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LONG BLOG

Dead Or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation is everything I feared, and worse

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Holiday from Hell.

 

(This blog contains images which may be considered moderately NSFW, some which may be considered alarming, and all definitely considered to be poor taste. This is also a rather long read at approximately 3800 words. I was going to split into two, but the system didn't like that, so here we are. I promise I won't be offended if you aren't down for this length. Writing this is more for my own benefit, to get the thoughts out of my mind and close this chapter.)

 

In the middle of last year I finally, having slagged off the game for years, gave Dead Or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation its fair shot, after being called out on my lack of experience with the title which I proclaimed to despise so much. I won't deny that insisting that a video game is bad, when you have not touched it for even a single second, certainly is poor form. That was fair enough, so I did download it, I played it—or at least, I clicked through the menus, which is what the 'gameplay' amounts to—for a few hours and confidently wrote it off as being not only as bad as I had always thought it was, but actually worse.

At the time I said I would write up my experience as a Destructoid c-blog as a kind of update to Jed Whitaker's official, but now out of date, review of the original retail game, but quite frankly I found the experience too grim and I simply did not want to dwell on it for long enough to write anything. Half a year later, however, and I have been compelled to give it a second look. As such, I am making good on my earlier promise and will now, finally, dive deep into what makes this game so bad.

For those unfamiliar, the Dead Or Alive Xtreme series is a spin-off from the fighting game franchise Dead Or Alive. The first Xtreme, Xtreme Beach Volleyball, was released on the Xbox in 2003. The Xtreme games take the female characters from DOA to a tropical island—usually named Zack Island, after its owner, another DOA character—where they play 2-on-2 volleyball, race jet skis, and quasi-date the player and each other with rudimentary gift-trading. The games are pitched as virtual holidays, and the ultimate ''gameplay'' goal of each is to build enough of a relationship with a girl that she will agree to wear the most physics-defyingly small swimsuits. Xtreme Venus Vacation is a free-to-play update of Xtreme 3, and swaps direct control of characters and most of the other actual game elements for premium 'gacha' (that's Japanese free-to-play speak for gambling) games instead.

In short, it's a game about looking at anime boobs on a beach, and paying Koei Tecmo a lot of money for the opportunity.

I should also mention that as disparaging as I am about the Xtreme series, I have adored the DOA fighting games since their introduction in 1997. (Technically the first game came out in arcades in 1996, but '97 was when it came to consoles and was available outside of Japan.) I'll also give the original Xtreme Beach Volleyball its credit for being one of the very few games which used the Xbox's pressure-sensitive buttons well; the volleyball in that game controls fabulously and is genuinely very fun. In any case, the point is I'm not here to simply shame anyone for liking DOA overall, nor am I fundamentally against the idea of a frivolous bikini showcase game.

Xtreme Venus Vacation, however, is beyond justification. There's no excuse for it, for a variety of reasons which we'll now get into.

At this point I must issue a trigger warning. I'm not going to specify a particular trigger, because quite frankly there are lots and it's just better for you if you simply assume this game illustrates or heavily implies everything bad you can imagine.

We're headed to a dark place, folks. A dark place called Zack Island.

Okay, let's... let's brace ourselves and do this.

The first strike against the game was the title screen it displayed to me upon first boot. It later became apparent these are cycled randomly and so this is not necessarily the only title screen a new player might be presented with, but it's the one the game happened to pop up for me and, even if there was a low chance of it occuring, it's not an image that the developers should ever have been proud of.

This is the title screen which greeted me the first time I played:

Yes, that's a young women with an expression of fear or worry, holding her hands up in defense and protest, apparently having fallen over in her attempts to get away from the player, whose point of view is bearing down on her.

This is a very obvious sexual assault scenario, and it's what the developers thought was an enticing introduction to their video game. Given what was to come, I can't say it wasn't fitting.

After some excruciatingly slow tutorials and some poorly-translated introductions to a few of the island's residents, the game offered me a few free tries at its usually-premium random prize draws. The results did not help to convince me this game viewed its cast, or its players, with much respect:

Once again we have a lady who is both visibly and audibly uncomfortable with her situation and is protesting the events taking place. That makes two of us.

I'll say it right now: I do not understand who this is for. I would think if someone was so attracted to CG anime ladies that they were willing to spend money on a gambling game in order to look at them, that person probably wouldn't want to see those women distressed. I'm not one to kinkshame, but this didn't appear to be a 'kink' to me. This seems to simply be predatory abuse.

