Dragon Ball Z games have covered nearly every genre under the sun – from turn based RPGs and open-world adventure games to competitive fighters and digital card games and even that one time they made a Kinect game. The latest genre experiment for the global anime phenomenon is still pretty out of left-field, though – while I’ve enjoyed the asymmetrical multiplayer renaissance fuelled by competitive horror games like Dead By Daylight, Friday the 13th and Evil Dead, I never once thought “this is cool…but what if it was Dragon Ball?” Bandai Namco put pen to paper and made this hypothetical that nobody hypothesised into a reality with Dragon Ball: The Breakers.
Hilariously, Dragon Ball: The Breakers puts in genuine effort to provide a canonical explanation for the endless asymmetrical battles occurring in the game. Trunks has found your create-a-character stuck in a time-portal glitch that’s causing you, your friends, and random villains from across the history of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z to be endlessly plucked from your times and placed into random defenceless towns. For the team of 7 Survivors, you aren’t engaging in Saiyan battles and going Ultra Instinct – your crew is made up of low-powered humans, a horny talking pig, and that one farmer from that one episode. All you can hope to do is survive and escape by performing a series of menial tasks before the lone Raider villain puts an end to you and your team.
It’s hard to make the gameplay loop for the “many” in these one vs many games all that exciting – the fun comes not from the often trivial tasks, but the tense cat-and-mouse you play with the killer. There’s very little tension in Dragon Ball: The Breakers, mostly due to how much the immersion is ruined by the awful camera and controls. Your characters glide across the ground with little traction or momentum, and the camera does this weird thing where it stays centered in place rather than moving to keep your character centred. It makes the whole thing feel like a clunky MMO or like you’re playing the game through a Spectator-mode camera.
The unfocused camera only makes it harder to utilise certain utility tools like your grappling hook, which has it’s own problems thanks to lack of audio feedback on when you actually attach to something. I never felt like I was being hunted by Cell or chased by Frieza. It only ever felt like I was struggling to guide a drunken NPC toward some semblance of an objective.
The objectives in Dragon Ball: The Breakers are another issue altogether. The core loop as a Survivor sees you traversing a giant map sectioned into various zones, opening random loot-boxes hidden in caves, houses and cliffsides. Your goal is to randomly find a Power Key in one of these boxes, which you’ll then take to a specific point on the map to install. Place all the Power Keys and you’ll activate the Time Machine that will take your team home, as long as the Raider doesn’t destroy it first.
Any sense of strategy or mind-games are out of the window once your core goal as a Survivor relies on randomness and luck. There’s nothing rewarding or interesting about fumbling around a huge map opening boxes full of random items – you’ll sometimes find equipment to use for stunning the Raider, or a radar that helps pinpoint the location of Dragon Balls or Power Keys, but it all just feels like a chore until you’ve finally gotten the Time Machine. In these moments, there’s the briefest sense of tension and strategy as your team figures out how to hold off the Raider, but it’s too little, too late, and all too frustrating thanks to the consistently cursed camera.
As a Raider, your job is much simpler and much more fun: find every Survivor, and kill every Survivor. Raider characters can fly around the map as they please, easily outrunning and outmaneuvering the puny Survivors down below. Unfortunately, you’ll still be dealing with awful camera controls as a Raider, which makes the rare moments of combat downright broken.
Raiders can use various attack abilities to damage Survivors, and Survivors can use things like the Charge meter or a summon-able Shenron to temporarily transform into battle-ready warriors like Goku and Piccolo. This game feels like it wasn’t designed to handle any of that, though. Your aiming reticle struggles to pick a target within your field of view as you ready up an attack, and once you activate your ability, it’s impossible to tell where it’s aiming or who it will hit. Like the rest of the game, combat is a random, unrewarding mess.
One solid merit I can give to Dragon Ball: The Breakers is that its dedication to the aesthetic and nostalgia of the original anime series is clear to see. It’s heart warming to see old-school Bulma and random minor characters from the series crop up, and the villainous Raiders are all rendered perfectly. With a tighter camera system it would be genuinely awe-inspiring to explore these giant Dragon Ball maps and scavenge for Senzu Beans or hang out in the towns and cities you always see demolished in the original anime.
That faithfulness and charm put a smile on my face… which was quickly wiped away when I discovered the game has three types of currencies, a bare-bones Battle Pass, and a random paid Gacha system that lets players use real money to slingshot right into owning the most useful abilities in the game. Can we not? Just once, can we just… not do all of this? Especially in a game with an up-front pricetag on it?