Pokemon wasn’t the only show of a morning that’d have kids waking up too early and slurping down cereal in front of the morning aerobics. Dragon Ball Z was, and still is to some degree, a powerhouse of anime that was as ballistic as it was campy and feel-good. The series offered up so many incredible moments that you couldn’t wait to talk to friends about around the drinking fountains. But unlike Pokemon, it’s a franchise that hasn’t fared too well translating to the video game medium. Of course, a select few of the Budokai games have their admirers and the second Legacy of Goku on Gameboy Advance is God tier. But on the whole, Dragon Ball hasn’t ever gone beyond the so-so.
Arc System Works, who are primarily renown for the Guilty Gear and Blazblue series, goes beyond the so-so with Fighterz. It’s an incredible feat to balance and tool a game in such a way that it could be picked up by either a greenhorn or a seasoned expert and they’ll be able to have a rewarding experience. The simplicity with which a lot of the game’s combos can be executed did, at first, lull me into a pattern of spam and button-mashing behaviour but as you get a better grasp on the game’s systems, even a slight mastery of the trickier assists, counters and, of course, tagging are the gateway to some big-time combos that separate the wheat from the chaff. I do love that a kid — who has no aspiration or capacity to learn finicky combos — could pick this game up and, with little effort, pull off any given fighter’s super. It’s that ease of access that lets everyone play with a flourish but not necessarily precise finesse, which is pleasing.It’s fair to say the story mode in FighterZ is very much one long tutorial, designed to drip-feed all of the knowledge required to go forth and do battle online or in the hard as nails arcade mode. The story itself is what you’d call typical Dragon Ball. It’s not art by a long chalk, but it’s some dumb fun with a boatload of filler. Arc System Works tries to break the mould for campaigns in fighting games, giving the player a little bit of freedom when it comes to some actions. At the beginning of each chapter, you’re dropped onto a map which you must, while taking into consideration your limited moves, navigate and reach the boss. Getting there often sees you take down a few sets of evil clones — typical Dragon Ball — which after a few map clears becomes about as dull as dishwater.
It’s like one long monotonous tutorial that doesn’t ever want to end. Though it’s not exactly one of Dragon Ball’s best told stories, at least it is original, which can’t be said for a lot of the past Dragon Ball games which tended to treat us like amnesiacs, trotting out the same done-to-death sagas time and time again. In terms of quality, it ain’t no Android saga, but it’s got a quirky villain and that zany sense of humour that is likely to warm the hearts of the die-hards.The single biggest challenge for lone wolves in FighterZ is its arcade mode, a brutal affair with a difficulty that scales to your performance. If you’re good, they’re great. If you’re great, they’re bloody unstoppable. It’s a shame there are only a few stages to choose from, but unless you’re a monster at fighting games there’ll be replayability for you as a couple of the game’s roster are locked away behind some demanding, gnarly conditions.
Sadly, I’ve had little to no luck with the game’s servers which, based on my experiences, I imagine to be potatoes hooked up to a car battery being fanned by a really old issue of That’s Life. No good.
What I have seen of the game’s overworld hub while wandering the lifeless offline lobby is great though, it must be said. It’s not a huge space to inhabit but it’s far less confusing than the hubs in the Xenoverse games which were needlessly labyrinthian in design. The chibi avatars are freaking adorable and had me frothing each time I cracked open a loot capsule full of cosmetic items — a loot box done right if you ask me. Loot boxes might seem out of place in a fighting game and, to a degree, you’re right. Fortunately, FighterZ is extremely liberal when it comes to paying out its in-game currency so you’ll never be compelled to spend anything.
History dictates that Dragon Ball games often look the part while failing to play it, and while that’s true, none look nearly as good as FighterZ does. Its presentation is so on-point that there’s a lot of instances where one couldn’t tell it apart from the series itself. It isn’t always roses as frame-drops can break the illusion but it doesn’t change the fact that FighterZ just gets it so right. A far cry from the empty fields of Budokai and the like, this game’s smaller stages a full of great detail, which can go unappreciated as titans do battle at the fore. Another wonderful bit of fan service crammed in by Arc System Works is the dramatic finishes, a cinematic climax to a fight brought about by specific match conditions that let players recreate some of Dragon Ball’s most recognisable and lasting images — including the father and son Kamehameha, the Cell saga’s defining moment.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A PHYSICAL COPY WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Just like Rocksteady did for Batman, Arc System Works has carried Dragon Ball to the upper echelon, crafting a tag-fighting game that captures not only the series' distinctive style but its spirit. FighterZ stands alongside other versatile, yet accessible, games like Marvel vs. Capcom with ease in what is the best fighting game in recent memory. It's a shame the servers hamstring the experience so badly, rendering the game's online a bit of a mess.