The epic science-fiction/fantasy/superhero anime, Dragon Ball, is one steeped in legacy. It has multitudes of story arcs which have, over time, been transformed into a stupendous number of games and movies. Dragon Ball fans stretch around the entire world, and that is for many different kinds of reasons. I am one, thus my excitement for Dragon Ball FighterZ (2018) is almost tangible.
I fondly remember tuning in to SABC 2 day after day, week after week, and year after year, just to see the next episode in the series’ unforgivingly long and epic fights. Colour me impressed when I learnt about the fact that it was all based on a manga, and that the needless “filler” episodes were only introduced into the story because the manga had to catch up to the anime. Sadly, I could never really get into the manga, as much as I loved comics at the time. As such, I delved into the world of video games. My first foray into Dragon Ball styled games came courtesy of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 (1995).
The reason I am bringing Ultimate Battle 22 to the forefront is because Dragon Ball FighterZ immediately made me think about it, right from the first trailer. Much like Ultimate Battle 22, FighterZ features animation and gameplay that looks like it has been ripped right from the anime. Unlike Ultimate Battle 22, however, FighterZ is the best darn Dragon Ball game yet!
It is all about an over-powered lady robot [Story]
No good modern game can go without a story — unless it is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017) — and Dragon Ball FighterZ is no exception. The single-player campaign is a lengthy, yet original, story that centres around an invasion of clones. These clones all take the form of the various super powered warriors in the universe. This army of clones is led by a brand new character introduced into the story: Android 21. She is a female-looking android that happens to be Dr Gero’s latest and finest creation (no word on how it holds up to Super 17 — if that is even canon anymore), and she wants to take over the world.
At the start of the game, the player wakes up to a bewildered Bulma. She quickly tells you that you are in-fact, Goku. It is soon discovered that Goku is still himself, but that the player is a driving force inside him and every other Z Warrior out there. It does not take long to figure out what is going on, as Android 16 makes an appearance that explains it all.
Android 21 has cloned every hero and villain throughout history, and, as a result, has caused all of those respective characters to lose consciousness. Only with the help of the player, who links up with these characters after lengthy fights, will they be able to regain consciousness and join the fray.
All in all, the story could be completed in an easy five or six hours. However, this is Dragon Ball, and what is Dragon Ball without filler? Although I was not expecting the game to have filler, it is here and rears its ugly head fairly often. You see, perhaps my only problem with Dragon Ball FighterZ’s story, is that it takes forever to get anything done. The unnecessary filler, along with needing to fight the same clones over and over with each passing chapter, can be quite tedious. While this is not boring in and of itself, what is time consuming is how many times you have to do it to “grind” your way to a high enough level for the chapter boss. Perhaps if the grind had a story, like the filler in the anime, it would be bearable. Alas it does not. The most you will get out of these ‘grinds’ are a few spoken lines about how the clones look like their respective heroes.
At first, and during our Dragon Ball FighterZ Vamers Livestream, I felt very reserved about the way the story felt. It gave off heavy ‘Visual Novel’ vibes. It even went so far as to make the player press the X button (on PlayStation 4), just to continue a single line of dialogue! After playing a good three or four hours more, however, I began to get used to the rhythmic gameplay. Press X to continue cutscene, fight when the cutscene is over (more on this below).
There are three main story arcs in Dragon Ball FighterZ. The first deals with Goku and the heroes. All of whom must go against Android 21. It forms the introduction to the game and does a good job of setting everything up. Needless to say, by the time that I unlocked the second story arc and essentially “finished” the main campaign, according to the first arc’s flavour-text, I ended up appreciating it very much.
There are one or two spoilers ahead in terms of story Arc 2 and 3 of Dragon Ball FighterZ. Nothing major, but if you like surprises, then simply skip ahead to the next section.
With that said, the second arc was a decent surprise. Instead of “continuing” the story in the traditional sense, the story began again. Only this time, the player starts in Frieza’s body, with Android 16 taking Bulma’s place. Throughout this arc, the player rescues and drafts all of the playable villains in the game in order to combat Android 21.
In the third and final story arc, titled Android 21 Arc, you finally get to learn the actual motives behind 21’s stunts. In this arc, Androids 18 and a good 21 are the main characters.
