Wot I Think: Dragon Ball FighterZ

dragonballfighterz1

Dragon Ball was the hallmark of nearly every Thursday night when I was growing up, especially during the infamous run of Toonami on Cartoon Network. I never did keep up with the show’s evolving story, but I was always enamored by the way Goku and pals decimated the world around them as they fought at super Saiyan speed. And that’s the first thing that hit me when I jumped into Dragon Ball FighterZ – Cell flew directly into an asteroid behind him and blew it to bits after I landed a heavy kick directly to his gut. You beat up your opponent and watch the world crumble and collapse.

That moment was the precursor to so many fights that reminded me of those tired Thursday nights, avoiding homework by watching Piccolo stress out over the latest catastrophic disaster. It’s wild how well Dragon Ball can retain its intense vibe across mediums, and having someone beat me online didn’t feel much different to watching Frieza beat on Krillin.

Arc System Works has managed to capture the complicated nature of Goku’s adventures and simplify the fighting systems found in previous games, boiling it all down into an incredibly clear and concise package. Taking the intimidating systems of the Guilty Gear franchise and combining them with the straightforward nature of something like Street Fighter, they’ve created a game that’s easy to get into and just as easy to get destroyed in online if you don’t carefully consider your strategy and the attributes of each character.

dragonballfighterz6

The core 3 vs 3 tag team matches run at an incredibly fast pace, but felt just right once I actually got into the thick of the action. The meat of the combat lies in light and heavy hits that can be leveraged into both “auto combos”, composed of light attacks that are easy for new players to tackle, and more intricate combinations that veteran players will be able to dig into and design their playstyle around.

The depth of FighterZ comes from the timing and memorization required around its systems. Blocks rely on the timing of directional input against the opponents attack, combo cancellations depend far more on counters rather than on taking advantage of small openings. It’s a fighting system that allows you to rely on instinct once you’ve mastered the basics, with attack and defense both flowing together as extensions of positioning and movement. That said, while the cinematic nature of some combos makes matches feel different than any other fighter, they do have a tendency to interrupt the flow of a match at times.

dragonballfighterz5

Despite the extravagance of the visuals, nothing really feels overpowered or incredibly unbalanced, especially as a new player. It’s easy enough to escape when you’re pinned to the side of a level and powerful combos are easy to pull off, but getting used to the aerial nature of more advanced strategies, and learning more block breakers prevented me from feeling accomplished. There was a huge drop off in my enjoyment when I played against someone slightly more experienced in the genre, whereas my matches against other beginners were incredible.

Even during the tough times, FighterZ is a delight to watch. Every match is scattered with bits of flare that feel like they came straight from the show, new fighters come in and dramatically clash with the other player and combos take on different camera angles without snatching control away from you. Even in the move to 3D, the stylised art retains the look of the animation that the show made me fall in love with.

Smooth, flowing combat, a system that is easy to grasp but has depths to master, and fantastic visuals. It all sounds good, doesn’t it? If only playing online wasn’t such a mixed bag. The online match quality itself has been relatively smooth and the delay-based netcode has worked when playing regional matches; even if I’ve run into some disconnects I haven’t had many issues with lag.

dragonballfighterz4

The problems with online play are the lobby structure, matchmaking, and attempting to play with friends. Some of these elements can definitely be a nuisance. From the day the game launched, to a week later, finding someone to play against online can be time-consuming. The lobby system is overcrowded, considering there weren’t enough open servers to meet the demand. It seems clear that Bandai Namco was not ready for this much excitement about a fighting game on PC.

Walking around in the cutesy little campus that stands in for a general lobby quickly exposed the game’s inability to make finding a game simple and efficient. Each lobby I tried to join either had no room open, was looking for players far more advanced than me, or was private. And simply trying to jump into a game against someone random rarely led to an actual match. At least the little customizations you have are enjoyable – you unlock little avatars and custom options for player cards through in-game loot box-like Z-Capsules that are purchased with currency earned across all modes.

dragonballfighterz3

It’s impossible to say whether these online woes will be corrected, especially at the matchmaking and lobby level. Playing online for the last week has been increasingly frustrating, especially considering how much fun the arcade mode has been. There is a significant single player component, but it’s not without problems of its own.

