Dragon Ball FighterZ: We Gotta Power
There’s been so much hype since E3 2017 for Dragon Ball FighterZ that it feels redundant and stale to even mention just how excited people have been for this game. But that said, the level of interest in Arc System Works’ latest fighter is remarkable. Dragon Ball FighterZ feels like an event release; it’s a game that, through its incredible visuals alone, has captured the mindshare of people who don’t even care about anime that much. It has remained on people’s minds even through several other major fighting game releases, and pre-launch beta tests were constantly full. Now it’s here, and I’ve been playing it all obsessively. I had some reservations going in, mostly about the core controls, but perhaps most surprising of all is that I feel satisfied with ArcSys’ teaching tools more than pretty much all the competition. Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game that wants you to have fun, and through its content offerings, committal to the material, and visual flair it accomplishes exactly that.
See, I have this… thing about story modes in fighting games. Ever since the Mortal Kombat style took over, it feels like casual fighting fans have been missing the forest for the trees a bit. These story modes have been visually ambitious, but their actual play structure is often antithetical to learning how to play fighting games, and spending several hours with fighting game lore is like watching a low budget anime cross-cut with a slow motion train wreck. I just don’t understand how this stuff caught on. In that respect, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the answer to my personal, desperate pleas.
Story Mode takes its time not with its capital-L Lore, but with the player on their road to learning how to actually play Dragon Ball FighterZ . The game even starts with a special checklist that encourages you to give everything, especially the story mode, a try. Once you hop in, be prepared to spend time hanging out with the goofy cast of Dragon Ball Z (literally), as you build a team, rearrange that team, and unlock lovingly written event scenes and find additional training sequences that both introduce and remind you of the fundamentals and more.
Dragon Ball FighterZ ’s actual story is basically a silly cross between a cheesy visual novel and a made for DVD OVA produced by big ol’ Dragon Ball dorks. You, the player, are inexplicably injected into the world of Dragon Ball Z , or Super , or something; it’s not super clear. Not only that, but you’re in Goku’s body, and while he eventually regains his consciousness, he (and nobody else) can actually fight to their normal ability. But when the magic player insert goes inside, they can – you know what, nevermind. There are evil clones, a mysterious new character, and a mysterious reappearance of old characters. It’s a silly setup, but it feels very “ Dragon Ball video game,” and the real good stuff is what you encounter in-between the main cutscenes.
Each section of the story is presented on a board, and you have a number of turns to get through it and defeat the boss. Along the way, you can encounter battle stages, training stages, and random encounters with Majin Buu. Sometimes, when the plot allows, you can also find a new character to expand your available roster. Winning fights grants EXP and money, the former of which levels you characters up (just in story mode), the latter being used to buy specific character unlocks and the game’s brand of loot boxes.
Where Dragon Ball FighterZ differs, in my eyes, from other modern fighters’ story modes is how much control the player has over the experience. You can choose who you play as, swap people in and out of your three-man roster, level up and play as much or as little side content as you want. The training stages repeat themselves, which may seem annoying to seasoned players, but are totally optional and will definitely help newer players remember all the little things you have to keep track of in a fight. You can also encounter bonus events, or little character-building scenes that trigger when you go into a fight with specific teams or against specific enemies. This encourages players to mess around with the entire roster as they hunt for events, which are often on-brand for all the characters involved and very funny. By the end of the first story arc (there are three), newbie players should come out of it with a moderate understanding of, at least, how to hang against the CPU.
It also helps that the barrier of entry for Dragon Ball FighterZ feels pretty low for a three-on-three, Marvel vs Capcom -style fighting game. Character movesets are pared down significantly compared to most other fighters, with more of a focus on the animations and unique properties of each button press as related to each character. The controls also come out of the box with baked-in shortcuts for some of the more advanced techniques, as well as an auto-combo system that’s essentially molded in with the fundamental mechanics. Sometimes this works to the game’s detriment, but it feels like an appropriate way to streamline and make accessible this specific kind of fighter.
The biggest risk when simplifying a fighter’s mechanics is inadvertently making all the characters feel too similar to each other. While some of the more colorful members of the cast do have distinct-feeling play styles, many of the main cast feel pretty samey. Granted, the ArcSys style is generally built on a foundation of simple, almost universal basic combos, so it may be a nasty side effect of a roster that feels full of dudes wearing orange martial arts clothes. Luckily for this game, it’s also one of the most eye-melting visual experiences you can get in a fighting game.
Building on a style first introduced with the most recent Guilty Gear , ArcSys uses 3D animation in a way that nobody has before, recreating the look of 2D animation in most cases. Dragon Ball FighterZ literally looks like the anime in motion. Moving things to Unreal Engine 4 and current hardware exclusivity feels like it makes a real difference. The animations are smoother and more complex, the colors brighter, and the details more intense. When the super moves start to fly, dramatic zooms and pans around characters’ drastically emotive faces combine with Dragon Ball ’s signature energy beams to make for some insane spectacle, the kind that many felt was missing from the latest Marvel vs Capcom .
Since Persona 4 Arena , it has been obvious Arc System Works has been searching for ways to make its anime-style fighting games less obtuse on entry. Each try feels more successful than the last, with a few caveats here and there. Dragon Ball FighterZ feels like it hits a sweet spot, retaining the look and feel of a versus fighter while reining in the complexities that make fighting games still so hard to get into. The mechanical streamlining is supplemented with a story mode that is a silly love letter to the license, that takes its time to let the player learn how to play the game while still having fun and enjoying a new story. It’s a full, hearty experience that fans of Dragon Ball will go nuts over, and fighting games on the outside won’t be able to resist diving into either.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
The visual artists at Arc System Works deserve the money. All of the money. 4.0 Control
Simple, with auto-combos and easy shortcuts for newbies. Some mechanics, like the heavy-as-launch, do take some adjustment to get used to. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Awesome voice acting featuring all the usual and remaining talent. Music falls a bit on the generic butt rock but some of it sounds inspired by the original anime score. 4.5 Play Value
Lacks tons of gimmicky single-player content. But, a multi-tiered arcade mode combined with an excellent and actually useful story mode make for great tools to lead to more fulfilling multiplayer. 4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best