All it needs is Great Saiyaman [Gameplay]
Most Dragon Ball video games that have come out in the last decade have all been based around 3D and lifelike animation. The results have not been bad, but they have also not been as authentic as they could be toward the anime. Despite this, Dragon Ball Xenoverse (2015) is still one of the best fighters I have ever played, with its own original story based on Future Trunks and his time travelling buddies. Xenoverse 2 (2016) was an alright sequel that ended up feeling more like a straight-to-DVD follow-up than it should have, but it still offered an enjoyable experience. The problem is that both of those games lacked a certain something: a true visual likeness to the anime it was based on. This is where Dragon Ball FighterZ absolutely shines.
I will talk more about the aesthetics of the game later, but for now let me mention how much they work in tandem with the gameplay and how good it all works together. Anyone who has watched the Dragon Ball anime knows that fighting is a large part of the series. Some might argue it is the core of the show. Thankfully, Dragon Ball FighterZ is first and foremost, a fighting game. We know this and, I am happy to say, Arc System Works definitely does too. Fighting is pretty much all you ever do in the game, besides pressing X to read more text. This is why the fighting needs to be done well, and it is incredible in this game.
At first, combos seem very limited and simple — this is unlike what I am used to, having clocked hundreds of hours in Injustice 2 (2017). At the same time, however, it is also incredibly well done. Besides the basic two-direction-one-button special attacks and simple button-mashing combos, there are hidden combos that activate as you press the correct sequence of buttons. This is a nice little touch added to the game, and a great way to have your favourite fighters make a move that you did not think was possible. It is especially good for new players.
Similarly, the combat system also features a tag-team mechanic. At any time, you can take a team of up to three fighters into a fight. Throughout the fight, you can press either of the shoulder buttons to tag another fighter into the fight. This mechanic also extends to a quick support system. By quickly tapping the shoulder buttons, the next available fighter will quickly hop into the battle to aid your current fighter, before hopping right back out. This mechanic can be used during multiple combos, and attacks, or during the time that you are charging your fighter’s ki. This is a great mechanic that not many other fighting games have used as flawlessly.
Outside of fights, you are transported to a hub world where you can run around and interact with other players through a chibi version of your favourite Dragon Ball character. I sported the likeness of chibi Captain Ginyu for most of my run, because he is just so darned cute in that form. In this hub world you can either enter player-versus-player arenas, where your chosen team of three fighters goes up against another player; practice your combos and special moves in the practice and arcade modes; or finish up and unlock all the secrets that the story mode offers.
This leads me to the story mode mechanics in Dragon Ball FighterZ. While fighting stays the same, you progress through the story in a pretty unique way: via the overworld map. In this case, it works a lot like a board game where you have to move your character from one spot on the board to the next before all of your moves run out. On the way to the chapter’s boss, you will land on spots that contain clone versions of other characters. These spots decide who the clones are that you are fighting, and what arena you will fight in. Kid Buu makes random appearances throughout each chapter, taking over another clone’s spot, and sucking up their power. Buu is a super-powered fight that sometimes proves to be more challenging than the chapter boss! There are also tutorial fights against clones, which are just the same tutorials over and over again. Completing them nets you extra Zeni and experience. So doing them is a good way to grind those levels.
In terms of grind, I must admit that it felt a tad tedious. Although you do not need to be the same level as the chapter boss in order to proceed, it really helps to be at least in the same region. With that said, most chapter bosses are only one or two villains, as opposed to three. As such, your team of three level 18 fighters can easily down a level 22 Kid Buu, or level 36 Android 21. So long as you get your combos right, and learn how to block. Something that I only learned to do during the hardest fights in the game.
Even the 24-character starting roster is pretty sweet. It contains a few random characters, such as Nappa, that I would never think to add to the roster. Nevertheless, they are welcome additions. Now all it really needs is Great Saiyaman.