If you’re one of those individuals who enjoys chopping wood alone in fighting games, then you’ll have plenty of lumber to get through. Unfortunately, none of the single player modes are particularly engaging; FighterZ has a bulky arcade mode, single player story, and practice mode. They all boil down to the same thing, but provide an ample challenge before jumping online to a far more difficult fight.

dragonballfighterz2

For the single player adventure, FighterZ takes on a different narrative than anything found in the show or manga, although it’s still very anime-esque. Goku finds himself controlled by some sort of unknown spirit that turns out to be you, the player, and that ends up being the explanation behind why only one character can fight at a time. You then move around on a board, taking on clones of popular Dragon Ball characters and saving the real versions in order to add them to your team. It’s a fun way to get into the spirit of the game but ends up becoming repetitive quite quickly.

Problems with lobbies and repetitive modes aside, Dragon Ball FighterZ is everything I want out of a Dragon Ball fighting game. It’s colourful, kinetic and full of character. Struggling through the matchmaking noise has been worth it to actually fight as my main man Goku, and throwing a Kamehameha has never felt better, but there’s still work to be done to give the excellent core of the game the wider structure that it deserves.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is out now for Windows and is available via Steam for £44.99.

23 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    While Dragonball canon is among the most convoluted and moronic of any series I’m aware of, I have to say that this game looks phenomenal. Every screenshot definitely looks like a game, but also very much like an anime screencap. It’s extremely impressive!

    • bfar says:

      You should see it in motion, it’s absolutely a sight to behold. My 2 and 4 year olds went ape when they saw everything going on on the TV screen.

      Whether the combat system and match making hold up remains to be seen, but the frantic and explosive pace make other fighters look positively pedestrian.

      I’m glad RPS took the time to review this, Steam sales seem to have taken everyone by suprise.

  2. HothMonster says:

    Personally the online performance has been way better the last few days. I’ve been able to get lots of casual matches fairly quick and the Ring fight lobbies have been full and and active for lots of quick matches.

    My biggest gripe, and I’m surprised you didn’t touch on it, is how cheap the AI in the arcade mode is. It doesn’t just get more proficient as you advance it gets higher damage values, faster meter regeneration and is more damage resistant. If you do well on one of the hard mode ladders the later stages will KO a character in a single combo if you slip up. Plus the AI is so obviously reading your button presses that it is hard to get anything going even when you’re performing well. It doesn’t teach you high level play. At a certain point, after all the cheats fire up, it really just forces you to cheese the AI if you want to win.

    • abstrarie says:

      Yeah the AI is balls. When SSB Vegeta can wipe you in one short combo because of one tiny mistake thus ruining your whole arcade run, there is a problem.

  3. Cropduster says:

    I’m having fun so far, my only real issue is it’s a pretty spartan character roster right now. Plenty of saiyans and supervillains, but no sign of more fun characters like Yajirobe, Roshi or Mr Satan.

    So many blonde pointy haired dudes, but I just want to play as that pig that’s always shitting itself.

    • Crafter says:

      How does the game handle the fact that scaling is insane in DBZ and characters of arc x should get destroyed by characters of arc x+1 ?

      • Cropduster says:

        It just doesn’t as far as mechanics go. They’re all more or less on equal footing.

        There’s some (fairly contrived) lip service in the story to explain how Krillin can beat Cell or whatnot but I think it’s best just not to worry about it.

      • SaintAn says:

        Be aware that the game data is saved on your computer and not on a server. So a game crash at the wrong time can corrupt save data and cost you everything. All unlocked characters, all unlocked items, ranks, story progress, money, and everything else. I’ve read about that happening to a few people in the first few days. Apparently the last Arc System game also had this problem. Steam cloud doesn’t restore it either.

  4. satan says:

    Any big DBZ fans on staff at RPS? Any chance of an article covering the earliest DBZ mods/total conversions of half-life and quake3 wayyy back? We’ve come a looong way.

  5. Helixagon says:

    It’s odd to see others talking about being unable to find matches. I’ve been playing since Day 1 (and managed to try out a couple of the PS4 betas) and I’ve always found matches within a few minutes of queueing. On average, a minute or two. Perhaps it’s the difference between Ranked and Casual? (I don’t think I’ve tried Casual since the game launched)

    I definitely wouldn’t bother with lobbies unless you’re playing with friends or just looking for something different if you’re bored of matchmaking. I tried a couple of arena matches (where you sit in the middle and spam “Want to fight?” until someone joins and for some reason it takes a full minute to actually start fighting) but since the skill of the person you’re facing is entirely random, it’s definitely a hail mary for balanced and fun matches.

