You would think that there are hundreds upon hundreds of great video games based on the Dragon Ball franchise. After all, it is one of the most popular and longest running manga and anime series out there. Yet I can only think of a just a handful that I would say are above average. While a lot of fans may say that either the Budokai or Xenoverse to be the best then, they never fully captured the insane action from the anime. Basically, I’m trying to say that I have never played a Dragon Ball game that really made me feel like I was in the anime.
That all changed with the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
If there was a game that manages to nail the look and feel of Akira Toriyama’s incredibly popular anime, it’s this game. Developer Arc System Works, the same folks who made other impressive anime fighters like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, did a phenomenal job of making FighterZ probably the best fighting game for 2018. Yes, I know the year just started but that’s just how great the game is.
Obviously, the first thing you’ll notice about Dragon Ball FighterZ is its presentation. This game is gorgeous. Arc System Works have already produced beautiful anime fighters in the past but it’s like they put a lot of extra care into FighterZ to satisfy all of the millions of Dragon Ball fans in the world. The game looks like the anime come to life, thanks to its incredible cel shaded graphics. Each and every character looks exactly like they did in the anime. Not only that, most of the movement and animation frames looks like they were literally lifted from the manga and anime.
There’s already an amazing level of detail put into the characters because of all of the references in their poses but there are also a ton of nice little aspects that you may not notice, such as the fighters getting dirtier and more ragged as the battle rages on. You can also interact with the backgrounds somewhat. Smash your opponent into the ground after an air combo and your opponent will leave behind a small crater. The start of each battle always have the combatants surrounded by levitating rocks and smoke, which is just like in the anime. Environments will also get damaged and destroyed if you deflect the classic ki blasts they toss around. That’s not even mentioning all of the special Destructive Finishes, Dramatic Openings and Finishes and stage transitions you can trigger. It’s just pretty to look at!
Not only does it look like the anime come to life, it also sounds like it. Namco Bandai managed to get the original voice actors from both the English and Japanese versions so everyone sounds exactly like they did in the anime. It’s kind of bittersweet in a way as this was the last performance of Hiromi Tsuru, Bulma’s Japanese voice actress, before she died last November. As I’m more partial to the Japanese voices than the English version, I really appreciate hearing do Bulma one more time. The only one missing would be the narrator guy who does the “Previously, on Dragon Ball Z…” before each episode starts! But besides the voices, all of the sound effects, like the throwing of ki blasts, charging up, that “glowing” sound effect all Saiyans make, the “whoosing” flying sound when they’re flying or sent flying and the bone crunching strikes when you connect with the heavy attack, are all here.
I haven’t even touched on the actual gameplay yet, which is incredibly good and accessible for newcomers yet incredibly deep for fighting game veterans. FighterZ copies a lot of what made Marvel vs. Capcom 3 insane and fun to play but adds a Dragon Ball twist to it to spice things up. It’s a 3-vs-3 fighter and you can tag in your backup characters or call them in with an assist attack like in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It also uses the same 3 attack and 1 special button like Marvel vs. Capcom 3. You can also launch your opponents in the air with a powerful attack and juggle them with an air combo. There’s also the Sparking Burst, which is basically the X-Factor comeback mechanic from… you get the idea.
However, Arc System Works also used some of the mechanics they used in Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. You can cancel some of your attacks into a jump, extending your combos. You can do air dashes and high jumps as well. But there are some mechanics that are exclusive to this game, such as teleporting behind your opponent with a Vanish attack and flying through projectile attacks with a Super Dash. While all of this may sound complicated, newbies who are content with button mashing can still have a grand old time thanks to the addition of auto-combos. By simply pressing any of the attack buttons, your character will instantly go through a preset combo that looks really cool. Of course, veterans can go a little bit deeper thanks to the other mechanics I mentioned earlier. Gamers willing to go a little more complex will definitely get more out of the game but people who are just satisfied by button mashing and seeing a fantastic looking combo come out will still enjoy it.
Even if you’re not exactly the competitive type or you’re not an online warrior (or you don’t have any friends… no judgements here!), Dragon Ball FighterZ has a pretty solid single player experience. The game has one of the better Arcade modes around. Instead of just going through a ladder of random battles, FighterZ’s version of Arcade mode has you facing off against teams that have some connection with each other. For example, the team of Nappa, Tien and Krillin are the aptly named Cue Balls while the team of Cell, Kid Buu and Frieza are the Planetary Killers. Additionally, the difficulty of each match depends on how well you do in the previous match. Blasting through a team with no one getting KOed and as fast as possible earns you the privilege of facing off stronger opponents. It’s a nice little test of skill.
The game has an interesting take on Story mode. Instead of just going through the pattern of watching a cutscene, fighting a battle and repeat until the final boss, FighterZ’s has you flying through a map of connected stages and fighting off different clones and characters. As you battle these clone, you will recruit some members into your group, which you can include into your team. You also have to level up each character by having them participate in the actual fights. There doesn’t seem to be any major penalty for just leveling up a few characters. However, if you don’t mix up your team, you won’t be getting some interesting special character interactions peppered throughout the 15 to 20 minute Story modes.
Unfortunately, Story mode does get extremely repetitive. The CPU controlled opponents don’t really put up much of a fight. Also, it’s disappointing that, most of the time, you’re just fighting clones of the characters. It’s an interesting way to get around why you’re fighting the same 22 characters all the time but it does get old real fast. This is in stark contrast with the harder difficulty settings of Arcade more. Actually, I would say the AI in Arcade mode is very inconsistent, especially during the latter stages as the computer will counter practically every attack you do and they will do much more damage that you can. Oddly enough, the AI is very susceptible to a well timed Super Dash. If you miss it, though, the computer will smash your fighter to bits.
The roster could also use a little more diversity. Most of the characters do look differently and have different special attacks but all of them, save for a small handful, generally have the same combo patterns. This helps in a way as it makes it easy to get used to each and every character easily but I can’t really consider this to be a positive. In a weird way, this makes the more unique characters with different combo patterns and properties appear to be more powerful or weaker than the other characters. For example, Hit may not have any traditional ki blasts but his ability to counter most attacks and different stance changes makes him difficult to fight against as he doesn’t play like most of the roster. Majin Buu, on the other hand, doesn’t have the traditional jump cancel combo that the other fighters utilize, so people who use him will have to wrap their head around this variation during the battle.
My biggest gripe with Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t so much of a problem but something that most players like myself has to get used to. Instead of traditional menus and options, Dragon Ball FighterZ uses a in-game hub. You have your avatar explore the map and visit different locations to select that option. It’s totally different from other UIs found in most games out there but it’s also rather confusing, at least at the start. There is a hotkey that will teleport you to your desired portion of the map but this means you technically have to select something from that menu then pick that very same option from the map. It can get tedious to say the least.
I will say that this map world is cute as you and the other players in that hub use a chibi/super deformed character to navigate it. I do like that the “world” is populated by other characters who are connected online. Unfortunately, I’m having lots of issues staying connected. This means I keep on getting booted to the region select area more often than not and it’s incredibly frustrating. Adding to this is that I can’t really find a way to go offline. I get my world will look empty since I’ll be the only one in it but at least I’ll get to play without getting interrupted by my poor connection to the servers.
Even with that issue, it’s hard to stay mad at Dragon Ball FighterZ. Fighting game fans will love it thanks to its deceptively deep battle system. Dragon Ball fans will love it because it stays true to the anime and manga Akira Toriyama created. It’s a blast to play and I can’t wait to finish this post so I can start playing it again.
Have you played Dragon Ball FighterZ? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!