REVIEW / Dragon Ball FighterZ (XB1)


Wait, another Dragon Ball Z fighting game? It seems like these just keep on coming out. And that makes it all the more noteworthy that when Dragon Ball FighterZ was announced at E3 last year, fans got excited. The game’s unique art style and fast-paced 2D action drew attention from fans looking for a game that looked and felt like the show, and that could scratch the technical itch after the rather floaty (but still excellent) Xenoverse. It actually plays even better than I thought it would.

But before I can even talk about the gameplay, I need to discuss the visuals, because they are a cut above any other Dragon Ball game I’ve played. The character graphics are so clear and detailed that I thought they were 2D sprites at first, but the animation is fluid and seamlessly includes all the poses and motions you’d expect. The characters are all realized as you’d expect, and cell shaded to perfection. The attack effects and ki blasts are as bright and shiny as they should be for a Dragon Ball game, taking advantage of modern displays and processing power to blast the player with color. More than anything, I think this is what will draw people to the game. Even if you have no clue who these characters are, this game looks incredible, and it demands your attention.

Once you get started, you’ll find that it plays a lot like the Marvel vs. Capcom games. Players choose a team of three characters, and can switch between them at any time. There are the same standard Weak, Medium, and Strong attack buttons as you would expect from this kind of game, along with a button dedicated to hadouken-like ki blasts matching what you’d see in the show. The developers showed off their creativity here though, as the button works differently for different characters, and some of them use it for a completely different function. That isn’t the only feature to help you dive into the game either; you can use auto combos with the Weak and Medium buttons, and execute basic strong combos by using the main attack buttons in order. Additionally, all special attacks are executed using quarter-circle movements. All of this means that just about anyone can make a battle look good and execute their favorite character’s famous attacks. But worry not; there’s depth to the game too, with a variety of extra abilities to let you outsmart your opponent. While the three-on-three concept is a bit strange for Dragon Ball, the overall feel is excellent.

Learning from the mistakes of other games  (*cough* Street Fighter V), FighterZ comes with a full suite of typical fighting game modes, including Arcade and Story Modes in addition to the typical versus options. All manner of online battles are available too, both professional and casual, making the game very welcoming. It is a bit frustrating that the game always loads into an online lobby by default, which can take some time. But the lobby-based menu system, while not as intuitive as a regular menu, is improved by the wide variety of lobby avatars players can use to walk around. I’m partial to Casual Piccolo myself, which has the Namekian wearing his clothes and hat from the infamous driving episode.

Really, the only complaint I have about the game is the limited character selection as far as Dragon Ball fans are concerned. Especially in a 3-on-3 bout, you want to have a lot of options for variety. And while 24 characters may sound like a lot, that number feels a fair bit smaller when you consider that each player uses 3 characters, and that Goku, Gohan, and Vegeta each come in two different versions. The different versions play differently, so it’s fine if you’re more interested in the technical side, but for series fans there are definitely some bizarre omissions. Android 17, Whis, Zamasu, and Chiaotzu only appear as part of special attacks used by the characters they’re connected to, and it seems like something of a waste. Minor characters Nappa and Captain Ginyu are in turn surprisingly available. There’s a rumor going around that they were included because of their popularity in the excellent (in my opinion) fan parody series Dragon Ball Z Abridged. Fortunately, the characters are well balanced, such that it’s possible to send series laughing stock Yamcha into battle with God of destruction Beerus.

Speaking of Yamcha, there’s plenty of fan service to be found in FighterZ. Starting or ending battles with specific characters on specific stages will show special scenes recreating key moments from the shows. My personal favorite is the first Super Saiyan transformation, but there are plenty of others, including Yamcha’s infamous death scene. Even without these scenes, the characters all have different things to say based on who they’re fighting and who they’re teamed up with. You can collect Dragon Balls by executing good combos, then summon the dragon mid-battle to make your wish. And as I mentioned earlier, there’s a ton of variety to the lobby avatar characters available.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a fighting game for Dragon Ball fans, plain and simple. Its easy to learn controls and beautiful show-appropriate visuals mean that anyone can enter the ring as their favorite character and create a fight scene that would please Toriyama himself. But there is depth here too, and even if the gameplay isn’t 100% original, it’s got enough to its name to pose a challenge if you want one. I don’t love the character selection, and the plot of the Story Mode is nothing special, but this is still the Dragon Ball game we fans have been waiting for all along. It’s beautiful, it’s fast paced, and it’s a breath of fresh air for Dragon Ball games.