When I heard Arc System Works’ next project was to be a game set in the Dragon Ball universe, one close to my heart, I immediately thought it was a match made in heaven. As it turns out, I was right, because Dragon Ball FighterZ breaks a notoriously long chain of mediocre Dragon Ball games, capturing the essence of the famous anime with easy pick up and play mechanics, accurate and stylised visuals, and enough content for you explore and master the games varied roster of fighters.
The main offline single player experience in Dragon Ball FighterZ is the story mode, which is broken up into three distinct arcs that each tell an all-new original tale in the Dragon Ball universe, driven by a completely new diabolical villain, Android 21. As interesting as this may first sound, the story of Dragon Ball FighterZ starts off slow, and is followed by a lengthy period of bashing AI controlled clones that is only broken up by the occasional short in-game cutscene before it fizzles out like a feeble Kamehameha wave. The only reason I didn’t skip these cutscenes was the occasional laugh-out-loud moments they provided; characters who never appeared on the same screen before shared instances of genuine humour, like one scene in particular where an overly energetic Gotenks attempts to teach Nappa how to become a Super Saiyan. I should also add that the voice acting in these segments, both in English and Japanese, is fantastic. This carries beyond the story mode as well, as fighters scream lines from the show after using devastating abilities and banter in the post-fight victory screen.
Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s story mode does try and do something a little different to break up the monotony of fighting the AI by introducing a board game-like movement system between each fight, offering you up options of fights to take to earn experience and giving you have an ample amount of turns to move, making running out next to impossible. Thus, this only serves to prolong the grind that is the story. If there is a bright side to this function, however, it’s that it allows you ample time to practice the game’s roster of characters and tackle the optional tutorials that do a good job of steadily teaching you the more nuanced mechanics.
Fortunately, what Dragon Ball FighterZ lacks in its so-so campaign, it makes up for in literally every other aspect. Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s gameplay is the most accessible I’ve seen come out of a fighter in a long while, with all of its abilities and techniques requiring you to simply follow the same pattern as a fireball in the Street Fighter franchise. This means that all those ultra-cool cinematic moments that feel they’re straight ripped from the anime are achievable by anyone — and on top of that, the game’s main combos can all be executed by simply inputting either the light or heavy attack in succession. Pulling all of these combos off is made even easier by the ability to close the gap at any moment with a safe on block charge attack that’s bound to the right trigger. This is a huge positive, as Dragon Ball FighterZ is a team-based fighting game, requiring you to control three fighters at any one time. This is where the skill level start to escalate as well. You can extend combos by calling in assists, deflecting moves, spending your metre chaining together bigger moves, and figuring out how to maximise your damage with your perfect team setup.
This also means that you’ll find characters amongst the 24-character roster — ones that you never saw yourself playing — landing a slot on your team. I, myself, love all the alien characters an villains in Dragon Ball, but after spending time in the game, I can’t stop using one of the human characters: Yam-Cha. This is because Arc System Works makes every fighter on the roster unique. From Captain Ginyu summoning his Ginyu force to fight on his behalf to Hit using his signature time-freezing power and boxing fighting style, everyone has their own distinct feel, depth, and refined individuality.
You’re going to want to find your best three characters among the roster, because Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s alternate Arcade mode is sure to be a challenge you’ll want to tackle. This mode will pit you against themed teams of three along a circuit that you advance on depending upon your grade in each match. Acquiring an A rank or higher will mean you will continue on the high path; B will send you along the middle path; and C or lower will send you on the lowest path. Upon completing these modes, you’ll unlock harder variants that will earn you more Z capsules on completion. It should go without saying these harder modes are way more challenging, and the difficulty spike between standard Arcade runs and the “hard” variants might surprise you.
Finally, there’s perhaps the most crucial part to any fighter title: the player vs. player modes. Besides having the obvious local play, Dragon Ball FighterZ supports online play for multiple regions that’s all accessed through multiple lobby worlds. These worlds act like waiting rooms, where up to 64 players can run around challenging each other to matches or just casually hanging out. Each player in these lobbies is represented by a small Chibi characters that can be unlocked through FighterZ‘s in-game loot crates called Z capsules, which I’m happy to say are completely earned with in-game currency. You can also unlock stickers that act like emotes as well titles, and by the time I had completed the story mode and a few arcades runs, I had more than enough to buy most of the in-game collectibles.
In terms of actually playing against other players, FighterZ offers up ranked matches, casual matches that will match you up against anyone in any lobby from your region, and arena matches, which can be fought out between people in your lobby. You can also spectate these matches if you’re not in the mood to fight, or if you feel you want to scope out other people’s playstyles.
Now comes the most important question of all: Is the net code good? Well, as of the time of writing this review, I’ve had a mixed bag of connections — some silky smooth and some, well, not so much. Some connections may simply come down to each player’s internet quality, but as of right now, I can’t say its perfect. I’ve also had to wait upwards of 10 minutes for a fight in some lobbies, but this may have been a result of my search preferences, as FighterZ allows you to set parameters like skill level and connectivity when searching for an opponent. These issues could entirely be launch week blues, however. We’ll just have to wait and see if Arc System Works looks to improve it in the future.
When it comes to visuals and audio, Dragon Ball FighterZ sets the standard for anime fighting games. Each stage is beautifully realised behind the 3D modelled characters, who pop off the background in a gorgeous cell-shaded style that makes you swear the game is 2D sometimes. Projectiles and explosions also look incredible. In particular, the visual graphic of anime smoke after an explosion looks especially satisfying, even more so after its cause damage to an opponent. The attention to detail from the show to the game here is tremendous. From the way characters move to certain interactions, like how Cell is comedically blown away when killed by Gohan, developers Arc System Works really went the extra mile in adapting Dragon Ball.
The music in FighterZ is also what you’d expect from an Arc System Works game: god damn bad ass. The music fuels the high-octane anime action on screen with heavy double kick drums and electric guitars, pumping you up from the pre-game loading screen all the way through to the insanely cool fight finishes.
Arc Systems Works continues its excellent track record with Dragon Ball FighterZ, creating not just a game for hardcore Dragon Ball fans, but a game that can be played by even the most novice gamers of the fighting genre. With excellent visuals, a roster of varied fighters that’s set to grow post-launch, and gameplay that offers up both fun and depth, Dragon Ball FighterZ just might be the franchise’s final form.
Dragon Ball FighterZ: Review Summary
A game that receives a score of 8 is really great. It combines many elements that make up a stellar game, making the overall experience a positive one. However, there are a couple of flaws – ones that can vary intensity from game to game – that the reviewer notices. Fortunately, any drawbacks found are heavily outweighed by the game’s abundant positive attributes. The reviewer highly recommends this game.