From the moment I saw images from Dragon Ball FighterZ, I was blown back into the past, overwhelmed by the nostalgia of days spent rushing home after school to catch my favorite show on Toonami. Now that I’ve spent a week with the game, I can confirm that the full release has succeeded in doing just that. The 3v3 2D fighter from Arc System Work, has managed to exceed my expectations in making me feel just as giddy as I once did seeing my childhood heroes go toe-to-toe.
Before getting into my opinion on Dragon Ball FighterZ, I should make it clear that a majority of my time spent with the game has been in the singleplayer modes.
While I know fighting games are notoriously famous for their competitive multiplayer, allowing players to push their abilities to the limits, with extended combos and quick counters. As someone who has never been exceptional in the genre, I decided to play it safe and jump right into the story mode. Much to my surprise, I was immediately enthralled by a new story, which put some of my favorite characters in situations I only thought possible through fanfiction. Like a conversation between Goku and Tien, where Goku reveals he’s equally an awful grandfather to Pan as he was a father to Gohan.
In my past Dragon Ball fighting games, I have become so accustomed to simply replaying events from the original series, reliving the experiences. Even Xenoverse which had a “new” story was primarily just revisiting fights we all know and love to correct the altered timeline. FighterZ deviates from all of this by starting us, the player, possessing the body of an amnesiac Goku, being raised to battle by Bulma as the world is being overwhelmed by clones. Throughout the story, the mystery continues to build as we learn more about the linking process allowing us to connect to Goku. As well as discovering the plans of the best character to bless the Dragon Ball universe, Android 21.
Aside from being set in a universe I adore, the biggest draw for FighterZ was the accessibility. Unlike many fighting games, FighterZ lowered the bar of entry for competitive play. The complicated combos which have deterred many players, including myself, are long gone. Instead, FighterZ maintains a simple command list shared among all characters, allowing new players to feel the excitement of pulling off combos without careless button mashing.
What Dragon Ball FighterZ does best is serve as an introduction to the genre. The streamlined command list allows for players to focus on other mechanics rather than trying to recall complicated sequences. When playing through the arcade mode I often found myself doing something I hardly ever do in 2D fighting games, playing defense. Now that I wasn’t being dragged down and constantly frustrated as I failed sequences. I became keen to the movements of the AI characters and tried to block and counter instead of just riding out the combo until I was able to fight again.
With the ease of play introduced in this game, there were some downsides. The story mode for this game is separated into three separate arcs, each taking roughly 2 hours to complete. While the story contains many humourous fanservice moments, I frequently found myself disconnected and almost bored with what was on screen. feeling the reward of being able to pull of mesmerizing combos only lasted so long, and my familiarity with the game was greatly outpacing the ramp in difficulty. The entirety of the first arc played similar to an extended tutorial which was long overstaying it’s welcome. Fight after fight I was faced with minimal competition, which paired with the simplified combat turned extended sessions into somewhat of a snore.
The gameplay for the story mode is set up as somewhat of a board game. On each map, you’re given a certain number of moves to defeat the boss before triggering a game over screen. On the way to the boss, you’ll encounter several smaller battles against clones, which are basically just reskinned models with bad posture. This is where I often found myself beginning to drift off. In these fights, the AI was practically nonexistent. Suffering blow after blow without any attempt of countering or blocking. While this was fine in the begging as I familiarized myself with the control scheme, 50+ fights later it only left me feeling disinterested in what was happening on screen.
Thankfully the humor scattered about can help alleviate the dullness of repetitive battles. While the promise of unlocking Android 21 at the story’s completion is a strong motivation to push through the game’s 7.5-hour runtime. At the end of the day FighterZ, much like the franchise it derives from, is an excellent entry point to the genre. Similiar to how many of us were introduced to anime through Dragon Ball Z. The accessibility of the combat system in FighterZ is a warm welcome for people looking to give fighting games a try for the first time. And if they’re anything like me they’ll get a boosted ego from breezing through the arcade mode, just to hop online and instantly be reminded, “nope, I’m still trash.”