A recent trend in anime-based fighting games is adherence to the origins. People go nuts when Naruto summons his Rasengan exactly how it looked in the anime, or if Jotaro and DIO punch each other in perfect sync to the manga panels. However, it takes a special game to not only celebrate the past of a franchise, but to also deliver a solid gameplay experience. Fortunately, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Arc System Works’ latest anime fighter, has achieved that goal.
DBFZ brings many of ArcSys’ strengths to the table. The first thing you’ll notice is the art style, which perfectly captures the way you see Dragon Ball Z in your mind’s eye reminiscing about those days watching Toonami. The Guilty Gear Xrd engine still looks gorgeous mid-battle, flawlessly handling every frantic movement. The exciting combat pairs with a rockin’ soundtrack of absolute bangers, with Hit’s theme a fast favorite. There’s a lot of Guilty Gear DNA in this game, but luckily, the story is goofy anime fare instead of GG’s far-too-deep lore, and the combo system is massively simplified compared to ArcSys’ other fighters.
Instead of retreading the complexities of past anime fighting games, Dragon Ball FighterZ focuses on accessibility. Some find it scary when a game attempts to be as accommodating as possible to everyone. Many developers spread themselves thin, unable to placate newbies and pros alike with either oversimplification or overwhelming nuance. Somehow, some way, DBFZ pulls it off. Its inputs are easy to process for people who just want to see Goku do the laser, but intricate, deep, and effective for those who know the precise time for Goku to use his Kamehameha Wave mid-combo. FighterZ doesn’t have the greatest tutorial in town (previous Guilty Gear games and the future Under Night entry have it beat by a mile), but what’s there teaches you enough to run through story mode and arcade, and those lessons can ease players into more challenging concepts.
Fighting in DBFZ is a bit different compared to other fighting games. While inputs are important, the real way to edge out a victory is controlling the space around your opponent. Assists, quick movement, and poking feel more useful than knowing long combo strings, especially since combos are pretty short anyway. DBFZ rewards quick thinking over pure skill – impressive for 2D anime fighting, a genre dominated by overwhelming combat systems which almost nobody can play at high levels. Each character has moves that adhere to classic moments from the source material, which often leads to incredibly fun moments of reliving favorite fights. For example, Frieza has a move where he throws two discs at his foe, but much like his infamous battle with Goku on Namek, the projectiles return to slice the villain. It’s attention to detail coupled with a genuine love for Dragon Ball Z that makes FighterZ a blast to play.
ArcSys has forgone the standard menu system in favor of an interactive lobby where you can walk around and hop into modes at your leisure. This default, always-online feature immediately turns into a problem as servers fill up, making it vastly more difficult to play single player modes for practically no reason. It’s cute to have a little lobby character stroll around and watch other people crowd near major hubs, but rendering the game more difficult to play is a bad trade-off. There’s also a major flaw in party-making, which forces users to join the same lobby in order to fight each other. From what I could tell, there’s no standard “invite to party” option, so you have to hope your friend’s lobby has an open slot you can hop into.
Other modes include an arcade mode with dynamic difficulty depending on how well you play, as well as two ways to play competitively online. The ranked/player modes are standard, and work exactly how you’d expect, with little to no lag in games. The personal lobby system, or “ring mode” continues to highlight the game’s issues with partying up. It’s fairly simple to open a room and have people from your server join, but there’s no easy option to invite someone from a different server unless you exit the game or use an outside chat. Most fighting games have a button that brings up an invite menu, but FighterZ doesn’t, and that’s a shame.
Story mode is a real blast to play through, at least. You play as, well, yourself, or rather a spiritual manifestation of a self insert, hopping to and from different characters to help them battle. The insidious Android 21 has activated a machine that lowers the power of warriors across the world in order to hunt them down and consume them. When a human soul enters their body (i.e, you), their power level rises to a semi-respectable level. It’s a little convoluted, but the story gives a good enough excuse to let Yamcha fight Frieza realistically. It’s also a great chance for characters to have cute interactions. Seeing Gohan admit he got his Great Saiyaman poses from watching the Ginyu Force is adorable, as is Vegeta promising Majin Buu candy if they fight together.
Dragon Ball FighterZ, despite a few menu headaches, is incredibly satisfying. It’s a wonderful celebration of a classic franchise, it controls like a dream, and it has a wealth of content for players of all types. Save for a frustrating lobby system, FighterZ is the dream Dragon Ball game we all wanted since we were throwing imaginary Destructo Discs at our friends on the playground.