First Look: Dragon Ball FighterZ

by Heidi Kemps,

Ever since it was first shown off at E3, Dragon Ball FighterZ has been consistently delivering hype levels over 9000. Yes, I know, it's a worn-out reference, but I haven't seen this much enthusiasm around a fighting game for a long time: packed crowds to play it at E3, packed crowds to play it at EVO, and now packed crowds to play it at Gamescom. Every new character reveal is met with copious capslock-laden Twitter postings of glee and analyses showing direct comparisons to the anime and manga.

It's surprising that it took so long for a game like this to be made, though. The success of Dragon Ball Xenoverse showed that if you combine a fun premise (playing around with a custom character in the DB universe) with a solid game, fans would flock to it and sing its praises. DBF goes even further: a competitive-level fighting game with absurdly beautiful visuals, packed with fanservice and loving nods to what makes Dragon Ball distinct and memorable. It's a game by and for people who deeply understand what DBZ is and what its fans want, but has the visual panache and solid gameplay that makes even casual fans eager to hop into it.

The build we got to play didn't have all of the recently announced characters (like the Blue SSJ Vegeta and Goku), but it did have Androids 16 and 18, Trunks, Krillin, Piccolo, and a whole host of new backgrounds. While the recently revealed story mode wasn't available, I did get a fair bit of time to play around with the game… or, at least, I tried to. It's a bit hard to really get an in-depth grasp on complex fighting game systems when you're both limited on time and fighting against a bunch of other people of wildly disparate skill levels.

At the very least, I can say that Dragon Ball FighterZ definitely delivers on complexity: systems you're familiar with for other tag-based and anime-style fighting games, like bursts, airdashes, team supers, and the like are all here, but tweaked just a little to give them that distinctly Dragon Ball feel. You don't just airdash, you soar while neon-yellow energy surges around you. Your escape is an “instant transmission” that uses a bar of super meter and zaps you behind your foe in classic DB style. Strikes and attacks are accentuated with detailed visual flourishes that make them -- and, by extension, you -- feel incredibly powerful, yet every battle feels like a challenge. And even at this early stage, it's easy to see that characters are going to play very differently from each other, allowing for some clever strategy in team creation.

There are plenty of little touches that show developer Arc System Works's immense respect for the source material as well. There's Trunks' speedy hand motions when he executes his Burning Attack, seemingly lifted frame-by-frame from the anime. Defeating an opponent with a particularly harsh blow can send them flying and crashing through numerous rocks and buildings, and the background destruction remains constant through the rest of the bout. One of the best moments from our preview session, however, was when I was playing around with Android 18. She's usually joined by Android 17 for her super attacks, but -- in a brilliant little touch -- 17 gets replaced by Krillin when he's on the same team. When the group I was playing with saw that, we all went nuts. That's the kind of attention to detail that really shows how much love Arc has for its project.

Regardless of how big of a DBZ fan you are, there's a ton to appreciate here: the fun and aggressive fighting, the incredible attention to detail, and just the sheer spectacle of it all. This is easily on-track to be the best Dragon Ball game (and perhaps the best anime-based fighting game) ever made. Dragon Ball FighterZ is slated for an early 2018 release, but signups for the closed beta in Mid-September have already opened, so jot your name down and hope you get a slot!


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