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Dragonball FighterZ [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

The game feels like a love-letter through-and-through, but I can't quite place my finger on who its dedicated to: the fans or the source material. Either way it feels like a win for gamers and fans of Dragonball both. The art-style of the game is simply stunning and players at any skill level can pick it up and have an absolute blast!

The Pros: 

+Stellar art design
+Tons of deep-cut references to the anime/manga
+Ability to play at multiple skill levels (and still be fun!)
+High-end skill and deep mechanics means this has potential to be a proper tournament fighter

The Cons: 

-AI difficulty ramp-up can be a bit sudden
-Online is a bit spotty so far (day one)
-If you didn't pre-order, you're going to have to put in WORK to get SSGSS Goku/Vegeta

ShogunGamer.com Rating : 
8

Dragonball Z is a franchise that’s been pumping out fighting games for pretty much for long as I’ve been able to hold a controller. However, the franchise (as much as we might appreciate our time with it) has never really produced a legitimate tournament-worthy fighter. The unique partnership between Arc System Works and Namco Bandai finally looks to correct that with a versus-style combat game that’s easy to pick up and offers a surprising amount of depth; already becoming the most registered fighter at the upcoming Combo Breaker tournament.

So, to kick off the new year with our first review of 2018, let’s talk about how the dynamic duo of Arc and NamBam did with their jump to legitimate tournament fighter and the overall presentation of the package that is, already, one of 2018’s most hyped video games.

Before we dive into the deep end of the tournament ready multiplayer, I want to discuss something I didn’t think would be much more than a quick tutorial/write-off: the story mode of the game.

Japanese Story Mode

Arc has a history of decent stories that are loosely themed around character introductions that allow you to play many the full roster to get a feel for everyone’s individual play-style. Dragonball FighterZ isn’t too much different from that point of view, however where it does deviate from the usual fair of a fighting game story is in the surprising amount of depth, replay-ability, and branching storylines (depending on the characters you add to your roster as you gain new “party members”).

After five hours with the story mode of the game I was able to complete the first “arc” of the game, ending with the “good guys” story. I figured that was a significant cut, considering there are three arcs total. However, when you take into consideration that my competition percentage of the first arc, according to the in-game stat-tracker, was under 50% well… you start to get an idea of how much story there is here.

Summoning Shenron Basically, there are opportunities to branch the story and open new bits of story and dialog between the characters as you go by completing certain sub-objectives or sometimes just having the right people on the team for a given fight. This means if you’re the kind of player that’s looking for long-term play out of your game without getting into the online-warrior competitive/casual modes then you’ve got plenty of game to look forward to.

It’s a feature that is, from my point of view, entirely unexpected and greatly appreciated. While I dig playing fighting games competitively, I do appreciate a good story mode mechanic to get me through the initial experience of learning a game and when you’re talking about Dragonball in specific its lovely to see a title that doesn’t follow the standard Dragonball Z storylines. If you’ve been playing DBZ games as I have, you’re likely exhausted by that concept. So instead, Dragonball FighterZ offers a completely original story-line to explore.

One minor spoiler on the story-front I do want to let slip, while leaving the rest for our readers to discover on their own, is the integration of the game’s play-style into the story. It’d be easy enough to ignore that the characters of FighterZ are being forced into fights that incorporate tag-mechanics, but instead Arc/NamBam have weaved it into the storyline in a way that actually makes you (the player) feel a part of the universe and has you conversing with all your favorites from the franchise.

SSGSS Goku Kaioken

You see, you are a “soul” who inhabits the fighters in the game one at a time, explaining why they need to tag in or “swap” to fight. It also means that all the characters you come across in the game are aware of you and speak with you directly. It’s a nifty little concept that shines and adds a little something extra to what could have easily been a glorified tutorial.

Speaking of the characters, I think one of the most interesting (and in my opinion: important) decisions that Arc made with this game is a limited roster. We’ve been spoiled in the past with the ability to play virtually every character in the franchise’s lengthy history, sometimes giving us the choice of upwards of 50 characters to try and decide amongst. Arc brings it back down to a more manageable set of choices, instead focusing on a small group of fighters and making them play/feel incredibly unique from one another.

