Dragon Ball FighterZ, the much hyped and anticipated fighting game from Arc System works is probably one of the best looking Dragon Ball video games ever, but that is where the enjoyment ends for a lot of people. Dragon Ball FighterZ is touted as a good pick up and play a fighting game for people of all skill levels, but a broken combo system will push new players away and turn this into another Fighting Game Community only game like Street Fighter V.
Game Name: Dragon Ball FighterZ
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer(s): Arc System Works
Release Date: January 26, 2018
Price: $59.99 (North America) / $99.95 (Australia)
Goku and his friends must fight a new battle against a revived Android 16 and an army of super androids designed to resemble and fight just like them led by the villainous Android 21. The story is split into three chapters: the Super Warriors Arc, the Super Villain Arc, and the Android 21 Arc, each of which follows the story from the perspectives of Goku, Frieza, and Android 18 respectively. In the timeline, the game takes place sometime between the “Golden Frieza” and “Universe 6” arcs of Dragon Ball Super.
If the player chooses the Super Warriors Arc, the player possesses Goku and awakens next to Bulma, who wakes Goku up to deal with the Earth’s current crisis. Clones of the other fighters and villains have been showing up and the other Z Warriors are nowhere to be seen. After confronting the resurrected 16, Beerus and Whis arrive to explain the soul’s link to Goku. Goku and Bulma leave to try and find 16 and the other Z warriors to find out more about whats going on.
In the Super Villain Arc, 16 implants the player’s soul within Frieza after the tyrant was resurrected, much to Frieza’s ire. On Earth, Frieza recruits the resurrected Nappa, Ginyu Force, and Cell into his team as they battle the clones and eventually confront the true culprit: Android 21. After 21 forces the villains to battle and defeat Android 18, Goku and Krillin arrive and she acts as an innocent bystander to pit the heroes and villains against each other. The player prevents Frieza from killing Goku and the villains explain the situation to the heroes. Goku suggests that the two sides team up to stop 21 and the villains reluctantly agree primarily so they could sever their link with the player and regain their original power.
In the Android 21 arc, 16 kidnaps Android 18 and implants the player’s soul in 18. He and Android 21 explain the link to 18 and the player and request their help in combating the clones created by the Red Ribbon Army. Android 17 (who was also in the building after getting kidnapped by 16 for a failed link test) joins them to fight the clones. Over time, 21 becomes increasingly unstable after each battle, with 16 calming her down and refusing to explain her condition to 17 and 18 every time she nearly loses control.
Each arc is represented on a game board. The player is given a limited amount of moves on each board to go from one place to another, fighting different groupings of clones with different conditions added to each fight. Winning the fights give experience and Zeni (currency to purchase cosmetic extras for the main lobby), so there is incentive for the player to move about the board as much as possible to fight each group that comes up before heading into a more powerful boss group that either unlocks a character or some modifier like Attack Power Up, Defense Up, etc. This mechanic can backfire though as players who cannot build a fast route can lose an entire chapter simply by running out of moves on the board.
The other mechanic at play here is a leveling up system. Personally, I’m not too sure what it does besides add numbers to the screen, but I’m sure there is some deeper meaning to this one. The issue I found here that, as a fighting game player of over 2 decades experience, I could simply outplay higher level AI opponents easily, even when underpowered by 5 or so levels. I know this was meant to give some sort of RPG style to the story mode, but it really wasn’t needed. Plus, thanks to the additional “skills” component that allows you to add three power-ups to your team, you can game the leveling mechanics something shocking, almost breaking the game at times.
I know that Arc System Works were trying to give us something more than just moving from one story mission to another, and the board mechanic does that nicely, but when you’re dealing with basic RPG systems that can be gamed or simply out-skilled by experience, then all you are left with is a just a long boring grind of numbers for no reason; something Dragon Ball Xenoverse did way too well and bored the shit out of me with.
