There’s a strong chance your first anime was Dragon Ball Z if you’re a Millennial who watched a lot of cartoons in the 1990s. Japanese animation floated around the periphery of American culture throughout the decade, but it wasn’t until DBZ began showing on Cartoon Network that it slipped into the zeitgeist and went on to be one of the most beloved anime of all time.
The fact that Dragon Ball as a franchise is not only still going, but continues as a sales and cultural powerhouse is astounding. The new series Dragon Ball Super brought the anime back into the spotlight, but a new game from the producers of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue may cement its legacy in the fighting game genre.
Dragon Ball FighterZ (pronounced Dragon Ball Fighters, according to the publisher) feels like developer Arc System Works boiled its past, more complicated games down into a single, simplified system for the sole purpose of attracting new fans. While past Dragon Ball games such as the Xenoverse series were action-oriented, I wouldn’t call them fighting games. With that in mind, DBFZ declutters the complicated world of quarter-circle forward motions and gives all characters access to universal moves and systems.
All 21 of the game’s characters have an overhead attack, teleports, and a homing physical attack called Super Dash, bringing homogeny to how each character performs. The addition of moves such as Dragon Rush attacks goes a long way to making the DBZF system feel like you’re watching a fight from the show without any daunting difficulty.
The 3-on-3 team fights are hectic, flashy affairs full of explosions and robust animations. It’s clear that Arc System Works is a fan of the franchise, as the game drips with references to the show and manga — even going as far as taking specific animations, moments, and attacks and putting them into the game.
The combat takes all those elements and forms a fighting game that’s easy to pick up and understand while still having depth at the professional level. The addition of assist attacks from your teammates off the screen adds to the strategy, as finding new ways to extend your combos is key.
There’s a clear emphasis on using the Dragon Ball aesthetic for more than awesome art, with special attacks and dialog that do a wonderful job of recreating the anime’s beloved sense of style. That style extends to the game’s roster, as players control the likes of Goku, Super Saiyan God Goku, Goku Black, and other Goku-adjacent heroes.
Grade: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
System: PlayStation 4, XBox One, PC
No. Players: 1-2
Published by: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developed by: Arc System Works
ESRB Rating: Teen
Grades: Outstanding; ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good; ★ ★ ★ ★ Good;★ ★ ★ Fair;★ ★ Poor; ★
That sounds like a joke, but each of these representations of the Dragon Ball protagonist has a unique style and move set. This is far removed from Street Fighter’s continued rehash of their own protagonist, Ryu, and his many, similar iterations. The roster choices combine in wonderful ways, whether its Goku and Vegeta verbally sparring during a match or one of the many animated “dramatic finishes” that recreate moments from the show.
For those looking to enjoy being enveloped in the world of Dragon Ball, the story mode is a shocking success and more than a rehashing of the DBZ mythos. A new storyline tells the tale of emerging antagonist Android 21, bent on eating the strongest fighters in the universe.
The story mode is a sizable chunk of content with so much original writing, references to the show, and clever fourth wall moments that it feels like a love letter to the franchise. This mode also provides plenty of opportunities to fight against the computer and is a fantastic introduction to the game’s mechanics.
For those looking to skip story mode and jump straight to online play, I’m happy to report that the net-code is more than up to snuff. Playing throughout the opening weekend and on multiple regional servers, I never experienced a disconnected match or encountered any noticeable lag.
Given the trouble I’ve had playing the likes of Street Fighter V and Injustice 2 online, I was expecting similar problems from Dragon Ball FighterZ. Alas, it appears I can only blame my poor play on my own skills and not on the game’s servers.
The best fighting game to learn is often the one that doesn’t feel like a chore. In the past, I’ve stuck with games that I wanted to like more than I actually did in practice, but that isn’t the case with Dragon Ball FighterZ. The combination of a classic franchise like Dragon Ball and an easy to learn, difficult to master system is made all the better by a colorful and fun aesthetic that pays tribute to the source material.
While 2018 has only just begun, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, more fan-friendly fighter this year than Dragon Ball FighterZ. Now, if you'll excuse me: I'll be in ranked mode, dedicating myself to using only Yamcha, whose time has finally come.
Contact William Harrison at: DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.
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