It wasn’t that long ago that Dragon Ball fans wanted a more in-depth experience to the console adaptations of the series, which to some degree was received in the form of the Xenoverse titles. But then Bandai Namco switched it up and decided to fulfil the much requested classic fighting experience, reeling in acclaimed Guilty Gear developers Arc System Works in order to make it a reality. Thus Dragon Ball FighterZ was born, a 2.5D fighter. But could it really rival the now saturated fighter market filled with the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom, Injustice and Tekken?
Fortunately, Dragon Ball FighterZ has a few tricks up its sleeve to stand out from the majority of the crowd and mixes them with ideas from others in the genre.
Focusing on the gameplay first, and the standard setup sees two teams of three characters face off against each other, taking control of one character with the ability to garner support from the other two or to switch to them. Whoever defeats the entirety of the opposition’s team, wins, it’s as simple as that. More than that though is the fact that upon entering the Practice mode – which covers absolutely everything, even combo trials to get a grip on each character – to learn the basics, I realised how easy it is to pick up and play.
Within mere minutes I had Kamehamehas and Destructo-Discs coming out of my ears, pulling them off with a simple flick of a stick and a press of a button. None of the old school up, down, down, left, right and button press combos that’d take you an age to remember, let alone manage to execute. These are ‘Super Attacks’ and brutal ‘Meteor Attacks’ that I am able to do with ease, as long as I have the required amount of necessary Ki charged up from performing normal attacks. Alongside these are regular combos involving light, medium and heavy attacks, and other special moves relating specifically to each character. On the defensive front, it’s a mixture between holding backwards to block and countering the enemy moves with Ki absorbing Vanish manoeuvres – teleporting behind them in an instant – and such.
Some may say “What’s the point in that? Where’s the challenge?”, and just because you can perform all the different attacks, doesn’t mean you have the skills to chain attacks together or penetrate the defence of the opponent. When it comes down to it, you feel like a world beater even if you haven’t mastered the timing of when best to attack or the art of linking moves to destroy whoever stands in your way, tagging characters in to sustain the barrage. Every move in the Dragon Ball FighterZ arsenal is accessible to the newcomers, but there’s just enough depth for the hardcore crowd to gain an advantage by mastering the system. It’s finely balanced.
In the masses of fights I’ve had, both online and offline, every battle has been exciting, intense and provides a real adrenaline rush. Depending on your team of three and those who you are up against, you may need to alter your approach, relying on tagging and support more. The variables brought into the fighting arena as a result of having six characters in total creates a truly dynamic gameplay experience, with a tactical edge too. There’s so much happening on screen as well, with Death Balls being fired at the same time as Special Beam Cannons. It’s like a party for your eyes, with vibrant colours emerging from the screen and accompanying explosive sounds that burst out, keeping you entranced in the action.
As far as the roster is concerned, there’s enough diversity to cover who the fans may want to use, with all the usual favourites like Goku, Piccolo and Gotenks, as well as baddies such as Cell, Frieza and Kid Buu. Having just over 20 characters available from the start, you’d think that using three at a time would bring about the boredom pretty swiftly. It doesn’t though, as I’ve used my best trio – Gotenks, Krillin and Frieza – for the majority of the time and I’m still learning how to get the most out of their abilities. A couple of other characters are unlockable, including the brand new character, Android 21.
There are a decent amount of environments included to battle on, featuring the likes of Planet Namek, World Tournament Area and Space. Occasionally you can even send a foe flying into a destructible part of the arena and move to a different one entirely. Not much focus is on the arenas though as there’s barely a second to take notice of them once the fight begins.
Moving onto the game modes, and they are presented within a floating game hub world which you’ll traverse to different areas of in order to get to your mode of choosing. It’s not awfully big, so it doesn’t take long to get anywhere, and you can wander round as a cute little lobby character, depending upon which of these you have unlocked. Anyway, there are the usual local battle options for a human vs. human or human vs. AI, with a tournament setup on offer for up to 16 players. Although the customisation of rules is limited, it’s enough to get a few mates round and have a jolly good time.
Then we have the staple of any fighting game, Arcade mode, and here it comes in three variations so you can try your hand at a 3, 5, or 7 fight onslaught. It’ll give you a rank after each battle and subsequently alter the next opposition to suit how well, or badly, you did. By completing the three courses on Normal difficulty, the Hard versions open up to truly test your skills.
