Ever since it was announced in 2017, Dragon Ball FighterZ has been a title that has kept fans eagerly anticipated. Not only does the game closely resemble the Dragon Ball anime series but it has also been helmed by none other than Arc System Works, the developer behind the critically acclaimed BlazBlue franchise. With that kind of background there has understandably been high expectations for Dragon Ball FighterZ to be one of the best fighters around, and by large you won’t be disappointed.
Dragon Ball FighterZ features an original story where players act as a disembodied soul inhabiting Goku’s body. Mysterious energy waves are pulsating throughout the world, causing the Z fighters to lose their combat abilities and become weakened. Only through the player’s “soul link” can the fighters unlock their full potential, as they travel across the globe battling evil cloned versions of themselves, resurrected foes from the past and a new deadly threat. Throughout the plot there are lots of references to the source material, in particular Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, which is a nice callback. Not revealing too much, the story is fun, stays true to the anime series and feels like it is its own separate story arc. Fans will not be disappointed.
Each level within story mode is comprised of a grid-like map where players navigate through different battles until they encounter a boss or rescue one of the friendly Z fighters. Each battle awards players with experience, individually levelling up characters to increase their health bar. Initially the battles are mostly tutorials and aren’t that challenging, but those who continue past the first few hours will be awarded with a stronger campaign. As battles become more challenging you will notice that characters will not fully heal their health after each fight, encouraging you to switch team members to give others a chance to recuperate. Creating different team combinations also unlocks bonus, often hilarious, conversations between characters. One such instance is Gotenks contemplating what to call Goku and Vegeta as each are a father to one half of his being while the other is just another adult. There are times however where you will feel a little inundated, wishing you could just get on with the story rather than fight a seemingly endless barrage of cloned baddies.
Dragon Ball FighterZ prides itself in having a control scheme that is not only accessible but also challenging to master. Players have light, medium, heavy and long range attacks, as well as the ability to guard and jump. The aim here is to string together different combos, unleash powerful special attacks and ultimately out maneuver your opponent by reading their movements. Combat is fast, fluid and will send a rush of excitement through your blood. When versing other human players it does occasionally seem like they’re a bit spammy by just pressing random buttons, but if you know your abilities well you should have no problem countering the mindless onslaught.
Each character controls similar to each other in that they have the same standard combo moves, making combat consistent and accessible between playable fighters; definitely a strong point for newcomers. Where characters differ however are their overall stats, including attack reach, power, technique, speed and energy. This plays a crucial part in Dragon Ball FighterZ’s three-man team system where characters are joined by two other teammates during battle. You you can freely switch between characters mid-match or utilise them to assist with attacking and defending against an opponent. Veteran gamers will shine to the task of assembling the perfect team; namely characters who compliment each other and are better suited to different play styles and other character’s weaknesses. Strategy is key here, but it also comes down to your own prefered play style or even fantasy team-ups of your favourite Dragon Ball characters.
To name a few playable characters, you have the likes of Goku, Vegeta, Majin Buu, Kid Buu, Cell, Yamcha, Krillin, Android 16, Android 18, Frieza, Goku Black and others for a launch roaster of 24 characters. It’s a lot of fun matching up different teams and finding the perfect trio, with there being literally hundreds of possible combinations. Further DLC fighters are planned for the future, though no official statement (apart from a handful of data mining leaks online) has been made concerning what characters will be added.
Outside the main story mode you will also have access to online ranked and casual matches, local matches, a Training mode, an Arcade mode and the ability to watch replays and highlights. To get to these modes the game puts players in a hub world which resembles an exhibition arena. As your chibi avatar wanders around you’ll see other players walking, interacting with the various mode stations and even taunting each other. While the presentation is cute and gives you an idea of how many people are in the lobby, it also feels somewhat counter productive – it takes several seconds to walk from one mode to another verses quick traditional menus.
During the Dragon Ball FighterZ closed and open betas I have previously played, I had found online matches were quick to find and ran smoothly. For the most part this holds true for the final release, though I did experience more lag this time around. It was limited to users that had low connectivity ratings, which surprised me (as silly as that sounds) as this seemed to not affect the betas at all. Still, the game gives you the option to screen your opponent before entering a match, and if you’re not satisfied with their connectivity level you can simply decline the fight. It does look like the lag was due to the end user rather than the game’s netcode, and on a positive note there are Australian lobbies which is a nice touch for the local scene.
The game’s Training Mode is in-depth – offering basic and advanced tutorials, and tools to analyse combos and the damage they inflict to opponents. It’s obvious the developers are encouraging this game to enter the competitive scene and give players the ability to tighten their performance to potentially go pro level.
Finally, Arcade mode is a traditional single-player mode where you fight several opponents in quick succession. You can select one of three paths, each having a different number of opponents to defeat. What makes Dragon Ball FighterZ a little more unique however is that the difficulty of opponents will change depending on your performance in the previous battle. Those A and S rankings you receive may be your undoing as the game’s AI packs quite a punch on higher difficulty settings. And what’s more, you will unlock a hard version of each path so you can do it all again!
Despite the game being a 2D fighter, character models are actually 3D. The developers have made great use of cel shading techniques to create models that closely resemble, and in some cases look better, than their anime counterparts. Animation is fluid and fast paced, with a lot of attention being given to detail – capes will flap in the air, blasts will explode with dazzling colour and black smoke – it’s exciting to behold. Truly, this is a love letter to Dragon Ball fans.
By default the game is dubbed in Japanese, however a quick search through the settings menu will reveal an English dub option as well. This is great as it doesn’t alienate fans who have grown up watching either version of the anime, and the game employs some of the original voice actors to boot! Again, great attention to detail has been made ensuring characters are just the way fans remember them. Naturally, you’re also getting metal tunes in the background to fight to as well; always fitting for a Dragon Ball title.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the best fighting games around. It features spectacular visuals that capture the feel of the anime, fast and fluid gameplay, and is accessible to all players but also challenging to master fully. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this game hit the competitive scene in a few months; it is a love letter to Dragon Ball fans and a high quality title.
- Fast, fluid combat - Great cel shaded visuals that capture the look of the anime - Japanese and English dubs available - Accessible but challenging to master combat - A love letter to Dragon Ball fans
- Hub world is a little counterproductive - Battles can get a bit inundated in story mode