Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t traditionally the sort of game you’d see us reviewing here at Alphr.com. It has no tech or sci-fi story hook like Get Even or Wipeout Omega Collection, nor is it a re-imagining of a cult hit on new hardware like L.A. Noire or Skyrim on Nintendo Switch. Heck, we’re not even reviewing Dragon Ball FighterZ because I’m a big fan of the Dragon Ball series.
Instead, Dragon Ball FighterZ presents itself as an interesting shakeup of the fighting genre. On the surface, it appears like little more than fan service for those awaiting a new Dragon Ball Z game, but underneath it all beats a competitive and complex beast. Arc System Works, best known for the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear 2D fighting game series, successfully turns its hand to transforming a franchise with long-standing fans and expectations into something more than simply something for fans, and into a team-based fighting game that everyone should be sitting up and paying attention to.
Goku, exactly like you’ve seen him before
Arc System Works is no stranger to bringing game worlds to life through anime-styled visuals, both the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series are clearly influenced by anime. Here though, Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t simply inspired by Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super anime, it’s the same. The result is a gorgeous 2D fighting experience with visuals that rival Street Fighter V with a fluidity that even Marvel Vs Capcom 3: Infinite can’t match.
During fights, energy blasts fill the screen, their bursts of coloured light briefly illuminating characters and the environment around them. Smash a foe into the ground and spots of the arena tear up and stay chewed up for the remainder of the match and screen-filling destructive-finishes look like a scene straight out of the anime. For fans of the TV series, the visuals alone will be enough to sell it.
Absolutely Krillin it
Fighting game fans, on the other hand, want something else out of the games they play – complexity. Thankfully, Dragon Ball FighterZ offers that up too, but don’t go in expecting something quite as deep as Arc System Works’ other games. To allow for newcomers to start and grasp systems easily, Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t as initially complex as some may like.
Without delving into the minute details of each and every attack and the counter systems available to you, Dragon Ball FighterZ utilises auto combos to seamlessly string attacks together. Tap the same button in rhythm, or mix it up with other moves without dropping your timing, and you’ll put together a nice combo that makes you feel suitably powerful in the process. While you’d think this would encourage button bashing your way to success, even a mildly competent player can overcome such hurdles with counter moves and smart use of Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s clever implementation of the series “Instant Transmission” teleportation to spring a surprise attack on your opponent.
Fights are also always played out three-on-three, with team members tagging out so only two combatant are actively fighting at any given time. Knowing how to make the most of your team’s skills can also really turn the tide of a battle. Beyond simply calling on them for support during Super Moves and powered-up attacks, creating a balanced team of fighters can help you square off against the many foes you’ll face online and in Dragon Ball FighterZ Arcade and Story modes.
Oh, Gohan then
In single-player you have a multi-branching Arcade mode to sink your teeth into, and a huge Story mode spanning three separate arcs. Interestingly, this Story mode is a completely original tale created by Toriyama for Dragon Ball FighterZ and revolves around the creation of Android 21 by the Red Ribbon Army. Without going into any real detail, it’s clear Arc System Works has taken cues from the TV show as there’s an awful lot of filler and repetitive battling to be found here. Each arc provides a different perspective on the story and, once you’ve played all three, the story pieces itself together rather nicely. You’ll also have a far better understanding of the characters and systems of Dragon Ball FigtherZ after sinking close to thirty hours into Story mode alone.
One thing fans of past Dragon Ball titles may want to note, Arc System Works has paired back the roster of fighters from the likes of Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and the days of Budokai Tenkaichi. Here you’ll only find just north of 20 fighters, but that’s more than enough for anyone seriously learning the ropes. Bandai Namco has also promised that more will come via downloadable content, but I still wouldn’t expect the numbers found in past titles.
For the most part, then, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a wonderfully accomplished fighting game. It bucks the trend for many brawlers by actually creating a game that’s accessible to newcomers while leaving enough complexity for veterans to sink their teeth into. It’s still unclear if we’ll see it become a competitive title at fighting events like EVO, but there’s certainly potential.
The greatest compliment I can give to Dragon Ball FighterZ is that every aspect of it feels like you’re playing through Dragon Ball itself. Its original story may fall flat and drag in places, but the TV series is no better at avoiding filler. As a fan, almost all of its shortcomings can be forgiven for creating an experience that truly makes you feel like a powerful warrior. Punches have heft, super attacks truly feel super and it’s easily the best Dragon Ball game since the Budokai series on PS2.