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Dragon Ball FighterZ

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Arc System Works
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

When I was younger and had far less disposable income at any given moment, I went to great lengths to make sure I didnít end up with buyerís remorse. I was also a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, and spent my first hour home from high school eagerly anticipating its airing on Toonami. I bought Dragon Ball Z: Budokai, despite having read a ton of reviews, all of which called it out for being mediocre and forgettable. I spent the next several months trying to convince myself it was good, but it never stuck. It was crap, and I knew it deep down. I basically wrote off any more attempts as unworthy of my time until the release of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. The game was something of a watershed moment: developer Dimps had finally made a breakthrough in adapting the high-impact, supersonic action of Akira Toriyamaís long-running franchise. Subsequent releases sadly proved that Budokai 3 was a fluke, as the powers that be shuffled development off to developer Spike Chunsoft. Instead of refining and building upon the gameplay systems Dimps had finally got so wonderfully right, Spike decided to strike off into left field with a series of poorly-conceived experiments that resulted in fundamental changes to the core gameplay model Ė all for the worse. Dimps would later return to development duty for the series, but while later efforts featured some structural novelty, the quality of the moment-to-moment action in Budokai 3 was never approached, much less achieved.

The solution was obvious: remove the third dimension and give someone else the reins. And who better than Arc System Works? From Guilty Gear to BlazBlue, they are perhaps the most highly-regarded developer of anime-style 2D fighting games. And, as it turns out, they are exactly the right choice: they have achieved in one shot what Dimps and Spike have mostly failed at for the better part of twenty years. Dragon Ball FighterZ is the best Dragon Ball game ever made. No contest.

For the longest time, Iíd always figured that all a developer would need to do in order to deliver the visual elements of a Dragon Ball game would be simply to replicate Akira Toriyamaís art style. To an extent, this is true, but Dragon Ball FighterZ proves that thereís more to it than that. Now that Iíve spent some time with it, I can definitely identify a sterile clumsiness to most other games in the series that is thankfully unpresent here. While most of those games matched Toriyamaís aesthetic, animation work was often left lacking. Few animations translated well into others, and there were too many dead frames for the action to feel sufficiently fluid. FighterZ doesnít have that problem for a couple of reasons. The first is that the animation work is superior here, and the second is that the game is naturally much faster.

Iím going to come right out and say it: Iím not really a fan of anything Dragon Ball FighterZ has to offer in the auditory department. Its music, while inoffensive, sounds like it could belong to any anime-themed fighting game. While Iím largely indifferent to FighterZís music, I pretty much despise its voice acting. I hate the English dub for not coming close to the Funimation dub Iím used to hearing, and I hate the Japanese dub for making Goku sound like a constipated third grader. Itís fortunate that I couldnít care less about the dialogue, and itís even more fortunate that all that dialogue is skippable. Iím just no longer capable of sitting through B.S. of this caliber.


Gameplay:

Thereís a very real temptation to just say "itís a Dragon Ball fighting game; what more do you need to know?" But the more I think about the sheer proliferation of this series over the last couple of decades, the more I realize that thatís more than just a cop-out. Instead, I will describe Dragon Ball FighterZ as "the Dragon Ball fighting game that gets just about everything right."

Dragon Ball FighterZ strikes a balance between the kitchen sink offerings of Dragon Ball XenoVerse and the games-as-platforms approach perfected by NetherRealm. Youíre given an avatar and a small, intelligently-designed hub through which all of the gameís major activities can be accessed. Your progress persists across all modes, which as always results in frequent rewards and that all-important sense of achievement that these games hope to deliver. Itís possible that you wonít want to partake in everything here, but unlikely, considering the strength of the fighting mechanics that lie at the core of the experience.

I suppose thereís a market for the kind of experience Dragon Ball FighterZís Story Mode seeks to offer, but Iím definitely not part of it. Projects like these are, by their nature, almost entirely driven by fanservice. Maybe itís just a personal taste, but I find itís best when developers aim to replicate our experiences with the subject matter in a manner thatís entirely exclusive to the medium it operates with. Of course, part of this preference is likely due to the fact that most of them go flying off the rails at square one and grow progressively more and more batsh*t. Dragon Ball FighterZ literally begins with you, a wayward soul, in possession of Goku, whoís basically become a prisoner in his own body. ItÖ escalates from there. Iím sorry, but thereís no way to frame this in a way that isnít totally laughable. While itís sort of charming that FighterZ actually tries to sell nonsense this audacious, I canít deny that my only reaction to everything was to cringe. The writing is abysmal and tedious, and its delivery is even worse. I couldnít stand it. I canít in good faith hold this against it, as it never presents its story as anything more than throwaway fluff and certainly doesnít force the player to sit through it.

