Let me take you back to the ‘90s really quick, an era where anime could pretty much only be found at Blockbuster videos and interest in Japanese cartoons was considered a hobby only for the socially inept. This was around the time I had my first exposure to the Dragon Ball franchise in the form of imported Super Famicom fighting games. These 2D brawlers were like nothing I’d seen stateside. Who were these characters with spiky blonde hair and how could throwing fireballs be as simple as pushing a button?
Fast forward to now and everyone knows about Goku, his ragtag band of allies and the many eyebrow twitches they’ve all made throughout the years. New consoles emerged and trends changed, the “Dragon Ball” fighting games grew in popularity, went 3D and evolved into something new that didn’t derive from the “Street Fighters” and “Mortal Kombats” of the last era. While titles like the “Dragon Ball Xenoverse” series have done a great job in capturing the essence of the series, there hasn’t been a game that really scratched my itch for a fighter like those old Famicom games. That is until “Dragon Ball FighterZ” made the scene.
RAISING POWER LEVELS
“Dragon Ball FighterZ” feels like it draws from those classic games while also taking a lot of cues from modern fighting titles. Many features remind me specifically of the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, like the straightforward combo system and tag team mechanics. Basic combos can be accomplished by tapping a button several times, meaning just about anyone can pick up a controller and pull off some impressive looking moves. Throwing down super and meteor attacks are the same for all characters as well.
There’s a learning curve to mastering the basics, but it’s the smallest, most approachable curve in a fighting game I’ve seen in awhile. Fans of any age should be able to jump in and get going in no time. That’s not saying that “Dragon Ball FighterZ” is without nuance. Once the basics are mastered, there’s a deeper layer of countering, combo-ing and timing teammate support moves that advanced players will appreciate.
There are some nice little touches and one particularly unique modifier to some fights. Much like in the Injustice series, some levels have transitions or destructive finishes that can be activated by knocking out opponents with a power move. In some instances, if the right characters have been selected, players may also experience executions adapted straight out of the anime series, such as Kid Gohan taking out Cell with a one-handed kamehameha.
Depending on what mode is being played, there’s even a chance to collect all seven dragon balls and summon the dragon Shenron. Once summoned, Shenron grants one of four wishes like reviving a downed teammate or boosting health or power. It’s definitely a feature unique to “FighterZ” that can help even the playing. It feels like many of the game’s core mechanics are meant to keep that balance between casual and hardcore in check like that.
AN ANIMATION SENSATION
Visually you could not ask for a better marriage of Ark System Work’s animation and cel shading. Characters and backgrounds look like they were taken straight out of the show and given an HD update. So many nice touches have been made to make “Dragon Ball FighterZ” look as good as it plays, like the way new fighters zoom onto the battlefield after an ally falls or the animations for each characters super moves. The added bonus of the original Japanese voice cast just adds to the enveloping nature of the game’s overall design.
Even though the animations for story mode specifically can be limited at times, they still look fantastic. Character models are expressive and though there are still some clipping moments like most cel-shaded titles, they’re much smaller and harder to notice than in many titles, including “Xenoverse.”
Gameplay modes are varied and scaled with my ability with very little punishment for not being at a certain level of adeptness. For instance, arcade mode has a system that bases the next opponent on what grade a team gets at the end of a match. Meaning “S” rank players will go on to face a more challenging AI opponent in the next round while lower grades take on a more approachable enemy.
Almost every “Dragon Ball” game I’ve ever played has done a great job of putting players into historical moments from throughout the series. But playing through the Super Saiyan saga for the umpteenth time just to get to the meat and potatoes of a game has definitely become laborious over the years. Refreshingly, “Dragon Ball FighterZ” doesn’t retell the same old story but rather integrates the player into a brand new tale that heavily references from canon.
SUMMONING THE DRAGON
If there is one glaring flaw to “Dragon Ball FighterZ” it would have to be the inclusion of capsule corp style loot crates over a more open in-game store. Capsules only contain items for the social hub area, like character avatars and character titles, and cost only a small amount of in-game currency to purchase, so it’s not like there’s a Battlefront 2 level of controversy here. Still, it would’ve been nice if I could’ve used the money I earned to buy the items I wanted over going in completely blind.
At the end of the day, “Dragon Ball FighterZ” is a game made for fans of the series. It does a great job of keeping itself accessible to a wide age range and scale of ability. Beyond the essential inclusion of Goku, Vegeta, and their respective progeny, the roster has a decent selection of friends and enemies from throughout the series, including newer characters like Beerus and Hit, without getting bloated down by overinclusion (did anyone really want to play as every member of the Ginyu force?).
This is truly the best “Dragon Ball” fighter I’ve played since the Super Famicom imports. It’s pure fighting bliss that makes you feel as OP as the characters on the show by adding so much style and flare. Longtime fans and newer fans who may just be familiar with “Dragon Ball Super” will find something to enjoy here if they’re fans of fighters.
One caveat to my review, online mode was not available since review code was supplied before the release date. I will be updating my review with online impressions as soon as they’re available and I’ve had enough time to go through its features thoroughly.
ESRB rating: T
Shacknews is a leading online provider of videogame, entertainment and lifestyle content, as well as community and interactive services.
Read more at Shacknews.com
Visit Shacknews at www.gamerhub.tv
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.