After a few pointless matches of volleyball—the player has no control other than vaguely directing girls to spike hard or go for soft faints—I was introduced to the 'job' menu, in which two characters can build their relationship by engaging in activities together. What activities does Team Ninja think two women would bond over?

Cleaning. Cooking. Shopping.

I can't rule out the possibility that more jobs might unlock at later levels, but in the roughly four hours I played over two sessions—I did promise I'd give it a fair shot—this was all I saw. Anyone want to guess at future jobs? My money's on underwear pillow fights.

Speaking of levels, progression in the game seems fast on the surface, with both the 'owner' (player) and women increasing in level every few minutes. But what does levelling get you, you ask? Pretty much nothing, it seems. As far as I could tell there are no level requirements for any interaction or system. The girls' volleyballs stats increase marginally as they level up, but their stats are mostly governed by what swimsuit they're wearing, which is one of the incentives pushing people to gamble for rarer and more powerful swimsuits. Additionally, bonuses for wearing "trendy" swimsuits—the ones currently pushed for sale, rotating every couple of weeks—make a low-level character far more powerful than a high-level character in a basic swimsuit. You only actually make progress in the game when you spend real money on a lottery draw and get lucky unlocking a more powerful swimsuit or new character.

But perhaps "lucky" is the wrong word, given how harrowing some of the 'prizes' can be. Players can eventually earn a free lottery draw, which awarded me with the part of the game which made me call it quits: a character new for DOAXVV, Kanna.

To explain the problem with Kanna, I first need to explain another character, Nyotengu. Nyotengu is a version of DOA2's final boss, Tengu. Whereas Tengu is a monstrously large, winged demon man, Nyotengu takes the appearance of an apparently totally normal woman, and just happens to have angelic wings sometimes. (Not in this game; they'd interfere with the small bits of string she has to wear.)
After the series had been accused of only starring very young women, with most characters billed as being 18 years old, Nyotengu was made and given the ''joke'' age of 1018. You see, she looks like the other 18-year-olds but she's actually a demon, so she's one thousand and eighteen. Hilarious! You cheeky scamps, Team Ninja! I see what you did there.

Now in DOAXVV, enter Kanna, Nyotengu's underworld rival. Claiming to be an ogre, Kanna's biography shares the same joke as Nyotengu's, giving her age as a hilarious one thousand and- oh. Oh dear. Oh, no. No, no, no.

Fourteen. Yup. 1014 is what the says. One thousand and fourteen. If the joke about Nyotengu is she appears to be 18, and is in our real-world terms, but being a demon makes her 1018, the joke here is Kanna is 1014... but appears 14 and is by real-world definitions. That's the ''joke'' they're going for. She's 14. A minor. She is designed, animated, written and voiced to appear to be a child. (She actually acts more like she's about 6 than 14.) But they stuck horns on her head and added one thousand years to her biography and apparently that makes it okay.

I can not stress this enough: she's a child. They made a ''joke'' about how they put a child into the perving-at-ladies game.

Granted, the gachagambling mechanics did make it mildly compelling for a session, as all gambling is intended to, but after "winning" Kanna I did not hesitate to uninstall Venus Vacation and hide it from my Steam library. Clearly I'm not really the target audience for the 'sexy anime girls' game to begin with, and since it took away all the elements which made the original DOAXBV quite fun (i.e. actually playing the volleyball and a belter of a soundtrack) and replaced it with tedious menu scrolling, premium randomisation and literal children, I was confident I'd never touch DOAXVV ever again.

Dead Or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation is a truly terrible, terrible game. It's thinly-disguised gambling with the worst 1970s values. This game is not a fantasy, it is a nightmare.

So why did I take a second look at it now? The thing is... this past week, almost six months to the day after I last played it, Venus Vacation got a fairly significant update:

They put Tina in it.

 

I'm a celebrity, get me out of here!

 

Tina Armstrong. Pro wrestler (in fact the first female wrestler in a fighting game; she predates Street Fighter's R.Mika by about 18 months), model, actress, singer and politician. Yeah, Tina's had a wild story. She's been my #1 of all my fighting game mains since I first played Dead Or Alive in early 1997. I've spent so many thousands upon thousands of hours of my life playing as Tina that I no longer consciously think about what inputs I'm doing; when I play as her in DOA my hands now just press the buttons as instinctively as breathing. 25 years of practice will do that. In DOA6, the game I've played by far the least out of the DOA fighting games and never bothered to learn the finer mechanics of, I've won 303 out of the 345 matches I've played with Tina online.

