Dragon Ball Fighterz is the Dragon Ball-inspired game fans have been waiting for. Unparalleled visuals and loads of fanservice are combined with solid and accessible gameplay that make this game fun for both die-hard competitive players and those just wanting to have a quick round with friends.
The fighting genre is easily the most fitting for Dragon Ball Z, so it’s no wonder dozens of them have been released over the years. Many of these have sold themselves simply by their appeal with flashy graphics and lowbrow gameplay that focused on flashy attacks and destructible environments. Dragon Ball Fighterz has one major advantage over many of these: it is developed by Arc System Works. Famous for popular fighters such as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, the studio has made sure to make Dragon Ball Fighterz a game that appeals to both the casual player who likes Dragon Ball, and those veteran fighting game players who want a deep and satisfying fighting system. And it seems they have hit the mark with their take on the franchise, for it is easily the best Dragon Ball game to date.
Let it be clear that Dragon Ball Fighterz hasn’t compromised on the over-the-top visual aspects the anime is famous for: it has those in spades. Many familiar faces make an appearance: Goku, Vegeta, Freeza and Cell, but even some lesser seen characters such as Nappa, Yamcha and Captain Ginyu are there, so almost everyone favourite characters made it in. Besides being a faithful representation of the source material, the game also doesn’t try to make its fighting system overly complex and alienate casual players in the process. In those regards, it is exactly like many of its predecessors. But Dragon Ball Fighterz knows exactly in which areas it needs to be flashy and showy, and in which it needs to be more reserved and refined. The result is a balanced, enjoyable fighting game that has real depth but is still simple to understand. Easy to learn but hard to master, if you will.
Being a game from the same developers as Guilty Gear, it stands to reason that the games has its fair share of similarities to ArcSys’ flagship series. The game is a bit combo-heavy, but they aren’t as strict or unforgiving as in games like Street Fighter, and follow understandable guidelines. There are even some auto-combos for beginners that are simply performed by repeatedly pressing either the light or medium attack button, and many of these are pretty spectacular too. A comparison to the Marvel vs. Capcom series is also readily made, with the focus of Dragon Ball Fighterz lying solely on 3 vs 3 team fights. Players each choose three different characters with whom to fight, and the battle is won only once all three fighters have been knocked out. Characters fight in turn, but of course players are able to tag them in and out at their leisure to prevent an early defeat or to allow characters to take over if an advantage is to be gained by switching. Characters regain some health during their time on the sidelines, and can also jump in to use assist attacks and even super moves while on the bench. This ensures that switching characters and integrating them in team attacks is a vital part of the game. Sticking to each character by themselves all the time is a surefire recipe for defeat.
By far the most interesting aspect of those teamfights is the way in which team composition really matters. Every combination is possible and viable in its own way, but requires a different strategy or offers unique possibilities that make discovering your personal team preference a delight. Even though all characters function according to the same basic gameplay principles and use the same execution, once you look a bit further they are all really unique and diverse. Goku and Vegeta are solid allrounders that can work with almost any strategy, whilst Piccolo prefers to keep opponents guessing while he punishes them for making the wrong decision, Krillin is the perfect teamsupport with his Senzu beans, Android 18 puts pressure on the opponent by double-teaming them with her brother and Ginyu can turn the tides by using his infamous Body Change technique which causes players to switch character ánd lifebars. Each characters has unique attacks and properties that make them different. Controlling them and performing their attacks are all regulated with a solid and easy control scheme that any player can quickly grasp, making the game accessible but without losing any of its depth.
Competitive play is the brunt of any fighting game, and Dragon Ball Fighterz is no different there. Online matchmaking is mostly solid and smooth, with only minimal downtime during bouts and mostly lag-free matches. The game is also played by a player with a wide range of skill levels, so your online experience doesn’t need to be completely overwhelming if you are a newcomer.
But many players simply like to battle as their favourite characters at their own pace, and for that audience there are both an Arcade Mode that becomes progressively more difficult depending on your results, and a sizeable Story Mode divided in three different arcs. The battles in Story Mode are connected through character dialogue and cutscenes that are somewhat light on animation but at the same time rival the quality of the anime series. The initial story is somewhat of a mess, but the two arcs you unlock later feature a pretty entertaining story. The whole thing is a bit too long and grindy, and leveling up doesn’t really seem to give you any noticeable benefits. Luckily most of that can be avoided by skipping many of the optional fights and going straight to the required battles. The Story Mode’s main draw is its hilarious pre-battle dialogues and the brilliant self-awareness that is interwoven.
Dragon Ball Fighterz is a blast to play for fans of the source material, casual players and veteran fighting game players alike. The game is visually stunning, offers enjoyable and competitive gameplay that is still accessible, and has just the right amount of fanservice. Where many other Dragon Ball fighting games were simply good for an evening of fun and were then quickly forgotten, Dragon Ball Fighterz absolutely has the potential to stick around, and may even become a real contender in the competitive scene. Whether you wish to become the best player or simply to demolish your friends with Kamehamehas: Dragon Ball Fighterz is the perfect game for anyone who wants to play a quality Dragon Ball game.
For this review, the game was played on Playstation 4. The game is also available on Xbox One and PC.