I used to love the old 2D Dragon Ball fighting games like Ultimate Battle 22. I was probably one of the only fans who truly lamented the rise of Budokai as it replaced one of my favorite 2D fighters and added an extra layer of “complexity” and “depth” that made the game virtually unplayable for me. But none of that matters now that Dragon Ball Fighterz is out and brings back that 2D fighting goodness.
The animation in Dragon Ball Fighterz is crisp and the character models, while technically 3D achieve a level of 2D HD magic that would make any fan or graphic designer proud. The animation is fun and is great at capturing the frantic action feel of the anime. The Super Moves zoom in at all the right moments and sometimes seamlessly recreate the anime but with a crisper modern day resolution. Even though most of the cut scenes are tedious back-and-forth dialogue exchanges, they are beautifully animated. When the action in cutscenes picks up the quality really shines. It makes me want a new remaster of the old Dragon Ball Z episodes using the engine from this game. It looks better than the Bluray HD re-release.
Controls and Moves (9/10)
The controls are simple. The most difficult motion is the quarter circle movement, familiar to many fighting game players throughout the world. There is an easy combo system that allows players to chain together 3-7 attacks and even a super by repeatedly pressing the same button. The game controls amazingly well and despite it being a simple game to play, it can also be very complex. The game has an extensive general tutorial, and each character has ten combo challenges to teach players. Like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 & 3 before it, Dragon Ball Fighterz uses a 3-on-3 style where you can call in your allies for assists, tandem supers, or actively swap characters to give a damaged ally time to recover. Each character has at least one level 1 and level 3 super. But here’s where things get a little tricky, some characters have a ton of moves, Yamcha and Hit for example have an array of moves that chain into each other, about eight. Not every character can chain, most have about four specials, but the game provides good overall balance.
It’s strange that only one character, Frieza, can transform during battle and maintain the transformation. I would figure they are saving the transformations to include in future titles as separate characters. Having only one character with an ability so central to the series seems odd. One can only assume they are saving this for the inevitable Fighterz 2.
Unique Factor (8/10)
Dragon Ball Fighterz is mostly a love letter to fans and includes many nods to the anime. In some cases, if you perform specific super moves with certain members of your team or against certain opponents it may trigger an alternate version of the attack. In other cases, if certain fighters are pitted against each other on a certain stage it may trigger a dramatic scene, which is an elaborate and beautiful recreation of iconic events from the series either at the beginning or conclusion of a fight. The issue here is there are only ten. Here’s to hoping there are more are coming via future patches. There is another type of special intro, called Special Events, found in Story Mode that occur when you put certain characters together on a team or against certain enemies. These intros are simpler than dramatic scenes but feature awesome banter to make fights feel more unique. There are 70 to find. I wish they included some of them outside of Story Mode and added more to give the fights more depth. As it stands, intros outside of Special Events and Dramatic Scenes are one-liners that are barely character-specific in most cases.
Arcade Mode (5/10)
The Arcade Mode has a very innovative mechanic. Rather than choose a difficulty and go along a straight path, players progress based on how well they complete the previous fight. The player moves right and up on the map for a good performance or down if they struggle, there’s a node to the next fight leading to one of several boss possibilities. In theory, this should end up feeling very custom and create the ideal difficulty balance. In practice, it causes some issues as the fights are not consistent. I fought the same fight twice only to breeze through it the first time and upon replaying it, lose miserably. Likewise, I was moved down to what should have been an easier fight only to find it harder than the previous. The intros or endings to fights are nothing special. In fact, the game gives you two post-fight quotes one directed at your enemy and one directed at your teammates. The team quote can get annoying because it is the same quote each time the player wins a match with that player on that team. Arcade mode has no unique ending for each character or any ending at all for that matter. What is traditionally a staple in many a fighting game Arcade Modes is missing from this game, and it’s a shame. To see each character finally defeat the main enemy only to reveal what they do after saving the world could have been a wonderful addition. In this way, unless you are in it for the trophies/achievements (I got all four Arcade Mode trophies in under an hour), unlocking two characters (which there are multiple ways, see the last section), or the currency (Zeni) awarded post-victory (there are plenty of ways to earn Zeni) then the arcade mode has little value.