So when my Twitter feed throws up that Team Ninja have, after six years of skipping the ''old'' characters (read: anyone over 21), put Tina into DOAXVV and rushed her inclusion into the English version of the game (which is apparently a year behind the Japanese version in all other regards; this is apparently a bid to drum up western interest), well... I was compelled to load it up once more.
I didn't expect the game to magically not be gross any more. I didn't expect to have a good time with it. But as the most die-hard of die-hard Tina Armstrong players for two and a half decades, clearly I had to at least check out if they were doing her justice.

Thus I looked up how to un-hide games from Steam, I hit the install button, and I crossed my fingers that, against all odds, I could have something, anything positive to say about the game now.

Upon starting the game it turned out that some characters aren't unlocked via the lottery draws which can be entered using earned currancy. Tina is one such character, locked behind a premium, no freebies gachagambling paywall. Apparently this is the standard introduction for all new characters and has been done for every character added to the game over the last six years.
No, I was not about to pay a single penny to unlock her. As much of a Tina fan as I am, I only loaded up the game again to put my mind at ease and see if they'd totally butchered her character or not. I had no intention of playing for more than a few minutes, let alone paying for anything.

Still, seeing the premium paywall pop up did make me curious enough to look into the exact mechanics and cost of unlocking characters, something which I'd previously not looked at in much detail.

Of course the made-up currency, which you must purchase with real money in order to purchase premium lottery draws in turn, is only sold in bundles which are mismatched values compared to the cost of the things you can spend them on, so you always have not quite enough or a little left over and are compelled to buy more. This should be a clear warning to anyone that Koei Tecmo are not interested in playing fair here. These intermediatory currencies sold in bundles are a now-classic video game gambling tactic, designed to first obfuscate how much real-world money a player is spending and then pressure them to buy larger amounts than they want and stay invested beyond what the player first intended. To add an additional layer to this grift, all real-money payment in the English version of the game is advertised and made in Singapore dollars, so less savvy westerners will lose track of their payments even sooner.

But it gets worse.

To unlock a character in DOAXVV, a player needs to 'win' (i.e. be awarded at random) that character's swimsuit of the highest rarity, SSR. The odds for winning any SSR swimsuit are slim in most cases, with a drop rate of 1.10% in most of the lotteries for the already-established characters that I checked the stats on at the time of writing.

But for a new character locked behind the most premium gacha, like Tina is, the odds are even worse. Despite advertising "appearance rate UP!" (one dreads to think how low the odds are if this is "up"), the drop rate for her SSR is a shocking 0.78%:

I ran the rough maths, and given it costs approximately GBP£17 for ten 'draws' (the most cost-effective purchase), and a success rate of 0.78% means a rough average of 128 draws to hypothetically guarantee an unlock, the average cost of unlocking a character in this method comes to approximately £218, around US$300.
(Of course being random chance, it's entirely possible for someone to unlock a character on their first pull, but it's also equally possible for someone to try a million times and never wins. I set the "average" hypothetical win at 128 because 128 is how many times you must multiply 0.78% in order to arrive at 100%.)

Two hundred and eighteen pound sterling. That's the (rounded-off) average. That's the value Team Ninja put on each of their characters, at least at the time of their introduction. Characters are apparently eventually, after a year or so, added into the 'free' gachas, but at the point at which they are being advertised the most, £218 is what you'll need to budget for. Of course by the time a character is considered old and cycled down into the free lotteries, there are more new characters taking their place in the premium spots to keep the pressure up on completionists. And there must be a lot of those completionists, willing to pay and play against these kinds of odds, for Team Ninja to have kept these kinds of updates coming consistently for six years.

Obviously I uninstalled immediately after inspecting the mechanics of the gambling system, but my curiosity hadn't been entirely quelled and I did briefly visit the DOA Reddit and Steam Community pages to see if my shock was truly justified or if this is a business model the regular players accept. Somewhat unsurprisingly—but still very disappointingly—it does indeed appear that the lasting playerbase of DOAXVV not only accepts these kinds of rates, but very happily show off how much they each spent to unlock the latest girls. There are people congratulating each other on being able to afford to unlock a new character in the first couple of days. There are people saying they're holding off until their next paycheque clears, but they're already banking on spending most of it to get the latest character. There are even a few people who reporting that they spent all their money, didn't unlock the character, but are still happy with the lesser 'prizes' they got instead and can't wait to be able to afford to try again.

It may not be as instantly stomach-turning as when you see a minor pop up in the game, but knowing there are people out there throwing every last penny they have at this game, not getting what they wanted, and still wanting to spend more makes me feel ill in a different but equal way. That any developer or publisher would advertise an increased win rate of 0.78% as if they were being generous, and have people tripping over themselves to pay into it, has been an eye-opener. This game isn't just 'a bad game'; it is predatory in every sense.

