Update: we played the online portion of the game. The review is updated to reflect this change. Long story short, it’s still awesome. 

(Disclaimer: we haven’t played Dragon Ball FighterZ’s online component yet apart from a few tests here and there on the closed and (expectedly filled-up) open beta. We’ll update the review with our thoughts on that bit soon enough. We are also hosting a Malaysian launch party for the game, but that isn’t going to affect our overall view of the final product)

January 26 is indeed a day for anime, manga, and fighting game fans. It’s the release date of Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ, which is obviously a fighting game if you’ve been keeping in check with the series’ game licensing history.

Fun fact: there are 94 games based on the Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z series. A few of them are fighting game marvels in their own rights like the Tenkaichi Budokai series and the Super Butouden series. We’re bringing this up because it seems that the devs are starting off 2018 with the revival of those 2D-focused series for this generation’s fighting game fans and anime lovers wishing to look back to the past.

After playing a ton of offline games on the final build of Dragon Ball FighterZ, we’re pretty confident that this is THE quintessential game based on the license that’s fun for both casual fans and the hardcore tier list-whoring fighting game fan. Here are our reasons tenfold.

Heaven or Hfil? Let’s rock!

dragon_ball_fighterz_october_screens_2
Dance, Ginyu, dance!

#1: Great Graphics & Music

It’s no secret that the 2.5D aesthetics in Guilty Gear Xrd is a thing of beauty. The game moves and feels like an animated 2D game, yet it can also do 360 camera rotations to see all angles of the character models in cel shaded-esque glory. The game’s battle music seems to be channelling riffs and melodies from past Butouden and Budokai games back in the SNES and PS2 eras respectively. Without the plagiarism, of course.

First impressions do count in games, and DBFZ is off to a strong start with how it looks and sounds from the get-go.

#2: The Roster That Caters To Old-School & New Fans

Goku. Vegeta. Gohan SSJ2 and adult Gohan. Frieza. Cell. Friggin’ Gotenks. Yamcha. Hit. Beerus. DBFZ’s roster is cohesive in bringing classic Dragon Ball fans over. And they all have their different styles of fighting here: Frieza and Beerus are your zoners while Gohan SSJ2 is a relentless rushdown character all the way.

Fighters like Nappa and Captain Ginyu have their gimmicks that higher-level players will have fun experimenting and exploiting. The former can plant Seibermen who act as midget assists to harass opponents, while the latter relies on his Ginyu Force assist attacks -that come out in a certain order- while also having the last-ditch ability to switch bodies with his opponent.

Beerus can summon black balls of darkness to toss around and play keepaway and midrange poking games; like an amped-up version of Guilty Gear’s gay pool player Venom. Newcomer (and boss character) Android 21 can use a special grab to absorb powers ala Rogue in X-Men vs. Street Fighter.

In short, there’s a ton of combinations of three you can mix and match with for that perfect complement to your hyper fighting playstyle. With their moves tailored to the manga and anime, it’s clear as day that the roster and the recreation of their fighting styles is a love letter to fans.

#3: The Actual 3-on-3 Fighting

DBFZ opts for the five button setup: three basic buttons for your Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks, one Unique button for your Ki blasts and various projectiles -Dragon Ball characters have LOTS of those-  and a Tag Assist/Switch button. If you’ve played Marvel vs. Capcom 3, you know what you’re getting yourself into.

All those fancy Dragon Ball Z moves where you teleport behind opponents and do Kamehamehas? You need Super Meter for that; you can build that up by attacking. Vanishing techniques, Sparkling Blasts to push back opponents away from you while you get powered up, Repel techniques: these and the aforementioned basics are what makes up a bout in DBFZ. Oh, and if your opponents are defence-heavy, a Dragon Rush can sort them out (it’s basically the “throw” move in the game).

You can pull off auto combos up-close by mashing Light and/or Medium, but the game’s flexible moves-and-specials-cancelling techniques and leniency let you pull off simple combo strings that put you back to a neutral position.

These aren’t brainless combos, mind you. Instead of having some moves with quarter circle inputs, Arc System Works is clever in putting in specific cross-up/mixup moves that can only be used when mixing up your Light, Medium, and Heavy combos.

Plus, you can pull off the equivalent of EX moves (regular moves powered up by burning a bar of your Super meter) by doing the Heavy version of that move

Each character can air-dash and double-jump to get around the screen, as well as use a Super Dash to home to your opponent while avoiding projectile attacks (you can still get hit by other moves though, so be careful).

It’s easy to get into thanks to the auto-combos and flexibility of movement since every special move have universal inputs: quarter circles back or forward plus a button or two, or down, down, and a button or two.

However, it gets deeper once you take into account that you can bait opponents to pull off an attack and then teleport behind them/Super Dash to them for maximum punishment. There’s a ton more to consider, but as of now the game’s fine balance of the two dynamics make for lovely spectacles of superhuman fisticuffs.

DBFZ proves that like in Smash Bros., just because the controls and inputs are accessible doesn’t mean the game is a cakewalk to master.

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The first cut is the deepest. And the explodiest.

#4: Dramatic Intros & Re-Enactments

Remember when Frieza killed Krillin and then Goku went Super Saiyan for the first time? Remember also when Gohan got so mad he turned Super Saiyan Jin 2 and through all of it did the father-and-son Kamehamaha on Perfect Cell?

