Dragon Ball fans haven’t exactly been blessed with great video games over the years. Save for a few exceptions such as The Legacy of Goku II on Game Boy Advance and a handful of Budokai titles, developers simply haven’t been able to translate and frenetic action and intensity of the manga and anime into a game. One developer that was able to do so was Arc System Works, which developed the excellent tag-team fighting game Supersonic Warriors. The game mixed authentic moves with strategic fighting and beautiful visuals, and the studio’s latest project, Dragon Ball FighterZ, is more than just an iterative improvement – it’s the best Dragon Ball game ever made.
What in the world?
Fighting fans don’t usually gravitate toward particular games for their award-winning narratives, but Dragon Ball FighterZ features a surprisingly robust and entertaining story mode that features nearly every character on the roster. An original and non-canonical story rather than an interpretation of the anime, FighterZ finds the Z-Warriors and the series’ famous villains unable to fight after a machine begins broadcasting power-suppressing waves across the Earth. Only with the help of a mysterious human soul (that’s you) can they regain control of their strongest abilities and begin dealing with an army of clones who have begun attacking the planet. The story is split into three arcs, each of which offers a different “what if” scenario with particular characters, and though it doesn’t present much in the way of character development for the main cast, newcomer Android 21 is allowed to shine in its closing hours.
The story is absolutely ridiculous – even for Dragon Ball standards – with nearly every villain Goku and his friends have ever battled simultaneously revived and ready to terrorize the planet again. It would have come across as bad fan fiction had the cast taken it seriously, but everyone involved seems to have understood just how silly the whole situation is. Goku is routinely the butt of jokes regarding his slightly low intelligence, and Frieza has to stop Captain Ginyu from breaking into dance on more than one occasion. Even the “serious” moments are often bookended with a snide comment from Cell or Vegeta, and this humor is often necessary to keep fights from bleeding together. The majority of the battles you take part in – all chosen via a strategy-like map system – are against clones of other characters, and fighting Trunks for the 30th time can be a bit of a chore without a few wisecracks here and there.
Repetitive as it may be, the Dragon Ball FighterZ story mode does a better job of introducing you to the game’s mechanics than the dedicated tutorial, both due to the sheer number of fights you’ll do as well as the escalating difficulty. Without even needing to take on another human opponent, the game does a great job of explaining both basic and advanced combat mechanics, and you’ll quickly be able to chain together Kamehameha waves and launch brutal combos. As the game forces you to make use of several different characters, you’ll also be prepared to switch up your own strategy and experiment with fighters’ orders in your three-man roster.
Take off the gloves
When battles begin in Dragon Ball FighterZ, it’s an almost surreal experience: It feels like you’re playing an episode of the series. Characters attack with tremendous speed, fireballs, and other energy attacks are constantly flying across the screen, and you don’t even need to be an expert to make something badass happen – just tapping a few buttons together will lead to something cool happening, whether it’s Vegeta’s Big Bang or Trunks’ Shining Slash. If you are on the right map and using the correct character, you can even recreate key moments of the show in “dramatic finishes.” Watching Gohan annihilate Cell is nearly as awesome in FighterZ as it was the first time I saw it on television.
“It’s the best Dragon Ball game ever made.”
But don’t confuse Dragon Ball FighterZ’s easy-to-learn nature as a condemnation of its depth. The game quickly separates the elite players apart from the pack with high-level blocking and countering strategies, the use of “assist” moves, and long combination attacks requiring players to quickly swap out characters. To the untrained eye, it looks like a giant mess, but those finding themselves at the business end of an experienced player’s fist will be able to pick up on their techniques and gradually improve their game. The best teacher is often failure – in fact, it’s a key element that separates the Saiyans from their enemies.
As much as this balance is a sign of Arc System Works’ design successes, it also points to just how far behind so many other fighting developers are – the genre doesn’t have to be an inaccessible nightmare for newcomers, and by allowing this ease-of-entry in a deep fighting game, they can increase its visibility and keep its community together for a longer period of time.
Battle of gods
There are a handful of other single-player options other than the story mode, including the score-based arcade option, but most of your time in Dragon Ball FighterZ will be spent battling other players in online matches. During the open beta, I had a miserable time even finding a match, with waiting times that often approached 10 minutes. Oftentimes, I would be completely booted from the lobby and have to reconnect before I could even attempt to find an opponent.
These issues haven’t been completely resolved in the final game. Getting booted from the lobby is still something you’ll have to deal with routinely. But finding a match takes significantly less time, and once a match begins, connection issues are limited. The game even gives you an exact number of delayed frames in-between the fighters’ two health bars, so you can definitively blame any bad performance on “lag” rather than your own feeble abilities.
In addition to the “casual” and “ranked” multiplayer options, which are done through standard matchmaking, FighterZ also allows players in the same lobby to battle it out in more personalized matches. Dubbed “ring matches,” these allow anyone to challenge an opponent they see to a fight – thus far, this is where server issues still seem to be an issue, as we’ve had spotty success joining or creating our own matches. An arena in the center of the lobby also allows players to battle it out with the rest of the lobby as their witnesses, and though it’s fun to fight a stranger in a quick battle, it’s even more fun to sit back and watch two random players battle it out.
When you do queue yourself up for a standard ranked match, be prepared for a challenge. FighterZ does an absolutely remarkable job of pairing together two players of similar skill levels, and even if you find yourself losing several battles in a row, they’re likely to still be close fights. Players won’t typically allow you to get away with blatant high-powered “super attacks” or wait around while you charge your Ki, but you’ll both be forced to adapt to your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses on the fly. If only subconsciously, you are constantly improving, whether it’s in learning to block more consistently or in choosing the right time to unleash a tag-team combo attack.
The Senzu Bean and the stick
That sense of improvement will be what drives your continued play in online matches, rather than acquiring a new item to give you a competitive advantage. Dragon Ball FighterZ does have a loot box system of sorts – you’ll buy “Z Capsules” using the game’s two forms of in-game currency – but the items you earn are entirely cosmetic, and you earn both forms of currency at a very quick rate through playing the campaign and multiplayer matches. You can choose to spend $3 to unlock two characters early, but these are also available through normal play and are included immediately with the “Day One” edition. Unlike the microtransaction systems used by some other prominent multiplayer games over the last year or so, FighterZ’s feels like it’s there only for the extremely impatient. All I really wanted was Future Trunks in his blue jacket, and I got it after less than a day of battling.
“If only subconsciously, you are constantly improving, whether it’s in learning to block more consistently or in choosing the right time to unleash a tag-team combo attack.”
Dragon Ball games have often been weighed down by their own ambition. Whether it’s attempting to tell two entire sagas of the story in a few hours or forcing players to throw their own Ki blasts with Kinect, the games have often avoided giving fans what they’ve wanted for so long: a deep and authentic fighting game. Arc System Works has delivered exactly that, and it’s packed with enough fan service and Easter eggs to please even the most hardcore fans. Dragon Ball fans who haven’t played fighting games before will be given a pleasant welcome, and fighting fans with no knowledge of the anime might just find themselves interested in Akira Toriyama’s bizarre creation. Even if they don’t, however, it’s tough to deny that Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the smoothest and well-realized fighting games we’ve seen this generation. I just hope Arc System Works does right by fans and includes Yajirobe as a playable character in the sequel.
Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.
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