by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
This is truly going to be a wonderful year for fighting games, but there’s a lot of controversies (with certain games having an overwhelming amount of paid DLC). Still, it’s a great year for fighting games, and we’re starting off strong with a highly-anticipated title: Dragon Ball FighterZ, developed by ArcSys Works and published by Bandai Namco. It’s gorgeous, using an art-style similar to Guilty Gear Xrd, along with a very authentic Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z/Super feel. The characters, voices, and design are 100% authentic to the Dragon Ball franchise, and I could not be happier about that. There’s a lot positive to say right now, and I’m only a few days in. I’m expecting there to be a huge surge of new players coming because they’re fans of Dragon Ball, and they should!
However, the anime fighting genre has a pretty steep learning curve, and it can be very discouraging to get bodied (bodied: being defeated soundly without putting up much of a fight), and I’d hate to see people just giving up immediately. Because the online community of DBFZ will be ferocious, this I promise. With that in mind, we have some advice, some tips for you, the newcomer, from our other resident fighting game nerd and savior of the Earth, Colton:
Here are a few tips for getting started in Dragon Ball FighterZ:
- Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game that rewards aggression, but don’t become overzealous. Part of excelling in the game is knowing when to go for reversals. When your opponents get too aggressive, focus on finding an opening to interrupt. For example: when an opponent is constantly Dragon Rushing from full or mid-screen, you can counter this with a well-timed launcher move. Spend time in training mode and learn when to stop blocking to interrupt their combo and launch your own combo.
- Select characters for your team based on how they play rather than who you like. This sounds strange, because in a fighting game, especially based on something as widely beloved as Dragon Ball, the instinct is to pick characters you really like. What you don’t want to do, however, is end up in a scenario where a character you like is built for a playstyle you aren’t good at or don’t understand and you lose because of it. Don’t be afraid to try characters you normally wouldn’t, especially if they’re built toward a style you’re better at.
- Spend time playing through the story mode and any available challenge or tutorial modes before you jump online. ArcSys Works has been amazingly on-point with tutorials lately, especially in Guilty Gear, in the way of actually giving you useful tips and insight relating to game mechanics. Challenge modes can also help you learn bread and butter combos that will carry you to most of the wins you get.
- In addition to doing challenge modes for characters you want to play, do them for characters you have trouble fighting against. Learning how their moves and combos work from a direct control perspective can help you see openings you couldn’t when on defense and under pressure. This will help you overcome difficult matchups!
- Finally, lose. Lose a lot. Don’t throw every game you play, but understand that the only way you’ll get better is by losing and stopping to examine why you lost. Did you feel like you couldn’t do anything? Were you frustrated? Take advantage of next-gen consoles’ onboard recording and watch replays. See where you lost control and look up counters to that situation. Then, like in the last tip, take it into training mode with enemy recordings and practice countering that situation. It will help you a ton and there are very few feelings quite as good as taking some cheese that beat you before and cramming it back down your opponent’s throat with a good counter.
Dragon Ball FighterZ uses a very familiar 8-directional system, and a six-button layout for the actual commands in-game. L (Light), M (Medium), H (Heavy), S (Special), A1 (Z-Assist 1) and A2 (Z-Assist 2). There are two more buttons on the pad though, used for the Dragon Rush and Super Dash, which are also used in two-button combinations (L+M and H+S respectively, both usable in the air). This is a fast-paced, action fighting game. You won’t see a lot of downtime, or a lot of time where you can consider what to do next. In Street Fighter, the gameplay feels a lot slower, for example. You can hang back, defend, wait for an opening. I’m sure there will be defensive fights in Dragon Ball also, but there’s a lot to be said for rushing someone down, setting up an assist, and pounding them into the corner and then into the sky. There are an absolute ton of mechanics, terms, and controls to know in this game, and is beyond the scope of this review. With that in mind, I recommend checking out Dustloop’s Dragonball Wiki.
