Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Windows
Release Date: January 26th, 2018
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here / $99.95 AUD – Available Here
Dragon Ball FighterZ (pronounced Fighters but with a Z sound) is a milestone fighting game for the franchise. Straying away from Bandai Namco’s recent 3D ‘Dragon Ball simulation’ efforts, Dragon Ball FighterZ is being created by fighting game royalty Arc System Works and is a ‘traditional’ fighting game more akin to Street Fighter or Guilty Gear. This is not Arc System Works first foray into 2D Dragon Ball fighters, having crafted multiple well received handheld games over the years, however the stakes are raised much higher with this home console entry. I’m happy to say Arc System Works were more than up to the challenge.
While fighting games are renowned for skimping on story this isn’t the case for DBZ FighterZ. You get three separate arcs here of about 3 – 4 hours each that unlock consecutively as they are completed. Strangely, each arc is basically a different take on one common story thread and considering the plot can move a little slow at times this method of progression works against the story in my opinion. It’s definitely a baffling choice as to why this route was chosen over simply having one longer story arc and it does draw more attention to issues such as slow pacing and repetition. Luckily, each arc focuses on different lead characters and has entirely new cutscenes to keep things fresh, saving the story from becoming stale.
As far as original stories go in Dragon Ball games this is one of the better ones, thanks in part to the great villain of Android 21 (designed especially for the game by series creator Akira Toriyama). 21 holds some cool surprises for long time fans that even add to the DBZ mythos outside of this self contained story. The plot itself is rather simple despite some confusing elements with confusing explanations, however it contains just enough exciting moments to keep you hooked and wanting to experience the next major event.
Not surprisingly for a Dragon Ball product it’s the character interactions that really shine here. Dragon Ball is known for its varied and likeable cast so it’s great to see some lesser featured characters get the spotlight. Fighterz character moments are nothing short of excellent as the game is not afraid to reference even small bits of dialogue from the series or build upon character traits seldom explored in the source material. To portray this even further than in story mode cutscenes, there are over 50 unique, fully animated and voiced cutscenes discoverable in story mode that unlock based on your team composition or who your opponent is, with many providing some awesome moments or laughs such as Goku trying to work out what his fusion name with Gohan would be or Frieza finally meeting Majin Buu.
Players who appreciate authenticity (and to a lesser extent canon) will be happy that the game establishes itself to take place amongst the events of the anime, specifically before the events of the Goku Black arc in the anime. It impressively takes the time to explain why the Dragon Ball’s can’t be used to fix the situation or why Beerus won’t help, even going as far to provide a plot device for every character being equal in power. This important fact lends itself to not only the story mode, but all the unique dialogue that takes place in other modes as well.
The work put into fully realising each character in FighterZ is nothing short of astounding and a real treat, particularly to the hardcore fans. Adding even more fan service to what has already been mentioned are unique set pieces called Dramatic Finishes, which occur if certain conditions occur in a fight in any of the versus modes, such as beating Frieza on destroyed Namek with Goku in your party. Going even beyond that, in fight dialogue changes depending on your team composition when calling for assists or even using special attacks against certain characters.
FighterZ is best described as a 2D, 3 on 3 team based fighting game. Action is fast and furious as characters use a combination of light, medium and heavy attacks along with Specials, Supers (it took me a while to get used to the fact they aren’t called Supers and Ultimates like most Dragon Ball games recently) and assists to drain their opponent’s health bar. The speed and execution of the fighting system is not unlike former Marvel Vs. Capcom titles.
To be victorious here you will need a good knowledge of character combos, strength and weaknesses, team synergy, meter management and most importantly good timing and reflexes. While that may seem overwhelming it somehow just works and you’ll have a relatively strong understanding of how it all comes together within just a couple hours of playing. This is a fully fledged 2D fighting game that is crazy fun to play whilst being extremely smooth to handle and ridiculously polished.
Each of the 24 characters in the baser roster have many unique attack options yet also easy to switch between thanks to having similar button inputs for their available actions. The roster may seem small in comparison to recent Dragon Ball titles however I truly believe Arc System Works has put together the best roster possible for this type of game. Each character is in their most recognisable form and a huge portion of Z and Super is represented without sacrificing any diversity or balance (at least from what I have seen).
As a bit of a rookie when it comes to fighting games I was admittedly worried about jumping in to a technical fighter but my fears were unwarranted. While there are a lot of combat options to try and remember after a couple of hours I was really starting to get used to blocking, comboing and using my supers along with using assists and switching between party members. The moniker easy to learn but hard to master definitely applies here. The game does a great job easing you into the action and even makes use of the story mode to introduce and reinforce certain combat options while also advancing the story, a satisfying option for those who may not want the full step by step breakdown provided in the practice mode.
FighterZ offers a pretty standard selection of modes to keep players busy, including the aforementioned story mode, training, local vs, arcade and online.
