Dead or Alive 3 makes it easy for beginners to pick it up and start playing, but that's not to say they'll have an easy time beating experienced players. Actually, the game rewards fast reflexes and good timing more than anything. Reversing an overly aggressive opponent, or throwing an overly defensive one, is the way to win. Landing big combos helps too, and Dead or Alive 3 gives each character plenty of moves that you can string together in rapid succession, moves that can stun the opponent, and moves that launch the opponent into the air, letting you juggle him or her with attacks on the way down. In tag team battles, you can even tag in your partner right in the middle of a combo for devastating results.
Despite that each character has an arsenal of moves, the balance in Dead or Alive 3 is suspect. Faster characters, such as the runaway ninja Kasumi, the Bruce Lee knockoff Jann Lee, and Ninja Gaiden veteran Ryu Hayabusa are extremely powerful, whereas slower fighters, such as the burly Leon and the militant Bayman, need to work harder to win. Their slower attacks are easier to counter, whereas the faster characters can execute very damaging juggle combos easily. If Dead or Alive 3 were an arcade game, and if lots of people still played arcade fighting games competitively, then these balance issues would be serious; as it is, they aren't obvious, since every character can basically fend for himself or herself.
As with any fighting game, the best way to play Dead or Alive 3 is with a friend. You can actually play with up to three friends in the tag team mode, though it's a better game for two. You'll have plenty of fun for a while, trying all the different characters and seeing what sorts of objects you can send your buddy crashing through in the various stages. Though it's to be expected that the computer isn't as fun or challenging to fight as a qualified human player, unfortunately, the computer opponent in Dead or Alive 3 has some fairly serious problems that make it somewhat boring to play against after a while. Even at the highest difficulty, the computer falls for the same tricks--most notably, it seems incapable of blocking a recovery kick executed as you get up from the turf. So any time you're knocked down, you'll know you can always give the computer some payback. The computer still isn't easy--it has an unnaturally good ability to reverse your attacks, especially at the highest setting. This forces you to change up between regular attacks, throws, and reversals of your own--good practice for when you take on human opponents.
Dead or Alive 3's story mode is only referred to as such because characters exchange a few bits of inane dialogue before the battle begins. The bouts last one round, you face the next opponent, and so on, until you're fighting the game's last boss, who's all decked out in samurai armor and wielding what literally looks exactly like Darth Maul's double-bladed lightsaber. This bozo's keep-away tactics are fairly easily thwarted once you get used to the strange, skewed camera perspective of this final bout. Once you take care of him, you'll be treated to a surprisingly lavish ending cinematic. These ending movies--one for each character--aren't very long or interesting but sure must have taken a serious amount of time and effort to put together. It's unfair to call the effort wasted, but considering some of Dead or Alive 3's deficiencies, you'll probably wish that the same energy instead went into putting some other extras into the game.
Once you've finished the game with every character--and you can do this in an evening--there isn't much left to discover in Dead or Alive 3, at least not for a while. By comparison, Dead or Alive 2 featured multiple hidden outfits, unlockable hidden characters, and more, all of which were reasonably easy to find. Games such as Soul Calibur and Tekken Tag Tournament also had tons of secrets that could be readily unlocked, lending some additional sense of reward to extended play. But in Dead or Alive 3, things like finishing the story mode without continuing or at the highest difficulty apparently yield nothing. Completing the tag team mode unceremoniously dumps you back to the title screen. The game seems to have only a few hidden bonuses beyond the ability to unlock the character endings, which aren't really worth watching more than once or twice. There's a helpful (though somewhat difficult to find) training option that lets you practice each character's moves, one by one, and completing this for some characters does give you access to a hidden outfit. The game probably contains other secrets hidden deep within the game--the hidden features are probably set to be unlocked after you play as a character a certain number of times or after enough time has elapsed--but most players will find little long-term reward for continuing to play against the computer, since the computer is a pushover.
Dead or Alive 3 certainly looks impressive. The characters are very well animated (though no differently than in Dead or Alive 2) and incredibly detailed--especially their faces, their clothing, and their articulated hands, although they do look a bit too glossy. There's no polygonal clipping--the characters' various special attacks are remarkably fluid, and the hit detection looks right on. That is to say, the fighters actually look like they're hitting one another--and hard--though their clothes and perfect complexions of course never show so much as a scratch, even after the fighters fall 100 feet off a cliff. Not all the backgrounds in Dead or Alive 3 look that great (simplified backgrounds are used for the tag team matches), but the larger ones found in the story mode can be downright gorgeous. These huge arenas, complete with multiple levels, realistic lighting effects, and tons of detail, capably demonstrate the sheer power of the Xbox--evidently more power than any other home system to date--as well as the talent of the game's artists. Dead or Alive 3 also sounds very good, and anime fans should appreciate that all the speech is in Japanese, subtitled (loosely sometimes) in English. The game's synthesized, up-tempo soundtrack is right on, though the Aerosmith songs in the intro and end credits seem very out of place.
If you want to show off the power of the Xbox, then Dead or Alive 3 is your ticket. Screenshots don't do the game justice. Its subtle details are the most impressive: the texture of leather clothes is easily distinguished from denim or silk, and the characters' hair flows smoothly and realistically. Clearly, tremendous effort went into the game's 3D engine and into the character endings. Beyond all that, Dead or Alive 3 is basically very similar to its predecessor. So if you've already mastered previous Dead or Alive games, let alone other 3D fighting games, then you may find that there's very little new for you here. On the other hand, if you've never played a Dead or Alive game before, then this is great place to start--all the characters have plenty of moves for you to learn, and they're all basically fun to play. Still, regardless of how experienced you are with other fighting games, once the first impression wears off, you'll eventually reach the conclusion that Dead or Alive 3 isn't quite as remarkable as it looks. It can last you a while if you have some friends to play it with, but even then, this isn't a game that should justify your decision to buy an Xbox.