DBFZ takes place in the main hub for both offline and online interactions, and all of the various modes and actions can be undertaken here. It’s designed in the style of the World Martial Arts Tournament grounds, which is really just dandy. Going Clockwise from where you entered, it’s the News Board, Practice Room, Story Mode, Shop, Kame House, Replays, Online Battle, Local Battle, Arcade Mode, and a … Cul de Sac. The modes are pretty standard fare for a fighting game. Practice lets you do combo training, dummy practice, learning the basics of the game. I’ll get into the Story Mode in greater detail shortly. Online Mode pretty much speaks for itself: do battle with other players on the internet in ranked or casual play. There’s also Arena Mode, where you can dive into the Arena to try and be the best player on a server. There are also Ring Matches to look forward to, where you can join a team of up to seven other players, and go at it with opposing teams. There’s really so many different ways to play. As this is an ArcSys game, the greater challenge for players will be in casual battles, not ranked play. Most of my friends that play ArcSys fighters tell me not to bother with ranked, all the incredibly good players hang out in the casual lobbies.
The Story Mode takes the player through a trio of Story Arcs, much like you’d find in the anime. I won’t spoil any of the stories, but it’s definitely worth playing. You’ll have a lot of cutscenes (and I mean a LOT), and each chapter has a map that must be completed within X turns. As you go, you’ll unlock more characters to put on your team, level them up by fighting, and gain new skills to equip (increased attack/damage/life drain/faster ki charge/more money, etc). These maps have storyline bosses, training missions to teach you the game, special and more powerful bosses for increased rewards. However, after each battle, you do not heal. So if a character is downed, you’re out of luck unless you have a healing ability. And if your whole team wipes, you start the map over. I highly recommend saving often, as you can save anytime, even during cutscenes (but it will take you back to the start of that cutscene. Do less of that). Playing through the story mode will also unlock Android 21 for in-game play. Imagine that; unlocking characters without spending real money. Sure, this game will have DLC characters, but hey, they’re trying!
Another mode for a single-player challenge is the Arcade Mode. This is where you undergo a series of trials, a length of stages, each one more difficult than the last. At least you heal between these though. There’s Snake Way Course, Extreme Gravity Spaceship Course, and Hyperbolic Time Chamber Course. As you complete them, you unlock new routes and new challenges. It also gives you an overall Rank/Grade in addition to each stage’s grade. This is also where you unlock Goku Blue/Vegeta Blue if you did not pre-order and get them straight away. The grind will probably be worth it, I think. I’m still working on unlocking them, mostly because I want Vegeta Blue. I’m not as excited for Goku, I’m afraid. Then there’s the Local Lobby. You can do the standard team vs. team battle, or set up a tournament from 3 to 16 players. Yes, local in-house gameplay is back!
Let’s go back to the lootboxes for a moment since that’s still very much a hot-button topic. When I saw that Dragon Ball FighterZ had lootboxes in the form of Z-Capsules, my Spider Senses immediately began to tingle. Fear settled in. Are they going to bilk us in these one cosmetic at a time lootboxes that we’d have to pay real money for? What happens when we get duplicate items (because it will happen)? Do I have to uninstall DBFZ after this review? Find out, next time on … wait, we can’t do that here. You don’t have to fear this though, friends! Z-Capsules cost Zenny, which cannot be purchased with real money. You can either buy 1 for 1,000 Zenny, or 10 for 10,000 Zenny. Each contains a cosmetic, like a lobby avatar, Z-Stamps (emotes), things of that nature. It’s all harmless cosmetic stuff, that cannot be bought with real money. There is a “Premium” Currency, but that is only gained when you get a duplicate item. Each duplicate item gives a Premium Z-Coin. 10 Z-Coins guarantees you a Capsule that will not have a duplicate item in it. So in that, it’s very kind. And it’s not all that hard to farm Zenny unless you’re shooting for Goku/Vegeta Blue (earn a total of 300,000/500,000 Zenny). So, yes, there are lootboxes, but no, as of now, they cannot be bought with real money.
We’ve talked enough about the modes, and stuff you can do. What about the actual important stuff? You know, the fighting. That’s where this game truly shines. It caters to the newcomer, in that there are auto-combos, which have become a staple of the ArcSys design, to let new people come, get used to the game, see what is possible, then learn to do it without mashing one button. These combos can be done with the L/M/H buttons, and will generally end in a special move/finisher. The fourth button, special is used in some special attacks and is also your “launcher” button, where you’ll bop someone across the screen or into the air to start/continue a combo. The training mode will give plenty of information on how to do that. Another feature for this style of game for those who are new is that each direction, when combined with an attack, will have a different effect or property. The best way to show it is to look at the Numpad on your keyboard. If a website lists 2L for example, it’s crouching light attack. 5 is neutral, 6 is forward, 4 is backward. It’s definitely going to be something to be aware of if you go researching combos online or asking someone who already knows the gameplay for advice.
