Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the most exhilarating fighting games you're likely to see. A dizzying blend of destructive special attacks and unbreakable combos, Arc System Works has done a fine job of visually replicating the explosive action of the anime series. But with the game being a staple of fighting tournaments pretty much ever since its first playable build was unveiled, Dragon Ball fans already know that it looks the part — the real question is, how well does it hold up against other, more well-established fighters?
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Under Pressure
Dragon Ball FighterZ is all about applying pressure on your opponent. Zoning, a tactic used to keep your opponent at arm's length in other fighting games, can be easily broken down with the standard moves available in every character's arsenal.
The most commonly utilized ability is the Super Dash, which sees you hurtling towards your opponent with a press of the right trigger or R2. This move causes you to home in on your rival, at which point you can string together a series of combos.
Players can also teleport behind their opponent with Vanish, initiated by holding the medium and heavy attack buttons, a move which can either catch your opponent unaware or, like Super Dash, is used to elongate combos. Combining these abilities with Super Moves can see you dishing out a heap of punishment within a single combo string.
Each fighter has their own selection of special moves, though many of the inputs required to pull them off are universal. Repeatedly hammering the light or medium attack buttons can see you juggling your opponent, though throwing in a heavy attack could lead to a wall bounce, and following it up with a Super Dash can see you hammering your rival all across the screen.
Like other team-based fighting games, you can also call in an assist from one of your two teammates by pressing or holding left bumper/L1. These assists are situational, with you able to call them in to throw in an additional light attack or pull off a joint Super Move alongside you. Additionally, matches can be concluded with a "Destructive Finish," that sees you either hitting your opponent with a Super Move or a heavy attack that blows up the surrounding environment.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Simple Seiyan
Dragon Ball FighterZ differentiates itself from other games in its genre by way of its comparatively simplistic fighting system, in which most fighters share the same button inputs for special moves, sizable combos can be pulled off by hammering one button, and supers require little more than a flick of the analog stick and a press of RB/R1. This provides a level of accessibility that is pretty rare for its genre, as it's purpose-built to allow newcomers to dive right in and start pulling off impressive-looking moves with ease.
But that isn't to say that there isn't room for veterans to get creative. Advanced combos can see you juggling your opponent in the air, bouncing them off walls and delivering devastating super attacks that decimate your rival's life bar. FighterZ is a game that's easy to pick up but requires a lot of effort to master, and much of the fun is finding out how to implement these super moves into your arsenal and use them to get the most out of your attack.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Just Like the Anime
I'm not the biggest Dragon Ball fan around, but I have very fond memories of watching Dragon Ball Z as a kid and Arc System Works has completely nailed what made the show's action scenes so exciting. Every match-up has the potential to grow into an epic spectacle, with Kamehamehas filling the screen and fighters launching one another into the sky using Super Saiyan feats of strength.
Alongside the overall presentation of the game, which lifts the animation style of Z and Super and gives it a 2.5D update, Dragon Ball fans will be similarly pleased with the iconic moments it lifts from the show. Certain characters will react to one another when placed head-to-head in battle, such as a cutscene depicting Krillin being murdered by Frieza playing when he faces off against Goku on Planet Namek.
On top of this, both the original and dubbed version of the game features the same voice cast as the series, with it retaining the same quality as the anime. Fanservice is pouring out of Dragon Ball FighterZ, with Arc System Works showing a deep appreciation for Toei Animation's work.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: A Story Worth Telling?
While Arc System Works could have opted to retell one of the various plotlines from Dragon Ball Z or Super, the developer has instead decided to tell a fresh story that combines both old and new faces, and also weirdly breaks the fourth wall by way of actively including the player in its tale.
Spread across three separate chapters — the Super Warriors Arc, the Super Villain Arc, and the Android Arc — Dragon Ball FighterZ begins with Goku suddenly possessed by the soul of the player. Goku's still alive, knocking around in his own mind, though his power has been weakened so considerably that the player has been given the task of taking control of him.
As the story progresses, the player also takes control of a number of other familiar faces, with the game occasionally presenting you with dialogue options that offer you a small degree of agency in how you approach conversations. It's surreal, but then again so is a giant pink marshmallow man devouring his opponents while wearing MC Hammer pants.
Like the majority of fighting games, Dragon Ball FighterZ struggles with simultaneously offering an engaging story while also needing to carry the player through a series of fights. Android 21, the game's mysterious, Majin-esque antagonist, provides a reason to keep playing through in order to uncover her secrets, but aside from unlocking characters those hoping for a solid single-player experience will likely leave disappointed. It takes between 10 - 12 hours to finish this campaign, but while that's a sizable
Arcade mode provides three separate courses of increasing length, allowing players to unlock a Hard difficulty setting for each one after they've been completed. Each course is divided into 3 - 7 separate stages, with your performance in each stage determining the toughness of your opponents in the next one. If you manage to keep performing well, you'll be awarded an S Rank, which will help increase the number of Zeni coins you earn.
Zeni is used to buy capsules, FighterZ's loot box equivalent. Fortunately, these capsules can only be purchased using in-game currency, meaning that Arc System Works has stayed away from implementing microtransactions. Capsules still provide randomized items, though they remain completely cosmetic and are predominantly used to customize the avatar you use to navigate the game's lobby.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Online Problems
Unfortunately, Dragon Ball FighterZ is somewhat let down by a sub-par online mode. Like the Xenoverse series before it, FighterZ overlooks traditional menus in order to provide players with a lobby they must navigate in order to jump into matches. When you're actually in a match, everything works just fine, but getting to that point is an unnecessary headache, especially when you're trying to play with a friend.
There's a designated area in the lobby to play casual or ranked matches, with you sending out a matchmaking invite into the ether and waiting until a rival accepts it. In order to play with a friend, you must find a relatively empty part of the lobby, select to create a 'Ring Match' and then wait until your friends find your lobby and stand near you. There's no way to create a private lobby, so you'll have to find one with enough slots to accommodate you and your friends.
It's an odd system, and while getting a cutesy lobby avatar that you can customize is a fun distraction at first, jumping through hoops to get into an online game quickly wear thin. Stripping back this lobby system and introducing plain menus would have been preferable, but FighterZ instead prioritizes its lobby over its matches.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: Final Verdict
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a must-play for Dragon Ball and fighting game fans alike, with it combining accessible gameplay with a distinctive visual direction that perfectly emulates the franchise it's based on.
It's unfortunate that its online component is unnecessarily complicated, making players jump through hoops in order to go head-to-head against one another, but there's a healthy amount of offline modes tucked away in here that combine to form one helluva package. Arc System Works has done something truly special with the Dragon Ball franchise here, and even though it's early days, FighterZ could well be remembered as the finest fighting game of 2018.
Game reviewed on Xbox One. Copy provided by the publisher.