 

I don't really have a conclusion to this story. Most people visiting Destructoid seem to be on the same page in regards to shady business practices like gatchas, lootboxes, virtual cards, or however else developers and publishers try to dress-up gambling. I hope we're all on the same page regarding the implied assaults and children. For most readers none of this will be surprising and many will say I should not have expected anything different. Many people will point out that I'd played the game before and there was no indication that anything really significant had changed about it, and that I'd been suckered in to giving it a second look essentially for the sake of nostalgia and brand (or at least character) loyalty, which was likely Team Ninja's exact plan when introducing a legacy character. Of course it'd be bad.

I knew it'd be bad.
We all know these things are bad, always.
I can not get over exactly how bad it is.

 

I have loved the Dead Or Alive series for most of my life. I was nine when I first played DOA; I'm 34 now. In the past, DOA (fighting) games were the games that not only got me to buy consoles—I bought the Xbox, Xbox 360 and 3DS entirely for the DOA games that were exclusive to them—but also got me to buy new TVs. I bought a 60Hz-compatible TV to play DOA2; a flatscreen to play DOA3; a 720p HD TV for DOA4; and a 1080p low-latency screen for DOA5. I've owned every DOA game, I've even sat through the so-bad-it's-good film several times, and I never thought I'd be saying this, but...

... I can never buy anything DOA-branded ever again. I will never give Koei Tecmo or Team Ninja a single penny, for this or any other IP. I tried to boot up DOA6 a couple of days ago, just to mash a little against the computer as a kind of stress ball, but I couldn't do it. I can't face this IP and those companies' title credits any more. Venus Vacation is simply too rotten. Its treatment of women is rotten. Its inclusion of children is rotten. Its business practises are rotten. It's abusive and predatory, and even worse, it's successful at being abusive and predatory.

Some might question why I'm drawing that line now and not last year when I suffered the game the first time. I think, at the time, as gross as I found the contents of the game, the fact that my favourite character (and my second, third, and fourth favourites, too: Mila, Lisa and Christie) were not part of it, that I hadn't checked the full extent of the gambling systems, plus the fact it was billed as not being intended for anyone outside of Asia, allowed me to mentally shut DOAXVV into its own little dark but secure box in my memory. I could separate it from the DOA fighting games that I've loved. I could tell myself it was a different development team making a different kind of game for a different audience that not only had different tastes and standards to mine, but likely came from an entirely different culture which, just possibly, excused some of these design choices.
Just as some people continue to enjoy Call Of Duty and Assassin's Creed despite knowing what Activision and Ubisoft get up to, until now I was able to enjoy the rest of DOA even though I was aware of what DOAXVV was doing.

But now that I've thought about it a second time; I've seen the actual numbers behind the gambling; now I've seen what it's doing to the players; and now that not just part of the IP I like but the part I like most is there... I can't shut that out any more. That's the whole IP tainted forever. That's both companies, Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo, tainted forever. There's no separating it any longer. There's no way I can pretend it didn't happen.

This publisher, this developer, and this game are beyond excusing, and this IP is beyond saving short of a total buy-out by another company.

Lastly, if you're one of those people who really wants to look at the DOA girls, let me do you a favour. I've been around DOA since the beginning, and it's impossible to have been a DOA fan for that long without being aware that there is a certain part of the fanbase out there, running websites which showcase these characters in all manner of ways you could ever desire. I genuinely do not know any specific URLs, but I'm confident you can find what you want with some simple search terms. It's not my particular area of DOA fandom, but I am well aware of its existence and it's sitting out there, ready for you to find. You want to look at anime boobs? You can go look at anime boobs—there's no judgement here—in all manner of places, without gambling.
Without assault and coercion.
Without children.
Without bankrupting yourself.

Dead Or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation is the worst. The absolute, bottom-of-the-barrel, darkest, scummiest, grossest, worst.

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About SebJM(they/them)one of us since 6:27 PM on 04.10.2009

I first heard of Destructoid in late 2006 and I've been lurking on Dtoid since 2007.
Due to my unfortunate habit of talking and writing far, far too much and losing track of why I started in the first place, I tend to stay clear of the C-blogs for fear of finding myself up at 4am writing a three-page essay on Legend Of Dragoon, but I'll probably write the occasional rant, to everyone's dismay.



Quick shout out and mention for Love 146, a fantastic charity dealing with a very tough subject. Give them a click, listen to their story and please support them if you can.
Xbox LIVE:Ace Flibble
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