Basic gameplay in Dragon Ball FighterZ is as basic as it comes. You have your three attack buttons (Light, Medium, and Heavy respectively), along with the obligatory Special Attack button for all non-special attacks. You get to call in an assist from your partner or swap out as needed, and when you have enough meter built up, you can pull out the big and flashy Super or Meteor moves that will put you into a small unskippable cutscene while the move plays out. So basically Dragon Ball FighterZ is nothing that you haven’t seen in the Capcom VS series for the last 22 years (Yes people, it’s been that long since X-Men vs Street Fighter). The only things that make Dragon Ball FighterZ stand out from a gameplay aspect are the chase systems that allow you to dash in quickly to continue a combo or close the gap fast enough to catch your opponent off guard. There is also a vanish technique that allows you to zip behind your opponent for a surprise hit if you get lucky enough. Finally, you have the Dragon Ball system (It wouldn’t be Dragon Ball if we couldn’t gather those pretty yellow orbs for a wish now would it?), which allows you to gain the Dragon Balls through either a 7 hit combo (via the dial-a-combo system) or a Meteor move. Once all 7 Dragon Balls are gathered, you can combo into summoning the mighty dragon Shenron to grant one of 4 wishes: Revive an ally, faster health regeneration for the whole team, completely refill your own health, or fill your super meter to the maximum.
Even though you have all these things at your disposal, most of the game you are going to be either spamming the way too easy to do dial-a-combos against your opponent or be locked into getting hit by those same combos from your opponent. This seems to be the main way things go in all modes. Arcade mode does this way too often by going from easy fights to stun-locking you into a corner rape fests.
Speaking of Arcade mode, yes there is one. You enter one of 3 themed ladders that consist of 3, 5 or 7 fights depending on what you pick. From there you fight pre-made teams with some great names (One of my favorites is “Super Saiyan Bargain Sale” which features Trunks, Gotenks & Kid Gohan) and you face off against them to gain a skill rating. From there, based on the skill rating (which goes from S to F rank), you either move up to a harder opponent, sideways to a similar skill opponent or down to an easier opponent. While this seems like a great way to test your skills, the difficulty spike goes from hard to impossible. Given the nature of the fighting mechanics relying heavily on the combo system, you’re going to have to put up with losing over 50% of your health in the opening 3 seconds from an AI that is designed to exploit team mechanics to the point of cheating in order to keep you down.
Now as for online, man is that an interesting one. I’m going to keep a lot of the issues for the online stuff for a section below, but in terms of what you can do there is a lot of stuff available. You have the normal casual and ranked play, where a majority of players are going to hang out. There is an Arena mode where people can square off in a winner-stays-on style of gameplay. Then there is also Ring mode, where someone creates a mini-tournament with their own rules. Other then that, there is nothing more to the gameplay.
One of the major selling factors of Dragon Ball FighterZ was the graphics. The only thing that can be said about the graphics is that this is the closest that any Dragon Ball game has come to look exactly like the anime. No longer did we need weird cell shading to achieve the look of the show, we’re using just straight up graphical improvement. Using 3D characters on a 2.5D fighting surface perfectly shows the characters off while keeping the backgrounds look crisp at the same time. The biggest example of this is the Meteor moves, which show off things like transformations from Super Saiyan to Super Saiyan 3 or Freiza to Golden Freiza look like they were ripped right out of the series. All the impact of the moves is felt so much more by the use of the animation in the beams and destruction of levels to really make everything look epic and awesome.
The sounds in Dragon Ball FighterZ are ok, for the most part. Sure, there are no real noticeable themes present here, but what they use works well. The real standout here is the voice acting. Bringing back all the original cast members and current cast members from Dragon Ball Super really makes sure that everything here is authentic. As a personal fan of Norio Wakamoto, it was great to hear him back again as Perfect Cell (along with the fact that Cell gets one of the most amazing Roasts on against Yamcha), as well as hearing Hiromi Tsuru’s final performance as Bulma before her passing recently is a great treat. As for the English cast, they are as on point as always. When in battle, the sound effects are perfectly ripped from the show, with beams sounding powerful, fists smacking skin with a great snap, and the arenas going kaboom and crack as they get destroyed by high powered attacks. Overall, the sound in Dragon Ball FighterZ works in the best way possible, by making us feel like we’re in the show somewhat.
