Reviewed on PlayStation 4, copy supplied by publisher.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has done something that I feared would never happen, it made me like fighting games again. Aside from some fun with endless Street Fighter II ports, I’d kinda given up on the prospect of sinking into that genre again. The healthy dose of Dragon Ball that comes with Dragon Ball FighterZ sure helps things along, but there’s a lot more to this than a franchised fighting game in a series that has its fair share.
Sticking to the Dragon Ball formula pretty closely, the narrative is a fun, albeit ridiculous one. In a series where you have people who are so good at fighting they can literally blow up planets, you kind of need to introduce a reason for them to show some restraint, and in Dragon Ball FighterZ this takes the form of you, the player. You’re all up inside the characters possessing them, and lowering their powers with how stupid you are.
Once you get over the creepiness of entering your favourite DB characters, the story plays out almost exactly like a series of the show, except in the game it’s kind of fun to fight the same enemies over again as they slowly power up. I’ll avoid spoilers, as the game’s three sagas are really great pieces of nostalgia and story telling, including appearances from characters that have long been forgotten.
What makes this game stand out in the genre is how well executed it is. The story is actually compelling, which is hard to say about almost any other fighter I’ve played. The new antagonist, Android 21, is pretty great, especially when her story starts to flesh out. Speaking of, there probably is a bit too much of her flesh out. But hey, weird proportions and anime have a symbiotic relationship.
Unlocking heroes and punching/blasting through the sagas was great fun, and it wouldn’t have been if the combat in Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t so damn enjoyable. Pulling off combos and awesome special moves isn’t for pros with light speed reaction time anymore, in fact I managed to string together some impressive looking fights – and I’m probably the least coordinated gamer ever.
Each character has a set of distinct moves and style, so mixing it up feels amazing. There’s something special about a game that makes you feel like a god with minimum effort. None of this is to say that the game is too easy, far from it. As you progress the AI can be really challenging, but it feels great to power up your fighters(z?) and get in there.
Battling it out you have a kai meter, which can be charged up by doing the standard DB straining/yell move. It’s a welcome feature and pins the game to its series, although I would have liked the option to enter transformations with the characters, as I’m a big fan of people rapidly peroxiding their hair through the art of screaming.
You can use kai to perform special moves, and vanishing attacks, where you pop up behind the opponent and deliver a powerful hit. As a strong supporter of people being punched into mountains, it was nice to see the strong finishers and special KOs, where the opponent would be sent crashing into the horizon or a series-inspired finishing animation would play out.
Another cool feature in FighterZ is the ability to summon Shenron, which can be done by obtaining all seven dragon balls through completing mini objectives, once this is done you can boost your fighter’s abilities or revive a downed comrade.
In each fight you have the option to recruit three fighters to your team, who you can tag-in throughout a battle or use to perform assist moves. At launch there were 24 characters/forms to choose from, with more on the way. As Dragon Ball games go, this is pretty light – Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 had 98 playable characters and 161 forms. Whilst the roster might be a pittance compared to other DB fighters, you can see why the move has been made.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has been crafted to be the best competitive fighting game around, with its eyes set on the e-sports scene, so the smaller roster allows for far more manageable balancing going forward.
Visually Dragon Ball FighterZ is a masterpiece, with the 2.5D working wonders at creating an aesthetic that matches the source material. Moves looks stunning when they play out right, and each character has been beautifully created.
The soundtrack also adds to the sense of authenticity, with screeching guitar solos that fans of the series have come to expect. Not to mention the stellar Japanese and English voice work that really sets the scene.
When it comes to negatives the only real thing holding Dragon Ball FighterZ back is the online connectivity, which to be fair has never really done it for me in fighting games. The couple of rounds I played suffered from input lag and slow matching times. Personally, this isn’t a deal breaker for me as I’d much rather play local versus matches with friends, but for those seeking online play it’s something to consider.
The lobby system in general is cute, with you controlling a DB avatar as you wander between game modes, but in terms of practicality we probably didn’t need a online hub in this game.
In Dragon Ball FighterZ the inevitable loot box system is less intrusive than other titles, with mainly cosmetics and avatars to unlock. Full disclosure – I barely tooled around with it because lootboxes bore me to death and I can’t be bothered learning the different currencies and how they work. But hey, at least this isn’t Battlefront II levels of awful, and the in-game currency, known as zeni, are plentiful.