Of course, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a modern fighting game, and you should expect more from a fighting game than the requisite single player offerings. And considering all that the hub encompasses, your expectations are bound to be either met or exceeded. For my part, FighterZ doesnít go above or beyond the call of duty, but it certainly meets it. A wealth of multiplayer offerings should keep you returning time and again to improve your skills, and some surprisingly rounded-out single player modes provide some tangible incentive to return. Capping it all off is the reward system, which feels inspired by the modern loot box trend, but without all the blatant exploitation that plagues most titles that cling to it.


Difficulty:

After your first session with Dragon Ball FighterZ, youíll almost certainly think the game is entirely too easy for its own good. And in that particular moment in time, youíll know that conclusion is more-than-warranted. Early levels and introductory sequences give the impression that this is a bloody thumbs style fighting game that encourages spamming and little else. At the same time, youíll be entertaining a voice of doubt in the back of your head, a voice that will become significantly louder the more time you spend with FighterZ. Yes, to a degree, it is a bloody thumbs fighter. But thereís an unseen barrier somewhere in the distance. You wonít notice at first when you break through, but eventually youíll start noticing that certain techniques just arenít as effective as they once were. Habits youíve spent hours unconsciously forging in the recesses of your brain are exposed and challenged. At some point, youíll instantly know it: you have to unlearn certain things and reorient yourself, keeping in mind the lessons that the game unassumingly gave you all those hours ago.

My advice: donít try to preempt any of this. Let the complacency set in and allow the subsequent re-education to undergo its course. Once you do, youíll feel as though youíve broken through the first layer of a surprisingly tasty onion, one that only gets sweeter the further in you peel. Itís a different breed of challenging from most other fighting games, which sets it apart from its contemporaries to the degree where it shouldnít even be viewed as direct competition to them. Itís something else entirely, and thereís real value in that.

Once youíre confident enough, the online play will elevate it even further. As good as any artificial intelligence can be, thereís no substitute for a human opponent. Youíll run up against scrubs and gods alike, but your improvement feels tangible no matter who you end up against and regardless of the outcome.


Game Mechanics:

If you have any history with Dragon Ball from Z on out, you may or may not feel as though most video game adaptations have largely failed to deliver the insane sense of speed that imbues every cel of animation with bristling energy. For my part, I do. While the impact has largely been retained in the transition between non-interactive and interactive media, I strongly feel as if the speed has been lost. From a development perspective, I kind of get it; Dragon Ball is largely about a group of mostly-extraterrestrial lifeforms duking it out with powers and agility so extreme that they often move too quickly for the naked eye to track them and pull off moves that occasionally obliterate entire planets.

Even though I definitely feel that the series has never quite successfully made the jump to the video game medium, that in no way means that I blame the numerous developers who have stewarded it over the years. Just watch any clip of it not dominated by wide pans, incoherent screaming, dialogue, and power-up sequences. Exactly how is anyone supposed to adapt that for an interactive medium? Well, it turns out that the best possible first step towards achieving that goal is to keep it simple. It amazingly reduces the hyperkinetic, high-flying insanity of the anime to a handful of buttons and a series of effective but simple commands. If youíve played a fighting game before, chances are good youíll be able to apply what you already knowÖ to an extent.

That being said, if you also happen to have some familiarity with this series, youíll have a leg up on others. Simply watching the anime gives you an understanding of how these characters move, and thatís a huge advantage; the laws of physics arenít so much shrugged off as they are broken with extreme panache. Bring the knowledge you currently have, and FighterZ will pick it up from there. Youíll have to guard, dash, combo and cancel right off the bat, but when it comes time to charge up your Ki, vanish, break your opponentís guard, and unleash a Kamehameha (or whatever ridiculous technique the series has pulled out of its nether regions), the game will ease you into all of it and set it with some much-welcome periodic reinforcement. You donít really do much flying in the heat of battle; the game wisely takes over during certain sequences.

Third dimension aside, Dragon Ball FighterZ throws caution to the wind and goes full bore in its attempt to bring the action of the anime to the small screen, and more importantly, under the total control of the player. It doesnít waste time fretting about our limited reflexes; it figures if theyíre able to do it in the show, the player should be able to emulate it. Itís this that elevates FighterZ above every other Dragon Ball game that came before it.

Dragon Ball FighterZ may not be the first Dragon Ball to replicate the action of the anime upon which itís based, but it is the one that does so with the greatest degree of success. It looks spectacular, it controls wonderfully, itís deep as all get-out, and most importantly, it knows who itís playing to.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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