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Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4) Review

January 27, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Dragon Ball FighterZ
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Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4) Review  

As someone who was a Dragon Ball Z fan, became a lapsed Dragon Ball Z fan, then returned to the series when Dragon Ball Super was announced, I was fairly interested in this game, once they announced it. Teaming up the fighting engine from Arc System Works along with an actual recognizable franchise (sorry Guilty Gear fans) should make this a real slam-dunk game. It almost every respect it is, but it has some truly baffling things going on the sidelines that make me scratch my head at times.

Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ) is a 3 on 3 team-based fighter, very much akin other games in the genre, notably Marvel vs. Capcom and the like. You have four main attack buttons, weak, medium and strong attacks, with the fourth button used for your Ki blasts, and other beam-type special attacks. R1 is used for a Dragon Rush, which lets you dash for a few steps and hit someone. If successful, you go into a quick succession of attacks with you hitting the other fighter in the air and you chasing them to continue the combo. R2 lets you quickly dash toward the enemy. L1 and L2 are used to either bring your other teammates in for a quick attack, or to let you swap places with them. You even have two different super attacks, one costing one bar of meter, and the other costing three bars, which leads to a more flashy/powerful attacks, which is a Meteor Attack.

On the surface, this is very akin to Marvel vs. Capcom 3. There’s even a mechanic called Sparking Blast which is analogous to the X-Factor mechanic in MvsC 3. If you press R1 and R2 together, you’ll enter a state where you do more damage and regenerate health more quickly. The less characters you have on your team, the longer this state lasts.

Superficially then, the lineage between DBFZ and Marvel seems fairly apt, but it’s not, not at all actually. If anything, this game has more in common with Arc’s previous game Persona 4 Arena than any other fighter. This is primarily due to how actually combat behaves.

In Persona 4 Arena, there was a mechanic that was basically an auto-combo for new players. If you just kept massing the square button, your character would automatically do a flashy, multi-hit combo that will do some decent-sized damage to your enemy. In Persona 4 Arena, this was only for the square button, but in DBFZ this happens with square, triangle and circle. The combos aren’t as damaging as if you were doing attacks manually, but it does help starting players feel like they are doing something cool.

The roster for DBFZ is pretty interesting, featuring a mix of old and new characters. Obvious characters like Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, Cell are here, but slightly more obscure characters like Nappa, Yamcha and Tien are featured prominently as well. The roster has around 20 characters, with 3 more being unlockable, and each is different enough, if ever so slightly.

Probably the weirdest characters are Majin Buu or Captain Ginyu. Buu doesn’t really have a beam-type attack at all, instead electing to do a fart-like attack to damage enemies, or throwing a chunk of himself at other players to restrain them for a few seconds. Ginyu, of course, calls in the Ginyu force to do most of his special attacks, as well as body-swapping for his bigger super move.

There are some specific aspects to a Dragon Ball cannon that are represented well in the game, and some that are missing completely. The Ki blast, for example, is handled well. Different characters have vastly different Ki blasts, with Vegeta being able to rapidly fire them in quick succession, but someone like Yamcha or Nappa barely able to throw one out.

You can also charge up your power in order to quickly boost your super meter. There’s a Vanish move, which teleports you behind the other fighter for a quick attack, which costs one level of meter, but is perfectly in step with the source material.

One extremely unique mechanic is the actual Dragon Balls, which I don’t think have been in prior DBZ games, or at least the ones I’ve played. As you do super attacks and combos, Dragon Balls will occasionally fly out and fill a meter on the bottom of the screen. Once all 7 are collected, and if you have a completely maxed super bar, you do one more combo and Shenron the dragon will appear, giving you four wishes. These are: revive a fallen team-mate, give yourself more power (another Sparking Blast), restore some character health, or “make me immortal”, which I think reduces damage, but the game isn’t quite clear on this one.

On the flip side, there’s no real transformations in this game at all, save one character (where it doesn’t amount to much). You won’t start off as regular Goku then power up through his litany of Super Saiyan forms, or god forms that he learns later on. You only have Super Saiyan Goku to pick, although one of his god forms is playable as a separate character.
Flying is also missing, but really, that’s to the benefit of the game. Flying in past Dragon Ball Z games has always been really awkward, especially once the series moved to the 3D realm. Even in the 2D games, flying was “passable”, but never really felt enjoyable. This game ditches it completely, and it works way better for it.

