Dragon Ball FighterZ review
If you don’t like fighting games, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the game for you. If you don’t even like Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the game for you.
Both of those statements sound contradictory, but hear me out. When Arc System Works announced that it was making a 2D, 3-on-3 fighter based on the Dragon Ball franchise, it immediately united fans of both fighting games and Dragon Ball in their excitement. Now, after the constant stream of hype from gameplay showings, character reveals, and beta tests leading up to its release, Dragon Ball FighterZ emerges as one of the fastest, most gorgeously detailed and most cleverly accessible fighting games ever made. But arguably the best part about it is that you don’t need to know much about fighting games or Dragon Ball to really enjoy it.
Dragon Ball FighterZ’s most apparent feature is its astounding presentation and visuals. As soon as you load into the game, you’re greeted with an explosion of color-changing pointy hair, blasting power beams, and the shredding electric guitar riffs of Japanese butt rock. Arc System Works has absolutely nailed the look and feel of Dragon Ball using its unique version of the Unreal 4 engine, which the studio also used to create the gorgeous 2D animation of Guilty Gear Xrd. The perfectly rendered characters, the flashy over-the-top attacks, and the incredible speed of it all make it easy to immerse yourself in what’s cool about Dragon Ball, even for the uninitiated. I could spend paragraphs describing what the game looks like in motion - but words can’t entirely do it justice, so just see for yourself:
All of that may look and sound awesome, but it must be hard to pull off while playing the game, right? Wrong. DBFZ incorporates a new combo system that allows even the most inexperienced player to perform impressive-looking chains of attacks. By simply mashing the light, medium or heavy attack buttons, you’ll get autocombos that link, launch, chase, and super without fail. This is a great way to show off what the game can do, familiarize yourself with your chosen team of characters, and make new players feel powerful without the usual hours of practice. It gives low-level play a competitive range of its own by removing the barrier of learning combo timing and inputs, indirectly teaching casual players to focus on their fundamental moves, spacing, and punishing.
Thankfully, this system doesn’t come at the expense of depth; the autocombos are an integral part of gameplay whether you’re mashing or not. Many unique normal attacks and links can only be achieved through autocombos, but extending those combos must be done with precise inputs, smart use of assists, and knowledge of each character’s intricacies and matchups.
For example, an ordinary autocombo from mashing light attack would deal a few hits on the ground before launching into a brief air combo and knocking the opponent into the ground again. By contrast, a “true combo” may involve the first few hits of that autocombo, but after the launch, it instead relies on a specific performance of light to medium links and diagonal jumps, creating a fantastic display of dozens of hits and often ending in a super for major damage. That’s only the tip of the iceberg - different characters break this mold in different ways, and assists mix thing up even further. There’s more than enough here for fighting game stalwarts to dissect, discover, and adapt.
This system makes DBFZ extremely fun at both high and low skill levels, but it does present slight drawbacks for mid-level play. Autocombos don’t scale any more than normal combos in this game, which means they can do the same amount of damage (or more) as an input-dependent and heavily practiced combo of similar length. This gives low-skill players little motivation to get better, and high-skill players with versus fighter experience can easily string together long combos that dwarf a mid-level player’s damage.
While it’s clear that the autocombos are not a bad thing at all, they could have been handled a bit better with a scaling system. Perhaps something in the vein of The King of Fighters XIV, which reduced your damage the more you mashed. Those trying to move past the mashing of low-level play, learn the particulars of the game, and compete using their own combos have a long road ahead of them. It doesn’t help that the game’s combo trials are half-baked, with most of each character’s trials being “mash out an autocombo” or “do one or two special moves.”
But no matter what level of play you’re on, you can always enjoy the game’s incredible production values. DBFZ is a beautiful, polished and fluid game on the surface, but digging a bit deeper reveals its meticulous attention to detail and a veritable trove of fan service. A genuine care for minutiae and love for its source material went into this game, and it results in a ton of delightful little moments as you steadily realize that.
Knocking a character out with a heavy attack shoots them backwards through mountains or skyscrapers - and into the next stage. Finishing a fight with a character’s strongest super attack causes an explosion that can be seen from space. Even deflecting an energy ball sends it flying into the background, damaging part of the stage. From dramatic finishes that show Goku going Super Saiyan after Frieza kills Krillin to goofy one-offs like Yamcha taking revenge on Nappa by blasting a Saibaman into his face, it really can’t be overstated how much this game dotes on longtime Dragon Ball fans.
The single-player content tries to pour on the fan service even more by putting you, the player, directly into the story mode. At first, this story mode seems promising; characters talk to and about the “soul” (you) possessing them, and it looks similar to Soul Calibur II’s Weapon Master mode, where you travel an overworld getting into various fights and acquiring new weapons (or in this case, other characters to add to your team). But rather than an interesting series of individual fights and dungeons that bend the rules of the game, DBFZ’s story mode has you battling a constant stream of clone characters that are little more than punching bags. Perhaps the worst part is that one of the game’s playable characters is locked behind all three campaigns of the story mode, which will take you upwards of 12 hours to beat even if you take on as few fights as possible.
Other than that, the game’s modes are a bit of a mixed bag - at least as of this writing. Arcade mode is a neat little twist on the classic structure, designed as a gauntlet of different AI teams that get harder the better you do and providing better rewards depending on the tier you finish at. The game’s online netcode is also surprisingly solid… when it’s working. Ranked and casual matches are smooth and consistent, but the servers are currently being hit so hard by the popularity of this game that arena matches and friend lobbies are almost always broken. This will likely improve once Arc System Works can patch the problem, but it’s still a bummer that online functionality is mostly busted at launch.
Dragon Ball FighterZ may not be completely free of issues, but it is an outstandingly well-crafted fighting game that has the potential to be the next big competitive title. By wisely bridging the gap between newcomers and specialists, fighting game aficionados and Dragon Ball diehards alike, DBFZ is not only a remarkable standout in the genre but a downright excellent game that can be confidently recommended to anyone.