For the purposes of making this a game with a potentially serious and dedicated fighting game fan-base this is a bold choice and one that I feel will pay dividends.

Lobby

Not only does it focus the players looking to pick this game up as a serious competition fighter, but as viewers will have a better chance of keeping up with those tournaments when they’re broadcast as we don’t need to know the individual fight styles of 50+ characters; not to mention it means that each character had focus applied. It’s something you’ll notice right away when you get started, everyone is unique and caters to a specific play style, though all feel equally deadly. It’s a difficult balance to pull of, and one that I think only works because Arc had the gumption to pull back from the standard “play anyone from any timeline” ideal of the previous entries in the franchise.

Once you’re through the story-mode, or if its just not your favorite way of learning a new fighting game, there are a couple of other options to improve your skill in FighterZ and learn about its many mechanics. Of course, if you’re just looking to smash buttons, that’s always an option as well thanks to the auto-combos.

The people looking to take this game seriously or look to enter competitions at some point though will find the combo tutorials and training modes helpful for learning to take the game from a party-style brawl to something more skill-focused.

Final Flash

And for what it’s worth, I think this is easily the best feature of the game. It feels like it can be played at least three different ways… kind of like how Sonic layered their maps in the original titles. You can jump in immediately and smash buttons and get the reward of full combos that lead into impressive, flashy finishers or you can spend a little more time and advance those combos with specific inputs. Where the game is really going to take off, and what will be the most exciting for the upcoming tournament scene, is that you can also take full control and not bother leaning on the auto-combos what so ever. You can find deeper, larger combos that require precise control and timing to be taken advantage of for some massive damage.

There are a ton of mechanics baked into the auto-combos, which means the mechanic serves as an introduction to the potential of the fighter. Each component of the auto-combo is something you could do on your own separately, sort of building blocks it introduces you to so that you can eventually see how they link together in different ways and start building out your own custom combos to maximize your lethality.

Goku Black Super

Still further than that though, there’s a ton of mechanics that can be used individually or in conjunction with those attacks like the teleport, or supers, or using one of four different systems to tag in a team member. Then there’s knock-backs, push blocks, and a suite of top-level mechanics that I’ve yet to even scratch the surface of after a full week of playing this game and trying to figure it out.

Basically, the game is deceptively deep. Those that have been watching the streams or played during the betas and were complaining about the auto-combos will quickly realize (if they haven’t already) that those people relying solely on the auto-combos aren’t going to go very far in the competitive scene.

Dragonball FighterZ is a game that has a lot of potential and a lot more ways to play then I would have ever guessed. Arc Systems has pulled together a whole lot of fan service and put it together in a tight package that has multi-leveled gaming.

As mentioned, if you’re looking for a party game to mash buttons at your friends the game will serve you well. It’s a blast to pick up and play and of course looks dynamite. If you’re looking for something deep though, there’s plenty of depth here for you to dig out and feel accomplishment for working in to your game online or at local tournaments.

Beyond the competition and the fun-factor and the glorious art-design though this game is a love-letter to the source material and its fans. Playing through and using the character special abilities is going to give you call kinds of fun little nods to the original anime/manga. Things like Freeza having dual-destructo-discs that return from off screen and will damage to you, or Sorbet popping a shot in to the match from off screen turning Freeza’s recovery from his Golden form when his stamina depletes.

Really the title offers something for everyone and at this point I’m inclined to say that it lives up to the hype. Here’s hoping that the tournament takes to it as quickly and as passionately as I have, because while I might not be able to take full advantage of all the systems and mechanics in the games hidden depths I look forward to seeing professional gamers make this game look even more stylish than the immaculate art-design already has.

 

Review is based on a retail version for Xbox One, provided by the Publisher.

Dragonball FighterZ
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), Playstation 4, PC
Release Date:
January 26th, 2018
Price: $79.99 (CDN with options for "FigherZ Edition" and "Ultimate Edition" Bundles at $124.99 and $139.99 respectively)