The Dragon Ball frenzy of the 90’s has returned to North America in a spectacular resurgence, with a new show being dubbed by the original cast, a new trading card game hitting local game shops’ shelves and now the upcoming release of what may be the best Dragon Ball game to date. The moment it was announced at the E3 2017 during the Xbox press conference I knew I had to review Dragon Ball FighterZ. I was just that excited. Developed by the passionate developers at Arc System Works and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, FighterZ captures the essence of the source material fans have known for decades and has masterfully tuned it into a competitive 2D fighting game.
At its core, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a 3v3 fighter akin to the Marvel Vs. Capcom series. Players comprise their 3-member team out of a diverse 24-character roster from Dragon Ball Z as well as newly cherished characters from Super. I adore the detail put into the visually stunning models and stages, but what really captures my heart as a Dragon Ball fan is how every attack these characters perform are ripped straight from manga panels, anime scenes and even previous games. The gameplay of Dragon Ball FighterZ is fun and accessible to all skill levels of fighting game players, with powerful light and heavy auto combos baked into the core system for every character to utilize. Specials and super attacks are also simple to execute by using a basic quarter circle motion.
However, that doesn’t mean FighterZ lacks the depth of a traditional fighter. The intricacies of the combat system will be on full display in the coming weeks as the competitive community learns which characters play well off one another as they start to string together powerful combos by tagging in their teammates and stacking supers. The pace of the combat in Dragon Ball FighterZ is as fast and furious as the anime, with energy blasts, assist moves, high-speed dashes and vanishing attacks quickly filling the screen as players exhaust their meters in a flurry of inputs. The combat system is so focused on aggressive play that it can be overwhelming for some players to keep up with the action and the few defensive responses available rely on proper timing to execute if the pressured player is stuck in the corner.
The original story of Dragon Ball FighterZ revolves around Akira Toriyama’s newly designed female character, Android 21. The gist of the story is that the world is in peril by the hordes of clones created by Android 21. Unfortunately, the Z-Warriors and their recently revived rogue’s gallery can’t rise to the occasion as heroes because their immense power is being suppressed by energy waves. That’s where you, the player, comes in to save the day. Acting as a disembodied spirit, the player links to the playable characters and unlocks their suppressed potential so they can fight and stop Android 21 from accomplishing her oh so diabolical scheme. While the actual plot is rather lacklustre, I still enjoyed the story and how it serves as a long-form tutorial to prepare players for competitive play. The complete story is told in three arcs, and upon completion, unlocks the playable Majin form of this mischievous new character. My favourite parts of the story, however, where easily the multiple humorous interactions between characters as players create different teams, which I won’t spoil for eager fans. Once players complete the lengthy story mode, they can further improve their skills by tackling arcade mode and local battles before jumping into the online arena.
I love that Ark System Works reused the lobby system of Guilty Gear Xrd: REV 2 and tailored it to Dragon Ball. The lobby essentially acts as the player’s menu system as they jump around to the various game modes available as a chibi-avatar of their favourite character. The real fun comes in online lobbies where up to 34 players can populate a single server and interact with each other by chatting, using emotes or sharing stickers. It’s not a system that works for everyone, but I think this kind of lobby adds another layer of flavour to the presentation of Dragon Ball FighterZ and I enjoy its implementation. What players might not enjoy is that certain avatars and colors are locked behind a loot box system. Thankfully these loot boxes don’t require any actual money to purchase as players accumulate the two forms of in-game currency by playing the game whether their online or off. Zenni is the primary currency and is used to purchase basic capsules. If the capsule contains a duplicate item, then the item becomes a Z-coin which can be used to purchase premium capsules and only contain unobtained items.
My only worry with Dragon Ball FighterZ is the quality of the online play at launch, which I can only talk about from my previous experience as both a closed and open beta participant. Over 85% of my matches played smooth and with minimal frame delay even when I was playing with mediocre connections, but the open beta incident threw that level of consistency out the door when the sheer traffic of players crashed the game for close to an entire day. It’s my hope that Ark System Works has remedied this problem in anticipation for release because both Dragon Ball fans and fighting game enthusiasts alike are ready to swarm in the moment the clock strikes 12.
If it wasn’t obvious, I love Dragon Ball FighterZ. The perfect marriage of source material enriched gameplay and original presentation has created a fantastic experience that a wide audience of players are sure to enjoy. The gameplay is simple enough that any level of player can pick it up and recreate infamous attacks from the show, while at the same time it’s mechanics are so deep and unexplored that the game feels ready to support a competitive community of fighting game enthusiasts. Ark System Works has outdone themselves here and I’m eager to see what other anime properties they will be allowed to play around with in the future.