Honestly, the fighting engine in this game is top-notch. It is insanely quick, fun, and flashy (almost overwhelming so in spots), everything looks superb though, and there is a lot of hidden depth to the battle system, once you really get into it. Some of the problems come forward though in other modes of the game, particularly the story mode.

The story mode contains three different story arcs, the first is you playing the heroes side, the second playing the “villains” side, and the last being the real villains side. Dragon Ball FighterZ introduces a new character, Android 21, as the main bad guy and she is great. She is a mixture of a somewhat petulant android but can also turn into a Majin Buu-esque figure, who turns people into candy to eat them and gain their power. She is a great addition to the franchise and one hopes that once Dragon Ball Super ends its current “Universe Survival” arc, they can incorporate her into the show.

Another subplot is that the main characters have to be linked with a human soul to actually fight correctly. There are apparent waves that are weakening the characters, so in order for them to fight well, they have to be linked with a human (i.e. you, the player) to function. Oh, and a bunch of random clones show up…a lot…lot of clones show up.

Story mode places you on a game board, with different nodes for you to move through and fight. Your fighters each have levels, and you can form a team based on the number of fighters you have available. The nodes will enemy fighters for you to tackle, and if you are victorious you gain Zenny (money), experience, and some health is regenerated. You also gain skills you can slot into your team to give you different status effects like more attack power, health regeneration, lowering enemy team levels, etc. There is also a big, fat turn limit on every levels, typically 20 turns or so, and each time you move on the board is a turn. If the turn limit expires, then it is game over.

There are a ton of story maps for you to progress through. During these maps you will 95% of the time fight clones of the other characters, only occasionally fighting the “real” characters, mainly for the end of level boss battles. Occasionally, if you have the right team, there may be some pre-fight banter between specific fighters (the Gotenks/adult Gohan one is great), but most of the time you just move through the maps fighting endless Goku, Krillin clones and not really caring at all.

Occasionally an evil version of Kid Buu will show up on the board as well. He will replace a current enemy node, so you have to fight him. He also automatically levels up after you move, which creates a bit of a risk/reward system. You can usually just go right to him to fight, but he won’t be as strong, so you won’t get as much experience. If you wait around a while, Buu will grow a lot stronger, so you can gain more experience, but you might lose to him, so you have to be aware of that.

I’m really not sure about the structure of the story mode, if anything, I think I am slightly negative on it. Compared to past Arc Systems Games, it at least has fighting in the story, something Guilty Gear Xrd was missing, but it has way too much fighting. The various levels are filled to the brim with the cloned characters, and it becomes extremely tedious after a while.

Alongside this, I don’t get the experience system at all. I was perpetually under-leveled as I did the hero campaign, and it didn’t seem to really matter. I think levels are just masking difficulty sliders, in a sense, but I wish it was clearer. I had a level 18 Goku, level 18 Vegeta, and level 17 Gotenks and managed to win the first story arc by fighting against a level 35 Android 21. Given the huge level disparity, you might think to stick to your favorite core three fighters, but as you go through fights, they can get more and more damaged. Some of it does regenerate when it’s over, but if you are really hurting, it doesn’t go back to 100%. This has you needing to occasionally swapping out your higher-leveled characters for weaker ones, and hoping for the best. You would think the game might want you to grind for levels, but because of the XCOM-like turn limit, you really can’t afford to screw around that much.

Dragon Ball FighterZ has all the other required modes for a fighting game, training mode, arcade, and online. When you start the game, you are launched into this lobby system that has everything around you that you can walk (or teleport to) with your avatar. Most modes are fairly self-explanatory, save for online.

In online, you can do ranked and casual play, which is the norm. However, to fight against a specific player, say a friend, you have to create a special “ring” lobby, which the game doesn’t really explain at all. Once the lobby is created, then your friend can join in and do battle, but it still feels kind of cumbersome in practice.

The last thing to touch on is the in-game store. This is very reminiscent of the fishing mini-game from Guilty Gear Xrd. You basically plunk down Zenny (which you gain from fighting/doing quests) to randomly unlock new character colors, new avatar costumes/characters, new Z-stamps (stamps to use in chat), and other stuff. It’s very inconsequential, but does provide for some fun, customizing your lobby avatar.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Despite some odd story and online structure problems, Dragon Ball Fighter Z is a superb fighting game, and likely the best game in the entire 30 year history. It’s incredibly approachable but belies a hidden strategy that can be key to survival. It also looks fantastic, and is better than the source material. If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, this game is an easy pick up, but if you’re looking for a good fighting game, then you should also buy it as quickly as possible.