Now when it comes to things that need improvement, there is a long ass list. Dragon Ball FighterZ, for as good as it is and the hype people have put behind it, it’s not all that great of a game. Here are some of the issues that I, and others at The Outerhaven, have seen and experienced with Dragon Ball FighterZ:
- You cannot remap the buttons once in a match on the PlayStation 4: I think this might have been patched for other formats, but during our time with Dragon Ball FighterZ before release, this wasn’t a thing. Keith found many times that he would need to fix up some buttons during an Arcade or Story battle, and he couldn’t. Leading to the frustration that didn’t need to be there in the first place. (Keith: This was also apparent in the recent Christopher Sabat vs Sean Schemmel Dragon Ball FighterZ fight)
- The Combo system has no way to break out: Other games do not allow combos to go on forever these days. Infinite combos are discouraged due to the esports requirement of most fighting games today. Dragon Ball FighterZ doesn’t do this, in fact, it encourages you to combo your opponent so much that they cannot do a damn thing at all. This is not fun at all. Getting smacked around with no technique available (outside of wasting your Sparking tech) to break free of a combo string just causes more people to rage-quit and overall kills the competitive nature of the game.
- AI difficulty spikes in Arcade Mode: In the Arcade mode, I know there is meant to be an increase in difficulty when you move up in the weird ladder system; but going from a game where you have challenge to a game where you are going to lose 75% of your health in the first 3 seconds of a fight due to the AI suddenly knowing esports level strategy makes it no longer a challenge in skill, but a challenge in frustration. It’s worse when you are locking 2 characters behind a skill wall that requires you to finish the hard modes of the hardest ladders with an A rank or higher.
- The god damn Season Pass price: Yeah, here we go. I know a lot of people buy the Deluxe edition or whatever these days so they get everything in one package. However, for those of us who got review copies or purchased the standard edition of the game are going to get shafted when it comes to the Season Pass. With a price of $35 in North America, and $52.95 here in Australia. This is just too much. I know that Season Pass prices have gone up with inflation and all that, but these prices are now getting to the point where you are paying the same as a standard game for the rest of the content. This is unacceptable. We’ve seen the backlash against Loot Boxes recently, now we need to have the same backlash against Season Pass prices.
- The lobby is a pain in the ass: The lobby area, which is nothing more than a bunch of small connected “islands” with each area representing a specific mode, is nothing but a way to bore people. There is no decent chat system except pre-made emotes and phrases, there is no voice chat at all. So all you end up doing is walking around as one of a color swapped character doing nothing unless you’re walking from one mode to another… Which is all moot since you can easily wrap to each area with a button press.
- The netcode for online play: This is more of a technical thing that something that most people will notice. Dragon Ball FighterZ uses what is known as a “rollback” netcode. Rollback netcode rather than waiting for input to be received from other players before simulating the next frame, GGPO predicts the inputs they will send and simulates the next frame without delay using that assumption. When other players’ inputs arrive, if any input didn’t match the prediction, GGPO rolls back the state of the game to the last correct state, then replays all players’ revised inputs back until the current frame. The hope is that the predictions will be correct most of the time, allowing smooth play with minimal sudden changes to the game state. When rollback netcode works, it works well and eliminates a lot of the latency issues that online games have, but in this version, you end up with a lot more issues since people are spamming button presses at breakneck speed to the server, leaving things to happen long after it should and a lot of inputs being mistaken and skipped in favor of the correct inputs. This is why point 2 is possible.
At the end of the day, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a good game at its core. It’s simple enough that people can just pick up a controller and feel like they are esports ready with just a few games, but once you go online or face off against the high-level AI, you’ll be getting a very weird wake up call. Dragon Ball FighterZ is a fighting game with a lot of potential if they are willing to take a lot of advice and re-balance the game and fix some of the terribly broken issues in regards to gameplay; otherwise, I could quickly see Dragon Ball FighterZ being forgotten when the next anime-based fighting game hits the shelves.
Dragon Ball FighterZ looks pretty as hell, almost as good as the anime these days. However the game has a serious balancing issue, the company has a serious greed issue. Overall the more you play the game, the less you're going to like it unless you enjoy grinding against people who will combo lock you into hell. Single player gets boring quickly, leaving a terrible online experience. Expect this game to disappear into the next dimension when the next flashy anime-style fighting game arrives.