The Story mode is where the largest chunk of offline play is though as it contains three story arcs – three is the magic number it seems – to work your way through. Basically, the Super Warriors of Earth have been rendered unconscious upon the arrival of a ton of clones. All we know is that the evil Red Ribbon Army has something to do with it and so it’s down to the player to help these fighters recover, level them up by earning XP and rush to the aid of anyone who’s still down for the count; anyone you do rescue can then be added to your team. What makes this Story mode stand out, aside from the stunning character models in the cutscenes, is the way you progress.
Each chapter of the tale presents a map with nodes on, and on some of these nodes are battles, but you don’t need to visit them all. You have a set number of moves on each map to reach the boss battle, however, what you do on the way is up to you. I personally tried to squeeze in as many fights as possible to increase the levels of my team members. This comes at a cost though as the enemies on the map randomly level up too whilst you’re dawdling around. Whatever health you lose during a bout is only partially recovered, so utilising the entire team of characters is crucial, because if they all lose their health, it’s over – a similar fate occurs if you run out of map moves. Unfortunately, the developers made a pretty big mistake in littering almost every chapter of the Super Warrior Arc with largely unavoidable tutorial battles.
Why’s that an issue? Well, most people will have done these in the Practice mode, and they are repeated numerous times throughout the first story arc – I mean literally the same tutorials. At first it’s like having a quick refresh on the controls and I accepted it, but even having put the hours in, I’m still regularly facing dummies. It puts a real damper on the first section of storytelling.
Afterwards, you’ll move on to the Super Villain’s side of the story and then one other regarding Android 21, covering her back-story and allegiances. Story-wise it’s easily grasped by fans and newcomers alike, due to the fact that a lot is explained across the many cutscenes (there’s maybe too much filler, but that’s Dragon Ball for you), with a decent amount of humour to break the tension. The choice is present to have Japanese voiceovers and English dubbed, which is a welcome one as I grew up on the dub, hence the voices sound more familiar that way.
After spending numerous hours blasting the hell out of the AI, the only logical step is to venture into the online side, which is accessible from the game hub. This game hub is actually an online lobby, so other people – up to a maximum of 64 – are wandering around at the same time as you. Here you can interact via a load of preset messages and a variety of Dragon Ball pictures known as Z Stamps. The only problem I have with the lobbies is the fact that people are in there who aren’t playing the online modes and this affects your chances of getting a match from within that lobby.
Two such modes that involve just those in your lobby are the Arena matches, where others can watch as fighters basically compete for bragging rights, and Ring matches which are hosted by a player for others to join. The Ring Match mode allows you to have 3vs3 matches with each one of the characters being controlled by a human. It sounds utterly thrilling, but in my many attempts to garner interest in a Ring Match, I’ve barely managed to entice a single player in, let alone a sinister gathering of six.
Therefore the majority of my online action has occurred in World Match and its two options of Casual and Ranked matches. World Match widens the search outside of just that single lobby and you can either play for fun in Casual form with nothing to play for, or try to climb the rankings in Ranked as well as having fun. I got destroyed many a time in Ranked, but I still keep going back for more. And believe me when I say, I usually hate to lose in gaming. There’s a real buzz from having a 2nd and 3rd chance of victory after the health depletion of one character.
Outside of the game modes, and there’s a Shop to buy Z Capsules using Zeni earned by fighting in the many different areas of Dragon Ball FighterZ and by completing daily quests. This brings a decent range of customisation options to the table, with new lobby characters, costume colours etc. It’s purely aesthetics, so no one can gain an advantage from them, but they can look pretty badass in the lobby. There’s also a replay section, to re-watch any of your saved fights and fights of other people. It’s very in-depth as it can be broken down to show one frame of the action at a time and the buttons which are being pressed by both fighters – a cool tool for those wanting to learn from past battles.
Dragon Ball FighterZ succeeds first and foremost in the gameplay, delivering an easy enough control scheme to allow the most inept of players to get a power trip whilst using these insane warriors and pulling off awesome manoeuvres. The variety of game modes gives plenty of choice for all types of gamers to try their hand at and the fast paced fun will keep them coming back for more. Everything about the action and the character models looks amazing, and the voiceovers are very well done. I do question the Story mode’s amount of repetitive tutorials though, and the lobbies aren’t ideally geared up to promote the lobby-based modes, which subsequently get overlooked.
Win or lose, you’re going to have a smashing time, and that’s all that really matters. So grab a Senzu Bean and meet me on the Dragon Ball FighterZ battlefield for some pure, adrenaline fuelled fun.