Following the success of the Dragon Ball Xenoverse series, 3v3 Dragon Ball FighterZ steps into the spotlight and trades 3D gameplay for a much more structured 2.5D fighting experience. Arc System Works is no stranger to the format, having worked on successful fighting games such as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. Using the Dragon Ball Z licence, ASW utilizes a series that’s not only massively popular but one that’s already been utilized in gaming, time and time again. Despite continued support for Xenoverse 2, FighterZ has undoubtedly hogged most of the attention, and for good reason too. Not only is this the best Dragon Ball game since Budokai 3, but it manages to truly capture the energy from the iconic anime. You can also play the game however you watched the anime, in English or Japanese.
What’s especially commendable about FighterZ is that it’s surprisingly accessible, yet very in-depth. Players of all skills can dive on in and stand a fighting chance, which is something that other Dragon Ball games have had trouble nailing. Furthermore, the game is crammed with content for both offline and online play. Take the story mode for example, this alone serves up several hours worth of play and is arguably the best story in any Dragon Ball game to date. Not because it’s amazing, but because it’s different. The game isn’t out for a number of days yet, so I’ll keep this as spoiler free as can be. Super warriors begin to fall one by one and it all seemingly boils down to the mysterious Android 21 (a character supervised by Akira Toriyama). Responsible for the resurrection of Android 16 and the invasion of the equally as mysterious army corps, 21’s motives are not immediately clear.
The story is separated into three distinct scenarios that play out in different perspectives, each of which dish up secrets and details regarding the overarching plot. Players will first take on the Super Warriors story arc in the perspective of the Saiyans, and then the Super Villain story arc in the perspective of the villains. This finally leads up to the Android story arc, which as you guessed, is in the perspective of the ever-so-powerful androids. The story is a pick-and-mix bag that sees you fighting your enemies, taking on boss battles, watching cutscenes, and consistently moving between the three via a map. Progression will reward you with new items and fighters, as well as the ability to level them up. The link system allows the player to embody the heroes in order to take on the respective threat.
The story initially begins with you inhabiting Goku’s body before going on to grow your team. You can also take on a range of additional battles that serve as a means to ease you into the game. The fact that you can only inhabit one body at a time would explain why only one fighter is on the field at any given moment, whilst the other two fighters sit by idly and wait to be tagged in. Participating fighters will enjoy EXP which goes towards their next level up. Whereas winning a battle may gift you with other rewards, including items that will boost your stats. It’s far from a straight forward affair and will no doubt go down as one of the most story innovative games in the series. It pays off if you’ve followed the anime, the plot is chock-full of interesting encounters and conversations that fans will familiarize with. There are heaps of these wonderful interactions and it really helps to tie the game to its roots, whilst remaining endearing throughout. My one and only gripe is that the difficulty has a tendency of spiking dramatically, but in the face of everything that FighterZ gets right, this is a small complaint.
Arcade mode has you taking on progressively difficult enemies as you climb in rank. Three courses are available from the get-go, with a hard variation of each course unlocked once complete. This is a great place to go when you want to test your skills and see how far you can get before having your ass handed to you by the more capable opponents. The replay value in this mode is equally as heavy as what’s present in the other modes, and you can earn in-game currency too. This money is used to purchase Capsules which will gift you with a random cosmetic item. These items range from new color schemes for your fighter to additional goodies including online lobby (chibi) characters. Premium currency on the other hand can be obtained from a duplicate item from a capsule. Premium currency is in place merely to unlock items that you don’t already own.
Online play is going to be where the meat of the matter rests with FighterZ. Interconnected matchmaking throws you into an online lobby, a place where players can communicate with one another via the use of Z-Stamps. Z-Stamps are described as elaborate emojis, but really they’re just cool takes from iconic Dragon Ball scenes. Party Match allows a total of six players to participate in a 3v3 match, with each player taking control of one fighter. Circle Match sees up to eight players taking each other on in battle. On the other hand, World Match allows players to pick between casual and ranked matches. Whereas Tournament Mode allows players to setup offline tournaments for up to sixteen people. This isn’t a first for the series but with the competitive focus on the game, it makes sense to see this included. Versus is much more basic, pitting you against a friend or cherry picked CPU enemies.
The character roster is hardly what one would describe as thriving, but the diversity in the roster is what’s key. Arc made a strong point when developing the game that they would only add characters that felt unique and necessary, rather than adding heaps of characters that play pretty much the same. The characters in FighterZ prove to stand out, making it all the more exciting to find a team that suits your play style and preference. Each fighter comes packed with their own pros and cons, as well as a bulky selection of moves and skills. Regardless as to who you gravitate towards, each and every character packs on hell of a punch during combat. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as chaining your attacks and slamming your opponent through the destructible scenery, something FighterZ captures from the anime extremely well. In fact, there’s not a single corner of this game that feels out of place as far as authenticity is concerned.
The actual gameplay is where FighterZ shines the most. I’ve already mentioned that the game is very accessible, even for newcomers. That’s not to say that you wont get rinsed by the more capable players. However with that being said, FighterZ puts less emphasis on tasking you with remembering hundreds of commands, and tends to lean more heavily on timing and strategy. Knowing when to swap your fighter or take advantage of a small opening in your opponents attacks is vital for success, but you cant solely rely on any given aspect of play due to (again) how diverse the roster is. Select characters will combo together better than others, but on the flip-side there’s almost always a way to break through your opponent’s offense and defense. This isn’t a game that you can win by button mashing. You have to consider all of your fights and exploit whatever weakness you can, at any given moment during combat, to achieve victory.
The combat captures all of those thrilling moments that we love from the source material. This is (in part) due to the excellent character animation. Characters will yell as loudly as they can during attacks, while zooming through the air to execute a warp attack, or more fittingly as they’re charging energy blasts. Most of the special attacks are tied to a single meter that can be charged a total of seven times. Offense and defense abilities pull from this pool, making it all the more unpredictable as to how each match plays out. You certainly don’t want to leave your foe standing if they’re building up the charge, that’s for sure. On top of this players can utilize Dramatic Finishers, which can only be achieved under very specific circumstances. These reenact iconic moments from the show, and they’re an absolute marvel. It goes without saying that FighterZ is, already, easily a contender for fighting game of the year.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is an outstanding game, and for fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. The excellent and highly detailed visuals sit perfectly with the diverse combo-heavy gameplay mechanics, with cleverly implemented nods to the show throughout. There’s more than enough content to keep you going for hours on end, along with a new story that’s every bit as captivating as it is exciting. This game effortlessly relays the iconic personality from the popular anime and dishes up an experience that’s energetic, faithful, and thoroughly entertaining.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.