It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Dragon Ball Z. I spent a lot of my childhood around a group of guys who absolutely adored the series, but not even they could get me to join their love for the popular anime cartoon. Anime in general is something that I never could get into, aside from a few Studio Ghibli films. Even though I’m no fan of the series, I am no stranger to Dragon Ball Z video games.
In the past, I have dabbled in a few of the Dragon Ball Z: Budakai games and played a bit of the first entry of The Legend of Goku series on the Gameboy Advance. While none of these games succeeded at making me a Dragon Ball fan, I did appreciate some aspects of each of them. To this day I typically avoid Dragon Ball video games due to the lack of interest in the source material; it doesn’t help that most of them aren’t very good either. It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to see Namco Bandai’s newest game in the franchise at E3 2017, Dragon Ball FighterZ, that an large amount of curiosity hit me and peaking my interest.
Most of you who are reading this may be wondering why, of all people, am I the one chosen to review this game? Well it’s simple: I wanted to see if non-fans of Dragon Ball Z could enjoy this game. Can the game can stand on its own as a solid fighting game without brand familiarity or fandom tampering with my expectations? Going forward, I will be judging this game solely as a fighting game with the potential to stand among the heavy hitters like Street Fighter V and Injustice 2 this generation. So let’s begin!
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a 2.5D, three character tag-team fighting game in the vein of Marvel vs Capcom and Blazblue — developed by the same team who created the latter. The combat consists of three buttons that correspond to a light, medium and heavy attack. The Right trigger and right bumper on the Xbox One controller release harder hitting super attacks that can be chained into combos or used to unleash special super moves. The other two characters can assist in combos by tapping the L trigger or left bumper, while holding either of those buttons will swap out your current fighter for another one in your team.
Like most modern fighting games, DBFZ includes a meter system referred to as the Ki Meter. Landing successful attacks and taking damage will fill the meter up. Once full, the meter will gain a level and start to fill again. Certain special moves and abilities drain blocks of your meter in order to perform them, such as super special moves and warp maneuvers that forces your character to zap behind your opponent. Unleashing a massive special move while also calling in your teammates to contribute to the attack will burn off several levels of the meter. Players can even charge their Ki meter by holding down A+X (or X+Square on PS4) if they’re able to distance themselves long enough to take the risk. Knowing which moves utilize the meter and to what extent is important, so managing the Ki meter is key to success against more skilled players.
Combos in DBFZ are really easy to pull off to the point of becoming trivial. A simple three taps of the light attack can pull off some pretty cool looking combos that launch opponents into the air and allow the player to juggle them around. I was surprised how many awesome feats I could pull off by practicing the precious newbie art of button mashing. At first glance this may seem like DBFZ is a bit too forgiving to novice players, making skill less important to overall success in a match. However, once you dig deeper into the game, you will find that the combat is much deeper than what lies on the surface.
Even though pulling off impressive combos can be a cinch, any skilled player can easily punish these simple strategies by finding the perfect team and knowing which character punishes opponents in the perfect situation. It’s important to know that success in DBFZ lies in knowing how each fighter interacts with the others in the roster. Any player who can find that perfect mixture of three fighters that suits their play style will find much more success in battle. Knowing when to block a flurry of attacks and punish with a wicked combo that integrates the other two team members will always end badly for the opposing player. There’s a lot more to the combat here than what you find at first glance, making DBFZ a rewarding and addictive fighting game. Arc Systems managed to make the game accessible enough that new players feel comfortable without feeling intimidated at the same time.
Presentation in Dragon Ball FighterZ is easily the most impressive I’ve seen this generation out of this genre. Developer Arc System Works has succeeded at making one of the most visually impressive fighters I’ve seen in quite some time. The graphics and art design actually exceed the look of the anime but without losing the feel of the show. Players are treated to a visual feast in each match as fighters burst into large amounts of energy and thrust themselves at each other. The scene that plays as characters are defeated and new ones are introduced are a joy to watch on-screen. Players can even defeat an opponent by pulling off a Devastating Finish that knock characters into the backgrounds and destroy the environments around them. This is a fast, frenetic fighting game with the visuals to match; even spectating matches can be as fun as participating in them.
Developer Arc System Works utilizes the Unreal 4 engine in some very unique ways. During normal gameplay, the visuals appear to be a hand drawn in 2D. Once the camera and perspective shifts, you’ll notice that the game is actually fully 3D! Gameplay runs at a blistering 60 frames per second, as fighting games should, but a lot of the character animations run at much lower frame rates. This gives the illusion of the characters animating authentically as they do on the anime without affecting the gameplay. I’ve never really seen any developer pull something off quite like this before and it’s really impressive.
Voice work is very well done and caters to both types of fans; the ones who prefer authentic Japanese voice work and those who enjoy the goofy English dub. Both do the job, but I think I prefer the English dub since it feels more like the TV show that I’m slightly familiar with while succeeding at being strangely charming. The in-game announcer is pretty entertaining too as he throws out goofy one liners in the middle of matches. The soundtrack consists of infectious tunes with heavy rock riffs that amp up the player before and after matches. I’m not sure if this type of music is a norm for the series, but I love it here; especially the match loading screen music and the match end music.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has a very cool menu system that plays out as a small, explore-able DBZ environment. Players will choose a cute chibi DBZ character as their avatar and walk around to various buildings that represent different game modes. Once the game is booted up, players must choose a lobby to connect to that will populate other players into this world. You can interact with other players in your server, start matches with them and spectate other matches. The menu system reminds me of the online lobbies found in Dead or Alive 4 on the Xbox 360, which is probably my favorite online fighting game to date. It’s all very well done but also problematic.