You can relive those vignettes in the game’s Dramatic Intros and Dramatic Finishes, assuming you know the conditions of pulling them off. Just like the moves in the game, these were done with a huge level of care and attention to tingle the hearts of shonen anime fans everywhere. Yes, we’re talking about us too, back when we get our Bahasa Melaya manga fix in places like Kota Raya in the early 90s because they were available on the cheap.

Protip: Trigger the Dramatic Finish between Yamcha and Nappa. You won’t regret it.

#5: That Brand-New Story Mode That Hearkens Back To The Old Story Modes In 90s Fighting Games

Story Mode is looking pretty swell; it’s an actual campaign with maps, special fights with handicaps, a levelling-up system, and a brand new Toriyama-sanctioned story involving a new android that’s smarter than Dr. Gero. Or is she?! Somehow she’s in the centre of the mystery of the many Z-Fighter clones running amok and the resurrection of Frieza and Cell.

This special mode takes about a few hours to complete if you’re just aiming for the ending. If you want to unlock everything inside, it can take you about 10 hours or so. Fans especially will get a kick out of seeing scenes play out through different perspectives among the three story arcs. Why aren’t fighting games doing more of this?

We should also point out how silly it becomes when it involves the player as a character in the game. Turns out that you’re a spirit who inhabits Goku and company when you need to get into battle because they’re powered down in the story. It’s not the worse attempt at contextualizing players in the game we’ve experienced, but it’s rather contrived.

Still, this is a series about aliens from another planet who transform into giant apes when the moon is up and superhumans who can combine with each other through goofy synchronized dances and female earrings. So that spirit gimmick is most likely keeping in line with the series’ zaniness. Well played, we guess?

android21_610d
Ever since Android 21 was announced, the Tumblrs and DeviantArts were on fire. Please Google search responsibly and with filters.

#6: The Fighting Game Community Hype

Ever since the game was revealed at E3 2017, the fighting game community was beyond excited. It’s been far too long since they’ve seen a viable Dragon Ball Z game for the tournament scene.

We’ve seen guys like SonicFox, Hellpockets, and Guilty Gear veteran Nakkiel going at it with high-level fights.

If you want a good lowdown on the roster, you have Maximillian’s channel to sort you out on the basics and what their schticks are. It’ll help you prepare for that one launch party this month in KL that also comes with its own launch tournament called Double Trouble. 

#7: The Potential DLC To Expand The Roster

42 manga volumes. 300+ anime episodes and animated films. With those numbers, you’d expect the Dragon Ball roster to be incredibly large. And you’re right: there’s a ton of characters and fan-favourites who can end up on the roster post-release.

We are aware that Bardock, Broly, base Goku, and base Vegeta might be the first batch of DLC characters. We do hope that more of them show up: our wish list includes Janemba, Bojack, Zangya, Cooler, Dabura, Android 13 (trucker hat and all), Caulifla, Kale, Chi Chi, and Mr. Satan.

Yes, we’re dead serious about the last two additions. Did people suddenly forget how badass Chi Chi was back in the original series?

#8: Female Producers Represent!

Dragon Ball FighterZ’s producer is Tomoko Hiroki, who is also known for being an associate producer for both Dragon Ball Xenoverse games and DS game Solatorobo. Based on the streams for the game, she definitely presents herself as a very experienced producer who knows her brand inside-out.

tomokohiroki

It’s rather rare to find a female game industry member leading a fighting game project. The last female fighting game producer/designer off the top of our heads is Emiko Iwasaki who spearheaded most of Battle Fantasia, another influential Arc System Works fighting game.

#9: More Future Work From TeamFourStar

TeamFourStar is arguably the go-to team for all things Dragon Ball, comedy dubbing, and anime/Japan culture. With this game coming out a few weeks after their exhaustive “Best Dragon Ball Game” video series, we’ll bet they’ll do a special Dragon Ball Z Abridged episode on the game’s Story Mode in the far future.

#10: More Work For Arc System Works

Assuming this game will do mega gangbusters sales-wise and become a standout crowd favourite in this year’s annual EVO tournament this August, developer Arc System Work might end up doing more fighting games with anime licenses in 2D/2.5D format. Think of all the anime games they can make after they’re done with BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle.

Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Hunter x Hunter; all lovingly-animated in that 2D-esque style. Just think of the possibilities.

That’s All Well & Good, But…

Is the online portion of the game good? After playing through the Story Mode and had a ton of fights, we took the fight online apart from the closed and open beta experiences. We’ll be sure to update this review with that report and our experience has been mostly accommodating.

True, we got our asses kicked by the surprising amount of anime fighter experts out there. Or maybe we shouldn’t be; this is Southeast Asia. But the fights have been smooth with only 1 to 3 frames worth of lag for 80% of the matches. Good job, Arc System Works & Bandai Namco!

And while the roster is favouring quality over quantity, we do wish there were more characters to choose from, given its 3v3 nature. Like we mentioned in #7, that’s all up to the DLC bit. Oh and the lootbox system here can go eat a dick.

Despite this, we’ll give this one the Kakuchopurei seal of recommendation, just because Arc System Works shows the rest of the world how to do an anime game license justice. Gameplay first, fan service second: this method of development should be the focus of all publishers before they attempt to do a license game tie-in.

Dragon Ball FighterZ leads the new fighting game revolution loud and proud, just like the many words its heroes yell out before unleashing a big blue bolt of destruction.

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