I have followed the Dragon Ball anime series all the way through my adulthood and loved every fight, character and saga over the decades that have both thrilled me and inspired my love of fighting games. That said, when it came to this series crossing over into my other passion of fighting video games, it always left me a little wanting. Till now that is as for the first time there is a Dragon Ball video game that not only kicks the butt of the entire fighting game genre into a new level but also delivers the close to perfect Dragon Ball experience I could have in a game. I am so happy to be another one on the band wagon singing the praises of Dragon Ball FighterZ and I am going to tell you why this game is perhaps the most refreshing fighting game in recent years.
It is a rare thing for me to say a game is the total package but boy does Dragon Ball FighterZ deserve that title as it offers so much content for those who like the single player experience and it certainly delivers a competitive and rewarding online experience for more experience fighting game players. It packs so much into this game but it never once forgets the little details that a game based on such an iconic anime series like Dragon Ball should have in order to bring an immersive experience that can enhance it for those who are fans of the series and know it intimately but also at the very same time to still be accessible to new comers to both Dragon Ball and the 3 on 3 tag team style of fighting game.
So I will start with the single player content and no finer place to start than the surprisingly awesome Story mode which comes in the form of three story arcs, each telling the main story but from different perspectives to it. The first focuses on Goku and our heroes as they discover that the world has been ransacked by clones of all the Z fighters and Villains from Dragon Ball history with no explanation as to where they came from or why they are here. To top it off the big bad super villains in Frieza and Cell have been restored back to life along with the Ginyu Force so our heroes are facing a dangerous threat which they must investigate and stop. The big element here comes in the form of mysterious energy waves which have blocked everyone from accessing their powers making them unable to fight as they normally would. Goku then discovers that a human soul has somehow been linked to him and has control of his body and that this soul is able to use his powers so now Goku must rely on the soul to do the fighting for him.
What struck me straight away are the visuals to the game which are so close in quality to the anime itself that it feels like you are part of and making your own Dragon Ball anime series. Combine that with the original English and Japanese voice cast reprising their characters for the game adds purity that many other fighting games lack. But it is the visuals and animation that capture all the little nuances of each character so brilliantly you would as a fan, truly feel as though this is the animation series and not a bespoke creation just for the game. The dialogue between the characters is so much fun as they reference things from the Dragon Ball history such as previous battles with each other to the wonderful way in which the characters deal with meeting their own clones just before a fight. There are so many nods for fans to appreciate but at the same time it also takes the time to give some context for anyone knew or unfamiliar with Dragon Ball in order for them to get the joke the next time such as how the Ginyu Force like to perform a dance before each fight ending with a classic hero team pose which Frieza constantly stops them from doing and at one point Goku himself even asks Frieza why they perform this dance for a really funny moment between them. So when the Ginyu Force actually perform their dance when they are introduced, it gives the player and audience that context needed whilst those like me who know them from the anime get it straight away and it is just smiles all round.
Each story arc has chapters which come in the form of a series of cut scenes that progress the story as you fight your way through that chapter’s map. Now this was a little strange to start with but essentially each chapter takes the form of a board which you have a limited about of movements to move around the map, completing the fights there before reaching the boss fight for that map. Majority of the fights are just standard kicking the crap out of a team of clones but every so often you will be given the chance to rescue a main character who will them become available to select for your team. The more you rescue as the story progresses, the more options you have in putting your three character team together. The first arc really serves as a rather long, if still fun, tutorial which means if you have already completed the training tasks from the home hub, you will be repeating them again here and quite often throughout the first story arc which does become a little tedious after the tenth time of learning how to throw a punch. But it does work as an introduction into how the fighting system works and is instantly transferable into the competitive side.
I also really enjoyed how the story introduces a brand new character to the series in the form of Android 21, but I will avoid spoiling the story by going into her story too much here. What I also appreciated by telling the story via three different perspective is that each arc serves to build on the main story by filling in the gaps from the previous arc so for example in the second arc which tells the story from Frieza’s point of view the player gets to see what happens away from the role the heroes play with a different spin on certain cut-scenes. It is simply one of the best designed, written and executed story modes in a fighting game since Injustice 2 for me and just adds that extra element for fans. It is thoroughly enjoyable and though the pacing can be a little slow during the later arcs, there is at least ten hours of fun content to work through whilst learning the ropes to the game.