As with most modern titles, there are loot boxes. I mean, what would a game in 2018 be without them, right? Well, fortunately, loot boxes in Dragon Ball FighterZ are nowhere near as intrusive as you might think. Loot boxes in the game are called Capsules, and all capsules contain one or two collectibles. These collectibles include costumes and colours for the hub-world Chibi avatars as well as for the Z Warriors in the arcade and player-versus-player modes. Some Capsules might also contain titles that hover over your head as you run about, and random power-ups that you can use in story mode. Capsules can be purchased using Zeni or Premium Z Coins.
Whether you win or lose, Zeni can be raked up through just about any mode in Dragon Ball FighterZ. Whereas Z Coins are earned when you get duplicate items from a Capsule. Once you have enough Zeni or Z Coins, you can go to the shop in the hub world to buy either 1 Capsule for 1000 Zeni, or 10 at a time for 10 000 Zeni. Similarly, you can buy one loot box for each Z Coin you have.
Best of all? There is no way to buy Zeni or Z Coins with real money, and there are no intrusive messages or reasons to buy them with real cash. Finally, a loot box system that compliments the game rather than acting as a substitute for a lack of features.
In terms of playing the game online, I can gladly say that it felt like a breeze. While opponents tended to be a lot faster than I at button mashing, I felt that there was no skill-ceiling holding me back. I won about as much as I lost, and it was usually just because I failed to block or teleport away from special attacks and combos.
In terms of lag, I can also say that the game performs well on slower networks. I have a 4mbps ADSL connection at home, and it was more than enough to play the game online. Needless to say, you should not have any issues playing the game online, so long as the game still has people playing it by the time you decide to buy it.
Not even Krillin’s beautiful head is this smooth [Performance & Visuals]
The thing that I love the most about Dragon Ball FighterZ, and this is not even a stretch, is the fact that no other Dragon Ball game has ever come close to looking as good as this one does. It is true that some games have come close — just look at Ultimate Battle 22. While that game looks bad now, one must note that it came out when we still watched the anime on big ol’ 4×3 ratio television screens. Since then, however, the anime has moved on to adopt today’s technologies and beautiful, vivid colours and resolutions. The game, I am glad to say, has followed suit.
You see, when you look at the anime and then look at the game, you would be hard-pressed to find any real differences between the two! While the cutscenes are a hit-or-miss because of its 3D animations and camera angles, fights might as well have been ripped straight out of the show. From charging up your fighter’s Ki to racking up those hits — everything just looks and feels like you are controlling the outcome of the show. The closest and best example I can give you is to look at Future Trunks’ skills and attacks. From slashing the opponent in bits and pieces, with an explosion at the end; to racking up combos with his various special attacks, it all look exactly as it does in the show. An impressive feat, and a job well done by Arc System Works.
Not only does it look great, it also runs at a full 1080p, 60-frames-per-second on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One; 4K ultra-high definition on PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X; and most resolutions, with an added texture upscale option, on PC. Regardless of where you play the game, performance is solid. I can also gladly confirm that the game did not hitch once during my time with it on the PlayStation 4. Loading is also a breeze and only takes a hot minute or so when booting the game. Everything else loads quite quickly thereafter.
If there is one area where I feel loading is hit-or-miss, it is during fights in story mode. Sometimes it takes me less than ten seconds to load into a fight or cutscene, and other times it would take entire minutes. I have no idea if my connection has anything to do with it, but that has been my experience.
Better than a Sensu bean [Conclusion]
When all is said and done, I can do nothing but recommend Dragon Ball FighterZ to just about anyone who loves fighting games, the anime, or even both. It really is a spectacular title. While the story may feel sluggish at first, it picks up fairy quickly. You also get used to how it plays within an hour of playing. While the ‘visual novel’ style of gameplay is not for everyone, those moments go by fast and then you are right back into the thick of it, fighting to win.
The game has a lot going for it. It has a decent roster of characters, and everyone plays well with the same button layouts. There are a decent number of arenas, and player-versus-player matches feel exactly the same as those in the story. It also looks stunning. I have never played a game that looks as close to the source material (or at least the anime that came from the source material) than this.
Dragon Ball FighterZ, if given the chance to play out by itself, would make a spectacular extra-long Dragon Ball episode (minus the countless hordes of clone battles) and is one I would continue to watch (play) for years to come.
|Time to Complete||10+ Hours|
|Acquisition||Review copy courtesy of Megarom Interactive|