STAFF REVIEW of Dragon Ball Fighterz (Xbox One)

Thursday, February 8, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Dragon Ball Fighterz Box art You know, I’ve never been a particularly violent person. “Well that’s good!” you say. “That takes a load off of my mind were I to ever meet you!” you exclaim. I’m glad to have warned you in advance. What I am however is a man, and a man that had a brother growing up. If you’ve never been in a house with two male children tearing up the place then you’ve never witnessed a genuine bona-fide disaster. In fact, you’ll find a listing for “Brothers” on the Canadian national disaster index filed snugly between avalanche and cataclysm. Our parents kept us mostly in line, but we did our absolute best to recreate all of the best scenes from our favorite 90’s cartoons; you know, Batman, X-Men, Power Rangers, Beast Wars, and Ninja Turtles...that stuff. I remember having my very own young-life crisis when my parents were considering banning us from watching Power Rangers anymore after seeing a newscast about similarly aged children breaking each other’s bones while fighting in the way that we did. Of course no house stays the same forever, and man-children kinda, sorta, maybe grow up...a little. The action-cartoon renaissance of our home will forever be known for two things: the discovery of Dragon Ball Z, and yelling to power up. I may have lied about the growing up thing.

Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and its numerous fighting games have a long and powerful heritage dating back to well before those names meant anything in North America. Many of Dragon Balls earliest games can’t be found in English and are for consoles that never hosted them on our side of the pond to begin with, like the Famicom and Super Famicom. My personal experience with Dragon Ball games starts fairly recently, mostly due in part by their lack of availability for the consoles I owned. My first title was Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the Gamecube, and yes, it was everything I dreamed it would be. It had all of my favorite characters, and they fought in all three dimensions! Of course it had some of my not so favorite characters too (I stand by the fact that Android 19 is the worst Dragon Ball Z character of all time), but oh well, not everybody can be a winner. Since then I’ve played most every Dragon Ball Fighting games on offer from the Tenkaichi’s to Burst Limit skipping only the Xenoverse titles because I was too busy saving Azeroth. Well, now I have more time, and I got to play Dragon Ball FighterZ which released not too long ago.

Having Dragon Ball Z move back into a 2-Dimensional environment was quite possibly the smartest thing that Namco-Bandai could have done with Dragon Ball FighterZ. While in the past it was important to move as many properties into the 3D gaming realm as possible to compete with other developers and take advantage of blooming technologies, I’ve always felt that there is a certain janky-ness to 3D fighters. Many times in 3D fighters, or at least in Dragon Ball’s older titles, you see scenes of fighters dashing towards one another only to miss because they were slightly turned in the wrong direction. This was circumvented most of the time with auto locking to your target during a match, but here and there it would still happen if both players went to make a move on the other simultaneously. This is an issue that 2D fighters do not have. 2D fighters also have an advantage in that it frees up three dimensional strafe commands replacing them with simple crouches and jumps, meaning those commands don’t have to fill up other buttons on your controllers. More fight buttons means more action which means more fun. They also look better, but that’s an opinion, and probably a blog post.

The controls for Dragon Ball Fighter Z are simple...well there’s a lot going on but it doesn’t take an absurd amount of time to get a rudimentary grasp on the basics. It isn’t a half circle forward, three-quarter circle back, X+Y while crouching kind of fighting game if you know what I’m saying. The game is loaded with auto combos done by repeatedly mashing one button over and over, which is both visually rewarding and effective play for green-horns, but there are also tools for the more seasoned of us to put together even more devastating strings of attacks. I won’t break down the controls button by button, as I’m not an instruction booklet, but everything you’d expect in a top notch fighting game is present. The face buttons are light, medium, and heavy attacks along with a ki blast button. Both your left-stick and d-pad are directional movement, crouch, and jump. Your right trigger and bumper buttons play critical roles in breaking an opponent’s guard and firing off effective super attacks. Lastly, your left trigger and bumper are all about calling in an assist, or straight up switching to an allied character. You read that right, we 3v3 baby, we Marvel vs. Capcom.

The entirety of the game is spent in a lobby. Exciting. What I mean is that there is a hub world that you access all of the games various modes from and it’s broken up into these lobbies, or servers if you will. You can leave and join different lobbies at any point that you want as at any given time the amount of people online playing will affect how many people there are in each lobby. If you are all about playing other folks online you may want to seek out busier lobbies to play on. The hub world is small and cute with many nods to the Dragon Ball universe in general.

You’ll start out by setting up your nickname, and if you so choose, customizing your player card and lobby character. Lobby characters are chibi (small, cute, baby-like) representations of virtually all the Dragon Ball Z characters you can think of for you to walk around as and use as your avatar. More lobby characters, profile cards, and fighter colors can be earned in the lobby by visiting the shop and spending your precious Zeni, but more on that later.

As they do, fighting game matches all play out pretty much the same way. What changes them are the circumstances of the match, or more plainly, the game mode. Dragon Ball FighterZ has six game modes to speak of, and each are different in their own ways, but none of them are strangers to the fighting game genre. First up is the classic, the expected, and the best way to get warmed up for the rest of the game, it’s the story mode. Dragon Ball FighterZ features a story mode that tells a tale which seemly takes place after the events of “Resurrection F”, but before the rest of “Dragon Ball Super”. In this tale, the fighters find themselves unable to harness their powers due to strange energy waves that fill the air. They’re only hope for survival is a strange body-less soul that seems to be bound to them and can access and unleash their inner power, but only one at a time. It’s a clever way to justify the fact that your team members can only fight one at a time. There are three story lines in total that tell the tale from different points of view and they overlap to some degree. In the story mode, the characters you use level up to gain more health, and some battles will yield power ups such as increased attack power, or more Zeni earned. One of the games hidden fighters is unlocked by completing this mode as well.