Along with the story mode comes a superb arcade mode which adapts to your performance which is graded. The higher the grade you get will move you to a level with a tougher fight than if you achieved a lower grade in the last fight. The best rewards are given for achieving and maintaining a high standard of grade throughout that arcade run. There are different runs to be picked before and then higher difficulty versions are unlocked are completing them first time out. This is a great follow up and also a way to play the game if the online competitive side is not your thing and a great way of testing out different characters to see how they work together whilst perfecting your own fighting style.
Which brings me to the fighting system itself and if you are familiar with the tag team style of fighters then you can really sink your teeth into this right away. This system has clearly learned from other tag team style games such as MARVEL Vs Capcom and taken the best aspects and then improved them to a new level here. You pick three characters, each with their own special moves and combos and they can be switched out using the LB and LT buttons. A quick press will call that character in for a quick assistance in an attack and holding them down will tag them in to take over. It also has a instinctive auto-combo system which by pressing a move button repeatedly will start a combo right away, so even if you are not the best at remembering long combo strings, can give the satisfaction of delivering a big combo. The beauty is that this does not prevent more experienced or high level players from putting together their own combos by linking these together and mixing them up for some staggering and deadly combinations but by having this auto-combo system to let in players of all levels it just makes this an experience for everyone to enjoy.
The visuals again come into play here as all the iconic super moves and special moves of the characters have been so beautifully recreated for the game that every explosion and KO animation is just a delight and exciting moment every time they are on screen. Such attention to detail has been put into each character and their moves that there really is a huge joy when you complete a fight with a big Destructive Finish animation or when you smash an opponent off screen into a building or mountain just as they would in the anime. The control system is so accessible as well that soon you will be mastering the moves and leaving the practice down to selecting which three characters suit you best but also compliment each other the best which is why the excellent training area in the home hub as well as the arcade mode play such a crucial part in getting the best from this game.
The ultimate challenge comes in the online competitive fighting where players take their best teams and go up against other players. With the traditional ranked and casual matches available, I found that currently the online is a much smoother experience than at launch, something that the developers acknowledged due to the unexpected surge of players to the game but thankfully, issues with matchmaking and the only lobby system seems to have been resolved for the most part. I only experienced a few times where the game put me in matches with players of a much higher rank which just gave me a butt whooping to remember but overall the online is a very stable environment to enjoy and to really hone and test your skills against other players. It even has a replay system where you can download and view your own matches and those of other players adding another way to learn new techniques from other players or just revisit your own matches.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is the tag team style game I have been waiting for, especially with the dismal last MARVEL Vs Capcom Infinite title. It brings the Dragon Ball series up to date and refreshes the genre to such a degree that it really came as no surprise today to learn that this years EVO 2018 eSports Fighting Tournament has included Dragon Ball FighterZ in the line up, which is a massive thumbs up to the hard work that has clearly gone into perfecting this fighting system, highlighted again by the fact that for the first time that the MARVEL Vs Capcom series has been dropped. This game has won over hardcore fighting players and newcomers alike and the manner in which is showcases everything that makes Dragon Ball so amazing for fans of the anime and video games is something to be celebrated.
With DLC plans to add to the roster even more characters, including some from the current Dragon Ball Super anime saga and you have a fighting game that has hit the ground running and is only going to get better for players to enjoy. It has been such a real joy to play this and it has already become my go to fighting game both online and offline as I really enjoy the Arcade mode. Dragon Ball FighterZ really is the complete package for Dragon Ball fans and for fighting game fans that it deserves all the high praise it has already received and of being included in the EVO 2018 lineup.
My dreams of taking Goku and Vegetta into battle against Kid Buu, Frieza and Cell have been realised and if the DLC can continue to bring more iconic characters from the series into the game, I am going to be a very happy man indeed. It is almost as if I found all the Dragon Balls, summoned the Great Shenron and made a wish that this game would be in my console.