Akira Toriyama’s work has influenced the tastes of many gamers, but his greatest work was always the Dragon Ball franchise. Despite being a manga/anime series that has felt ripe for a fighting game, it has never quite translated into something utterly game-changing, which is usually due to some weird gimmicks in the fighting system or having too many copy and paste characters. With Arc System Works at the helm and with Toriyama’s input, Dragon Ball FighterZ aims to not just buck that trend, but utterly shatter it. In many ways, it exceeds expectations.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is by far the best looking game in the Dragon Ball franchise and maybe one of the flashiest ever made. Arc System Works have taken the source material, stuck it seamlessly into the engine that the Guilty Gear Xrd games have used, and somehow made it come more to life than even the best moments from the currently circulating Dragon Ball Super anime. Having characters in cutscenes move at a slower frame rate than the camera is odd, but it’s not too distracting for long.
It’s incredibly slick in not only how it looks, sounds, and moves, but also in acknowledging the source material; it’s a love letter to the beloved manga from Akira Toriyama. While non-Dragon Ball Z fans may not get why the Ginyu Force are obsessed with posing, there’s no denying just how well it captures the feel of Dragon Ball Z. Some liberties were taken with the music, having a mostly rock vibe that Arc System Works are known for, but it certainly has the sound effects from the anime.
Key to making Dragon Ball FighterZ so much of a marvel are the Dramatic Intros and Dramatic Finishers. These show just how much care and nostalgia has been pumped into standard fights by taking scenes from the manga/anime and rendering them in-engine. It’s certainly got similarities to Mortal Kombat’s fatalities as it encourages fans to attempt to recreate key scenes with character and stage selections.
The roster of 21 characters that are initially playable are incredibly diverse, each having a small selection of moves and universal techniques that make up a surprisingly well-rounded cast. Some like Yamcha excel on the ground, while others such as Freeza or Beerus have more projectile based attacks.
The 3v3 tag team combat is nail biting at times, with a much faster pace than most of its contemporaries. I’m still very unsure about the implementation of the Dragon Balls, since it is way too easy to activate and gives significant bonuses to the one activating them.
Story Mode isn’t entirely without merit, however it grates that, to ensure nobody is outclassed by the later fights against the boss character, there is the need to increase the link rating. This involves grinding and lots of it, as the Z Fighters make their way through static maps filled with clones. Occasionally one of them will be absorbed by a clone of Kid Buu, or will unlock a new fighter or skill to attach to the party, but it doesn’t do much beyond that.
Since the majority of cannon fodder to grind against are the clones with braindead AI, it gets rather dull really until they hit the late 40s. There’s a massive pacing issue where there’s little payoff for finishing a map, making them fit like filler episodes in the Shonen Jump anime adaptation.
This leads me to my second complaint about the campaign: it’s boring because it’s easy. In my entire playthrough of the story campaign through all three arcs, I lost one character. It wasn’t even to the final boss, just a clone that got some decent hits in on a very under-levelled character. By the time it was all over and I was given the chance to start again but at a higher difficulty, I was so burned out that I’ve had little desire to touch the mode since.
It does however encourage players to change up their squad in-between fights with certain scenes hidden behind these line-ups. Occasionally they’re also dependent on stage and enemy fighters. There are also scenes to unlock as your link level increases per character, giving a reason to grind further should you so wish.
However, the characters are generally well voice acted, even if the English dub is hidden behind an options menu setting. There’s a bit of repetition here and there, particularly when clones are involved, but the interactions between characters with history is joyous fan-service. Characters reminding Yamcha of the time a single Saibaman defeated him was especially amusing. That said; I wish the subtitles matched the voices, as this indicates a lack of polish.
Curiously, there is an in-game currency being built up as you play in the form of Zeni. This can be spent in an in-game shop which hands out Z Capsules that give you random items such as Avatar skins, colours for fighters, or emotes. This loot box method will likely raise eyebrows, but rest assured that there is no way of earning the so called “Premium Currency” beyond opening duplicate items via the Z-Capsules.
Dragon Ball FighterZ does have a few other offline modes, such as local battles and an Arcade Mode. Progression within Arcade Mode is reliant on winning decisively, as the branching paths are completely reliant on performance. Generally the higher up the branches are, the tougher the fights get. Since the game early on gives you the carrot and stick approach by revealing how to unlock the blue haired forms of Goku and Vegeta, it provides plenty of incentive to sink time into the Arcade Mode.
As for online, there’s a decent lobby system that, while it gets you into games relatively quickly, is a bit of a UI mess. It’s a minor issue, but the process of matchmaking with the 3v3 Ring fights for six players in particular relies on knowing precisely how to set it up and people knowing how to access it. For those looking for a more traditional fight, Arena matchmaking allows for people in your lobby to challenge you, while worldwide matchmaking is easily accessible, allowing for ranked and casual fights.
Since its launch, there’s not been many issues with the game itself. Matches tend to be relatively smooth depending on the connection of both players and even the 3v3 fights are incredibly fun, despite relying on six players and their varying connection strengths. Dragon Ball FighterZ therefore is a generally good time online, once you figure out the interface.
2018 is off to a strong start with Dragon Ball FighterZ an early contender for this year’s best fighting game. By shattering some boundaries, Dragon Ball FighterZ has combat that’s more than worth getting into, but also a diverse roster and some phenomenal presentation. The Story Mode could have been improved if it were more streamlined, but it’s a mere blemish on an otherwise spectacular game.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4