Over the last three decades, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball manga has inspired approximately a million video game adaptations. Dragon Ball FighterZ is another in a long run of games to feature Saiyans facing monsters who seek to destroy the world. Yet, Dragon Ball FighterZ feels like the franchise’s first proper game in a long time. So, does it live up to the hype?
In the fighting genre, few studios hold as much clout as Arc System Works. The Japanese developer is responsible for beloved series such as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Meanwhile, Persona 4 Arena proved Arc is more than capable of transforming a preexisting property. It knows how to craft smooth 2D fighters with a heavy focus on combos and a typically steep learning curve. Dragon Ball FighterZ marks Arc System’s most mainstream release to date. It’s likely to attract a more casual audience than Arc’s usual fare.
Consequently, Dragon Ball FighterZ is possibly the developer’s most accessible project. The combos are relatively easy to pull off, while each character only comes with a handful of moves to learn. The entry barrier has been lowered for those unfamiliar with the genre. But professional players are still presented with a great deal of nuance to hold their attention. Dragon Ball FighterZ marks the first time the competitive scene has embraced a game based on the franchise. The game aims to please everyone.
When it comes to characters, Dragon Ball FighterZ concentrates on quantity over quality. The base game consists of 24 playable characters, including three initially locked. Usually, DBZ fans are accustomed to having a 100+ roster. But such an expansive character selection comes at the cost of individuality. Every champion in Dragon Ball FighterZ plays differently and demands a sizable commitment to thoroughly master. While combatants can be divided into tiers, the well-balanced roster ensures every character is a viable option. Yes, even Yamcha.
As highlighted by the pre-release marketing, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a visual delight. Along with replicating the anime’s iconic look, at times, Arc System surpasses Dragon Ball Super’s animation. The graphics evoke a sense of impact with each move, reflected by the cut-scenes placed before, during, or after a fight. Dragon Ball FighterZ is thoroughly satisfying.
How are the combat mechanics? Dragon Ball FighterZ should be immediately accessible for anyone slightly familiar with the genre. Along with Ki Blasts, characters have access to Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks. Standard combos can be pulled off by stringing together a few buttons. Each fighter has around 5–10 super moves that can be initiated by pressing a directional switch with a chosen key. The stronger moves consume Super Meter bars, which build up quite quickly. Consequently, most battles are filled with gloriously explosive attacks. Like most fighters, the user can block and has the option to teleport behind the enemy.
Dragon Ball FighterZ features a robust ranking system that divides the player base by experience and skill. The scene is competitive and it quickly becomes apparent that the combat is only deceptively simplistic.
Besides a detailed tutorial, the game’s story mode dedicates the first couple of hours to teaching the mechanics to the player. While there are three arcs to play through, they merely tell the same saga from multiple perspectives. Arc’s story introduces a brand-new baddie in Android 21, who seeks to absorb the power of heroes and villains alike. Along with granting herself a power boost, Android 21 creates a seemingly never-ending army of clones to keep fighters occupied. Split into various maps, the player’s unlocked characters gain experience and gradually level-up, although this only causes a small stat boost.
The story mode is rarely the point of fighting games. However, Dragon Ball FighterZ may attract fans interested in only the single-player content. The skits featuring the franchise’s iconic characters are fun. But the story mode overstays its welcome within a couple of hours. Annoyingly, the enemies barely put up a fight during the first arc. Meanwhile, the subsequent two chapters throw out the periodic difficulty spike. As a result, grinding up levels by repeatedly fighting clones becomes a necessity. Sadly, the story itself is mediocre at best. In fact, the only reason to complete this mode is to unlock Android 21. Otherwise, it is not worth the hassle.
Dragon Ball FighterZ should hit the spot for fans of the genre and the license. The combat is fast-paced and incredibly satisfying, while the roster is reasonably balanced. Although the single-player offers dozens of hours of content, it is more a case of quantity rather than quality. As such, the story is merely a stepping stone to the far more satisfying multiplayer.