Dragon Ball fighting games have been released steadily throughout the course of the last couple decades, but none have garnered as much hype as developer Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ. A 3v3 2D fighting game, Dragon Ball FighterZ has recently been announced as an entry in gaming’s biggest fighting game tournament, EVO 2018 — a first for any Dragon Ball title. Its inclusion solidifies Dragon Ball FighterZ as a solid competitive fighter, capable of taking the big stage and joining the ranks of established favorites like Street Fighter and Tekken.
What makes this title in particular so hype goes hand in hand with its validity within the fighting game community, which is that Dragon Ball FighterZ feels more like a fighting game than any Dragon Ball fighter before it. Up until now, traditional Dragon Ball fighting games have always lent themselves toward the lore of the series, with developers creating products that distinctly capture aspects of the franchise, but not necessarily aspects that make for a great fighting game.
The ever-popular Budokai series (2002-2004) was the first 3D Dragon Ball fighter to release officially in America and it captured the energy of the anime in terms of gameplay like none before it. The popularity of this series of games soared in the west at the time, back when Toonami and Dragon Ball Z love was at an all-time high. The trilogy subsequently became Greatest Hits titles for the PlayStation 2, and featured voices of the English dub anime for the first time. It included cutscenes from the original story, in-game transformations, beam struggles, and fantastic fan service to fawn over. It was even recently re-rendered for an HD remake collection.
While the series churned out great Dragon Ball experiences, it didn’t translate into creating a well-respected fighting game.
It also introduced aspects that would cement itself as mainstays of every Dragon Ball title thereafter, like destructive environments and cinematic finishers.Despite its many distinctions, the gameplay wasn’t up to snub to be taken seriously on the competitive scene. Each character played the same, and the dragon rush mechanic largely relied on luck to actually function. So, while the series churned out great Dragon Ball experiences, it didn’t translate into creating a well-respected fighting game.
Following Budokai was the Tenkaichi series (2005-2011), which took what worked from Budokai and added a robust roster with updated graphics, a revamped “arena fighter” gameplay style, and an abundance of fan service. The latter took the form of deep cut inclusions, making characters never optional before into playable characters for the first time. However, unlike the series proceeding it, the gameplay was overly complex and as a result, boiled the controls down to two serviceable buttons that allowed anyone to pull off a string of general attacks. The huge selection of fighters ultimately consisted of character model swaps, with no unique playstyle to differentiate between them; making some of the deep cut character inclusions feel pointless.
The most recent series of games, Xenoverse (2015-2016), offers the ability to create your own character for the first time, a feature fans had been screaming for since first introduced in the not so great Dragon Ball Online. It also offers a great single player campaign that doesn’t solely rely on the same storyline and character arcs that have been played out over and over again in renditions past. However, combat is rendered down to button mashing and unpredictable RNG due to the title’s RPG elements. As a result, it soured any use of varied or balanced competitive play.
Fast-forward to this year, Dragon Ball FighterZ opts for a 2D plane instead of 3D, with 6-button controls built off an Arc System Works fighting game engine that is already established for competitive gameplay. These elements in conjunction allows for common fighter mechanics like mix-ups, air combos, and a 3v3 tag-in/assist component seen in titles like Marvel vs Capcom 2.
Whereas past versions have failed to find the balance between simplicity and complexity in control interface, Dragon Ball FighterZ strikes gold.
The game is easy to pick up and play due to its simplistic controls, implementing universal mechanics for every character like Super Dash, one-button combos, and a crouching heavy anti-air attack. But, whereas past versions have failed to find the balance between simplicity and complexity in control interface, Dragon Ball FighterZ strikes gold. The controls are also complex enough to pull off intricate combos with the utilization of jump cancels and tag-in attacks that reward players with more damage than the average one-button combo.
Unlike previous titles, all characters have their own unique playstyle, and even though Super Saiyan forms serve as their own playable fighter, there are key differences between double dipped characters like Super Saiyan Vegeta and Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta that make them play drastically different.
In addition, the game’s single-player campaign was overseen by series creator Akira Toriyama. The campaign fits well within the Z saga, as it includes easter eggs that spills over into gameplay, including iconic attacks lifted directly from the manga, climatic finishes, and specific character pairings that pay homage to the series. One fan-pleasing example includes Freiza’s Golden Frieza form, which gives him a damage boost and increase in speed. But like the film Resurrection F, his form only lasts for a short time and leaves him wide open for an attack once it’s depleted. But if timed just right, Frieza can call forth his minion Sorbet from offscreen to shoot the opponent while he’s recovering for an immobilizing attack, identically mirroring the scenario in the film. Whereas other DBZ titles wouldn’t implement such factors into its nods toward the source material, Dragon Ball FighterZ lends these moments toward its mechanics and adds a level of strategy, risk, and reward, as well as a drawback for opponents to take advantage of just as any well-balanced fighter would.
Dragon Ball FighterZ interest within the fighting game community have made new fans of the Dragon Ball franchise as a whole, and for the first time ever, introduced longtime lovers of the series to the first Dragon Ball fighter that feels like a true fighting game. Check out the top BlazBlue player, SKD (Super Kawaii Desu) explain the game’s mechanics and similarities to other Arc System Works titles in the video above.