The series of Dragon Ball anime cartoons have a special place in geek culture. The Dragon Ball Z series in particular started all the way back in 1989, but didn’t gain mainstream popularity until it came to Toonami in 1998—two years after the series wrapped up overseas. That block was where a majority of us were first exposed to anime, and people moved on while others haven’t stopped watching it since those good ol’ days. It doesn’t matter what category you fall into; it’s pretty likely that you have some kind of nostalgia for this show.
DBZ also has a unique history in the world of gaming, especially the fighting genre. Most of the games released during the rise in popularity either focused on 3-D movement or an arena style of combat. There were multiple games that fell into these categories much later down the road, but all of them were trying to catch lighting in a bottle over and over again after the success of the Budokai and Tenkaichi games. Though I have personally been a fan of the later releases such as Xenoverse, I will say that there has not been anything as new and fresh as Dragon Ball FighterZ has been to this franchise.
Spiritual Content: Dragon Ball Z itself has always had its own versions of heaven and hell, but more recently, Akira Toriyama has taking things further and added gods to the series. One of these gods in particular is Beerus who is labeled as the “God of Destruction.” He makes an appearance as a playable fighter in the game that players have to option to select as a member of their team.
The player is also integrated into the story as a “soul” that can move from the bodies of one fighter to another. This is used to explain why the player can switch characters in battle.
Violence: In Dragon Ball FighterZ, warriors both good and evil engage in hand to hand combat with one another. During combat they charge up the energy from their bodies to shoot powerful blasts of that energy at each other. The environments can also be destroyed as fighters can knock each other through buildings and mountains or nearly destroy the entire area with an ultimate move.
During these battles the characters do not bleed, but visual damage to their bodies in present at the end of battle with bruises, scratches, and scuffed up clothes.
One character in the game likes to use a sword in combat while a few others turn their foes into candy.
Language/Crude Humor: There are some minor swear words to be found in Dragon Ball FighterZ such as D*mn, a**, and “bastard” that are used within the dialogue a handful of times, this includes the use of the word “hell” as well.
Sexual Content: The main villain of the story wears a low cut top that reveals cleavage. There are a few optional titles that players have the option of adding onto their fighter card such as “Sexy and I Know It” and “Old Pervert.” The second one in particular is referencing a character in the show who does not make an appearance in Dragon Ball FighterZ.
The first thing many will point out when looking at Dragon Ball FighterZ is the the graphics. The game looks almost exactly like the show, which is what draws people to it. Arc System Works was able to achieve this look because of their work on the Guilty Gear Xrd games, which nearly look like an anime. I say “nearly” and “almost” because there are occasions where you can see that these characters and environments are in a 3-D space and that this is indeed a video game. Even so, it doesn’t matter whether you are looking at it during a still moment or in motion—the game mimics the look and art style of the source material 95% of the time. Because of their work on the last couple Guilty Gear games, Arc was easily the most capable of achieving this.
Arc not only put love into the visuals, but into the the sound design, characters, and story of the game. Included is a setting for either English or Japanese voice acting, so fans have the option to play how they like it instead of arguing about whether subbed or dubbed is best. All of the sound effects are straight out of the show too, which helps in laying that nostalgia right on the table. The soundtrack is of its own original work, and yet it invokes the personality and style that the franchise is known for. Writing this review was yet another occasion where I found myself listening to and enjoying the soundtrack.
I did briefly mention the actual fighting mechanics in my preview, but since then I have discovered how deep things can get. The deepest strategy comes from utilizing your allies. Knowing when to use their assist moves and when to tag them in and out is half the battle. The other half is managing your ki; deciding whether you want to bust out your ultimate or execute two super attacks at once with an ally can make the difference in battle. Players can also decide whether they like to keep their enemies at a distance or get in close for some brutal mix-ups if they choose to do so.
The controls might be simplified compared to others in the genre, but that doesn’t mean that each character isn’t unique. Characters like Majin Buu and Android 16 are a few powerhouse characters up close, but the difference is that 16 utilizes grapple moves for example. Android 18 has become one of my favorite characters for her counter attack and super move in which she jumps into the air and does a downward blast. I can make use of that attack to cover more angles while I have a more blast-heavy character trying to unleash lots of power. Sure, Dragon Ball FighterZ is guilty of having multiple versions of characters i.e. Goku, Vegeta, and Gohan, but all of them carry different play styles and are far from just being clones.
Unfortunately, getting to all those sweet battles can be a slight chore. The single biggest problem I have with Dragon Ball FighterZ is the lobby system. Arc decided that the main menu of the game would also be the lobby system. It is annoying to have to connect to a server and deal with all of that just to get in and play the arcade or story modes. I understand that they are trying to capture that MMO-style hub world, but the series of hoops to jump through should not be necessary for a game like this However, I will give them some credit since the process is actually much smoother than others in the genre, because I haven’t had any connection issues or lag in the lobby or within a match.
Now that I’ve stood on the soap box for a second, I’ll go into something that I was very pleased by: the story mode. In this mode, you will move along a board, gain team members, and earn bonus power-ups; it does start off a little too easy, but eventually ramps up in difficulty. I was expecting the story to be cheesy and half-hearted, but it doesn’t turn out that way. The premise does come off that way at first: the player is actually a soul that can move from one fighter’s body to another as a new villain aims to defeat and absorb every fighter on the planet.
Android 21 is a new villain that was supervised and approved by Akira Toriyama himself. She may be an android, but she is also a Majin and wants to turn everyone into sweets. Android 21 surely isn’t a completely unique character, but she is well-written despite that. It is pretty neat to see a female villain in the Dragon Ball universe, especially one who is so unhinged and capable of raw power. I can honestly say the same for many of the characters in the story, every one of them is well-written and is given the spotlight at some point—even guys like Yamcha and Tien. The story mode can feel long and drawn out due to its three arcs and padded-out battles full of doppelganger clones for us to fight, but it turns out to be far better than expected.
There is so much packed within Dragon Ball FighterZ that there is enough for two audiences: those that have great nostalgia for the series and would love to get back into the universe, and those who are fanatics of the genre that are always looking for the next big thing. The gameplay is perfect for entry-level players and deep enough for those who have been playing fighting games for years—it already has a spot in Evo 2018! That alone is worth experiencing even if we must trudge through a less-than-stellar interface to get there. Most importantly, the game literally looks and feels like Dragon Ball Z.
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The Bottom Line