Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4 Review)
It has been a long time since I really thought about Dragon Ball. In fact, it has been over a decade since I watched the rather muddled run on Cartoon Network. But Dragon Ball FighterZ stirred something in me. A short sharp jolt to the nostalgia centre in my brain and within seconds I was reminiscing about big monkeys kicking about Earth and a whole load of heroes who sounded suspiciously like vegetables.
I’ve missed a lot in the time I’ve been away, but Dragon Ball FighterZ’s story drops you right back in without the need to catch. Spread over 3 arcs, you’ll explore the world of Dragon Ball as you, the player, are given agency – by way of some 4th wall dialogue interaction – and link up with all of the fighters while trying to work out the enigma that is Android 21, Dragon Ball FighterZ’s exclusive character.
With the help of a few familiar faces, you’ll dart about a series of maps that resemble a boardgame spliced with some RPG elements, earning additional skills to tweak gameplay and levelling up your link to whatever fighters compose your team. Similarly to the anime, Dragon Ball FighterZ’s story has a tendency to run on. But, thanks to the need to manage your health, tweak your team composition, and fight rare Clone Majin Buu fights, you’ll remain engrossed. Its only real downfall is that it doesn’t quite live up to the story and set pieces on offer in other Bandai Namco anime games, like Naruto, but Dragon Ball FighterZ is a different beast.
To offset the weighty story, there is a series of compact arcade towers. Ranging between 3 and 7 matches in the tower, you’ll be able to compete against unique teams in a bid to reach the top. After every victory you’re assigned a score and this helps shape your path through the ladder. For instance, if you struggle early on and only manage to score Bs and Cs, you’ll progress in a linear fashion. But, if you happen to ace fight after fight, you’ll climb the ladder vertically and face tougher opponents. It’s a near perfect approach to the ladder system in fighting games that often become unbearable for casual fans or too easy for hardcore players nearer the end. Plus there are some pretty cool rewards for those willing to take on the hard mode ladders and thrive.
No matter where you choose to start, be it story, arcade, tutorial, or even against your friends in the local battle or tournament modes, Dragon Ball FighterZ is an absolute delight to play. Starting with the ingenious autocombo system, players without much knowledge in the fighting game realm can jump right in and experiment. Players can piece together different autocombos by repeating inputs all the way up the chain to a dramatic final attack. And on the other side of the coin, experienced players can navigate the complexities of team composition, assists, and unique tag cancels to create devastating scenarios and experiment with the unique attributes of their chosen fighters. There was never a point in which I felt alienated from the combat, even during my first fights. Every step forward was a wonderful learning experience and every fighter feels like they could easily slot in with your favourite characters in the roster.
But that in itself is a problem; a large section of the roster can feel largely interchangeable. With a series of rather similar combos that all feel quite samey, some players will doubt its depth and they’d be right. For all the Dragon Rushes, Dragon Dashes, Vanishes, and Ki Blasts, a large section of the cast feel a little generic – especially with all that pointy blonde hair, the 90’s are long gone my dudes. However this homogony also makes the more unique characters, such as Piccolo and Hit, shine a bit brighter. Another point of concern for the more competitive crowd is a lack of distinct defensive options, with the exception of guard cancels. Sparking Blast and Reflect cannot be used while in blockstun and results in scenarios where you could be forced to block for quite some time. It’s hard to really comment on the viability of a game competitively prior to release, so I won’t. What I will say is that Dragon Ball FighterZ was never dull and there’s definitely the workings of a exciting fighter under the hood.
Just as well crafted as the combat are the visuals. Every single frame is lovingly crafted and then fine tuned to perfection. Worlds slowly crumble with every successful super move kill and characters can career through the scenery and seamlessly transition to new areas. It’s astounding to see how many attacks and animations are directly lifted from the anime. Every punch is a knowing wink to diehard fans and the way every single character reacts to their opposition is engineered to resonate with fans. Right down to the dialogue.
Throwing quips are key in Dragon Ball FighterZ, from the story to individual bouts. There are so many barbs and affirmations rolling around that I lost track of unique interactions. And they are available in both English VA and Japanese VA. There’s nothing more tantalising than Cell’s bass-y “hello” as he appears behind you with a devastating attack.
It feels like every facet of Dragon Ball FighterZ wants you to melt in its dedication to the fanbase. Even the store is chocked full with some truly inspired rewards. With every single action you earn zeni- Dragon Ball FighterZ’s currency. You can then spend this on Z-Capsules in the hopes of unlock additional colours for your fighters, unique chibi avatars to represent you in the lobby, or Z-Stamps to use on your replays. It’s all about expression and trust me when I say that fans will be able to express themselves.
Even as a relatively distant fan of Dragon ball, I was totally invested in Dragon Ball FighterZ. Dangerously so. Hours dropped off the clock as I perfected my team in the tutorial and my synapses fired off all kinds of endorphins when I remembered key moments of the anime. That is to say, I chuckled heartily when Frieza’s Death Saucers boomeranged back and damaged him for the first time. Arc System Works have totally killed it, in fact they’ve done so well that I’ve already sank 50 hours and I am currently creating a mental list of all the other anime I’d love for them to make fighting games of. Dragon Ball FighterZ is just that good.
Editor’s note: At the time of reviewing, no online servers were available. This review will be updated with an “Online” section when the servers go live. Prior to the release, DBFZ had an online beta that Neil covered here if you’d like to read more ahead of release.