Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, it’s hard to deny that Dragonball is a storied and much beloved property. We’ve seen numerous video game adaptations of the show in the past, ranging in quality. Dragonball FighterZ nails the look of the flashy anime series, but does it also nail the feel? We’ve come to expect fast action and colorful visuals, all matched with wacky characters and larger-than-life battles. Does Dragonball FighterZ deliver, or come up short?
Modes of Play
Dragonball FighterZ is broken up into several modes, all displayed in a cute and interactive hub menu. When you first start the game, you’ll choose a cute chibi version of a Dragonball character. Using this as your avatar, you move around a courtyard where you can access all of the game’s content. There are separate islands for Story mode, Arcade mode, Pratice Mode, and more. You can also spend your Zeni (money won from successful fights and content completion) to unlock new avatar characters, costumes, color variations, and more.
There’s a good tutorial system both in the hub menu and baked into story mode progression. The tutorials do a good job teaching the fundamentals of the fighting system. Dragonball FighterZ‘s mechanics are far more simplistic than what we’ve seen in past games. You have light, medium, and heavy attacks, and also a button dedicated to throwing fireballs. Strategy revolves around using auto-combos in successful strings, mixing up your opponent. Special moves are also pretty limited; the most difficult move you’ll come across is no harder than a “hadouken” in Street Fighter. This makes the game an easy entry for newcomers to the fighting genre, and deep enough to reward combo-fiends.
The Throne of Clones
The main story of Dragonball FighterZ is broken up into three main arcs. Each arc gives you a different perspective on the same story; the invasion of the clones. In the story, clones of Goku and other fighters have started appearing and wreaking havoc on the world. Big bad villains Frieza and Cell have returned to add some more chaos, and the world is in general disarray. The mysterious Android 21 sits among the chaos, intentions unclear.
The story starts out with an interesting hook, but I slowly lost interest over my time with the game. by the second arc, I was losing almost all interest. Pre-fight scenes are character specific, resulting in some great fan service with fun and interesting interactions. That being said, the overall quality of the main narrative leaves a lot to be desired.
Each chapter is laid out on a map with connecting lines. You’re always trying to reach the purple boss icon, and you often have to move through spaces occupied by clone fighters. As you progress through story mode, you unlock skills to equip on your three-man team. These bonuses range from attack boosts to health gauge recovery, but they don’t make a noticeable impact on actual gameplay. You’ll also be able to unlock new fighters by completing “rescue missions”. This encourages you to experiment with different characters, as each fighter carries their health from one fight to the next. Had a particularly tough fight, and now your Goku is worse for wear? Switch him out for Krillin and let him rest. By constantly switching the members of my team, I got comfortable using most characters.
All told, the story offerings in Dragonball FighterZ are entertaining, but grow repetitive after a few hours. Boss fights are fun, and the fights that move the story along are also quite good. However, most of the 10 hour storyline is full of boring clone fights that ultimately feel like padding. Combining the three arcs and losing the repetitive clone fights would’ve been a better move, in my opinion, but the structure of the story as it stands is at least reminiscent of the show.
Other mode offerings are more basic, covering the essential fighting game modes. Practice, tutorials, and several online modes await. The only other mode that shakes things up is Arcade mode. Arcade mode is comprised of three different courses, with difficulty variants unlocking with time. After choosing one of the three courses, you engage in fights against themed teams. Your performance is rated at the end of each fight, and depending on that performance, you diverge paths to different fights. Your main objective is to get the highest rank (S rank) on each fight, staying on the highest difficulty path. Performing well rewards you with Zeni and other goodies, occasionally even unlocking new characters to play as.
Visual Spirit Bomb
Regardless of how well the game plays or how interesting the content is, there’s one thing that’s a certainty with Dragonball FighterZ; the visuals. Like Cuphead last year, Dragonball FighterZ absolutely nails the signature style of the anime genre unlike anything we’ve seen before. This especially rings true for Super Moves, when the HUD disappears and the game becomes an absolute visual treat. The game’s visual style is so well done, that it’s hard to distinguish between the game and the show.
It really is a sight to behold; Goku throwing a massive Ki charge as Frieza intercepts it with a purple blast of his own. Each character is incredibly memorable, thanks to a great visual identity in the form of special moves and visual effects. I often chose characters for the sole purpose of seeing their super moves time and time again. Even when I found myself bored with the repetition of the story, I never became tired of the presentation.
The Bottom Line on Dragonball FighterZ
I really liked Dragonball FighterZ‘s visuals, it’s interesting approach to menus, and the fast-paced combat. Great tutorials make the game an easy one to start playing, and you’ll quickly feel powerful without having to learn too much. The true complexity of the character roster might be lackluster for those who are looking for a tech-heavy fighter like BlazBlu, but most players should find it satisfactory.
My main gripes with the game stem from the repetitive and dull story mode, and various performance issues I encountered during my time. Load times between fights are painfully long, often lasting more than 30 to 40 seconds a piece. The visuals make up for the wait, but the constant downtime during loading hurts the momentum of the experience. I also saw multiple crashes, which forced me to replay entire chapters and rewatch unskippable cutscenes.
Dragonball FighterZ is an absolutely beautiful game, and it’s awfully fun to play. However, I think it’s the kind of fighting game that is best played with friends. Solo players will find enough content to keep them occupied, but the content is shallow and repetitive. Online competitors may find issues with lag, but your mileage may vary depending on console of choice and personal internet connection.
The game scrapes by on its visual merits, and the overall quality of the presentation. It’s fun to play but can grow boring quickly if you’re not a competitive player. I had fun playing it, but I don’t think it’s a game I’ll continue playing unless I’m in a room of friends. Dragonball FighterZ is a pretty looking house built on an excellent foundation, but before long you’ll realize the rooms are mostly empty.