The training mode is very detailed and will be sure to please any level of player trying to better their skills. Beyond simple training the mode also provides a practice match up that groups the games mechanics into bite sized tutorials and 10 combo challenges for each character ranging from very simple to frustratingly hard. It took me over 5 minutes to clear Goku’s last combo challenge, but watching myself perform slightly better each time and finally beating it was a rewarding experience and proof that I was getting more competent at transitioning between button presses and performing more complicated combos.
Arcade mode is your standard fare with three seperate rooms to enter matching up to different degrees of difficulty. The better your ranking in a match the more you stay on the winning path which nets you better rewards but harder opponents. It’s a fun challenge to see how long you can remain on the top path and that it’s not just game over if you perform slightly worse. Unfortunately despite the wealth of cutscenes in story mode, characters don’t have a nice intro or outro scene which is a slight letdown, I’d love to have Goku waiting at the end for me if I pick Vegeta as my lead character for instance.
Dragon Ball FighterZ features perhaps the best online mode I have had the pleasure of playing, particularly in a Dragon Ball game. Australia’s Internet doesn’t have the best reputation but due to what seems to be dedicated servers based on regions I was having flawless online matches while fighting opponents with decent connections. Even against opponents with no bars fights were slightly worse but still very playable and the delay counter at the top made it easier to adjust. Coming from Xenoverse 2 where online matches are virtually unplayable, this was mind blowing for me. The ability to search for a match while playing the practice or arcade mode is a very nice quality of life feature that I hope more games start to implement.
The main online modes consist of ranked and casual matches, however there are also arenas (a more social online mode more akin to endless) and ring matches for private fights between friends as well as a fully featured replay channel where you can watch back your own online fights, those provided by Bandai Namco or replays from the top players on the leaderboards.
To reward players for playing across any mode you will earn zeni (the main form of currency in the world of Dragon Ball) which are then spent on capsules. These give you additional avatars for the main lobby, Z-Stamps (which are pretty useless in all honesty), unique titles, backgrounds for your online card and even additional commentators for the replay channel such as Frieza or Yamcha. To be completely honest none of these items really appealed to me as they are all superficial and only apply to the games needlessly interactive menu system, however if any of the above items appealed to you or you’re a completionist you will probably see some value in this loot system.
While graphics like this are of course subjective I think for most people this game will likely rate as one of the best looking anime games of all time (personally this is just ahead of Burst Limit for me). The 3D models use a cel shaded appearance to almost seem like high quality 2D sprites and it just works really well for the world of Dragon Ball. This is a rare case where the characters really fit in well with the backgrounds instead of awkwardly clashing.
The colours, accuracy of the models, worlds and special effects all look magnificent, really honouring the original work presented in the manga and anime, arguably surpassing it. It’s truly a sight to behold to see multiple characters launch their super moves in different directions as they fill the screen with crazy energy beams and explosions. To put it simply this is a beautiful looking game even on a base PS4 system and a normal HD TV. It also runs perfectly, with all fights happening at 60 FPS whilst never dropping a frame, no matter what crazy action is happening on screen.
Honestly my only quarrel with the visuals is some minor cases of clipping in character models depending on their positioning and that sometimes characters hands and fingers look way too big. The game also seems to have a purposefully low frame rate (seemingly in an attempt to look more like the anime) for the story mode and special attacks which can be a little jarring at first, especially when characters walk.
The audio here matches the visual in terms of quality. The quality of the sound effects, music and voice tracks is top notch. In fights, each hit feels impactful with sound effects ripped right from the show to complete the Dragon Ball experience.
There are two voice options here, one featuring the original Japanese voice actors (which is surprisingly the default choice in the international release) and the other being the Funimation English dub. After watching Super in Japanese I can tell the Japanese actors all do their best work here. Over on the English side I feel the voice actors knew this was a special game and thus really aimed to give a special effort in their performances. There are a few awkwardly delivered lines here and there to go along with a few awkwardly written lines, however 99% of the dialogue and acting is of a high level.
Lastly for sound, the music definitely deserves a special mention. FighterZ features a great number of tracks including unique themes for every character and stage, as well as specially crafted story tracks that feel like they could have come right out of Dragon Ball Super or Kai. A mix of rock, drum and bass, techno and even jazz make up the soundtrack, with most songs having memorable melodies and fitting in with that character or stage (shoutout to the West City and Gotenks themes for being two of my favourites). The option to choose any song to fight to is a welcome one, especially with this excellent playlist.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a huge success from Arc System Works and any Dragon Ball or fighting game fan should be thrilled that Bandai Namco partnered with them for this project. FighterZ features amazingly smooth, fast and frantic gameplay with an incredibly realised cast of characters. The presentation is technically brilliant while remaining faithful to the original series and there are a wealth of modes to enjoy it in. While I can make some minor complaints over the story, trivial loot and lack of stages, these issues don’t come close to bringing down what a revolution Dragon Ball FighterZ is for the franchise. If you’ve ever hoped to see Dragon Ball successfully realised as a modern, traditional fighting game then I would say your wish has been granted.
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