Hype can be a dangerous thing. For all the excitement and anticipation, you’re building up an image of something that can never really exist. A perfect thing, something that so wondrous — but also so fragile. It’s rare that a trip on the hype train ends up at its scheduled stop; it usually ends up derailing, with passengers stranded in a ditch, asking why they ever bought a ticket. With this in mind, it’s fair to say that reviewing Dragon Ball FighterZ came with a fair bit of trepidation, when you consider how much excitement there is about this game and its potential to change the FGC. Luckily, I can say with confidence that Dragon Ball FighterZ is a fantastic fighting game, dripping with love for the source material while providing a combat system that provides something for everyone. No matter your familiarity with fighting games or Dragon Ball, you will find something to enjoy in Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Everything in Dragon Ball FighterZ exudes a love for the series, and that’s clear from as soon as you boot it up. Rather than a core menu, navigating Dragon Ball FighterZ is handled via its lobby system – a central hub where players can roam about as chibi versions of Dragon Ball characters. Each part of the lobby is a reference to some element of Dragon Ball’s history: King Kai’s planet is the Training area, Bulma’s aircraft is how you access Story Mode, the Cell Games Arena is where you fight local battles, the list goes on. There are even little details, like the ability to Instant Transmission to certain areas of the lobby, or that you can even make your chibi avatar Yamcha in his baseball outfit, or Piccolo when he took his driving test. Arc System Works aren’t simply cashing in on the license — it’s clear that this is a game made by Dragon Ball fans for Dragon Ball fans. And this is all before you’ve even started properly playing the game.
Baseball Yamcha is best Yamcha.
While most players will want to dive straight into the Training Room, it pays to get through Dragon Ball FighterZ’s Story Mode first — as not only does it unlock Android 21, but is the weakest element of DBFZ. It’s split up into three arcs: one centred on the Z-Fighters, another around the villains, and the final arc solely about the Androids. Each arc is split up into roughly nine to ten chapters, where players swap between cutscenes and fighting across the world map. The world map portions are almost like a board game, with players having a set number of moves to defeat the map boss and level up their party. Enemy teams pop up on the board, with certain squares hiding teammates that you can recruit to your team. Defeating an enemy grants your party XP and special skills, which boost things like defense, the strength of your special moves, the amount of Zeni you receive from each victory, and so on. It’s no Final Fantasy, and I started equipping battle skills halfway through the second arc, primarily to make fights go quicker. As long as you have a basic understanding of DBFZ’s combat system, you’ll breeze through each Story Mode battle.
I doubt anyone is going into a Dragon Ball game expecting a great story, but the tale told in Dragon Ball FighterZ’s three story arcs is nonsensical. The plots reads like bad fan fiction, complete with evil clones of the main characters, series villains being revived for no real reason, magical power-scaling waves, and some subplot to do with the power of human souls. It’s not helped by being about seven hours too long, with it taking around 11 hours to complete all three arcs — that is if you are watching all the cutscenes. The third arc is four chapters too long, so prepare to mash the Skip Cutscene button, if you’re just here to unlock Android 21. There is one saving grace for the Story Mode, and that is the character writing. When it is characters like Captain Ginyu and Frieza having a chat, the dialogue is surprisingly funny, especially if you’re a die-hard Dragon Ball fan. Almost every Special Event will have you smiling, with Yamcha having the best lines out of the whole cast — when he’s not getting roasted by both the heroes and the villains. There are some super-niche references here that Dragon Ball fans will gobble up, with Gohan’s meeting with the Ginyu Force being my personal favorite. I would recommend playing through Story Mode with the English voices on, as some of the line delivery is top notch.
You tell ’em Gohan! Bloody kids these days…
Once you’ve soldiered through Story Mode — if you haven’t got the DLC codes to unlock SSB Goku and SSB Vegeta — Arcade Mode should be your next stop. Rather than most Arcade Modes where you’re on a linear path, DBFZ’s Arcade Mode has you fighting different teams based on your performance. Get A-Ranks or higher, you’ll keep fighting. Perform poorly and you’ll crash out early. If you complete the Hard versions of the Hyperbolic Time Chamber and the Extreme Gravity Spaceship course with an A-Rank, you’ll unlock the blue-haired Saiyans and a pocket full of Zeni. For those who don’t want to bother with Arcade Mode, earning 500,000 Zeni will get you both characters. While I appreciate Arc System Works giving players something to do outside of just head-to-head matches, both Story and Arcade Mode could have been livened up with fights with special conditions, a la the Challenge Towers in Mortal Kombat X.
So you’ve unlocked all the characters, time to hit the lab. Those who played in the Dragon Ball FighterZ open beta will have already run through the Battle Tutorial, which takes you through the absolute basics of combat. It isn’t a patch on the tutorial found in Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2 but it’ll give newbies enough information so they can hold their own during the first week of online play. As for the combo challenges, none are particularly difficult. They show examples of how players can layer in Vanish Attacks, jump cancels, and supers into a combo, but there’s no mention of using assists or tags mid-combo. If you want to find the good stuff, you’ll have to go into Training Mode.