Each fight will consist of three on three matches, with one character out front. You can use the A1/A2 buttons to have your other characters come out and throw an assist attack. Some of them will change properties if you’re in the air or on the ground. This is the most important facet to picking a team, in my opinion, if you want to be competitive. You must have Assists that are useful to you to set up or continue combos. Sure, if you’re playing for fun, go with whatever you want and have fun! But on a competitive level, you need to have your most powerful/familiar character up front, with assists that compliment him/her somehow. Each character only has one assist, and can only do certain things with it. So plenty of time should be used in training to find out exactly what these do, and how they benefit you the best. Super Attacks, of course, use your meter, and you can charge your ki in the middle of battle.
This is a very risky proposition because while it charges fast, you have a delay in stopping, so you can/will be punished for your greed. Do not channel your greedy Vegeta, and instead channel your inner Cell. Be precise, smart, and perfect. There’s also a comeback mechanic, by pushing all four face buttons. Sparking Blast increases damage increases the rate that your blue health comes back and other incredibly useful features. When you take damage, some of that stays as “blue health”, and when you tag out, it can restore very slowly. So if you want to stop someone from regenning their blue health when they tag out, you can force them back in with an R1 ability (see Dustloop for mechanics), force them back onto the field, and resume the beating. Your goal is to knock out all three members of the other team. There are also some dramatic finishes, depending on the team compositions; they don’t help or hurt, but they’re awesome to watch.
There’s also the notion of “button mashing”. You can button mash for casual matches, PVE matches and the like, but I highly recommend finding a few characters you enjoy and googling how they work, more complex combos and the like. The game will give you some intro combos in the practice mode, but it won’t be anything insane or impossible. The very last, but important mechanic are the Dragon Balls themselves. What would a Dragon Ball game be without them? Some… other game, probably. As you land longer combos in combat, you earn Dragon Balls between the teams. When you have all of the Dragon Balls, you can summon the Eternal Dragon to grant one of (at present) four wishes. There are people in the FGC that are terrified that the Wishes are going to be some of the annoying comeback mechanics in other games, EG: SFxT gems, which are arguably one of the worst things of all time. Sure, they help bring some of your characters back to life, or other useful things, but I don’t think they will ruin the game in any serious fashion. These wishes do not make someone unkillable, or fully restore a whole team. Now that would be game-breaking.
Rock the Dragon: 4.5/5
I love Dragon Ball FighterZ. Aside from loving the franchise, and fighting games, it’s a well put-together game with very few flaws that I have seen so far. The only thing I have to wait on is the netcode, but it was solid in the betas, I doubt that has changed. There are several modes with some offering more replay value than others. You have the ability to play locally and set up tournaments with your friends, a solid, varied cast, each with their own unique abilities and playstyles. There are characters that can be unlocked through gameplay! Cosmetics that you can’t spend real money on! The only major drawbacks to me are that I feel a little limited in the training mode by the combos on offer, the fact that there will be DLC characters (at this point it’s pretty much a given, but my stance on them will not waver), and the soundtrack.
The soundtrack is solid, standard fare for the Arcsys games. But … I have not found any of the original DB/DBZ/DBSuper music so far. No Ultra Instinct, No Makafushigi Adventure, No We Were Angels, no Cha La Head Cha La in the base game. There’s going to be Music DLC, which honestly, I’d buy. But why can’t some of those be in the base game? It seems to be a really peculiar decision. But the gameplay is flawless. It feels like Dragon Ball in even the tiniest detail. It is clear it was made with love, by someone who appreciates and respects the franchise. I was hoping for a slightly larger cast out of the gate, but what they have is terrific – though I will riot if Hercule Satan is not playable. I love that every character feels viable (but of course some will be stronger than others on certain teams and in the professional meta/tier list). Dragon Ball FighterZ will set the standard for every other fighting game this year, you mark my words on that.
Note: A game code was provided for review purposes.