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Holds in Dead or Alive are part of the 3 mechanics that tie into the game's triangle system (strike, throw and hold). Holds effectively function as counter attacks that turn the fight to the player's advantage, nullifying an enemy's strike whilst enabling the player to respond with an attack of their own. However, holding requires precise timing and anticipation, and leaves the player vulnerable to punishing "hi counter" throws.
In the original game, holds were more primitive and the system allowed for counter holds to be performed back and forth, however, later games have expanded the system greatly.
Hold properties vary between characters, with some characters having more damaging holds, or more different types of holds, or standard holds that cause different effects. Character stats give an idea of how much potential said fighter has in the hold department. Certain holds may bounce or launch the enemy, dealing minimal damage on their own, but allowing a combo to be performed. Other holds deal extra damage when exploiting the stage environment, for example by slamming the opponent into walls and danger zones.
Note that for a few moves in the game (usually highly damaging ones), whilst holding them will prevent the player from taking damage, the usual hold animation will not play and no damage will be dealt to the opponent, although the player may be put in an advantageous position. Examples of such moves include Jann Lee's Dragon Kick and Ayane's Shu-Getsurin.
Types of Holds
Although all holds are essentially defensive maneuvers, they can be generally divided into 4 types: defensive, offensive, sabakis (or parries), and expert holds. Not all characters have every type of hold but most of them at least possess defensive holds.
Standard defensive holds are performed by using the "H button" together with a directional input corresponding to the incoming attack type (high, middle and low). A few characters possess "combo holds", similar to combo throws, where an additional command should be inputted when prompted to deal further damage, although opponents can sometimes escape these additional moves.
To increase difficulty, some games change the 3 way hold system to a 4 way hold system (or allow a choice of either). In the 4 way hold system, whereas all high strikes can be defended with the same input (and likewise for low strikes), mid punches and mid kicks have different command inputs rather than sharing the same one. The timing of the hold will affect its damage. Holding later will deal increased "counter" damage, whilst holding at the very last minute will deal greatly increased "hi counter" damage.
Defensive holds can be executed whilst in critical status, allowing the player to escape from unwanted situations and avoid further damage. Note, however, that holds performed during critical status deal slightly reduced damage. It is also not possible for a player to hold if they are hit by special "sit-down" stuns, which as the name implies, cause the character to be briefly floored.
Introduced in Dead or Alive Dimensions, where many characters' throws were reclassified as offensive holds, these are essentially throws with hold properties: they use similar input to throws and are actually listed under throws in fighter command lists (albeit with the addition of an "OH" in the margin), but can be used whilst the opponent is attacking, like a hold. If used at the correct time, they will nullify the opponent's strike and deal damage to them instead.
Offensive holds, like throws, are divided into high and low, where all high offensive holds can counter any strike launched from a standing opponent, whilst low offensive holds counter any strike performed by a crouching opponent. Successfully using an offensive hold against a striking opponent will always deal "hi counter damage", whereas use against an opponent who is attempting to hold will result in "counter" damage. Against a neutral opponent, regular damage will be dealt, usually lower than a throw with similar input.
The reduced need to worry about what type of strike to hold against presents obvious advantages over defensive holds. However, offensive holds are usually slow, have a lengthy recovery and the timing window for success is smaller than for defensive holds. Like defensive holds, they also leave the player vulnerable to being punished with "hi counter" throws. High offensive holds can also be evaded by crouching.
These moves are performed similarly to defensive holds, but rather than dealing damage, they deflect (or "parry") the opponent's strike and put the player in an advantageous position, from which they might launch a combo of their own or perform a throw. Only a few characters possess sabakis. Examples include Bayman, whose parries also deal minor damage, and Kasumi, who can quickly teleport to strike or throw her opponent from behind.
To compensate for their generally reduced damage, sabakis are normally slightly less specific than defensive holds, i.e. mid sabakis will defend against both mid punches and mid kicks. While useful for disrupting and disorientating opponents, sabakis can still be throw punished like all holds, so care must be taken not to execute them randomly. They also rely on the player successfully seizing upon the advantage gained by the sabaki in order to do damage; combos and throws following a successful parry may still be defended by a wily opponent.
Expert holds are similar to defensive holds, but require slightly more complicated inputs and are more specific than defensive holds, e.g. a different command must be entered to counter high punches vs. high kicks. Only a few characters possess expert holds. When performed successfully they will either deal higher than normal damage compared to standard defensive holds, or they will open up opportunities. Kasumi for example has a mid kick expert hold which launches the opponent, allowing for a damaging juggle. Bayman has expert holds that deal slightly less damage than his full regular combo holds, but more damage than if the opponent were to escape his combo hold. They may also deal more damage than his full combo holds if used next to walls or danger zones.