Dragon Ball FighterZ is a fighting game unlike any other I’ve ever played. A fighter gaining my attention at all is a rare occurrence; I’ve never had the ability or technique to really get much out of them. The original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 is probably the last fighting game to truly captivate me and so if you’re looking for the thoughts of someone practised in decades of fighting games who knows the common terms, the meta, or the differences between Tekken and Street Fighter, then this probably isn’t the review for you! But I have now invested quite a bit of time in Dragon Ball FighterZ, enough to get an idea of what the game offers, as well as a glimpse at the greater online scene.
I can’t see myself starting this review anywhere else: Dragon Ball FighterZ looks so damn good. It’s difficult to overstate how visually appealing this game is and how well it has managed to translate one of the most iconic anime series ever to 3D. The character models, animations and camera direction are all pitch perfect with every punch, kick, ki blast and super being an absolute joy to behold, as well as making every successful combo incredibly satisfying. Knocking your opponent out with a heavy attack will trigger a ‘destructive finish’, sending them flying into a skyscraper or through a series of rock formations and it never quite gets old. Powerful attacks can actually damage the stage and the sort of mini-cutscenes that play for each character’s super are just awesome. All the move sets are, naturally, from the anime, adding a sense of history and nostalgia to the battles that only increases the spectacle.
The sound effects are similarly ripped straight from the anime, I’m not really sure how to describe a lot the sounds I’m referring to… but here goes: powering up, ‘vanishing’, the explosions visible from space, ‘critical’ hits, they’re all spot on and integrated beautifully. The English voice acting makes use of the original cast for the most part, which is great for a nostalgia hit for those who haven’t watched Dragon Ball Z for over a decade, but I quickly switched to the Japanese voices due to how often lines of dialogue are repeated in a fight. Somehow hearing the same thing over and over in a different language isn’t anywhere near as grating. The soundtrack is all new music with an expected amout of soaring guitar riffs and dramatic strings, but with a few outliers like Hit’s Theme which is straight-up jazz. An ‘anime music pack’ will be released in early March as paid DLC.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is easy to learn, difficult to master. Your team consists of three characters who can be swapped out or called in for an assist after a short cool down. You have a Ki gauge, which rises as you fight or take damage, but it can also be powered up manually. This Ki gauge is used for two things: supers and vanishing. The former is pulled off by doing quarter circle back then any two face buttons or R1. These are the flashy moves like Piccolo’s Light Grenade, Vegeta’s Final Flash or Frieza’s Nova Strike. There are auto-combos, which basically mean that if you hit light or medium attack consecutively you’ll do something that looks cool, even if it’s not that hard for your enemy to just sit tight and block. You can learn about each of these different systems and mechanics in a number of offline modes, so if you’re a casual like me you can spend all the time in the world learning the fundamentals without the humiliation of getting absolutely obliterated online. That comes later.
The story mode is made up of a series of fights and cutscenes, with fully voiced dialogue in multiple languages that take place over a series of ‘maps’. A strange phenomenon is causing everyone in the Dragon Ball universe to have the same power level (convenient, right?) and a mysterious new android is wreaking havoc with an army of grey-skinned clones. You play as a strange ‘spirit’ that possesses the bodies of all your favourite Dragon Ball characters, one by one. Yes, you’re not just playing as Goku, you’re playing as something possessing the body of Goku. They really went there. If you have even a basic understanding of the game the story mode becomes boring and repetitive pretty quickly, although some of the cutscenes are entertaining enough, even if just to see all these characters interact with each other in all kinds of bizarre scenarios.
There is a fairly comprehensive training mode that sports a series of basic tutorials for brand new players, as well as combo practice for each individual character against an invincible bot who won’t fight back. I was disappointed to find there’s no way to play practice mode locally against a human player. This disappointment was offset somewhat by the local play mode being an absolute blast. Mucking around with all the different characters, letting your opponent use their super just to see what it looks like – it’s a lot of fun. Arcade mode pits you against a series of fights of increasing difficulty with each encounter getting a grade, your grade will ultimately determine who you will fight and obviously your final score. This mode gets tough pretty quickly, but considering you can unlock SSGSS Vegeta and Goku by getting an S rank in two of the hardest courses, it’s worth the challenge.
Finding an online match is a bit of crapshoot. You can filter matchmaking by signal strength but if you want a low ping match, in my experience, you could be waiting for some time. There have also been a number of instances where matches have dropped out or I’ve had to reenter the lobby for seemingly no reason. After a week or two of playing the game, both online and off, I definitely feel like I reached a skill ceiling where it became clear that to get better at this game, and to have even a slight chance of actually winning some ranked matches, I’d have to dedicate some serious time to learning in-depth combos with specific characters. The question then becomes whether I wanted to invest the time in getting to a point where I can hold my own online. The answer is naturally going to be different from person to person, but it’s something worth asking yourself before buying.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is clearly a passion project for developer Arc System Works. The amount of care and detail that has gone into each stage, character and their abilities is astounding. For anyone who has even a passing interest in fighting games or Dragon Ball, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. There’s enough offline content to keep you busy if the idea of ranked online is too intimidating, but for those who embrace the salty disconnects and meta discussion the scene is thriving. Casual players like me may reach a point where the amount of time and focus required to improve further increases exponentially, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from checking out this gorgeous, intensely satisfying fighter.
Dragon Ball FighterZ was reviewed on a PS4 Pro using a promo copy provided by Bandai Namco.