Arcade mode lets you challenge a string of fighters with three difficulty modes to choose from. Did you know that’s what arcade mode was? It’s news to me! The easiest difficulty has just three back-to-back fights. The medium difficulty has five fights, and the hardest mode has seven. On top of the number of fighters you face, the difficulty increases as well, obviously. Each match that you complete is ranked from “D” all the way up to “S”. The rank you earn in each match determines who you move onto face as you move up a very literal ladder. Not being particularly MLG when it comes to fighting games, I never did earn an “S” rank trophy on any of the arcade challenges, though I hear earning that coveted rank on the medium and hard settings can earn you the other two hidden fighters in the games roster.

Of course we cannot forget the multiplayer modes, which come in both online and offline forms. I'll be honest here, because I don’t have many Xbox Live friends I only dipped my toes into the online mode. I immediately got spanked but I can confirm that the mode works fairly well. World Play pits you against fighters from all over the globe in both casual and ranked play. I’m a little intimidated by the idea of losing my hard earned internet points, so I stuck mostly to casual matches. With fighting games above all else, good net code is critically important. I experienced little lag or poor loading times, though that may just have been my experience and obviously it may vary from person to person. Overall, the online infrastructure feels stable and reliable, which is always a sign of a potentially thriving online community. Due to the nature of fighting games, it is only recommended you use local multiplayer with people you do not intend to maintain long-term friendships with.

The last of the staple fighting game modes available in Dragon Ball FighterZ is the practice mode. I find myself spending just as much time in these modes as any of the other “real” modes in fighting games. I’m a chronic over prepare kind of guy, so I like to spend tons and tons of times practicing with my favorite characters to lose with. I just like to make sure I lose online in the best way possible. You know, with style, flourish, and a battle tag that looks something like a middle finger. In the practice mode you can find a series of challenges designed to teach you how to play each of the games fighters. This feature is crazy helpful and shouldn’t be snuffed at even by seasoned players. You just may learn a thing or two. Most, if not all (there’s like hundreds of these, I didn’t have time for all of them), reward their completion with cash.

Lobbies in Dragon Ball FighterZ come with their own set of useful features and aren’t simply gateways to the “good stuff”. First and foremost is the final, and least orthodox, of the fighting modes: Arena mode. Arena mode is a fighting mode for people in your specific lobby to enjoy and take part in. Players can throw down against each other, and outsiders, should they so choose, can spectate the match. There’s little else to Arena mode, but it does serve as a good way to kill time or fight with specific rivals you’ve made while playing. Also in the lobby is a rankings board and lobby chat. Now you too can see how many thousands of people are better than you while watching an endless string of memes and chuck Norris jokes. Just kids still do the Chuck Norris these days?

The last lobby feature is my favorite. Before the game's launch there were whispers on forums that Dragon Ball FighterZ would join the leagues of games that sell dreaded loot boxes. This turned out to be untrue, but there is an in-game mechanic that functions in a similar way using all of the in-game currencies you'll find in this game. Using the Zeni you earn from the various modes, you can buy Capsule Corp. capsules which contain one of many randomized prizes. These include new color palettes for the games fighters, previously mentioned lobby characters and color variants for those, profile cards, stamps which can be used as part of the in-game emote system and on the chat log, and titles. As you progress through the game and spend more and more Zeni on these capsules, the likelihood of getting duplicates increases. When duplication occurs the game gives you a secondary currency called “Premium Z Coins”. Ten of these coins can be spent to buy one capsule which will give you a guaranteed new item.

Being as old as the show is now, Dragon Ball FighterZ has reached the point in Dragon Ball's life where the games look better than the show ever did. But, not only does the game look better than the show, it looks really freaking good altogether. While Namco can’t claim that each of the frames are hand drawn like many other fighting games of the past, they’ve done the next best thing. The frames are quick and choppy to give that illusion of speed you'd expect in a Dragon Ball title. Each movement feels important and powerful. Special attacks are over the top and in many cases fill much, if not all, of the screen. That’s just how it is with Dragon Ball and FighterZ has been remarkably faithful to the source material going as far as to have not only special dialog between most characters, but unique scenes that play out when specific outcomes are met that reenact the show. This cel-shaded wonder is nothing short of a masterful work of art.

Lending its hand to the Dragon Ball package is the sound department, and they delivered just as much as the visual crew. High octane action has always needed music that can match its pace. Dragon Ball FighterZ features a jazzy rock style that is distinctly Dragon Ball. The music is great on its own, but doesn’t intrude on the action. That said, my one complaint about the game falls into the sound category and how poorly it was balanced. During the story mode it was common for the voice acting of characters to get drowned out by the back ground music. This is actually an issue that show had in some cases way back when as well, I guess their faithfulness knows no bounds.

It’s rare that I get giddy for a game the way I did for Dragon Ball. I suppose the only titles that really do that for me are ones that I have a deep connection to from my childhood. Dragon Ball FighterZ is a series defining game for Dragon Ball and the creators of the game will definitely have set the bar higher for any sequel we may get down the road, and that’s okay. Games that improve gaming, and the enjoyment of those that play them, are so much more important than many of us give them credit for. When you have a game that people rally around, exclaim in excitement together about, and relive past excitements and childhood memories with them, what you have is a very special game.

Dragon Ball FighterZ takes everything that is good about Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and the newer Dragon Ball Super, and flaunts it, but not only that, it celebrates it. As it stands now Dragon Ball FighterZ is the best Dragon Ball game that has ever made it to store shelves. If you fancy yourself a Dragon Ball fan in any way shape or form, then I cannot recommend this game enough. Go! What are you waiting for? Go get it! Unless you can sense power levels, you’re going to blink and miss the whole damn thing.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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