Handheld Dragon Ball games have always been experimental. Lacking the horsepower to do what the console entries manage, developers have been forced to try different, weird things with each game. Remember when Monolith Soft made a turn-based RPG? Or when the creator of Street Fighter II helmed two stellar action games? What about that solid card-combat game? Cool stuff, for the most part. That’s why I wasn’t that surprised when I heard Dragon Ball Fusions was a role-playing/action hybrid with Pokemon-esque elements—it’s carrying on the tradition of handheld Dragon Ball games generally being kind of… weird.
Dragon Ball Fusions also carries on the tradition of them being solid. Fusions is, surprisingly, one of the year’s more interesting JRPGs. Don’t let the inconsequential narrative, which is as humourous as it is frivolous, throw you off—Ganbarion has done some magic to make this franchise interesting again. Hot off the heels of the excellent Xenoverse 2, it wasn’t going to be easy for another entry in the franchise to impress me, yet Fusions is exactly that—impressive.
The core of Dragon Ball Fusions is based around fusions. For the uninitiated, this is when two characters do a little dance, sing a little song, stick their fingers together and fuse into one person. Historically, this has only been done between a few sets of characters, but Fusions asks a crucial question. What if Goku fused with Broly? What if the Ginyu Force fused? Heck, what would happen if five people fused together at once? Yep, Ganbarion has thrown all the rules out the window, giving a cathartic release to DeviantArt members who’ve spent years churning out their dream fusions.
Fusions’ pretense for this craziness happening is that a rift has been torn in the space-time continuum, bringing together every timeline, planet, and series to fight in a giant tournament. This means that Kid Goku is chilling with adult Bulma, and that the GT incarnation of Pan is back. Every series and several of the movies (with apologies to Evolution) are represented here, along with Dr. Slump. All for the sake of the player-character befriending them, training them, and fighting alongside them in a tournament. Oh, and fusing them with other characters, of course.
It’s in the actual gameplay where things get interesting. Fusions is best described as a strategic, turn-based role-playing game crashed into a fighting game that also has elements of the pin-battling mini-game from The World Ends With You. Basically, players will take control of five characters, throw them in an arena with five other characters, and duke it out. By executing each move or special attack, units will get flung around the arena. The goal is to crash units into other units and send them bouncing around the map, and hopefully send them outside of the ring to deal extra damage. At first, it’s incredibly complicated, but the game does a fantastic job of easing players into each mechanic gradually. By the time people get into the timed, fighter game-esque portions that get activated during certain special moves, they’ll already be slamming characters into each other like pros.
This core gameplay is, surprisingly, some of the best I’ve seen in an RPG this year—without hyperbole. My reasoning behind this is that it takes risks. It isn’t a typical, turn-based RPG, nor is it a fighting game, nor is it a Pokemon clone. It’s an interesting blend of all these, along with some unique flavoring of its own. While it’s a bit disheartening that this gameplay is housed in a title so steeped in its source material that newcomers wouldn’t take away much, I’m not too cut up over it considering how much fun it is. In fact, collecting fighters and throwing them into battle has pulled me away from Pokemon Moon over the past week, which is no small feat. It’s that compelling.
Everything else about the package is slick and fun, too. The overworld navigation consists of flying around worlds, talking to NPCs, getting in fights, and trying to disrupt the space-time continuum to summon new fighters. It looks surprisingly nice for a 3DS title, too, with a bright colour palette and some detailed environments and character models. Fusions is also tied together by a snappy, infectious score, which perfectly captures the signature Dragon Ball sound to a T, in addition to some pumping battle themes. From top to bottom, this is a package put together with careful attention to the details.
Frankly, I didn’t expect much from Dragon Ball Fusions, or at the very least, I expected to be let down after how good Xenoverse 2 turned out. Yet it’s one of the more addictive games I’ve touched this year. The Dragon Ball fan in me loves the fact that I can fuse Frieza with Cooler, and Arale with Android 18. The RPG fan in me loves the interesting combat and addictive nature of collecting every character and super move. If you fall into either of those categories, then I have no reservations about recommending this. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had with my 3DS this year.