Back when I launched this blog I went back and forth whether to do a “Wrestling Game Rundown” or one based on Dragon Ball games, with the latter appealing due to have comparatively few there are, but in the end I went with the childhood favourite. So here we are in 2018 and my first review of the year is also, at last, the first Dragon Ball game reviewed on the site! A dream team of Dragon Ball and Arc System Works, Dragon Ball FighterZ is eye-wateringly beautiful, but maybe not as perfect as we’d all hoped. Let’s take a deeper look!
Say what you want about Dragon Ball Super, but it has given some fun new characters to play as in games at last!
Dragon Ball FighterZ was released worldwide (minus Japan, oddly, who got it a week later…) on January 26th 2018. I remember when I was playing Guilty Gear Xrd a few years ago that I said I’d love to see a Dragon Ball game with this engine, and sure enough that’s what we got!
In terms of Roster (minus DLC…) it’s a fairly strong line up of 24 playable characters, ranging from the obvious hero cast and Z-era villains, to Dragon Ball Super villains Hit and Goku Black, and even a brand new character: Android 21. It’s a fun line up, and they all have some sort of beautifully animated attacks, intros and even some special death scenes!
Yep… My opponent in there somewhere…
The gameplay on Dragon Ball FighterZ is best described as “very Marvel vs. Capcom-y”. Two teams of three fight it out, with the ability to switch at any point (minus cool down periods), the ability to call in other team members for brief assist attacks, and even the combo-ing people high into the air thing. There are some unique mechanics, like a “Vanish Attack” to teleport behind your opponent, a “Dragon Rush” that can plough through your opponent’s guard if timed right, and a “Super Dash” to pass through smaller attacks and get in close to the enemy. Otherwise you have strong and weak attacks, special moves and big flashy ultimate moves, all of which are assigned a standard quarter-turn “hadoken motion” movements across all characters… which is an odd move. It makes it easier to pick a character and practice, but it does also make them feel less unique (even if they do play surprisingly differently) There is an auto-combo by pressing square several times, which is fine if it could be turned off, but it seemingly can’t, so it’s a little annoying, especially when in the heat of the moment I accidentally do it and waste a super meter chunk I was saving up…
During the fighting it’s possible to collect Dragon Balls for doing certain moves and combos, and if you collect all seven you can wish for more health or for a fallen partner to be revived. Once again it’s an odd system, but I don’t think I ever really saw it outside of the original tutorial, so… Not a big deal. As I alluded to above, there are different finishes, ranging from “Destructive Finish”, where you end with a big attack that sets of the old planet-wrecking big ki blast scenes, and “Dramatic Finish”, where you defeat a specific opponent with a specific character’s move and it sets off a cutscene directly lifted from the series. The latter are rare, but very fun when you get one, especially when you didn’t even mean to!
As for modes, there is the standard training, tutorial, VS., online matches, online tournaments and an Arcade mode where you go down a set grid where you move up, forward or down depending on if you did excellently, averagely or poorly in the preceding fight. It sounds interesting, but 9 times out of 10 I did the same path because I aced the first few fights, then hit a wall with a difficult middle fight that then lead me to end the Arcade with the mid-table boss. Then there’s the story mode… more on that later.
I also have to mention that selecting these modes is done by controlling your little chibi avatar around a lobby and walking to the mode you want to play… Who thought that was a good idea? Let me just move up and down a menu and press a button, don’t sign me into a lobby and have me wonder around to get to the mode I want to play!
Graphics and Sound:
As you’ve probably gathered, visually it’s STUNNING. Never before has a game looked so dead-on to the anime, and Arc System Works’ engine never fails to blow me away, how it can pan the camera around the 2D looking models and then pan out to start the traditional 2D fighting is still amazing to me. The attacks during the match are big and flashy, everyone looks correct, the backgrounds are great… just top stuff!
Sound-wise is good too, with both Japanese and English voice cast, all the proper sound effects and your classic rock-based Arc System Works soundtrack, with a few different music genres thrown in. Each stage has a music track as well as each character, though you’ll be hearing the former far more than the latter, sadly in a lot of cases…
Android 21 confronts Cell, seen through the middle of Cell’s legs. Cor blimey?
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s not great. The story is split into three “arcs”, but instead of one arc following the other or the three happening at the same time, they’re actually telling the same story three times but with slight differences due to being focused on either the heroes, villains or the Androids. That means I have no idea which is supposed to have actually “happened”, nor quite frankly, do I care after having to do the same stuff over-and-over. That’s the main problem, the story is all about clones of the main cast (as well as some villains who were revived with the Dragon Balls for… the sake of using as much of the in-game roster as possible) causing havoc, meaning 90% of it is travelling across basic board game-like maps defeating clone warriors, over and over again. The arcs aren’t short, let me tell you, and the Android one has you just playing as Androids 18 and 16 for a good majority… at least the first two allowed you to switch who you play as for a bit of variety.
The actual story beyond clones, the characters being de-powered by a mysterious wave and the revived villains (all written so Yamcha fighting a clone of Frieza “makes sense”) there is also a plot about a soul being transferred into either Goku, Frieza or Android 18 depending on your “arc”, that has to do the fighting in the character’s body… and then switch to other characters, and… Man, basically, it’s written so the “soul is you” and that the characters can talk to the camera as if you controlling them in the fights is part of the story rather than, you know, you just being the player… It’s just weird, and completely unnecessary.
Then there’s Android 21, who is heavily hinted at being Dr. Gero’s wife and even that Android 16 is made in the image of their dead son (now there’s a bit of continuity that was heavily hinted in past spin-off media and databooks, but never confirmed! … and still isn’t, because this isn’t “canon”, but still…), has spliced herself with the genes of fighters ala Cell, but one of those genes is from Majin Buu, and therefore she becomes hungry and wants to turn people into food and eat them. A few characters meet, there are some funny dialogue and pre-fight interactions, you beat 1,000 clones and then stop Android 21, or the evil half of Android 21 if you’re playing the Androids’ POV arc. Given how long it takes, it’s not very satisfying… It’s a good thing a fighting game is mostly about the actual fighting, and that that’s actually good!
How’s that for an action shot! … It’s a promo image, I don’t have the DLC yet to be fair, but still!
This will obviously be updated down the road, but as of this review Broly and Bardock, the two classic “must be in all games” characters, have been released, with a further 6 in the pipeline. There are also two spaces in the “menu” that have no purpose at the moment…
Final Thoughts (Now):
DESTRUCTIVE FINISH! … to the review.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a really fun fighting game, and one that does justice to its source material. It’s light enough for young fans to play, and just deep enough to entice more hardcore fighting games fans (though its no Street Fighter or Tekken on that front) The Story Mode is pants, but the arcade and online functions are plenty fun enough, and with the promise of more to come, I’d say FighterZ ranks very high in my favourite Dragon Ball games list, and possibly in my overall fighting games list, if we’re talking about simple “pick up and play for a while” longevity. A good start to 2018!