Dragon Ball FighterZ is the newest in a long line of Dragon Ball fighting games, though the first in quite some time to actually be done in a 2.5D Style. Developed by Arc System Works, the people behind Guilty Gear, BlazBlue. Persona 4 Arena and even some older Dragon Ball fighting games. Crashing into our view at E3, DBFZ shocked many a fan with its new style and mechanics, gaining even more attention when gameplay and character roster was revealed. With so much disdain surrounding the recent Xenoverse, FighterZ hits the stage to take the series even further beyond!
Like many a cliché game, DBFZ almost has us take on the role of an amnesiac protagonist as Bulma asks if Goku is alright, only to have him be mostly mute with no knowledge of who he was… Thankfully that shifts quickly to actually having a soul residing within the body of Goku. We are quickly told of clones invading the nearby cities, though Bulma makes a note of the Goku clones in particular because Dragon Ball isn’t about the balls themselves, it’s all about Goku as usual… even this opening paragraph has his name 4 separate times.
The main points in the story are that of a set of constraining waves that hamper the Ki and strength of the world’s fighters, countless clones attacking everyone and the soul that can link with the Z Fighters to allow them to tap into their power. The soul itself is mostly just set up as the player, a means for the characters to break the 4th wall by talking to the camera. As you travel the world, defeating these clones you will save new fighters, allowing the soul to link with them as well. You will also fight Frieza and Cell along the way, finally going after the final boss and antagonist of the game.
This story repeats itself 2 more times, split up into 3 arcs. The Super Warrior Arc has you control the normal Z Fighters, from Yamcha to Goku, the Enemy Warrior Arc as you control all the villains, from Nappa to Frieza and finally the Android 21 Arc where you control 16, 18 and 21. In each arc you will fight the same clones over and over, with small story cutscenes every so often, with each arc showing a different perspective or alternate universe, with the soul linking with different people, causing different situations. Though they all end with the same boss fight, with harder difficulties.
Each arc will take around 3-4 hours to complete, depending on how many side battles you take on and your ability with the game itself. Each arc is split up into 9 chapters, containing between 13 and 17 maps in total. Each map is a set of nodes on a world map, similar to some of the previous games, with a boss in each map. It is up to you if you fight more battles than necessary, though you normally only have around 20 turns to take on the board before you have to complete it.
In my opinion, the story mode in DBFZ is its weakest point. The in-game cutscenes are horribly done, with clunky and motion-tweened scenes to floaty walk loops. The dialogue is a bore at times with plot holes forming after every discussion. It seems like the direction was made by too many different people as we were told several times about the waves stopping movement, Ki and strength, yet so many fighters are unaffected in such ways, until we remind them that they are, at which point they can no longer fight. Though, the saving grace with this fighting game is that people are not going to be buying it for its story mode.
DBFZ plays like many other 2D fighting games, though I felt the most similarity with Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3. You choose a team of 3 fighters, along with deciding between 6 starter colour schemes for each, to fight against an opposing team. X is for special attacks and Ki blasts, Square for light attacks, Triangle for medium attacks and Circle for heavy attacks. If you combine X and Square you will charge your Ki, Square and Triangle for Dragon Rush (or Supers), Triangle and Circle for vanishing behind enemies and finally Circle and X to super dash towards your opponent.
The trigger buttons are mostly for quick inputs and character change, L1 and L2 are to call in your 2 other members to use their own attack, or held down to swap into them. This can also be chained when you use a Super move, having your teammates use theirs at the same time. R1 is the quick button for Dragon Rush whereas R2 is for Super Dash. Combining R1 and R2 puts you into Sparking Blast, increasing damage and gives health regeneration. Sparking Blast is only once per battle and lasts longer if you have fewer teammates alive.
To activate certain supers you will need to input commands with the left analogue stick, utilizing quarter circles. For example, Level 1 Supers requires you to rotate down and then towards your enemy, whereas Level 3 Supers require you to go down and then away. These motions can also be used with your normal attacks, using different Ki blasts, charged melee attacks and other moves. Most of the command moves take a bar of your Ki meter, which is on the bottom of the screen, whereas the level of Supers depletes by that amount. You gain Ki by taking or dealing damage, or by charging, with a maximum of 7 Ki bars.
Another mechanic is that of the Dragon Ball system. You can gain a Dragon Ball after completing a light combo, hitting a certain amount of hits in a combo and dealing damage with your level 3 super. Once all the Dragon Balls are collected, the next person to complete a light combo with 7 Ki gauges would summon Shenron and can select from 4 wishes. You can revive a dead teammate with around 1/5 of their health, completely heal the active character, extending your recoverable health to the entire bar rather than a small blue bar or giving your team an extra sparking gauge.
Each match has a set time limit, with a default of 300 seconds, with most matches only lasting 2-4 minutes. Besides the story mode, you can also do ranked online matches to gain BP to put yourself on the leaderboards, casual matches to play for fun and an arcade mode to fight against a pre-designed set of battles against ever-increasing AI. There are so many choices at hand for how you play this game, from team matches, ring matches and spectating those to straight up practice modes and combo challenges.
DBFZ comes packed with over 20 characters to choose from, with several characters also employing attacks that summon secondary characters to help. Android 18 could call on 17 to help her attack, along with her level 3 super, Captain Ginyu can pose to call in his teammates and even Tien can call upon Chiaotzu… to self-destruct on his enemy.
For every playable character, you can unlock additional colour schemes, as well as lobby characters to use within the main hub of DBFZ, though those also include secondary characters and more, reaching a total of 54 lobby characters. To unlock new lobby characters, colours and styles for your player card you must buy Capsules, with either Zeni which is earned through playing, or premium Z coins. Zeni is earned easy enough, with premium Z coins being given out if you gain a repeated item. Thankfully there are no real-world currency purchases here, and capsules only give cosmetic items so it’s a breath of fresh air from the latest game releases and their shoddy micro-transactions.
The music in DBFZ was totally my style, feeling rather reminiscent of older DBZ tracks from the Faulconer team and the Freeza theme song in Resurrection of F, combining rock tunes and metal notes. Each stage has its own track, with each feeling rather fitting to the area as well as being similar to that of the shows depictions and other games. The sound design is also on point, from the amazing announcer voice to the blasts and explosions. It sounds clear and infuses your soul with the energy that is being hurled around on the battlefield. Voice acting does take a dive at some points, from the voice given to SS2 Teen Gohan to Bulma’s performance, alongside the voice for Android 21 annoying me far too much.
DBFZ is seemingly well balanced, with each character having their own role as well as being able to fight any other opponent with ease if you know their combos in and out. The Dragon Ball system is neat, setting this game apart from other fighting games, without feeling too overpowered. Some of the supers do feel underpowered at times though, with Tien’s Chiaotzu super only be used once per battle to Golden Freeza not feeling like much of a boost.
Overall, Dragon Ball FighterZ gets an 8/10, the main gameplay is superb, reaching near the top of my favourite list of fighting games. A good majority of the game feels balanced, with the aesthetic looking gorgeous, even with some minor annoyances with light and shadows being used in the cutscenes. The story is deplorable and could have used a lot more work, the story itself, characters, situations and setup of the story mode were all done poorly in my mind. Connectivity is solid with plenty of options to improve it, customisation of characters is vast and the game does not put in needless mechanics, ads or micro-transactions. It feels like the good old days of fighting gaming and games in general.