Dragon Ball FighterZ: catchup review

Quite possibly the most famous manga & anime on the planet, Dragon Ball Z is no stranger to the world of videogames. Little wonder, really; with distinctive character designs, lots of colour, and heaps of face punching via amusingly over-the-top combat, it’s perfectly suited for adaptation. Combine this with Arc System Works, experts in addictive and gorgeous anime-style beat ‘em ups, and things are looking pretty darn good.

Speaking of looking good, what’s been obvious since the first reveal trailer – and never fails to impress each time you boot the game up for yourself – is that this is one sexy-looking game. A few cutscene backgrounds aside, gameplay and story scenes alike are as close to the cartoon as you could possibly expect. Especially impressive are the close-up animations for the super moves, integrated seamlessly into a match when activated. Aesthetically, it’s pretty much an interactive dream come true for Dragon Ball fans.

There are several gameplay modes, all of which – in a slightly odd move – are accessed via an explorable (but tiny) lobby, even when playing offline. There are unlocks and objectives before you even get past this lobby, with a number of avatars and “stamps” (sort of Dragon Ball illustration emotes) to collect. There are also missions to complete, the most basic ones consisting simply of ‘try mode X’.

Mrs Doyle’s favourite Dragon Ball character. Gohan, Gohan, Gohan, Gohan…

The story mode is pleasingly lengthy, but perhaps doesn’t work quite as you’d expect. There are fully animated (and, as previously mentioned, mightily impressive) cutscenes in between one-one-one fights where you play as and against a range of recognisable characters; so far, so predictable. However, each of your characters levels up individually as they progress, and you choose your next fight via a pseudo-board game. Do you advance through the story as quickly as possible, go through more optional fights to level up quicker, and/or choose the optional fights that include tutorials or unlock a new character for your crew? Given that most of the story fights are disappointingly bereft of challenge, you may end up wanting to plough through as quickly as possible

If you’re familiar with just one or two 3v3 fighting games, you probably already know how matches in this one work. Pick three characters, bring them into battle one at a time. You can switch between them whenever you like, and even summon an off-screen character for a brief support attack. A gauge is built up by attacking and taking hits for super attacks, and super-duper attacks. First team to have all three fighters fall loses.

Dragon Ball FighterZ embraces the source material for gameplay as well as looks, which helps it stand out in a good way. This is (between two human fighters, at least) a fast-paced, relentless experience where quick reactions and good timing are everything. Any character is able to cross a great distance within a second, and projectiles are always a viable option. Blocks can be easily broken with the right choice, and ‘vanish’ (which saps your gauge) allows you to teleport behind your opponent. Unlike the Xenoverse games, combat is strictly ground-based, with mid-air fighting no more or less viable than your average beat ‘em up.

Fun as it is to make your Dragon Ball dream team, or to pit friend against friend, you don’t need to be a huge fan of the show to enjoy the game. Arc System Works are masters of the craft, and this is a fast and gloriously furious fighter no matter how you look at it. Rushing to your opponent at great speed, punishing them with a flurry of punches and kicks, and finishing your combo off with a satisfyingly over-the-top super move never gets old.

It’s a simple and immensely accessible fighting system, even before you consider the optional auto-combos and simple super moves that have become the standard. Anybody can boot the game up for the first time and look (and feel) competent within moments of their first match. However, this comes at the price of a very slight, but noticeable, simplification of combat; especially compared to other games from the same developer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, on the occasions where you find yourself beaten online by somebody who is clearly looping the same combos and/or spamming the same few attacks, you may find yourself pining for something more nuanced.

As you’d hope for a high-profile game with a major licence, the servers are (fairly) busy. You’ll never have problems finding other people to wander around a lobby with and play against. Online matches are blissfully smooth although, in a more general sense, occasional lobby connection issues remain despite patching. Overall however, it’s a bustling community that’s always itching for a fight.

What we have here is yet another great beat ‘em up from Arc System Works. Enjoyable even if you don’t know your Piccolo from your Gohan, but offering an extra layer of enjoyment for series fans. If this would be your first ASW game, however – and you’re familiar with the genre – we’d recommend having a dig around their back catalogue for a few cheaper, even better games first.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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