  6. SaintAn says:

    Be aware that the game data is saved on your computer and not on a server. So a game crash at the wrong time can corrupt save data and cost you everything. All unlocked characters, all unlocked items, ranks, story progress, money, and everything else. I’ve read about that happening to a few people in the first few days. Apparently the last Arc System game also had this problem. Steam cloud doesn’t restore it either.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    Lot of people seem to have fond memories of Dragonball. I think I must have been watching the mirror-universe version, because I mostly remember astoundingly, embarrassingly bad voice-acting and dudes standing in a desert going “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” for entire episodes.

    • Apologised says:

      No that’s about right. And yet it’s this weird anime phenomenon. Enough to warrant not one but two sequel series.

      That said DBZ-Abridged on YouTube is a pretty good lampshading of the whole thing which I’d heartily recommend to anyone interested.
      It starts off pretty rocky, but they find their footing about 6 or 7 episodes in and it’s basically gold from there on.

      Shame they never finished the Cell Games arc, but the fact that they got that far AND found time to do a lot of the movies as well is pretty impressive.

    • Cropduster says:

      It’s certainly dumb, but it’s so gloriously dumb I can’t help but be entertained.

    • culturalrebel says:

      I’d recommend Dragonball Kai if you want to get the story but want to skip the many, many, many instances of filler that the original anime employed. They manage to cut the number of episodes in half just by getting right to the good bits.

      • SaintAn says:

        I heard they messed up the animation in the Kai series. Probably better off watching the incredible animation of the original.

    • abstrarie says:

      The first arc of DBZ is great. It basically throws the plot equivalent of everything and the kitchen sink at you in like the first 5 episodes. You have a mysterious evil brother appearing out of nowhere, a team up between hated rivals to take him down, a small child awakening hidden powers, a short and brutal fight with a cool new special attack, and the death of the main character of the series. In the first 5 episodes! And the art style in the beginning was very minimal but well done. I know that is what hooked me when I was a kid. The rest of that saga is also really good (gotta love most of the main cast dying) although it starts dragging by the end of the fight with Vegeta. After that, the animation quality goes way down and the filler quotient goes way up and it pretty much turns into what you described. And the english dub of the second half of the namek saga is maybe the worst dub ever created. It is so bad. You end up just dealing with all the nonsense to see the good bits every now and then. Even as a huge DB fan, I found the Buu arc to be basically unwatchable once the endless fight against super Buu begins.

      I think most people are like me and got hooked by how good the first arc was, and then just kind of dealt with the rest. Toriyama was really good at throwing in something cool right at the moment you wanted to stop watching. Frieza saga seems boring now? Super Saiyans are now a thing! Cell and Android nonsense is dragging? Ok, now SS2! Look at that big ass kamehameha! Buu had SS3 which was awesome, but then completely wasted. Ugh. What a stupid show. Why do I like it so much?

      • BooleanBob says:

        Nice post! The secret sauce of most shounen battle shows is the age old question of ‘who would win in a fight between…?’, with all the requisite modifiers and qualifiers and power ups. That sort of speculative fiction is just sugar for a certain kind of mind.

        The fact that the fights almost never deliver on the hype, and that when you put this sorting algorithm of conflict at the heart of your universe it tends to grow until it consumes everything else, well, it is what it is. I have fond memories of DBZ even though it’s pretty objectively terrible.

    • bfar says:

      Yep, it came with all the weird pacing issues typically found in anime. But it was strangely fun.

  8. Bremze says:

    If you’ve ever wanted to get into fighting game but are put off by the complexity… this game is still extremely complex but it hides it well enough and the feel of the game is absolutely wonderful. The tutorial is underwhelming, especially for an Arcsys game, and you’ll still get mashed into pulp against anyone with an idea how fighting games work but there are plenty beginners online to find your footing against.

    Also, this isn’t a slight against Aron because I know writing about fighting games is hard if you’re just getting into them and it kind of makes sense on a pc site to write from a newbie perspective, but I wish RPS would clone up a fighting game version of Tim Stone.

  9. VeggyZ says:

    I’ll probably try this one when it goes on sale, but I have a feeling it’s going to be difficult to take a step backwards into a 2D fighter after so many years with games like Xenoverse 2 – I really don’t think a side perspective, combo memorization-based fighter is going to do it for me after having experienced the almost pure reactionary gameplay of the previous couple games – regardless of how nice it looks.

    Maybe I’m wrong… I guess I’ll know the day there’s a decent sale on FighterZ.

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>