I noticed that the lobby system seems to be a bit undercooked. Unfortunately, I found myself getting booted randomly from lobbies, getting disconnected after matches, and being told lobbies are full even though the player count is well below the maximum limit. The Xbox One version crash many times to the dashboard while trying to connect to lobbies too. Arc System definitely has some work to do to iron these issues out. The dashboard crash issue was so annoying at one point that I got fed up and just played a different game.
Thankfully, Arc System Works have included a plethora of content in this package that’ll keep players of all types very busy. For the single player folks out there, Dragon Ball FighterZ includes an Arcade Mode, Training Mode, Combo Challenge Mode and a very lengthy Story Mode. Currently there are 24 characters (three unlockable) and 14 stages available in the main game, with 8 downloadable characters coming in the future.
The arcade mode consists of multiple challenges that offer a variety of different matches. Some challenges only consist of three or four fights at lower difficulties, while others consist of 7 or more at higher difficulties. Once the player completes an arcade challenge, more difficult variations will unlock. Completing all of these challenges will unlock a few special characters. The only downfall of this mode is that there are no set difficulties to choose from, forcing the player to play against some pretty rough AI opponents if they’re seeking to unlock the content held within.
The training mode really needs no explanation since it serves the same purpose as every other fighting game training mode — to practice moves and abilities. The combo challenges, however, help the player learn various combo techniques included in the game. We’ve seen modes like this before in other fighting games so it’s nothing special, but certainly welcome.
Story mode is the meat of the single player experience in Dragon Ball FighterZ. This mode includes three different story arcs that tell the same narrative but in the perspective of different characters. The first one includes the perspective of the good guys, the second for the bad guys and the third for the android characters. Again, the story is largely the same but with different cut scenes, playable fighters and dialog. Completing all three will unlock a special ending that can be worth seeing to the end depending on whether or not you’re a DBZ fan.
What’s interesting about Story Mode is that each story arc is spread throughout a series of maps with icons placed on them. The player has a set amount of moves that they can shift to on the map before they catch a game over screen. Each map has one boss match that progresses the player to the next map. Although, cleaning up all of the matches within that map before proceeding to the boss match is important. Completing these matches earn the player equip-able perks, character unlocks and experience that level up the fighters in your party. Leveling up is important since the further you progress through the story, the higher level the opponent characters will be, so it’s best to do as much as possible to keep the playing field level.
Here’s the problem with this story mode — it overstays its welcome by the time the first story arc is over. The matches scattered around the various maps start to become tedious since you play against the same clone enemies over and over again. Once you finish the arc, you basically have to do this two more times. I found dragging this mode out to 10+ hours is exhausting, especially to non-DBZ fans. The story itself will please fans of the show thanks to in-jokes and impressive cut scenes, but seeing it played out three times with a different set of characters becomes a bit boring after you pump enough time into it. Still, its inclusion is nice and I’m sure DBZ fans will get much more out of it than I did.
Most of us were expecting DBFZ to include micro-transactions and loot boxes. Even though the game has a similar loot box system; fear not as none of it requires any real money purchases outside of the game. Progressing through the single player content and winning matches earns the player an in-game currency called Zenny that can be spent at a special vendor in the lobby world. Players can purchase Z-Capsules that unlock random items such as new avatars, emblems, profile elements and social stickers that can be slapped on matches while spectating. A special currency named Z-Coins can be earned randomly within Z-Capsules too. 10 Z-Coins can be redeemed which allow players to select what piece of unlock-able content they want without having to play the lottery. It’s loot boxes without the requirement to throw more cash at the game and it’s very well implemented.
As for competitive modes, Dragon Ball FighterZ has plenty of those too. World Tour matches are essentially ranked matches with players across the globe. Players can choose casual matches here too if they want to compete without worrying about rankings. Arena matches are basically casual matches or tournaments that are initiated with players within the same lobby. Ring matches allow players within a lobby to form a group and play together while taking turns fighting each other.
Inviting friends into ring matches can be difficult since those players must be connected to the same lobby in the same region. Mixed with the lobby connection issues listed above, this is harder to pull off than it sounds. Even finding matches in World Tour and Arena modes can be difficult. I sometimes sat for over 15 minutes waiting for a match to start and sometimes I would never find one. I’m not sure if the Playstation 4 version of this game suffers from the same connection issues, but the Xbox One version surely does. Every time you finish a match, you must reconnect to a lobby again, which I found unnecessary.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a spectacular fighting game. It’s very accessible thanks to simple controls and special moves while also intricate at a deeper level for fighting game veterans who want to climb the ranks or compete professionally. There’s plenty of content to keep all players busy regardless of how you approach fighting games. While I would love a bit more customization in the difficulty levels for various modes, everything was satisfying to play despite the story mode wearing out its welcome. Arc Systems has several nasty connection issues that they need to address, but I’m sure those will get ironed out soon. Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the finest fighting games I’ve played in recent years. Being a fan of DBZ is definitely a huge plus here, but even I could sit down and enjoy the game without any knowledge of the source material. I highly recommend it even if you aren’t a fan of Dragon Ball Z.
Dragon Ball FighterZ was reviewed on an Xbox One X with a copy funded by our wonderful Patreon subscribers.