It all began back in the early 1980s when a Japanese artist named Akira Toriyama created the story of the young boy known as Son-Goku.
It’s been over 30 years since then, and all this time fans of Dragon Ball have been waiting for a game that properly captures the feel of the series. Have Arc System Works succeeded in creating such a game? Let’s find out!
Story Mode: Enter Android 21
Dragon Ball games have almost always been focused on covering the original story of the series and at times even the extended universe (Dragon Ball GT), with only minor exceptions with games like Dragon Ball Xenoverse or Dragon Ball Fusions. Dragon Ball FighterZ puts the player in an entirely original storyline during its roughly 10-hour campaign, including three different plot arcs. Android 21 is a worthy villain in the Dragon Ball universe and the first major female one at that. The use of the Red Ribbon Army for this purpose is justified and her abilities as an android to perform a multitude of attacks just like Cell including power-absorption make sense.
While the plot is a bit on the nose, the writers stayed true to the tonality of the series and its humor. There are countless times where the Goku and friends have conversations between fights or before them that could have come directly out of the source material. Each character is portrayed perfectly with their unique quirks voice actors, ranging from a naive and simple Son-Goku and a proud and angry Vegeta to a highly arrogant and evil Frieza. As a fan of the franchise since the early 90s, I haven’t seen any game accomplish this with an original Dragon Ball story.
The basic premise of the story is that Android 21 has created waves that affect all the fighters and weakens them. She then tries to combine those fighters with a human soul, something she calls “linking.” Thus the fighters can increase their power, all while Android 21 tries to harvest as much energy as she can by eating strong fighters like Cell or Buu. The linked human soul in this scenario is the player, who can take full control of the fighter. Since everyone is affected by this, the developers were smart to make it believable, at least in this story, that even fighters like Tien or Yamcha can compete against much stronger foes and clones of mightier warriors. The clones of the existing roster of fighters have also been created by Android 21 to serve as bits of nourishment as her appetite makes her weaker and angry.
I don’t want to spoil anything from the plot, but I can confirm that, yes, it is quirky and shallow. But it fits the canon of the series and brings the best original story to a Dragon Ball game we’ve had yet.
Here’s screenshot gallery for your convenience. You will find everything I touch upon in this article here, including the lobby, story mode, and gameplay.
Gameplay in the story mode involves of a virtual board you can move around and pick fights with certain criteria on. Your moves are limited, but I didn’t have an issue experiencing everything the map had to offer. You get access to a limited cast of characters for each arc and have to manage their stamina throughout countless fights. These fights are mostly 3v3 with a few 3v2 fights and the occasional 3v1 fight against, for example, a cloned Kid Buu. There are different types of fights you can find here, simple fights against an enemy that will grant you experience points and an item, rescue missions that will give you a new fighter for the story missions, or tutorial fights that teach you some basic maneuvers like the available practice mode.
While it can get monotonous after a while, the funny cutscenes and fast fights will let you see it through in no time. The difficulty is moderate and only spikes with certain fights. Most of the time I encountered very passive foes, but every fifth fight or so, I struggled against an immensely aggressive AI that would take the better half of my health with just one combo.
Accessibility: Easy to learn, fun to master!
Besides the story mode, Dragon Ball FighterZ provides you with two other modes dedicated to offline play and training: the practice mode and the arcade mode. Without a doubt, FighterZ is a very accessible and easy to learn fighting game. Possibly one of the easiest I have played in recent years. Practice mode teaches you every mechanic and basic strategy to win in a fight, with simple commands and one button combos. When you can perform a basic Hadouken, you already have access to all super skills in the game and things don’t get much harder. Arc System Works have developed a tight and intuitive control scheme that gives every button a purpose and lets even beginners perform impressive moves and combos. Mash the mid-attack button and you perform a lengthy combo with (provided you have enough Ki stored) a super attack at the end that counts beyond 20 hits and usually takes away a big chunk of an enemy’s health bar.
The arcade mode is another place where you can test your might against the AI. It has more in-depth difficulty settings, making it a nice way of testing out new strategies while placing yourself somewhere between fights that are too easy or too hard.
Loot boxes are the current bane of every player both online and offline, but a sheer delight to developers and publishers who benefit from the extra cash flow. Dragon Ball FighterZ has its loot boxes, but the wonderful difference between what players hate is that these capsules don’t cost real money. In fact, the game showers you with the in-game currency called Zeni and lets you purchase many of these during your playtime. It’s easy to get them; just complete simple missions or play the story mode and boom, you are rich. It has been reported that Bandai Namco will not offer real-money exchanges for these capsules. They’ll only monetize DLC for the game.
I also want to highlight here that Arc System Works have done a great job of giving players of all skill levels the chance to get the exclusive Super Saiyan Blue Goku and Vegeta without having pre-ordered the game or buying them for $1.99. You can earn them through playing the arcade mode on hard under a certain rank or by collecting a certain amount of Zeni. I find this to be a very smart and fair solution, as every type of player has a chance at getting the exclusive content.
Online: Wasted potential?
Dragon Ball FighterZ features various online modes to enjoy against friends or strangers. There are casual matches, ranked matches, and local lobby matches.
The problems with the online modes have continued through the game’s first weekend unfortunately. By the time you read this review, they might have (and should have) done something about it. As it stands, I can’t vouch for an error-free or lag-free experience playing the game online. At times it’s very smooth, but other times I can’t even connect to the lobby and have to manually choose another one. The game is super fun, especially playing against skilled players from around the globe, but the performance is abysmal with hiccups, disconnects and immense lag 30-50% of the time. This was my major critique during the beta, and for now is still the weakest part of the game by far.
It’s over 9000!!!?
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a delight for Dragon Ball fans and fighting game enthusiasts alike. The perfect presentation of the characters and encapsulation of the overall tone of the franchise shows the deep appreciation and respect of the developer towards the source material. Arc System Works have delivered a fast-paced and intense fighting game with a lot of flair.
I would argue that the initial roster of characters is a bit small, though they found a cool way to integrate some more fighters as cameos without making them playable. For example, Ginyu can summon his comrades during battle or Android 18 can call Android 17 for help on a super move. Even some transformations found their way into the game: Goku jumps to Super Saiyan 3 during a super-attack, Frieza can transform to his golden form in battle, gaining an attack and defense boost, and so on.
With its, in my opinion, minor problems in online play and nerve-racking button pushes during cutscenes to advance the conversation, the overall impression is fantastic. It’s one of those games that you will return multiple times during the year to experience the phenomenon that is Dragon Ball.
“A love letter to the Dragon Ball legacy and a solid fighting game”
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a hit, and it’s sure to stay with us for 2018 and beyond provided the network issues are sorted out. I have no problem saying that this is the best Dragon Ball game we’ve seen to date, and it’s only going to get better as more content is added to the game over time.