That’s a 50/50 guess that you can see and react to before the attack lands.
Eventually your opponent will give up on the idea of rising attacks entirely. That’s the time to press your offense and move in on them with heavier attacks timed to land the moment they stand up.
It’s pretty easy to tell someone “be random”, because then they’ll just push buttons. But it’s better to actually understand your options, what they do, and then choose randomly between them. When you understand these common situations, you’ll find more and more ways to deal with them and the game will get that much more exciting.
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