If my accounts of anime-inspired vidya games were completely encapsulated in the reviews on this site, then you could say that they’ve been a mixed bag to me. Extremely mixed. And the last anime fighting game I reviewed before Dragon Ball FighterZ from this lonely, cold hole has a stain still uncleaned with acidity too hot to handle.
Even as my experiences have trended downward, I had hearts in my eyes poking around the trailers for this iteration of Dragon Ball. The attention away from the punches, so to speak, is what initially caught me tightly, to which I’m glad to say the main Dragon Ball FighterZ game sticks splendidly.
This is exactly what I’m talking about with taking the attention away from the punches. Xenoverse and even Budokai, in my adequate opinion, focused too much on the hand-to-hand combat that the show, to be fair, showcased most episodes as the only way to solve a problem. That said, even the show understood the philosophy that you don’t want to get bogged down in fists. The pure face-to-face fighting was treated more as a pacing mechanic than the meat and potatoes of the experience, which is an ideal that neither of those game series ever absorbed. It was punch, dodge, fire one blast that looks the same as others, repeat. The blasts and animations felt emotionless from a source material that is, at times, pure emotion in a bottle.
With the first switch to 2D fighting since the Budokai series, Arc Light Studios were running against current trends to move the famous series back a plane. As a trade-off, the visuals and animations have come as close as we’ve seen to the crisp, colorful animated DBZ universe. I’ve been looking sideways at a few people that say “it looks exactly like the show”, but there’s been undeniable progress towards that eventuality. Facial features and super moves are expressive highlights. The former put you into classic character emotional states that come with the attack you’re summoning such as Frieza’s maniacal, vein-popped eyes when summoning his Death Ball or Gohan’s sense of urgency with his Kamehameha. Super moves have never seemed more explosive either, sometimes taking out the stage and triggering other easter eggs along the way.
Dragon Ball FighterZ shows the emotion on the faces of every fighter between the gamut of devilish and desperate, filling each fight with a natural sense of adrenaline. The fighting itself is both deep and simple for both extremes to enjoy. Watching professional players swim between animations gives a certain building crescendo to the matches and those animations, which makes every match feel strangely easy to invest in emotionally. Even casually – which is more my spectrum – it feels engrossing to see Android 16’s pained, intense dose of Hell Flash that then ignites a massive, wonderous ball of energy the size of a tumor on the Earth itself.
Each character feels intricately balanced with even the variations of Goku having differences worth studying carefully. If you’re just looking for your favorite characters to throw onto a team, that’s cool too; the aforementioned simple combos are one-button to execute up to a special move exclamation point. I probably should’ve paid more attention during the tutorial fights about that little factoid. I’d been trying to do it the organic way, which made me feel real stupid for…longer than I want to admit.
The modes in Dragon Ball FighterZ do include a full-fledged, tiered tutorial that will challenge you with everything from dashing properly to juggling massive combos. Others include a story mode that, while original, does little for me. You fight clones so, so many times with the whole roster coming into play at some point or another. I do enjoy, as I always will, spending time with the characters and seeing them interact in new ways, some of them hilarious, but that’s about all this mode exceeds in doing.
Other modes include Arena, Arcade, and Practice. Arcade is substantial in that you earn loads of Zeni for unlocking lobby goodies and more as you knock your head against increasingly difficult CPU teams. I didn’t get a chance to fully experience Arena as no one else was doing it in my chosen lobbies. So, not unlike a guy in a barrel going over a waterfall, it looks fine from afar. That lobby area serves as a very light cosmetic mode in and of itself where you can add emotes and specific character models to your avatar.
Where many fighters have settled for mediocrity or worse, Dragon Ball FighterZ does no such thing, swinging the camera back out to a wide position and allowing players to take in the whole view. The moment-to-moment combat is heavy with subtitles you have to devote yourself to learning to climb in any ranks, but can be simple enough for those looking to take on computer folks to become machine overlord in no time. For the first time, it feels like a DBZ fighting game has gone beyond letting players be their favorite fighters and has finally included their favorite fights in the same package.
Dragon Ball FighterZ Score: