Akira Toriyama’s original Dragon Ball manga is nothing short of a world wide phenomenon that has turned into a multimedia juggernaut spanning several anime series, multiple anime movies, games, and a live action movie we’ll never talk about again. In the game space, Dragon Ball has had many hits and just as many misses. In comes beloved anime fighting game developer Arc System Works who is best known for the Blazblue and Guilty Gear series. Together in cooperation with Bandai Namco, we have been treated to the very best Dragon Ball game ever in the form of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
What should be immediately obvious right from the get go are the visuals. Dragon Ball FighterZ looks absolutely stunning. Arc System Works takes their engine, which makes Guilty Gear one of the best looking games around, and puts it to work here. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best Dragon Ball has ever looked. FighterZ perfectly captures the look and overall presentation of Dragon Ball. In general, FighterZ excels at its overall presentation during gameplay. Everything about FighterZ is over the top like it is in Dragon Ball.
This planet will explode in 5 minutes!
Characters can’t just enter a fight when a teammate drops, no they need to fly in from off screen and clash in the center causing the ground to crack. A heavy attack doesn’t just knock a character back for a KO, it needs to knock them through some mountains and buildings until they disappear in the distance and the next 2 characters come flying in to continue. Some super moves don’t just cause a super move finish, it needs to be a cataclysmic event that you can see from space and it completely destroys the stage. This is what FighterZ understands most in its visuals. Everything is meant to look cool and make you feel powerful like the Dragon Ball character you are controlling. And the anime style only contributes to that ten times over.
Sound is also a high point in FighterZ with the hard rock music that has become synonymous with ArcSys games. As if anything else would work to properly get your blood pumping for a fight. Special mention to particular tracks like the opening cinematic, the theme on the Space stage, and the theme for the character Hit which is a contrasting jazzy tune to the epic scores found elsewhere. Another positive in the sound department is the language audio. FighterZ comes with both a Japanese and English dub which should please fans of both, and the voice acting in general is very high quality.
I’m happy to report that FighterZ not only looks and sounds great but the core gameplay is also great. It’s perhaps the easiest and most accessible fighting game yet. A single button sequence allows any player to perform cool looking combos with the Auto Combo system. More advanced players will find juggling the many systems and mechanics of FighterZ reveals a much deeper game. With plenty of combos working universally across the cast, players can spend more time discovering the more nuanced quirks of a character instead of learning multiple, different combos on top of what makes a character tick. It makes learning multiple characters at once more approachable than other tag fighters.
Team Taste the Rainbow vs Team My Two Dads
Dragon Ball FighterZ also comes equipped with plenty of game modes out of the box, as we’ve come to expect in modern fighting games. A fully realized Story mode is put at the forefront which sees you play through 3 separate story arcs as you face off against a brand new villain made for FighterZ and designed by Toriyama himself, Android 21. The story of Android 21 is actually an interesting one and she shows a ton of personality beyond being a powerful foe for our heroes (and some villains). I genuinely hope she is one day officially added to the Dragon Ball canon. Unfortunately playing the story mode to actually see this narrative is extremely tedious. The AI is rather brainless and the sheer number of fights to actually progress ends up feeling like padding instead of substance.
The only thing I like more than Android 21 is a chibi version of Android 21.
The other highlight of the story mode was the character specific cut scenes you can unlock by have specific team set ups as you play. Each one plays out with the intent to make you smile and adds a much needed layer of charm to an otherwise boring story grind to get to the next narrative beat. For example, one scene sees Goku and his son Gohan talking about a possible name they would use if they ever fused together using the fusion dance. Another has Gotenks and Captain Ginyu posing, which is an absolute treat. Seeing this kind of fan service makes it clear how much the team at Arc System loves Dragon Ball. The amount of frame by frame references to Dragon Ball in FighterZ are far too numerous to name.
Android 18’s level 3 super features a special animation when Krillin is on the same team.
The rest of the single player offerings include your arcade mode, training mode, local offline battles, and character combo challenges. So if playing against other players isn’t your thing, FighterZ has enough here to give you that quick fix. Arcade mode in particular has a nice hook in that how well you perform determines how strong your next opponent is and staying in the upper tier match rankings becomes its’ own personal challenge.
All is not perfect in the land of Dragon Ball FighterZ however. The cracks in the armor begin to show when you take the game online. Online matches have been a mixed bag with several feeling great and others being simply frustrating affairs. Typically 1-2 frames of delay is the most ideal online conditions with even 3 frames being acceptable. However once it jumps beyond that to 4 frames and up, things start feeling like two players just trying to out mash each other to start a combo instead of reacting to player decisions just to beat the lag present. The other major issue is the instability of the online lobbies which is the backbone of not only online but the UI in general. The entire main menu is tied to these lobbies and being in an online one takes precedent over the offline one even if you don’t intend to play online. Players are kicked from these lobbies far too often for this system to be acceptable. If you’re dropped from a lobby while playing an online match then you are kicked back to the main menu and forced to find another lobby. I understand the appeal of these lobbies and running around with your adorable chibi avatar. But the novelty wears off after 40+ hours and I just want a simple main menu so I can search for matches and play the modes I want to without going through the unnecessary middle man that the lobby has become.
Also, playing with your friends is a bit more of a hassle then it needs to be. In order to play with your friends, you need to communicate and join the same lobby, in the same region and then make a separate Ring Match lobby in which they need to manually join instead of accepting a game invite. This is far too cumbersome and needlessly complicated. Keeping things simple goes a long way and I think Dragon Ball FighterZ would benefit greatly from keeping some of its UI simple. Be it a massive update that overhauls the entire UI or just a brand new version of the game released in a year or two, this is a part of FighterZ I hope sees improvement along with the online.
This is the stance. I continue to improve.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a beautifully realized fighting game for both fans of the genre and Dragon Ball. The visuals and sound are top notch and the game is an absolute blast to play. There are nods and references everywhere that add an extra level of personality that I only found in Injustice 2 before it. The amount of love and care present is nothing short of commendable. However the pristine glow is muddied by a struggling online mode that is equal parts great and frustrating. And the UI and main menu could use an overhaul to make things more streamlined. But at the end of the day, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a new top contender in the genre and a must have for any fan of the source material.
This is without a doubt the best Dragon Ball has ever looked.
The core gameplay is intuitive and easy to pick up, however the UI is not and it brings down the experience.
Great voice acting is paired with great music to really bring Dragon Ball to life.
When it does work, FighterZ is an absolute joy to play.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dragon Ball FighterZ is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC