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Dragon Ball Fighterz (2018)

Not long after the Tournament of Destroyers (as seen in Dragon Ball Super) a strange army of clone warriors begin terrorizing the earth. Even worse, both Frieza and Cell have been sighted, successfully wished back to life. With their planet in mortal danger once again, Goku and the rest of Earth's warriors set out to save it. Only for each and every one to pass out from a mysterious force. Their only hope is a tiny human soul (the player) to revive the warriors and guide them to victory. Along the way, they will discover the purpose of this mysterious force crippling the strong and mystery surrounding a revived Android 16 and his partner, Android 21.

Dragon Ball Fighterz is the latest video game release for the Dragon Ball video game franchise, the 8th to be released in the 2010s. The game was developed by Arc System Works, who have developed highly acclaimed anime fighting games such as the Guilty Gear franchise and Blazblue. The game was directed by Junya Motomura and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The game was originally announced at E3 2017 and was released worldwide on January 23rd, 2018.

If you have already read our 2018 Games list, then you will know that this particular release was a highly anticipated one. Much like every other Dragon Ball fan, I was over the moon to see the direction Arc System Works was taking the beloved franchise. Taking inspiration from the Dragon Ball manga/anime to provide a polished visual spectacle.  However, the reputation for Dragon Ball games has for a long time been a mixed bag. With neat ideas and visuals but with little to no substance to keep anyone's attention (save for die-hard fans). However, many have claimed that Fighterz is the first Dragon Ball game released in a long time that can entertain both.

Is this true?

Let's power up our ki and find out.

How does the gameplay tell the story?

Typically, stories that are found in fighting games can be pretty hit or miss. Most lay down a simple narrative to players in order provide context for the fights and little else. The best ones, however, take advantage of their large cast and provide a wide variety of fun character moments. Allowing players to connect with the characters they play on a more personal level.  Dragon Ball Fighterz story mode may not succeed on all fronts (specifically in terms of structure), but it definitely shines when it comes to the presentation of its characters.

Who is Android 21 and what is her true connection to the long-defunct Red Ribbon Army?

The first thing to note is that the story itself is unique to the game (whereas most previous titles saw fit to recreate the anime). Several character lines do acknowledge previous events that have taken place in Dragon Ball Super, leading us to believe it roughly takes place after the Goku Black arc. This along with a few other touches helps the game feel like it could fit in as a standalone arc of Super. Even the latest addition to the Dragon Ball cast, Android 21 (designed by Akira Toriyama himself) fits right with some of the series best characters. A female villain that is not only smart, funny but also very menacing.

The actual gameplay outside of the three on three player matches breaks down to a basic board game format. You arrange your team of fighters and move them across a board, taking out clones and rescuing other Dragon Ball characters in order to add them to your team. The more you use them, the more they level up and hit harder as the opponents get stronger. While not, bad it can get pretty dull after a while. Fortunately, there are a few fun little tidbits of dialogue between the characters before fights begin that help break the monotony of the gameplay.

A huge part of what makes this game entertaining is due to the game's excellent character writing and translation. There are tons of unique character interactions that can be triggered if you put the right characters together and the delivery from the English dub cast gave me more than a few belly laughs.

For example, you can have both Cell and Adult Gohan on the same team and watch as the old enemies throw barbs at each other before a fight. Other fun exchanges include a pose-off between the Ginyu force and the hotheaded Gotenks and small bout of verbal jousting between Yamcha and Piccolo.

These scenes while short, play a big role in adding that Dragon Ball charm to the proceedings. Funny, tense, silly, or even just a quiet moment where side characters just get a moment to breath. A large part of that charm/humor comes from the Funimation performances as well, with everyone in the cast bringing their A game. Dameon Clarke as Cell continues to hit the ball out of the park with his delivery and Daman Mills continues to do an incredible job voicing Frieza (clearly taking inspiration from Chris Ayres performance).

One of the biggest downsides to the story, however, is how it presents interesting ideas, only not to fully explore them. One of the biggest plot points is how all of the strongest characters are now significantly weaker and need to “link” with a stray human soul (aka the player) in order to fight. While this is a clever idea, sort of giving context to how players will use the characters to fight, I don't believe the idea was used to its full potential. The game gives players occasional choices of what to say, but none of them really seem to impact the story at all to the point that player involvement seems inconsequential. Still, I will give credit where it is due and say that despite its flaws this story mode was vastly superior to playing through the anime for the umpteenth time.

What makes the animation unique?

Right out of the gate, one of Dragon Ball Fighterz biggest draw is its visual style. Promising a return to classic 2D fighter formula that hasn't been seen in this franchise for quite awhile. Not only has Arc system works delivered on this, but they have surpassed already high expectations. There are few gaming companies that can pull of the semi 2D but still in 3 dimensions look down but Arc System Works has proven time and again that they can pull it off with style. Fighterz is easily the best looking Dragon Ball game from top to bottom. Whether it's cinematics or even just the character fight animations, you can tell the people working on this both know and love Dragon Ball. One of the most important aspects of animation in a fighting game, the individual character animations, go a long way to inform players about the characters outside of actual dialogue. From their battle-ready poses, walk cycles, and of course their basic to heavy attacks. Arc System Works proves its passion for Dragon Ball in this way by making the animation unique to each character. Beyond that, taking inspiration directly from the manga, and incorporating into the game animation.

A back to back comparison of the game and panels of the manga featured on Saiyan Island.

Little touches like this go a long way to prove that this is a game made by fans, for fans.

What are the game's flaws/problems?

Though the animation in the game is incredible, there are plenty of problems that could prove distracting. For one, the walk cycles in cutscenes are very distracting (possibly crossing into Berserk levels of off-putting). Outside of story mode, you are also likely to find errors where the lip flaps don't match the lines given. Oddly enough, there are also a few scenes where the characters shadows are missing Goku's iconic spiky hair. A strange oversight but it is more of a nitpick than anything else. Most of my personal gripes come from the presentation of the online play.As someone who normally stays away from online vs mode (I usually get thrashed pretty quick), I have to say that getting into an online lobby was frustrating. If there are other issues, I have yet to find them but keep that in mind when you try to use the online feature.

Final Thoughts

Many Dragon Ball fans have been calling Fighterz one of the best Dragon Ball games ever made, if not THE best. After my own time with the game and my previous experiences with games of this franchise, I'm inclined to agree. I've always been a believer that when a development team really cares about a project, you can tell in strides they take to bring it to life. Arcsystem Works has proved their enthusiasm for Dragon Ball with this game. Creating a product that will not only satisfy die-hard fans like myself but appeal to fighting game fans as a well-constructed game. There is even a possibility some players may look into the Dragon Ball series for the first time just to see where the tale of Goku began. Regardless, I had an absolute blast with this game and it is definitely worth your time and money. As a Dragon Ball fan and a classic arcade brawler,  this is one fighting game you will not want to miss.

FORMATSPS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
FROM Arc System Works/Bandai Namco Entertainment
RATINGT for Teen

IN A NUTSHELL: Power up and take overcome any obstacle in this easily accessible fighting game.

For the Fans:

- Recommended Let's Play: Team Four Star (Dragon Ball Z Abridged) play Fighterz Story Mode (Strong language is used in these videos. You have been warned).