Dragon Ball Z fighting games have always been good — from the Budokai series to the more recent Xenoverse titles — they’ve always been enjoyable. However, they’ve never hit that sweet-spot to deliver truly great experiences. That is no longer the case. Dragon Ball FighterZ is the most polished and tightest DBZ experience to date, delivering a fighting game that is as fun and accessable as the TV show, while also also having enough depth to please veteran franchise fans.
The reason that most of the games felt slightly hollow, is that previous titles fell short on capturing the speed and freneticism of the television series. Thankfully, Arc System Works, a new developer to the franchise (and who has developed everything from BlazBlue and Guilty Gear to Fist of the North Star and even the original 1987 Double Dragon game) have brought their fighting pedigree to the table.
The result is something that beautifully recreates what we’ve come to love from the show, but in a structured package that isn’t overwhelming or that might spark a visual seizure. The fighting system is simplified, whereby special powered-up moves (such as Goku’s Kamehameha or Vegeta’s Big Bang Attack) are all performed the same way, rather than each character having their own complicated move-set. The benefit of this is to create an experience where players can jump from fighter to fighter with ease (you can pick three interchangeable characters per fight); as well as building a fighting game that isn’t as much about learning each character’s tricks, as it is about knowing all the moves and rather strategising about when to use them.
These moves don’t come free though. In familiar DBZ game fashion, these high-powered moves require Ki energy. Players can ‘earn’ Ki by pummelling their opponents, or charging up momentarily, which does leave you open for attacks — and more Ki means bigger, badder moves — so it is a bit of a risk vs. reward scenario that ties in nicely with the theme of the fighting mechanics.
One thing the DBZ world has that other fighting games lack, is that their character base is known to do really, really cool things. The ‘instant transmission’ disappearing act makes an appearance in this game too and is rather important to bouts. Players can choose to sacrifice one of their Ki bars in order to vanish and appear behind their enemies. This is extremely useful when your opponent is about to unleash a devastating blast or is dashing towards you. It makes for very unpredictable fights and gives you an additional defensive or offensive option, depending on how you want to use it.
Visually, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the most accurate video game representation of its colourful anime source material. The game, actually running in 3D in the Unreal Engine 4, gives the game a striking cell-shaded look that creates the illusion of a 2D fighter, but one with the depth of field of a 3D game. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, and is the closest thing you’ll get to watching an HD reworking of the TV show, with an emphasis to reproduce the cinematic elements of DBZ, with the camera panning around characters during special moves, explosions and power-ups engulfing the life-bars and HUD, and highly-dramatic character entrances.
Beyond beating the hell out of the AI or your poor younger sibling, players can indulge in Story Mode, which tells a new, unique saga in the Dragon Ball Z universe and follows a clone attack on Earth. The voice cast of the anime return and the cut-scenes are brilliantly executed, giving you the impression that this is in fact canon in the DBZ lore. It is a bit predictable and by-the-numbers, but that’s how DBZ rolls.
All in all, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a phenomenal fighting game, not just for die-hard fans of the series and button-mashing specialists, but for anyone looking to jump into the fast-paced world of spiky-haired heroes and bizarre alien combatants.