Dragon Ball Fusions Review – A Fusing Good Time
I’ve loved Dragon Ball, ever since high school, when I can remember getting up early to watch the morning cartoons on Cheez TV. The adventures of Goku and his friends as they persevered through all manner of catastrophes got me hook, line and sinker, and I’ve loved the franchise ever since. The series translated well into the fighting games that many know, like the Budokai series and the more recent Xenoverse games, but it was the handheld titles that really captured that sense of adventure that is inherent in Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku for Gameboy Advance and Dragon Ball: Origins for the Nintendo DS traveled the world of the series and replicated all of the various moments of the anime that had captured my heart. There’s been a six-year gap since we’ve seen a Dragon Ball game with the same sort of story driven experience and RPG-stylings, but Dragon Ball Fusions is finally here to fill the gap. Does the focus on wacky character fusions, a massive roster of characters covering every era of Dragon Ball and turn based positional combat create an engaging experience? Read on to find out.
If you’ve watched Dragon Ball Z in the past you would already be familiar with fusion, but for those that aren’t, two fighters can fuse together temporarily by perfectly matching their power levels and performing a special synchronised dance. The resulting fighter is more powerful than the two individual fighters and has the potential to turn the tide of any battle. There are other, more permanent forms of fusion, but this is the most common example in the series. The dual requirements of matching power levels and perfect synchronisation means that few fighters can fuse together and it’s only seen infrequently. Dragon Ball Fusions does away with this, introducing a new type of semi-permanent fusion that allows you pick a much wider variety of characters and fuse them together, but it’s not quite the ‘any two characters’ that was implied prior to release.
By spending some energy, which you gain from completing fights, and reaching a certain level you’re able to fuse the two characters together in EX Fusion. This type of fusion allows the characters to stay fused permanently, however you’re able to reverse it whenever you want and split them again. The ability to pick any two characters for fusion results in some humorous character models and ties in well with the character collecting aspect of the game. The only issue with it is how it’s gated off until you reach the Cell Games section of the game. If you’re completing sub-quests and grinding to get new characters, this means you could be without the most compelling part of the game for 7+ hours. I would have much preferred to have had my hands on this portion of the game earlier on.
This new fusion system is coupled with a story that allows fighters from every era of Dragon Ball to come together, giving you access to hundreds of characters to collect and fuse. Upon collecting the second Dragon Ball, you and your rival, Pinich, wish for the world’s greatest tournament ever. This results in fighters from throughout all of time and the universe being sucked into portals and deposited into a new world that roughly follows the timeline and design of the story of Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super. This allows for a sense of familiarity in the world and narrative design, while also allowing for new characters to be added in and scenarios to be changed. What results is a story that is both nostalgic and fresh at the same time. The writing is lighthearted, staying away from the more serious tone that was sometimes evident in the anime and manga, focusing on humour rather than drama. It’s a fun story that is meant to be treated as light entertainment, more akin to Dragon Ball than the later series, but it means that the story feels somewhat inconsequential and lacks the grandiose moments that truly made Dragon Ball Z great.
As you can imagine, any game featuring a massive inter-dimensional tournament is going to have a strong focus on combat, and that’s certainly true in Dragon Ball Fusions. The combat system in the game is an interesting mix of damage triangles, strategic positioning and a turn-based battle system. Each battle takes place in a circular field that you move around as you attack. Your positioning is important, as you can use it to hit multiple enemies with attacks, knock enemies into your allies (causing multiple attacks), or even knock them straight out of the ring, causing additional damage. It’s an interesting system that also makes use of knockback effects from melee attacks and ki attacks allowing you to freely move a fighter around the field. It takes a standard turn based battle system and turns it into a strategic battle, where you need to think turns ahead to gain the upper hand on your opponent. Knocking an enemy out of the ring will reset their turn status, but there’s a chance the enemy could successfully pick the direction your melee attack is coming from and significantly rude the damage. So, do you instead go with the safe option and shoot them with a ki blast to take them out? It’s decisions like that keep combat interesting.
There are incentives to taking your opponents out in certain ways as well. If you bash an enemy out of the ring while knocking them out you will learn their skills and if you take them out with a Zenkai attack you will have the opportunity to recruit them to your team. This means that you sometimes need to prioritise how you defeat an opponent and even how you attack them in general. As combat progresses you gradually fill an Ultimate Meter, which can be used in one of two ways – the aforementioned Zenkai Attack and an Ultimate Fusion. Zenkai attacks allow you to target one opponent and beat the stuffing out of them, while charging your ki to use special attacks at the same time, resulting in a dual benefit. Ultimate Fusions result in all five of your fighters combining together to deal massive damage that has an area of effect and can hit multiple opponents, but this also results in health being equally distributed between your fighters. It’s all surprisingly deep and is one of the most intriguing combat systems I’ve tried in some time.
As you are completing combat and quests, your team will receive experience and level up, causing your fighters to grow stronger and gain the opportunity to learn more skills. Specifically, you don’t gain skills from leveling up, just the opportunity to learn them. What this means is that you have to obtain these skills from combat or using the gacha style system (which uses energy or play-coins, not money) in your ship. It can get tedious at times, trying to find specific skills for your fighters. You also unlock special achievements by performing certain actions in combat and the world, with each resulting in a permanent boost to your team’s strength. This system encourages you to go into battle and complete sub-quests, among other things, so that you can gain more power and have an easier time in battle. The one issue I had with this system was that I found it too easy to eventually become overpowered and cruise through combat, despite being at similar levels to opponents.
Throughout all of this, the actual world and characters of Dragon Ball Fusions are surprisingly great to look at. While the 3DS isn’t a slouch for a handheld system, a lot of 3D games on the system have looked terrible in the past, with horrible jagged edges and poor textures. This isn’t the case with Dragon Ball Fusions, with characters looking surprisingly clean and detailed. Environments are more detailed than I expected and were a pleasure to look at as I flew through the world.
While the majority of my experience was positive, I came across a few things that were a mixture of annoying to downright worrying. Text has been localised to English in the game, but the boxes that text appears in don’t seem to have been altered as part of localisation. What results is text being either stretched out or squeezed into spaces that it shouldn’t be in. It means that some text is massive and at other times the text is tiny and barely legible. It’s weird that there isn’t a single uniform text size used throughout the game. The more worrying issue I came across was a number of hard crashes and infinite loading screens that I came across during my time with the game. On two separate occasions, I had the game hard crash back to my 3DS home menu, which I haven’t encountered with any other game. Both times resulted in me losing the progress I had made in grinding experience and energy. It’s always worrying when a game has issues with crashes, but it’s especially worrying considering that Dragon Ball Fusions has been out in Japan since August 2016.
Overall, Dragon Ball Fusions goes a long way to capturing the magic of past Dragon Ball RPGs, but doesn’t quite meet the standard set by them. The combat system is interesting and strategic, but the system for unlocking skills can be frustrating. The EX Fusion system is fun, but isn’t as wide reaching as advertised and is unlocked too late into the game. The story is light hearted and fun, but is missing the sense of drama that made Dragon Ball great and the hard crashes are unforgivable in a game that has been out in another language for 8 months. If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball, like I am, or need a new RPG to play on your 3DS then Dragon Ball Fusions is certainly worth a look, it’s just not quite the exceptional experience it could have been.