Story Mode (7/10)
The Story Mode in Dragon Ball Fighters is okay. I really hoped it would amaze me, but unnecessary padding and the leveling system stand in the way. The story is broken up into 3 Arcs each arc is about 14 maps. Each map is composed of 7-14 nodes with enemies to fight, allies to save, and a boss. Once players rescue a character, they can use the character through the map and swap fighters out between any fight. Less than half of the cutscenes are on the direct path. Many are encountered via rescues or the previously mentioned Special Events. Each character you have in Story Mode has to be leveled up by beating optional enemies to make it through the maps to fight the boss and be of comparable strength. As you level up, you unlock Link Events. Link Events are inner monologues where the characters reflect on being controlled by the player. Each character has seven Link Events that are unlocked as they grow. These scenes are pretty cheesy and break the fourth wall to bring the player directly into the story. It would be nice if one Link level was used for the player. Having each character need to grow only makes it so that you have to keep fighting well beyond the point of enjoyment, and be a real completionist to unlock all of the Link Events. This is literally hours of grinding as you make your way through the story multiple times to unlock four lines of dialogue per Link Event.
The story itself is pretty good and has meaty cutscenes in the first and second arcs. Although there is a good amount of redundancy, I appreciate the multiple perspectives. Cutscenes occur at the start and/or completion of each map/boss battle. By the third arc, it seems they are running out of story to tell. What could have been seven maps in Arc 3 is artificially inflated to 17. It is, in fact, the longest Arc. It doesn’t really pick up speed until map 12. The final boss is also an issue as you are forced to fight with a particular character that may or may not be leveled up(this is the only fight that does that). The final boss also has a move that takes 80% or more of your health. The move is unblockable, covers the screen, can be used multiple times in the same fight, and can’t be stopped, so that’s fun.
The netplay is good, and you can even select opponents based on their connection quality or skill (same level or higher only). I almost never disconnected during matches. The only problem when playing against other players is that the game makes the player preselect their team while waiting for a match. The player has to leave online matchmaking to change characters. The game really stresses the online component sticking you in an online lobby upon start-up. Dragon Ball Fighterz has a lot of lobbies in multiple regions throughout the world. Once you select your region, the game remembers it, as well as the particular lobby you selected. The lobby categories are Meeting, Arena Match, Ring Match and Ring Party. While this sounds organized, most players don’t pay attention to the “purpose” of the lobby as they are just eager to connect. Since any mode can be accessed through any lobby and the game puts you online by default, players wind up playing single player modes (arcade mode, story mode, and shop) online. These players are taking up space that online players could use. Single player modes can be played offline, but the game does not make it easy. The offline lobby is accessed once you fail to connect to a lobby or via the menu once you leave a lobby. There is no way to set it up to access offline by default. The game always tries to connect you online when starting.
As mentioned Story Mode in Dragon Ball Fighterz has a good amount to unlock, but about 30% (the Link Events) feels unnecessary. If you want to unlock all of the Link Events (I didn’t) you are going to have to replay Story Mode and grind a lot. If you preordered the game, you unlock two characters for free. You can also unlock these characters by purchasing them on the PlayStation/XBOX Store for $3 USD. Or beating two Hard Arcade Mode Courses with an A Rank or accumulating 500,000 Zeni. Having so many ways to unlock the characters makes it so that anyone, regardless of skill, can unlock and use these characters, which is highly appreciated. The third unlockable character can be earned via completing Story Mode or by buying the DLC pass that also includes 8 DLC characters in the future.
Zeni is earned in every mode and is used to purchase capsules from the shop. Capsules give you random items. The items are mostly related to online features: including different colored lobby avatars, player card titles, headers, bases, or stamps (emojis). The only thing from the shop that is beneficial offline is unlockable character colors (each character has 12). Rather than issue random duplicates, you get Z-Coins. Spending Z-Coins on a capsule ensures that it will not contain a duplicate. At the time of this review, all items are obtainable without spending real money, which is refreshing in today’s modern gaming era where games lock items behind a paywall. Regarding replayability, offline the game can be finished quickly unless you care about getting everything from the shop, online the game can keep you busy for a long time.
Dragon Ball Fighterz Total Score: 78/100 C+