For the majority of you I’m sure Dragon Ball needs no introduction. Dragon Ball Z is arguably the most famous manga and anime of all time, its beloved by many and you’ve almost certainly seen at least some of it. If you’ve somehow never heard of it, it’s about a group of martial artists defending earth from increasingly powerful villains in huge fights filled with spectacle, massive energy blasts and lots of shouting. Mixed in with the fights is a strong comedic vein, and it’s all rather fun and exciting. Anyway this is the latest in a long, long line of DBZ games, one that’s garnered a lot of positive attention since its announcement. It’s a 2D fighting game from Arc System Works of Guilty Gear, Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena fame with exquisite, show-accurate visuals and fits very neatly into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” pick up and play niche that fighting games do well.
Its closest counterparts, for me at least, are Skullgirls and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle. Like Skullgirls special attacks, supers and ultras are pulled off with half circle inputs, while combos can be easily strung together with repeated presses of face buttons. Like JoJo ASB the game facilitates doing cool things with little effort; repeatedly tapping light attack will land a three hit combo, launch your opponent into the air, follow them, combo them again and then smack them back down to earth. Repeatedly tapping medium attack will launch a combo that ends with a super move, and every character can manually build super meter, much like the Hamon users in JoJo. Having said that it is its own unique beast, one with a refreshing, interesting focus on offence and manoeuvrability. You can dash, fly, double jump and air dash in either direction. There are multiple different recoveries in the air and upon hitting the ground. There’s a block and a parry, but anyone who does block is susceptible to the button dedicated to breaking their guard with a flurry of punches, which they can then counter and turn it into a knuckle on knuckle clash. The game gives you an extraordinary amount of options during a fight. Battles take place over one round with two teams of three, with teammates being available as assists, or to be tagged in. Interestingly there are no throws, just three strengths of attack and a button dedicated to Ki; it’s all hand to hand combat and energy blasts, just like the show. The lauded graphics are indeed impressive; the character models are great, the animation is superb, and combined with the iconic sound effects it recreates the feeling of the show beautifully. The roster leans heavily towards Z; Goku and Vegeta, Freiza, Cell, two Buus and Future Trunks are the obvious inclusions, but it has its share of more interesting choices. Ginyu makes an appearance with the entire Ginyu force as assists, Android 18, Nappa, Tien and Gotenks are here. Fortunately, more to my taste, FighterZ gives some love to DB Super: Beerus, Hit, SSGSS Goku and Vegeta are on hand, as is the exquisite Goku Black, backed up by Zamasu. It’s a good selection of fighters, each with similar playstyles but their own quirks and moves. The only issue is a lack of women, with only two so far in the form of 18 and new character Android 21 (more on her shortly), though a recent leak suggested at least two seasons of DLC characters, which will hopefully work on that issue.
The game’s story mode is, unfortunately, where the cracks start to show. The actual meat is rather good, it’s the brittle bones holding it all together. The framing device of a human soul that can inhabit the main cast, causing them to regain their simultaneously lost strength is purely there to facilitate the thrust of this whole shebang: villain-hero team up. The entire cast is de-powered, so have to work together. They don’t want to work together, and have to do so in small groups of your choosing. Hilarity ensues. It is quite effective actually; the writing is sharp, the characters are all as enjoyable as they are in the show, and the new character Android 21 adds some good drama to proceedings. She has a link to the established canon I won’t spoil, but her Majin design, insatiable hunger for power increasing people eating and traumatic inner conflict make her a solid addition. Where it falls flat is how the story plays out: battle after battle after battle against clones of the main cast. Move around a map, fight some clones, a cutscene plays, repeat. The actual story beats are good, the character work is good, but getting to it is just so bland. Not bad, but I would have preferred something more akin to the Mortal Kombat method. The story is split into three to offer different perspectives and more content, but it does mean you have to go through three times as much clone battering.
I’m a big fan of fighting games, but I’m no expert by any means. I’m not one of these people who spends hours in training mode learning all the systems, practising each and every character’s moveset extensively until they can do it in their sleep. I’ve got nothing against those people, good for them, but for me fighting games represent visually interesting characters, good sound design and fun, pick up and play gameplay; I play them for fun. DB FighterZ caters to that mindset wonderfully, as a game about the most famous anime ever made should, but clearly has a whole other layer of depth beneath the surface. In short, it’s an excellent fighting game, a great Dragon Ball game, and I fully recommend it.
By James Lambert