Game Review

by Dustin Bailey,

Dragon Ball FighterZ

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ brings 21 super-powered battlers from across the iconic anime together for a 3v3 fighter filled with chaotic action. Add in a brand-new character, plenty of Dragon Ball lore, and a fantastic visual style, and you've got an impeccable fighting game.
Dragon Ball FighterZ isn't just a good game for fans of Dragon Ball—it's a great game period, a best-in-class fighter that looks great and is fun to play at any level. That it's crafted with loving reverence to one of the most popular anime on the planet is just icing on the cake.

FighterZ features 2D three-on-three battles between a roster of 21 (plus one) favorites from across Akira Toriyama's seminal series, from Goku, Krillin, and Piccolo to Vegeta, Frieza, and Cell. Everyone has certain commonalities, like auto-combos across light, medium, and heavy attacks, or supers activated by a simple quarter-circle and a button. The barrier between picking up FighterZ and being able to effectively use all the major tools is nearly non-existent, leaving the challenge in figuring out when to use those moves rather than how to execute them in the middle of a fight.

That means this is an incredible game for casual players—if you can throw a fireball in Street Fighter, you can harness the abilities of any character on the roster. Generous input windows make it relatively easy to chain advanced moves into regular combos, and the auto-combo system is flexible enough to allow you to easily go from button mashing to intentionally choosing when to switch to certain types of attacks.

But as simplified as the control scheme is, that doesn't mean FighterZ has lost any depth. Instead, it means that you can get at that depth much more quickly, even if you haven't been playing fighting games in a while. At any given moment, you're deciding between four different types of basic attacks, supers, assists, tags, universal teleports, and guards. If you've just taken a high-damage attack, you can try to tag out immediately to let that character regain some health, or push forward for a retaliatory strike with a quick tag in the middle to go on the offensive.

Aggression is rewarded in most circumstances, making the fights frenetic duels where you're scrambling to make effective choices at an instant's notice. It can look like chaos to an observer—six characters tagging in and out of battle, constant multi-hit air combos, fireballs and kamehamehas launching every few seconds—but it's a controlled chaos that makes sense as you're participating in it, and the combination of strategy and execution make every close match an absolute nail-biter that fully captures that authentic Dragon Ball drama.

Arc System Works is building on the animation system they've been using with recent Guilty Gear titles here, and the anime stylings look just as good (or even better) here when they're emulating the look of a specific show. In battle, characters look like they're lavishly-animated 2D sprites, until a super happens and the camera swings around to reveal that they're fully three-dimensional models.

It's a thoroughly authentic presentation of Toriyama's designs that looks incredible in motion, and that attention to detail applies far beyond the graphics. There are no throws in FighterZ—instead, you can break guards with a Dragon Rush, which sees your character swooping in to deliver a flurry of blows against their opponent. After defeating a character, the next one flies in to have a dramatic clash before the fight begins again, giving you a chance to catch your breath. Ending a fight with a kamehameha or similarly destructive super will show the effects of the move from space. Knocking out an opponent with a heavy attack might even kick them through a volcano—not into, but through. These are all relatively minor details, but they all help to make FighterZ feel like an authentic Dragon Ball experience, and generally give the game an over-the-top feel scarcely matched by other fighters.

Much of your time outside of battle will be spent in the game's lobbies, 64-player social spaces where you wander around between options as a chibi version of your Dragon Ball character of choice. You can get new titles and looks through a gacha-style system of random drops, but don't worry—you can't pay real money for them. Minor quests pop up when you log in, giving you specific goals like clearing arcade on a certain difficulty or winning a number of online matches, with bonus currency for unlockables upon completion. Options like story, arcade, and practice spoke off from the lobby like more personable versions of traditional menu options, and you can quickly warp between spots to get to exactly the mode you want.

The lobbies provide a more charming way of navigating the game, and offer a quick way to get into casual social battles with players in either the central arena or more traditional party-style ring rooms. Not to mention, it's something to do while waiting for ranked or casual matchmaking to come through. In theory, at least, because on the weekend of release the servers had been hammered to such a degree that online lobbies were difficult to stay in, and it's been nearly impossible to get into arena and ring matches. The problems seem to be especially widespread on Xbox One, which happens to be the platform this review is based on, and though launch weekend server issues certainly aren't a new problem—and I'm confident they'll be rectified soon—they haven't been any less frustrating here.

Those problems apply largely to the lobbies themselves, though. Once you're in a proper match, the online feels terrific, and every battle I've had against an opponent with a decent connection has been practically flawless.

Beyond the online features, FighterZ has pretty much the suite of options you'd expect from any fighting game. Arcade mode takes you through a series of fights that branch depending on your ranking at the end of each battle, giving you a varied set of AI opponents across each difficulty. Training mode features the practice and tutorial options you'd expect, along with a basic combo test that runs you through the basics of what each character is capable of.

Story mode serves as both the introduction and means to unlocking Android 21, who's the game's one original fighter. The story, such as it is, is pretty basic, but 21 herself is a fun addition to the roster who fits right with the rest of the cast thanks to her Toriyama-approved design. The mode sees you moving from point to point along a node-based map with specific fights along the way, and your roster of fighters gradually level up as you go while regaining health between fights. There's a bit of strategy in what fights you want to take on and which you want to bypass, but most of those battles are so trifling that it can be a bit of a slog to go through all of them, which makes it a bit disappointing that this is the only way to get 21 on your list of characters. Little bits of dialogue between a wildly disparate roster of characters who don't see eye-to-eye are fun, but the mode overall feels like a small piece of the full package.

FighterZ combines tight, accessible controls, gorgeous visuals, an impressive roster, and a solid set of modes into one, making for one of the best, most complete fighters out there today, and one that has a ton of appeal for competitive and casual players alike. If you have even an ounce of affection for the source material, Dragon Ball FighterZ is one heck of a fighting game.

Overall : A
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : A
Presentation : A-

+ Fantastic core action, accessible controls, beautiful visuals, and wide range of options
Story mode feels underdeveloped, early servers are troubled

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