As an enormous Dragon Ball Z fan, the franchise’s staying power, particularly in the gaming world, has been deeply gratifying. While every DBZ game features fighting of sorts, it couldn’t be a true DBZ game without it, it’s been some time since there was a quality, standard 2D or 2.5D Dragon Ball Z fighting game. So it comes as no surprise that Dragon Ball FighterZ, developed by Arc System Works and published by Bandai Namco on Unreal Engine, is leaving fan excitement levels over 9,000. Thankfully, the emphasis on sharp, responsive, combo based combat fused with stunning, vibrant, anime-exact graphics ensures Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t just shaping up as another DBZ game but a fighter on another level.
Control and mechanic wise, Dragon Ball FighterZ is perhaps most comparable to the Marvel vs. Capcom (MVC) series, particularly in its core team mechanics. At the start of each match, each player selects three characters to form a team. Each team then fights one fighter at a time. At any time, however, players can switch fighters with the click of a button, preserving the original fighter for later in the bout. Not unlike MVC, players can also call upon a team member to provide critical support attacks, perfect for extending combos or providing relief for their current fighter. FighterZ‘s control scheme borrows from MVC as well, to a point. Each combatant in FighterZ comes replete with unique, directional combos, similar to Street Fighters intricate combo system. Certain universal moves, however, more closely resemble some of Arc System’s other works, including rushes (here called Dragon Rushes) and vanishes, quick, evasive, teleportation maneuvers. All characters can also manually increase their power meter, allowing them to perform transformations and stronger combos, by performing a quick Ki Charge when there’s an opening. These moves not only have a distinct DBZ look and feel, but ensure each fight feels fast and furious, easily allowing players to close the gap and an obvious opening for combos.
Despite featuring an involved, Street Figher-esque combo system, Arc System have taken careful steps to ensure Dragon Ball FighterZ is extremely approachable. As a fighter neophyte (a neophighter?) typically turned off by intricate combo oriented games, the universal move set allowed me to button mash to satisfying effect. Blocking is simple and effective, Dragon Rushes provided me a bombastic initiation tactic, and each face button corresponds to a light or heavy kick or punch which can easily be chained given an opening, even by an inexperienced player such as myself. That isn’t to say there isn’t inherent depth in FighterZ. Each combo can be utilized to devastating effect, especially when timed well and paired with a chain of heavy and light blows. Combos also correspond to each fighter’s most recognizable, signature moves and provide welcome, animated moments of gorgeous spectacle that legitimately look like they were torn directly from the anime at the height of its animation.
While the controls were clean, quick, responsive and all around ideal for a fast-paced fighter such as this, the graphics and art style are what truly distinguishes Dragon Ball FighterZ amidst a slur of other fighters, including the new Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite. Arc System Works has gone to insane lengths to capture the look of Dragon Ball Z. Combos are more rewarding for the sumptuous, unobtrusive animations that follow them. Transformations are equally eye-popping fan service that don’t hamper the high octane nature of the game at all as terse as they are. Instead, they’re part of what makes the game so immersive as it genuinely looks and feels like you’re interacting with the anime itself and not a game based on the property. Moments like finishing a foe, sending their defeated fighter careening into a cliffside, not only look stunning, but perfectly capture the essence and atmosphere of Dragon Ball Z and sent me back to my early Toonami watching days.
In proper DBZ fashion, just like at the start of every fight, Arc System Works are holding back. I don’t mean that in a bad way, actually quite the opposite. It’s clear a certain amount of reserve is being shown to preserve what matters. At the time of the demo, there were only six playable characters, each with unique attributes, strengths, combos, and overall play style. Consequently, this is a clean-cut, quality fighter in which each character feels distinct and, more remarkably, true to character. Vegeta is a close combat fighter, Buu has unexpected range from his elastic limbs, and Goku is the perfect, well rounded pick. The focus seems to be on balance and substance over an enormity of character selections for the sake of fan service. Immediately, the narrower focus seems to be paying off as the controls feel fantastic and visually the game could be the strongest under the heavens.
That’s not to say that Arc Systems aren’t looking in the right places for inspiration. A Bandai Namco representative met my barrage of difficult questions more frightening and furious than any assault I made in game with a very common answer. What characters can we expect in the final roster? There is new series material, will the game cover Dragon Ball Super or are we seriously getting just another Dragon Ball Z game? Can we expect the game on the Switch? The answer: we’re listening to fans. The representative explained that what I was playing, with only two stages and six fighters, wasn’t even twenty percent of the game. With the other eighty percent, Arc Systems are looking to stay true to the material and provide fans what they want out of a Dragon Ball fighter. So far, they’ve succeeded tremendously. At its core, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a high caliber fighting game with tight controls, rewarding combos, and meticulous attention to detail that perfectly captures the source material. For Z fans and fighter aficionados alike your wish has been granted. Dragon Ball FighterZ is every bit as super as it looks, and I Kaio-can’t wait for early 2018.