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August 2018

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Jan. 26, 2018


PS4 Review - 'Dragon Ball FighterZ'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a dream collaboration and takes the anime-based fighting games in a bold new direction by combining classic 2D fighting game dynamics with the Dragon Ball universe.

Buy Dragon Ball FighterZ

Dragon Ball Z is probably the biggest anime in the world. Even if you can't tell a Gundam from a Gintama, you've probably heard of it and can recognize its spikey-haired characters. It has worldwide appeal that has lasted for decades, but its lineup of games consists of some really fun offerings as well as a lot of subpar stuff. Dragon Ball FighterZ stands out because it's not only an excellent love letter to the franchise but also a darn good fighting game.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a three-on-three 2-D fighting game in the style of the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise. Players assemble a team of three of their favorite Dragon Ball characters and go to town. The basic combat is incredible simple. You have three attack buttons and a "ki" button, and you string them together in combos. Characters can swap in and out of the battlefield at the push of a button or be called in for powerful assist attacks, which let you string together even longer combos. It's a fighting game very much in the vein of the Marvel series but with more than a little Guilty Gear in its lineage. Fans of those fighting series should find a lot to like here.

Perhaps the most important thing about Dragon Ball FighterZ is that it's probably the most accessible fighting game since Smash Brothers. Players will have to learn a lot of complex mechanical elements to succeed, but almost everything is done at the touch of a button, and the most complex special move is a basic fireball motion that's shared between every character. Even if you've never touched a fighting game, you'll be able to play Dragon Ball FighterZ. It has a very generous auto-combo system that assigns basic combo attacks to simple button presses, and important moves, like antiair attacks, can be executed with reliable button combos that are also shared across characters.

It's not a simple game, though. If you try to play online, you'll quickly discover that Dragon Ball FighterZ is an aggressive game that focuses on rushing your opponents, exploiting their weaknesses, and not getting blown up for being too greedy. You have a lot of movement options. At any given time, a character can speed across the stage, launch a powerful Dragon Rush to break an enemy's guard, vanish and appear behind their opponent, and various other options. It's tough to deter an intelligent opponent, but a smart foe can easily punish you for getting overconfident.

Compared to most fighting games, it's easy to build at least one bar of the super meter in Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game actually seems designed around the assumption you'll use the moves regularly. You can even charge your ki, which builds up the super meter quickly but leaves you vulnerable to enemy attack. Every special move can use up the entire meter to increase its power, and all characters have special attacks that can be spammed to do an absurd amount of damage. Some characters, like Adult Gohan, even need the meter in order to reach their full potential. As such, you'll play a game of heavy resource management to make sure you have the ki to execute your moves when you need it.

An important part of the game is that each character feels distinctive. Goku is a good all-around fighter. Android 18 fights alongside her brother Android 18 by calling him in for special assist moves. Captain Ginyu has an entire squadron who battles alongside him, but he excels when he steals an opponents' body and leaves them in a weaker version of his own body. Even the series' perpetual loser Yamcha is a force to be reckoned with. The balance in the game feels tight, and while some characters are easier to use than others, everyone seems to have potential.

If I have one serious problem with the combat, it's that there are a couple of mechanics that feel weird. The one that feels the most out of place is the Dragon Ball mechanic. By stringing together combos of a certain length, players can collect Dragon Balls. Once all seven Dragon Balls are collected, whoever grabs the final ball can make a wish for one of four things: a health restore, reviving a lost teammate, a boost to your ki gauge or regeneration of lost health. It sounds powerful, and it is, but due to the high damage of the game, the Dragon Balls usually show up when a match is nearly over. At best, they make a winning player win harder or steal what should've been a hard-fought victory due to a lucky chance. Fortunately, the mechanic shows up so rarely that it isn't much of an issue.

The gameplay is heavily oriented toward offense, and in my experience, it doesn't provide much of a chance for a pure zoning character. Almost every character can rush in quickly with the Super Dash move, which can eat most projectiles and is safe even if blocked. Most characters have a long-distance attack, but the game wants you to get up in your opponent's face as often as possible. This isn't necessarily a flaw, but it makes some characters feel a little clumsy. God of Destruction Beerus is a powerful foe, but his primary move of deploying energy balls to harass his foe feels weak.

There's a fair bit of content in Dragon Ball FighterZ. There are three unlockable characters (Android 21, Goku Blue and Vegeta Blue), and there's a lot of single-player content, including challenges, an arcade mode and a story mode. The story mode is going to be the crux of most people's experience with Dragon Ball FighterZ. Story mode is a pseudo-RPG where you're given a world map to explore and need to fight enemies, which mostly consist of evil clones. Beating these enemies will level up your characters, unlock new characters, and give equippable items that can be used. It's a surprisingly long mode, but the appeal is in the goofy jokes and interactions between the various characters. The core gameplay quickly gets repetitive, but fans of the franchise will enjoy seeing bizarre interaction between characters like Frieza and Yamcha, who never actually met in the series.

The weakest point of the game is its lobby system, although the entire user interface is messy and convoluted. The developers tried to give it an "immersive" interface with cute little avatars set in a large battle arena, but the result feels bloated and slow. It takes a long time to start up the game, and if you want to play online, you have to join surprisingly tiny online lobbies.  It's a minor quibble, but it really stands out among the rest of the incredibly polished game.

One area where Dragon Ball FighterZ can't be praised highly enough is its visuals and voice work. The graphics are absolutely stunning. Arcsys has effectively translated frames of the anime and still shots of the Dragon Ball manga into fighting game moves, and it looks phenomenal. Not only does the game basically look like an anime in motion, but it's insanely faithful to the source material. The fact that it uses the same 3D-as-2D visual style as the Guilty Gear franchise to allow for the occasional dynamic camera movement only makes the game look astonishing. The biggest complaint one can have is that the story mode cut scenes are significantly less impressive, but considering the bulk of your time will be in the fight, that's a minor quibble. Likewise, the voice work and the soundtrack are amazing. The soundtrack is comprised of original songs made for the game, but they are fantastic tunes that sound great on their own and are excellent fits for the associated characters, too.

In a nutshell, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the Dragon Ball game that fans have been waiting for. It doesn't have the pure character creation features of a Xenoverse title, but it makes up for it by being what is probably the first truly competitive Dragon Ball Z fighting game. The amazing graphics and impressive audio help sell the feeling of playing an episode of the anime, and it's one of the best-looking games on the market. The single-player content is good for a fighting game, but unlike Xenoverse, this is a game for those who are looking for competitive play first and foremost. It does that exceedingly well, and any fan of fighting games or Dragon Ball Z should find something to like here.

Score: 9.0/10

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