Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: The Game We’ve Wanted For Decades

Ah, Dragon Ball. With its rapid and intense battles, iconic spiky-haired (or bald) characters, and a good sense of humor, it’s one of the most popular anime/manga series of all time. And with such popularity, you can bet it has spawned tons of games, especially fighting ones. While Dragon Ball fighting games have usually been very enjoyable, most would agree that their mechanics weren’t exactly something the fighting game community could take seriously as competitive fighters. In comes Dragon Ball FighterZ, the game that had both Dragon Ball fans and the fighting game community hyped since its reveal at E3 2017. Does it deliver on being a truly competitive Dragon Ball fighting game people have wanted for decades?

Presentation and Core Mechanics

Past Dragon Ball fighting games, for the most part, have been Dragon Ball games first, and fighting games second. Their focus was on creating a game that would entertain fans of the source material, usually by allowing them to re-experience moments from the series, play as tons of different characters, create “what if” scenarios, etc. FighterZ is different in that, above all else, it’s a proper 2D fighting game with solid fighting mechanics for competitive gaming.

Developed by Arc System Works, the gameplay takes inspiration from other fighters, especially Marvel vs Capcom with its controls, air combos, and team-based matches. In addition, it sports its own unique mechanics that’s very appropriate for Dragon Ball, like charging Ki, performing Vanish Attacks, Super Dashing at your opponent, etc. And while the game is definitely a competitive fighter, what really impressed me was how accessible they managed to make this game to newbies. Fighting games can be a bit intimidating for those that aren’t familiar with them, and since this is a Dragon Ball game, inexperienced fans are sure to check it out.

Luckily, the mechanics are actually pretty simple to pick up. For one, there are no complicated inputs required for special attacks, like in some other fighters. Almost every special attack of any kind is a simple quarter circle forward or back motion, followed by a button. If you can do a Hadouken in Street Fighter, then congrats, you’re good to go. You shouldn’t have to worry about if you can even perform a move in this game, it’s more about the when and how. On top of this, FighterZ has auto-combos. By simply mashing the light, medium, or heavy attack buttons, you’ll perform a simple combo automatically. While some fighting game veterans might groan at the idea of auto-combos, it’s still a great way of immediately opening up the game to newcomers, if just a little bit. As someone who enjoys fighting games but was never good at them, the auto-combos were what helped me to figure out my own manual combos the more I played. It helped me wrap my head around how attacks connect and at what point I can improvise and start doing my own thing. And ultimately, manual combos are a lot more powerful and flexible in what you can do, so auto-combos aren’t going to get you very far if you plan on playing online in Ranked Matches. They’re there to get you started and make you feel like you can do something cool, even if it’s very basic. This makes FighterZ is a game accessible to fighting game newbies that want to get better, but also very rewarding for veterans.

When it comes to performing combos manually, this game allows for so many options and possibilities for every character. FighterZ may not have the same gigantic roster that games like Budokai Tenkaichi 3 or Xenoverse 2 have, but it more than makes up for it in character complexity. This is the first fighting game that made me want to experiment with every character and discover the combos they can do. Sometimes I’d figure out a combo string leading into a super and then discover that other players found completely different ways to lead into that super and deal the same amount of damage. There’s no one way to play a character, you can invent your own style. The moves these characters have are all very flashy and spectacular too, which just adds to the hunger of wanting to pull off more cool looking combos. Then once you actually land one of those flashy combos in a real match, it’s incredibly satisfying and you’ll feel like such a badass.

So it’s clear FighterZ is a fighting game above all. However, with all that said, this game is still brimming with Dragon Ball love. With the excellent character models that mimic Akira Toriyama’s original artwork wonderfully, the extremely flashy effects, the amazing voice work from the original cast in both Japanese and English, unique character dialogue during battles, iconic quotes and character poses straight from the anime/manga, and more; this game is filled with tons of Dragon Ball fan service to make you feel like you’re in the show. This isn’t even to mention the Dramatic Scenes that trigger whenever you start or finish a match with specific conditions. For example, starting a match with Goku and Frieza on Planet Namek without Krillin in your team will re-create the scene where Goku first transforms into a Super Saiyan. You can really tell that the developers were just as passionate about Dragon Ball as the fans themselves. It’s that amazing presentation that really makes this game a joy to not only play but even just watch.

Single Player

As great as the actual fighting is, the whole package itself isn’t complete without modes to play, whether with friends or by yourself. In terms of single-player content, you’ve got Arcade Mode and Story Mode.

