Games Review: Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, 2018): Style, simplicity and super powers

The Dragon Ball series has always been a no-brainer as far as content for fighting games goes. Nevertheless, Dragon Ball games have tended to fall short of what most players assumed should be a slam dunk — they were wonky fighters, focused more on channelling the look and feel of the legendary anime than they were on creating a solid fighter. In Dragon Ball FighterZGuilty Gear developer Arc System Works have gotten right to the heart of the matter, creating the Dragon Ball fighter fans have dreamed of for over two decades.

Dragon Ball FighterZ drops the unnecessary chuffa that has afflicted recent series entries like Dragon Ball Xenoverse, stripping away all the 3D trappings until it becomes a standard 2D fighter again. Using beautifully crafted, cleverly animated 3D models on equally gorgeous and painterly backgrounds, FighterZ, is truly the first DBZ game to perfectly mimic the look and feel of the show in-game. Everything from super attacks to simple punch and kick combos looks, feels and sounds the part, diving deep into the DBZ sound archives to replicate every sound effect you’ve ever heard.

Mechanically, FighterZ keeps things fairly simple. Combos are straightforward and super moves are not especially difficult to pull off. While this may disappoint fighter fans hoping for a more technical experience similar to Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom (a game from which FighterZ draws no small amount of inspiration), its sure to delight fans who will remember many of the available moves from previous games like Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension and Dragon Ball Z Budokai 2. The hardcore fighter fans needn’t worry though — lighter controls aside, there’s still quite a bit of meat on these bones.

Fights consist of choosing up to three characters to form a tag-team squad from the list of available heroes  (a mere 21, a substantial drop from the hundreds of characters that make up a typical DBZ release). All three characters on the opposing side must be defeated to secure a victory. Characters can be swapped in and out mid-fight and can be stacked for combo attacks.

The beauty of FighterZ simple controls is that it’s quite easy to learn. Even picking up the controller and button-mashing leads to pretty spectacular fights from the jump, but its far more satisfying to take the time to work your way through the game’s story mode and attendant tutorials to really learn the ropes. Doing so gives you a far greater set of tools for surviving the fight, not just pulling off the tricky shit — reversals, combo-breakers, dodges and escape moves are all equally as important as laying down damage because once a combo gets started, it can be hard to get out.

Another point in the game’s favour is that it hasn’t leaned on the  crutch of retelling the Dragon Ball Z story in video game form for the umpteenth time. Instead, it takes an approach not dissimilar to the Dragon Ball Z movies, stories that were both somehow canon but also existed entirely outside of the show’s established timeline (and frequently tore holes in it). Doing so allows the game to bring in numerous characters, relationships and locations from the current and ongoing Dragon Ball Super TV series. I haven’t really seen Super but I’ve played through the tired old DBZ story about a hundred times in different games. This makes FighterZ‘s more original approach a genuine breath of fresh air.

Going for a smaller roster of fighters has also allowed Arc to give each fighter a real personality and moveset that feels unique without necessarily doing anything very differently. The huge rosters in Dragon Ball Z games tend give all their characters similar moves and the same controls as a means of saving a bit of time in development. Thus, it’s nice to feel like picking one character over another actually makes a difference.

FighterZ also packs in multiple other modes of play, including the standard traning and local multiplayer modes through to online play. I can’t really comment on the online multiplayer side of the game at this point as servers have only come online as of launch day and the bulk of this review was conducted prior to launch. What you can expect is a pretty vicious online competition with rankings and unlocks to earn for moving up the leaderboard. There’s also a common area for players to mingle about with chibi DBZ avatars while they wait for their matches to start. It’s all very functional and very simple.

When I think of how long it took for a game like Dragon Ball FighterZ to come along, I’m honestly a bit mind blown. It’s everything fans have been clamouring for for years and more. It captures the feel of the show more completely than any game before it, it cuts all of the bloat and flips its priorities — FighterZ  wants to be a good fighter game first and a great Dragon Ball game second. It shows.

Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t just the best DBZ game in over 20 years. It’s the best DBZ game ever made, and a damned good fighter to boot. If you’re already a fan of the show, you’ve already bought in. If you’re a fan of fighting games in general, there’s more than enough here to warrant a look.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; Solid mechanics; Great fun
Lowlights: Low technicality may be off-putting for extreme purists
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro with a retail code provided by the publisher.