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Dragon Ball FighterZ Is a Great Fighting Game for Dragon Ball Fans

7.5 out of 10. (PlayStation 4 version.)


Dragon Ball FighterZ splash screen

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a pretty good fighting game, but it’s a real treat for its core demographic: Dragon Ball fans who want a fighting game that’s as satisfying to play as the show, at its best, is to watch. Despite some rough edges, it achieves that goal very well and should be a lot of fun for fans of the franchise to play.

To start with, the game looks great, which is how it managed to generate so much attention in the first place. Developer Arc System Works has plenty of experience not only in fast-paced fighting games, but in creating ones that mimic the look of 2D animation with 3D models, and it shows in FighterZ. Graphics and art aren’t everything, but they go a long way in giving this game the right feel.

At least, in the battles that make up the majority of the game, they do, but that’s not quite all there is to offer, so let’s break down some of the different modes:

Story mode

The story mode in FighterZ stays away from the well-trod ground of taking players through the plot of the series’ greatest hits, instead offering up a brand new tale that makes more sense for the format of the game. However, it’s also where the perfect look of the fight scenes begins to show some cracks, as story animation is fairly stiff and slow, and some of the visuals feel overly simplistic, even for the animated look they’re trying to recreate.

Although a lot of the dialogue really nails the characters as perfectly as you’d hope, the cutscenes are also a bit long and frequent as things get going. The game also takes time here to guide you through learning how to play, but if you’ve spent time going through the basics in training mode—like I did—where it directs you first, it’s kind of a slog as you go through all the cutscene dialogue and explanation about how story mode works just to get into a battle where your opponent spends the majority of it helping you learn basics you’ve already got down.

In the end, the story mode hiccups aren’t a huge deal because that’s generally not what a fighting game is all about, and I do appreciate that they tried to spice things up by not taking us through the story points of the franchise all over again.

Training mode

Speaking of training mode, the one in Dragon Ball FighterZ comes with some great features and a solid, fairly quick tutorial of the game’s basic mechanics—ideal in a game that’s designed to be accessible to players who aren’t necessarily fighting game veterans.

There’s also a “combo challenge” option that will help you practice certain combos until you’ve got them down without dropping any of your inputs, and the standard open training against a CPU with a full suite of options to test any set of circumstances and characters. There’s also an easily accessible way to take over the CPU player, record your own actions for it, and then play against them to practice your counter tactics.

Arcade mode

This one mixes up the arcade formula by presenting you with CPU teams to fight against in order, and changing up your next opponent and their difficulty by how well you do in the previous match. You can also unlock some new fighters here, if you do well enough. It’s a good way to get in some fun CPU matches without going full story mode, but it is frustrating that the pause menu only works in battle, meaning you have to sit through a bit of waiting and then another full match loading if you want to back out and try a fresh run after seeing the results of a particular battle.

But really, the main question about any fighting game is whether it’s fun to play against another human being, and the answer to that, at least for Dragon Ball fans, is likely a resounding yes. My initial impression—aside from Android 18 and Killin having a special attack together still being the best thing ever—was that I instantly wanted to learn to play every single character in the game, and that’s entirely to do with how satisfying it is to pull off all their moves in wonderfully flashy glory.

There’s just nothing quite like landing a combo that leads into a special attack and bringing your teammates in on the action for massive damage, the feeling of pride when managing to block Goku’s teleporting Kamehameha, or ending a battle with one of the moves that leads to a special finishing scene:

That’s a particularly specific one, but there are lots of attacks that will end the battle by flinging your opponent through mountains, blasting them off into space, or destroying them along with the planet.

The controls are also pretty easy to pick up, with a bit of homing flight, simple combos, and special attacks that are mostly performed with variations of the familiar quarter-circle button combo, with only a few exceptions. Things get deeper when you start to mix things up on your own and find combos that work best with different characters, but the difficulty is more in learning when and how to use different abilities and moves—and in getting comfortable enough with all your options to keep up with the frenetic pace—than it is in mastering complex button combinations.

Overall, though, Dragon Ball fans like myself are really the people I’d recommend this game to. As a fighting game, it’s well made, and it looks good, but the real draw is the cast of familiar characters and watching the moves they pull off together and Easter eggs that heighten the feel of the anime.

The game debuts tomorrow on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Random thoughts:

It’s weird that the cinematic long-distance chase animation resulting from a “dragon rush” only ends up with the fighters a fairly short distance away on the same stage, rather than move to a new stage section as fighting games have been doing for a long time.

I didn’t notice at first, because I had the Japanese voices on, but it doesn’t seem like lip movements were adjusted to match the optional English voice acting at all.

The game wasn’t playable online yet, so I can’t yet weigh in on that functionality.

Bandai Namco provided a copy of the game for the purposes of this review.

(images: Bandai Namco)

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Dan is many things, including a game developer, animator, martial artist, and at least semi-professional pancake chef. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (his dog), both of whom are the best.