Arcade Mode is what you’d expect for the most part. You fight through several matches in a row of increasing difficulty. In FighterZ‘s case, however, the path you take and which opponents you fight change depending on how well you performed. If you did very well and got a good rating, you go on the upper path with even harder opponents. If you do poorly but still win, you go down to a lower path. That’s as far as complexity goes. There are no special character endings for winning or anything like that. It’s just a way of earning Zeni (this game’s currency) and unlocking two special characters.

Story Mode is the real meaty single-player experience. FighterZ is packing its own original story that seems to take place sometime during Dragon Ball Super. Clones of all the strong fighters on Earth are running amok and causing trouble. On top of that, enemies from the past have been revived and our heroes’ fighting abilities have been concealed. The only way they can fight is by “linking” up with a human soul to do the fighting for them (that’s YOU). They’ll then encounter a new original character, Android 21, and discover what role she may play in all of this.

As far as the general story goes, it’s engaging enough to keep me curious on what exactly is going on. However, the truly greatest part about Story Mode are the cutscenes that just focus on the character interactions. It’s an absolute joy seeing these fan favorite characters interact and be themselves. The main tone of the story is pretty light-hearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a result, there’s tons of humorous character moments that’ll make any Dragon Ball fan happy. When you’ve got a scene where Gotenks tries teaching Nappa to go Super Saiyan or one where Gohan is admiring The Ginyu Force’s “cool” poses, you know you’re in for a treat.

The cutscenes were my driving force to keep going, as they helped in distracting me from how repetitive and tedious the actual gameplay was. In Story Mode, you’ll be moving along a map screen with event spaces to land on. Most spaces have you fighting an enemy clone. The problem is, there are way too many of them and, in Normal Mode, the enemies are incredibly easy and barely try to fight back, eliminating any kind of challenge. You’ll be grinding through pushover enemies for hours in order to complete Story Mode. It wouldn’t be so bad if the fights were fewer in number and got harder at a more gradual pace, but instead there are far more fights than there needs to be, causing Story Mode as a whole to take you about 9 hours to get through. They try to mix things up by adding equippable skills that can power-up your team or the enemy, but they don’t do much in making fights more interesting the first time through.

Multiplayer and Online

Of course, the main thing most people bought this game for is fighting other players. It’s the core part of any fighting game, so naturally, the experience should be at its best.

Well, in terms of local multiplayer, everything checks out. No complaints there. But online multiplayer? Well…I got complaints. For one, the overall interface leaves much to be desired. Instead of opening the game up and selecting a mode, you instead need to log in to the server, pick a lobby, and enter a little hub world filled with other players appearing as chibi Dragon Ball characters (that you can buy with Zeni). There you can do an Arena Match with fellow lobby players, World Casual or Ranked Matches, a Ring Match where you can make the rules, or check out Replays. It is pretty neat and all, but it makes certain aspects of finding matches cumbersome, especially playing with friends. In order to play with your friend, you both need to be in the same lobby and one needs to start a Ring Match somewhere in the lobby. There’s no way of simply picking someone in the lobby and sending a one-on-one fight request. There’s also no way of checking if a friend is playing in-game, you just both need to know to be in the same lobby.

But the real kicker is, even if you get the Ring Match set up, sometimes it doesn’t even work. Sometimes you can try to join a friend’s Ring Match and it won’t allow you, saying “No rooms found”. This extends to open Ring Matches started by random players as well. Despite it saying there’s plenty of room for you to join, it just won’t let you sometimes. In the end, I think it all just stems from the game’s shoddy online service right now, because there are a bunch of other issues too. It takes forever to spectate Arena Matches, daily Zeni quests just don’t work sometimes, I get kicked from lobbies randomly for no reason, and although it’s not like the open beta’s horrific experience, it still takes longer than I’d expect to find a Casual or Ranked Match. Also, as of writing this review, there doesn’t seem to be a system in place to punish rage-quitters, so that’s another thing.

I sincerely hope this all gets fixed in the future. Considering online matches are where most dedicated players will be spending their time, it needs to be running smoothly. When online matches do work, they’re tons of fun though.

Conclusion

Despite the rather repetitive Story Mode and the issues with online play, the core game itself as a fighter is just too much fun for those negatives to ruin this game. When it works, it really works, and I haven’t had this much fun with a fighting game since…ever. It’s accessible to beginners yet rewarding to veterans, characters are all a lot of fun to play and experiment with, it’s filled with tons of fan service that’ll make any Dragon Ball fan smile, and pulling off cool combos is incredibly satisfying. It’s a game I regularly find myself saying “Just one more match and I’m done.” before another 2 hours pass. If you’re a Dragon Ball fan or a competitive fighting game fan, this game is absolutely for you.

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