There, you’ve got all the essentials: choosing specific CPU get-up options, setting opponent health bars, recording dummy actions, locking in air tech directions and toggles for character specific abilities, like having the Golden Freeza transformation permanently on. Some sort of frame data viewer would have been welcome and the inclusion of only one recording slot for the training dummy is puzzling, but the suite of tools in this Training Mode is enough to please most lab monsters. It even allows you to replicate Shenron’s wishes, so you can start labbing out those double Sparking Blast combos.
You won’t be seeing much of this guy once you learn some bread and butter combos.
The Shenron system has been the one major bone of contention among excited Dragon Ball FighterZ fans, with fears that it’d artificially lengthen games and result in some truly cheesy strategies. Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that in Local Battles and online matches, there is no way of turning this mechanic off. The good news is that you’ll almost never see anyone activating Shenron once they’ve stopped mashing autocombos all day. The primary method of collecting the Dragon Balls is by landing seven autocombos and getting your Super gauge to Level 7. As seen in the open beta, hardly anyone awakened the eternal dragon through normal play — and that’s when no-one had Training Mode to learn optimal combos! It truly is a comeback mechanic for those who do not want to graduate past mashing the light autocombo, so don’t expect to have a Grand Finals ruined by someone getting a clutch Shenron revive. More importantly, once you learn how to work within the constraints of DBFZ’s combo system, you’ll never want to use just autocombo ever again.
From the limited time people had with the closed beta, there was a fear that Dragon Ball FighterZ was going to be lacking when it comes to combo potential and player creativity. Having seen some of the combos and tech coming out of Twitter and personally mucking about in Training Mode, there’s no need to worry about DBFZ being a watered-down fighter. I haven’t had this much fun figuring a fighting game in a long time. Although solo characters can deal a lot of damage — provided they have the meter — I feel the real depth of DBFZ will come from trading off between characters mid-combo, using assists and certain supers to keep the damage going. If the upcoming DLC characters are as fun to experiment with as characters like Beerus, A21 and Ginyu, you won’t have to worry about Dragon Ball FighterZ’s meta becoming too much of the same. The fear I do have is that with so many people experimenting and figuring out every detail, we may hit DBFZ’s tech pinnacle rather quickly. With more characters incoming over the next few months, however, there will no doubt be more insanity introduced soon.
If I have one major problem with Dragon Ball FighterZ, it has to be with its online system. The lobby may be chock-full of nods to Dragon Ball lore, but it’s an over-complicated mess for those who just want to get some games. At present, some players are having an issue with some regions being full to capacity, so Arc System Works need to plug in some more servers sharpish. The big issues are with starting a lobby with friends, and the rate at which you get Ranked matches. Unlike Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2’s lobbies, which were perfect as both a social hub and a way to find matches, there are too many steps in making a private lobby. First you have to find a server. Then you’ve got to make sure your friend is in the right room. After that, you’ve got to make a Ring Match, wait for your friend to join and then queue up for a game. Assuming you’ve tinkered with the settings so randoms don’t start popping in, then can you start a private match. There’s no option to invite your friend to a private lobby; you have to jump through these hoops every time you want to match up.
Expect people meeting for first-to-10s behind Kame House.
Now if you’re looking for Ranked games, you’ll have to wait on average around 30 seconds to a minute before you get a bite. There’s no option to wait for matches while in Training Mode either — you have to be active in Dragon Ball FighterZ’s lobby to get a game. It feels like Arc System Works have overengineered a solution to a non-existent problem, resulting in a bloated lobby system that’s no fun to use. The thrill of wandering around as a chibi Mr. Satan only staves off frustration for so long.
As for the game’s presentation, I mean come on. I don’t know what Faustian bargain Arc System Works has made, but Dragon Ball FighterZ is the closest we’re going to get to acting out scenes from the show. Moves have been recreated perfectly from both the anime and manga, with so much detail being squeezed into character interaction in between fights. Piccolo will crack a smile during the character intro when against Gohan, yet scowl when facing down a villain like Nappa. Ginyu will apologize every time he lands a hit on Frieza, while Yamcha will cower in fear when fighting against Vegeta. Factor in the Dramatic Finishes which re-enact moments from the anime, and it’s clear the reverence that Arc System Works have for Dragon Ball.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is equally as impressive in the audio department, with its soundtrack filled with some absolute bangers. I don’t know whose decision it was to make Hit’s theme super-jazzy, but they need a raise. If I had to quibble, it would be with the lack of stage variety. While locations like the Cell Games Arena and Namek are accounted for, I would have loved to have seen a stage based on Kami’s Lookout or the Islands stage having a transition which has players fighting in front of Kame House. If anything, the lack of cool stages does bring in to focus how many of DBZ’s fights happen in barren fields or in random rocky canyons. The lip syncing can be dodgy as well, with many characters gaining the ability to talk without moving their mouth during their intros. When so much time has been put into character animation, it’s a shame for the lip syncing to be at the level of a bad Speed Racer dub.
Whether you’re a lowly earthling or a God of Destruction, you owe it to yourself to get Dragon Ball FighterZ. Yes the matchmaking needs simplification and it doesn’t have the impressive tutorial suite you’d come to expect from an Arc System Works game, but these faults fall away when a game is this fun to play, for both the novice and the veteran. It is easily the best Dragon Ball game of all time, and with the right support, it could be the most popular fighter of our era too. Save up your Zeni, make a wish on Shenron, win it from the Tournament of Power — do whatever you must to play Dragon Ball FighterZ.