(edited: 6:49 PM PH Time – Edited at the request of the author (twitter handle: @Ven_Bright) to better represent his message with the review)
Occasionally, you hear of a combination of studio and IP that just feel like they were meant for one another. That a studio’s style of gameplay just meshes with a piece of media, that compliments one another so well, that you just get the feeling that it cannot go wrong.
I, personally, have had this feeling twice. The first was when they confirmed Platinum Games was working on a successor to Nier, which resulted in Nier: Automata, one of the many big hits of the last year.
And the second time was at E3 2017, where Namco Bandai announced they were working on a a 3v3 fighting game, akin to games like Skullgirls and the Marvel vs Capcom series, made by Arc System Works? Based on the Dragon Ball franchise? It almost sounded too good to be true. But, now that we got our hands on the game, does it meet those expectations?
This is: Dragon Ball FighterZ, for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
This game is absolutely gorgeous. The cell-shaded art style Arc System Works has been refining with their Guilty Gear Xrd series of games has been used to stunning effect in this title. The animations are snappy and feel identical to older 2D animation, especially with the heavy use of animation smears to create that classic feel, despite using detailed 3D models.
FighterZ translates these classic characters perfectly, from their moves to their voices and their interactions with the other fighters, to the point of allowing you to just recreate iconic moments if things align just right, and they are just so impressive to watch.
The amount of effort put into the aesthetics, from character animations to projectiles and particle effects for beams and blasts is absurd. Even smaller things like reflected energy blasts being knocked into the background, leaving craters behind, or the scene transitions when you knock a fighter into next week, provide so much flash and flare, turning any fight into a real spectacle.
Despite putting in so much effort into its presentation, with huge energy beams and people flying in and out, the game itself is never too cluttered to be readable, and surprisingly easy to keep up with the minutiae of combat once you understand the game’s mechanics.
The soundtrack is not quite what I would expect from an Arc System Works game, but that doesn’t make it any less attractive, with unique themes for each member of the cast that fits their personalities to a tee.
As a game, Dragon Ball FighterZ is in a precarious position. It is a 3v3 fighting game made by the king of the “Anime Fighting Game” sub-genre, using one of the most recognized franchises of the last 20 years. This game was bound to draw in a lot of attention, especially from people new to fighting games. Arc System Works knew this, and built most of the game’s mechanics to be friendly to beginners, but still having the depth and complexity you need for a fighting game to thrive.
Have you ever done a Hadouken in a game? A quarter circle forward motion? If you can do that, then you are capable of performing every single special move in FighterZ. Makes doing those cool combos you’ve been practicing all the easier, since you don’t have to worry about mashing out two 360 degree inputs in order to do The Really Cool Move.
And if you’re intimidated by long combos, FighterZ has your back there, as every character has two different auto-combos, doable just by repeatedly mashing one of the attack buttons. They won’t win you any tournaments, but it they’ll help you get a feel for the game and keep up until you’re ready to branch out to learn more traditional combos and take your game up a notch.
These two system changes make the game insanely accessible, to any skill level. That’s always a huge boon for a fighting game, part of a genre that for so many is unforgiving and so difficult to find satisfying.
With 24 fighters in the base game, and 8 more coming as optional DLC, there is a pretty solid lineup of classic characters from Dragon Ball Z, as well as some new favorites from Dragon Ball Super. And while there may be a lot of blonde-haired boys in that lineup, the character selection itself is not the largest flaw, but the variety of movesets the characters have.
While there are plenty of characters who have interesting moves and abilities that really change things up, several characters feel a bit too similar, where they fill very similar roles and accommodate nearly identical playstyles. A lot of that is really a natural consequence of being a faithful adaptation of Dragon Ball Z, a story about Big Beams And Punching Really Quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem the game has.
Speaking of story, for a lot of people, one of the biggest draws to the game is the Story Mode, which is an original story that feels incredibly Dragon Ball. In it, you travel across the planet saving your friends and growing stronger to prepare for the ever growing final threat.
While a lot of the mechanics unique to the Story Mode are novel, like being able to level up your characters or apply various buffs, it ultimately is just bells and whistles unto an already solid system. The real draw is seeing these classic characters interact in amusing and some downright hilarious ways, which the game delivers on in spades.
The Story Mode has 3 scenarios, each taking about 2-3 hours per if you’re rushing straight to the end. Unfortunately the majority of your play time is going up against weak AI clones of about half the cast. Maybe for a lesser experienced player it’s fantastic for getting your feet wet, but it does get a bit grindy.
The game rewards you for playing by unlocking 3 hidden characters. Two of which can be unlocked quickly, by doing well in the Arcade Mode, or are just given to you by amassing a certain milestone of in-game currency, which you gain from playing any game type. The last is unlocked by completing the Story Mode, which isn’t too difficult to complete, you just gotta put in the time.
The real meat and potatoes of any good fighting game is its multiplayer, and FighterZ has that nailed. Between the large roster, and the nature of its 3v3 gameplay structure, and how versatile the game handles players of all skill levels, this game is going to last a pretty long time, with high replay value.
While I was personally not able to try the online with the retail build of the game, the netplay during the Open Beta was about as solid as I’d expect from ArcSys. Which is to say, pretty darn good, and if FighterZ is anything like previous ArcSys releases, online play will be smooth and a solid experience.
With a comprehensive tutorial and Training Mode with a surprising amount of Quality of Life features, including the ability to switch teams mid-training session without leaving to the character selection screen, practicing moves and combos is surprisingly painless.
The Arcade Mode has a fair bit to it as well, with clearly defined paths showing your progression depending on your personal performance and a number of different options and difficulty settings to try, but presentation-wise is a bit lacking.
Dragon Ball FighterZ also comes with a lot of features that you would normally find in ArcSys developed titles. There’s a Challenge Mode that allows you to learn how each character ticks, as well as a variety of online matchmaking modes, including ranked and casual matches, and the unique Party Match mode, where two teams of three players each square off, each controlling only one fighter!
The game also allows you to spend in-game currency to grab various cosmetic goodies. Different models to run around online lobbies, colors for your fighters, titles to wear on your profile, things like that. While they run on a similar system to a gatchapon (or a Loot Box, if you’d rather refer to it that way), you gain the in-game currency in every single mode in the game. Combine that with the fact that it compensates you for getting duplicates, and that there are no ways to spend real world money for more goodies, and the system is a complete non-issue. It’s really only a problem is if you just must have a pink outfit for your favorite characters. Which, to be fair, who doesn’t?
While far from perfect, FighterZ achieves every single thing it sets out to do.
For Dragon Ball fans, you get what is easily the best looking game from the dozens of spin-off games this franchise has gotten over the years with amazing visuals and attention to detail that’ll get any fan pumped, with solid enough mechanics and gameplay that will keep beginners and veterans to the genre both engaged, and coming back for more.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has stuck the landing, and blasted us in the face with a solid 4.3/5 score.
The game is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
An early release copy of Dragon Ball FighterZ for PS4 was provided to the Reimaru Files by Namco Bandai Entertainment for review purposes.
(If you have any questions or comments about this review, you can message the author on Twitter at @Ven_Bright)