When Arc System Works first announced they were working on a new 2D fighting game set in the Dragon Ball universe, I lost it immediately. The game looked superb from the get go, whenever I got my hands on it at trade shows I came away impressed, and the possibility for a new story centered around a new character designed just for this game had me over the moon. As a longtime Dragon Ball and fighting game fan, how does the final product stand up to my expectations? Is Dragon Ball FighterZ a fully-fleshed out fighting game, or is it something that might be finished in two years?
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 26th, 2018
The technowizards working under Arc System Works have done it again – only now they’ve turned up their artistry to 11 and have blown away my expectations in terms of how good a fighter coming from them can look. The game is absolutely stunning in motion, it literally feels like you’re playing the anime in real time, only rarely did I feel like something wasn’t superb.
Overall the character models, movement, dialogue, and most especially the special attacks all shine brilliantly. The game’s visuals all come together for an excellent visual experience, so much attention to detail has been made when it comes to how characters move and interact with each other – despite the absurdity of fighting in the Dragon Ball universe.
One of my favorite things with the games visuals is how expressive the character faces can get in dialogue scenes. A story component to a fighting game is usually something falling between goofy hamfest and boring confrontations, however, the funny and emotive reactions from characters made it a very enjoyable thing to follow.
First and foremost, the controls and overall playability of the characters in Dragon Ball FighterZ are superb, an expected level of quality from the folks at Arc System Works. If you’ve been playing other fighters, this developer is known for striking an excellent balance with accessibility and really deep strategy that fighting game veterans crave.
Once I had more time to dump into experimenting with characters and their individual playstyles, I found some favorites with Vegeta and Majin Buu, with Goku and Yamcha being swapped here and there. You have the standard light, medium, and heavy attacks – as well as a fourth special attack. Naturally these all change and feel different pending your active character.
Selecting an ideal team for your playstyle is critical, if you simply try finding who you think is easier to spam or abuse you’re going to have a bad time. You need to strive for a balance and for characters that can bounce off each other, both with assist attacks and with swapping characters out mid-combo. Mastering switching other characters in constantly is a must for survival.
I will say that I feel like super special attacks, or what most fighting games simply call super attacks or super moves, feel a bit too easy to pull off. When you have at least one full special meter you can unleash your basic super special attack with a quarter circle and a single face button. This simply feels too easy compared to some notorious button combinations, but I digress.
Despite super special attacks being easy to pop, you’ll have to make sure you can properly combo into them or set them up like any other fighting game. Battles zip and fly in a ridiculous cavalcade of delights reminiscent of the very anime that popularized Dragon Ball worldwide. On the whole, the mechanics in this fighter are just superb and encourage experimentation.
I waited to review the game until I could play its online component as well. Despite some reports of the games servers running into issues, I’ve been having a mostly lag-free experience. When there is lag, naturally, your match is pretty much over – however I’ve been mostly pleased with the limited number of latency spikes I’ve noticed. It needs work, but it’s solid thus far.
The in-game lobby that you hang out in both in offline and online modes lets you select your preferred character avatar, all of which are unlocked via the in-game gacha-like store. You unlock new skin colors, new avatars, as well as new titles via this store. It’s fun and adds more replayability to the already very replayable game.
The game’s Japanese and English voice cast are superb as per the course with the Dragon Ball series, most especially the English actors as I’ve always watched the series in English. It feels and sounds like you’re jumping right into another story arc within the series, right down to the banter found in between fights. It’s hilarious and awesome, and I simply want more.
Music in the game is a nice mix of instrumental tracks that range from the hard rock previously found in the series to more soft and melodic pieces. This combined with once again excellent voice work and the expected sound effects that pack a punch gives an auditory experience that can only be found in Dragon Ball. There were some typos here and there but it’s nothing too bad.
Without delving into spoilers, the game’s story is focused around a “what if” story where Android 16 is somehow revived and a new Android 21 appears. There are clones of both the Z fighters and the assorted villains from a number of story arcs. Each chapter has a map that has a bunch of points for each battle, with each battle consisting of different clones – while some are real characters.
Overall the story is really fun, really silly at times, and mostly comes off as a fanfiction of sorts – only this is an officially developed property within the series. Friends and rivals alike take jabs at each other the same way they did in the past, and everyone comes off just like they do in the anime. Honestly if you’re a fan of the series this is like a wet dream in terms of included characters.
As you experiment with different characters, you’ll find they all interact differently with one another, and their enemies. Old rivals like Goku and Frieza will go ballistic over the chance of fighting each other again, Vegeta makes an attempt at cutting into Majin Buu’s ego and fails, and even Yamcha gets the chance to redeem himself.
Arc System Works and Bandai Namco have a true winner on their hands with Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game is a top notch effort for both fighting games and anime-to-game adaptations, and it has mostly impressed me from start to finish. It’s the kind of fighting game that makes you want more of it: more characters, more levels, more modes, and hopefully a community that stays.
I was thoroughly impressed with Dragon Ball FighterZ and cannot recommend it enough to both fighting game fans and or fans of the Dragon Ball universe. It may have some minor issues here and there as it just launched, but this is a fighter you cannot pass up.
Dragon Ball FighterZ was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a review copy provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Gorgeous, vibrant graphics that look like the anime come to life
- Solidly built, easy to learn yet harder to master combos and controls
- Fun story that is basically like official fan-fiction
- Fun in-game gacha unlocking system
- Some random typos in the subtitles or off-ish English dubs – most are good
- Netcode is usually good but has some issues typical with a fighting game launch
- Super special attacks are too easy to pull off