Although I completely understand the appeal, fighting games aren’t really my thing. I’ve always had a hard time memorising long strings of button combinations or performing unbreakable combo chains, which means I’m usually pressed up against the edge of the screen getting pummelled to death from the moment the announcer yells ‘fight’. When I was asked to review Dragon Ball FighterZ, I expected an experience similar to that of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, a game that appealed to my sense of nostalgia but ultimately proved challenging to fully enjoy. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a gorgeous and immersive fighter, packed to the brim with as much glorious fan service and satisfying combat that you could ever want.
The very first thing that struck me about this game is that it looks, sounds and feels incredible. Arc System Works has done a phenomenal job at taking the ostentatious, over-the-top style of the esteemed anime series and translating it into beautifully crisp cel-shaded visuals. Not only is it nice to look at, but the sound design is also on point, with many of the original cast members returning to voice their beloved characters. However, what really impressed me about this game is the attention to detail when it comes to making fans feel like they are part of the Dragon Ball Z universe. As I mentioned in my preview of the beta, having certain characters on certain levels will trigger short intro or outro cut-scenes, such as Frieza killing Krillin, Gohan defeating Cell and even the infamous “Yamcha in the crater” scene. Even just by ending your match with a heavy attack, you’re rewarded with a ‘destructive finish’, which sends your opponent flying into parts of the level and destroying it, just like in the show. Although some may say that these clips are superfluous, I love the fact that the developers are giving a not-so-subtle nod to longtime followers of the series who have been waiting a while for a game of this calibre.
Ditching the traditional approach to text-based menus and mode selection, the main hub of the game is actually a large open lobby, which you can walk around in as chibi versions of your favourite characters and interact with other players (when online). Each platform is styled after locations in the show and grants you access to the various ways to play the game, such as the Story Campaign, Local Battles, Online matches and of course, Arcade Mode. As you progress throughout the game, you can unlock more avatars, customisation options and emotes to use in the lobby by purchasing them from the in-game store using currencies that are earned via gameplay and trading in duplicate items. Another great feature is the replay viewer, allowing you to analyse your previous encounters and see just how your opponent got the upper hand against you.
Fighting games aren’t known for their great stories, but thankfully DBFZ is an exception, capturing the absurdity and humour of the anime and taking a fresh approach to the challenge of having a roster of characters with wildly different moral alignments. The premise of the campaign is relatively simple; mysterious energy waves have rendered Goku and the gang powerless, just as old enemies come back from the dead and evil clones of our heroes have started appearing across the land. Luckily, a wandering soul (that’s you) is somehow able to link into the bodies of the fighters, which unlocks their suppressed power and allows them to do what they do best. What’s great about the story’s narrative arc is that the whole mystery unfolds over three acts, one focusing on the super warriors we know and love, another following the stories of the resurrected villains and finally the enigmatic and morally grey androids. As you move across the maps in the campaign, you can rush directly to the ‘boss’ fights and further the plot, or take time to rescue allies (adding them to your roster) and level up your preferred characters, allowing you to access short cut-scenes of them recounting the adventure from their perspective. It’s a great, easy to play storyline, packed to the brim with classic Dragon Ball Z melodrama and jokes.
Everyone knows you don’t argue with Bulma
If you prefer your beat downs with none of the prose, then Arcade Mode is definitely for you. You essentially select a team of fighters and engage in a series of three, five or seven consecutive battles, being graded along the way. Of course, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward, but achieving an ‘S’ rank on all levels is no easy feat and will prove to be a trial for even the most seasoned fighters. Then you unlock hard mode.
The big-ticket item on the bill would have to be the multiplayer modes. I’m sure one of the reasons that Dragon Ball FighterZ appeals to so many people, is that it gives you the chance to create a dream team of your favourite characters and beat the crap out of your friends or family. Local battles allow you to do just that, but the brave of heart you can also take the action online with a variety of different match types. Casual matches are fun ways to test your mettle against the rest of the world but ranked matches pit you against the cream of the crop, going head-to-head for ‘Battle Points’ and placing you on a worldwide leaderboard. Rounding out the modes there’s Party Match – a 3v3 mode with six different players each controlling a character – and Circle Match, an 8-player free-for-all. There’s also a Tournament mode that allows players to organise their own tournaments and tweak the rules to their liking.
Since Dragon Ball FighterZ launched, I’ve been able to check out the online game modes, but unfortunately, I had a hard time actually finding anyone to fight with. Despite trying a few different lobbies, I found that most people are playing either arcade or story mode, with only a handful of players populating ranked and casual matches. I’ve no doubt that this will change over time as people get more familiar with the game but it’s currently a little lonely for those wanting to throw down globally. Also, I was a little disappointed to see that there doesn’t seem to be a penalty for quitting a match before the end, and having an opponent do so does not award you a win, even in ranked matches. This is quite unfair and I’ve had a few instances of players quitting just before I finish them off, so hopefully, this will be rectified in a future patch.
“Actually mate, Frieza crowd”
Even if you put all of the bells and whistles aside, Dragon Ball FighterZ is an exciting and well-built fighting game. It includes a 24-character roster, each with varied strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to create teams that are either balanced or specialised. The style of battle borrows from the older Marvel vs. Capcom games, with players choosing three characters, which can be switched in and out of combat throughout the match. Your standard light, medium and heavy attacks are all there but you can also use special moves by building up your Ki energy. Engaging your opponent automatically generates your Ki, but you can also manually charge it, which looks and sounds exactly like powering up does in the show.
Thankfully, the controls have been simplified to be more accessible, but there are advanced techniques available for veterans, which makes the game easy to learn but difficult to master. As I mentioned before, I’m not great at remembering huge button combos, so I was happy to see that I could perform some of my favourite moves from the show with only a few easy commands, which remain the same no matter who you decide to play as. Although many purists may see this as a dumbing down of controls, I think it’s great that Arc System Works has made the game with all fans in mind, some of which may not be adept at fighting games (myself included). There is also the added mechanic of collecting Dragon Balls in the match by performing combos. If you manage to collect all seven, you can summon the wish dragon Shenron, who grants boons that just might give the edge in battle. These can include reviving fallen allies, restoring health or maxing out your Ki energy. Much like the infinity stones in MvC: I, this adds a tactical aspect to the game, but it could potentially be overpowered in competitive play.
Ah, Perfect Cell…shaded visuals
Dragon Ball FighterZ is an awesome game, and whether you’re a fan of the genre or a fan of the series, you’ll find it packed to the brim with stuff to do and things to love. The stunning visuals, enjoyable story and accessible gameplay mechanics have already made it one of my favourite releases of the New Year. Not only has it sparked a competitive spirit within me (which I plan to take online), it’s also inspired me to dig out my old VHS recordings of Cheez TV. On second thought, maybe I’ll just stream it.
Reviewed on PS4 | Review code supplied by publisher