The long-running manga and anime for Dragon Ball Z has tons of fans worldwide for its fast-paced action, over the top characters, and ridiculously memorable moments. It is these three things that are faithfully catered to through a strong element of fan service that makes Dragon Ball FighterZ a well-designed fighting game from developer Arc System Works. To say that it looks and sounds exactly like the series it’s inspired by would be an understatement, but that’s something totally true despite the game only focusing on a segment of the entire Dragon Ball series. But while the sights and sounds of Dragon Ball Z are nearly perfected here, the game doesn’t get away without suffering a few bumps and bruises outside of the fighting. Yet that isn’t enough to keep Dragon Ball FighterZ from being arguably one of the best anime to game adaptations to date.
Arc System Works was the best choice of developer to bring the crazy fighting and flair of the Dragon Ball universe into video game form. Battles are fought with 3 vs. 3 teams, with switching characters and executing combos happening at an extremely fast pace. Much like the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games that they’ve made in the past, Dragon Ball FighterZ has a fighting system that is both easy to get into, yet capable of being deeply competitive and complex.
Every character on the roster has their signature moves from the show and unique fighting style that makes them stand out from the rest of the cast. While everyone uses the same four button layout, their strategies in battle and various strengths in matches will vastly differ. This makes each fight you partake in feel incredibly intense and exciting throughout, but never feeling predictable.
Playing on the anime show’s most well-known traits, matches can become nail-bitingly tense with all of the various systems in place for players to use, including gathering the Dragon Balls during a match. By frequently using large combo strings, both players can gather each of the Dragon Balls to summon Shenron and possibly receive one of four special bonuses.
Whether it’s to revive a fallen character, gain a full bar of health, or become immortal for a short period; gathering the Dragon Balls can be a real tug-of-war that leads to exciting matchups. It might be a little questionable in some instances on how the game decides what moves give players a Dragon Ball, watching the constant back and forth play out can be just as exciting as being part of the battle.
Dragon Ball FighterZ has a few different game modes outside of fighting against others in local or online multiplayer, but not all of them are big hits. The Story Mode will take up the most time to complete, which follows an original story set after most of the events in the manga and anime.
It’s a fan-service filled tale that introduces new characters, such as Android 21, and offers many pairings of popular characters that weren’t seen together before in the source material. However, the charm is quickly lost as you complete battles that take place along a board game inspired layout of the Dragon Ball universe.
There are three story arcs that are loosely focused on a series of events revolving around Android 21, but each arc openly contradicts itself more than a few times. This leads to a very confusing and haphazard narrative that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you look past the abundance of fan-service and goofy moments.
You get three conclusions to the story, each of which lacks any sense of consistency between all three arcs. For a popular series that’s known for stories which are connected through various arcs, this is disappointing to see.
Aside from the story, there is a traditional Arcade Mode that gives players a choice of taking on one of three paths. Completing Arcade Mode gives you an assortment of Zeni (the game’s currency) to purchase capsules that unlock additional cosmetic content. Playing through the Arcade Mode can be somewhat frustrating, however, as the game judges which battles you can fight based on your skills in a previous matchup.
Within each of the three arcade paths you can try, there are alternating paths within them that range from easy to hard, but you can’t willingly choose which one to partake in. You may want to fight a tougher battle, but if you didn’t get an A or S ranking in the previous matchup, the game will keep on your set path until you can do so. While the concept is good-willed for encouraging players to do better, taking away the choice of taking on tougher battles willingly is disappointing.
Online multiplayer is both a hit and miss for Dragon Ball FighterZ. While there are plenty of rooms to join and options for having Ranked or Casual matches online, this can sometimes come to a screeching halt with online connectivity issues. In some instances, you might get completely booted from an online room, even during an on-going match, for an unknown reason and be brought back to the main menu. While this could be due to server maintenance or overcrowding of the online lobbies, it can be frequent enough to be a real problem for some and be extremely frustrating.
However, once you get your footing into the online space with Dragon Ball FighterZ, the experience can be pretty enjoyable. Fighting in Ranked battles can help you earn titles based on your skill, while Arena and Ring battles can connect you to players through round-robin lobbies and private parties. As a whole, online play can be great for everyone when it’s stable enough to work properly.
For both casual fans of fighting games and anime aficionados, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a formidable contender. Despite the few shortcomings with its story and online connectivity, there is a lot to love with how Arc System Works has adapted the intensity of the Dragon Ball series into fighting game form. The battles are exciting and deep enough to garner a big competitive crowd but are open just enough with easy controls and flashy moves to attract others who may not have been fans of the anime or fighting games beforehand. Dragon Ball FighterZ is fun and over-the-top enough to make anyone feel like their power level is over 9,000.
This review was based on a digital review code of Dragon Ball FighterZ for the PlayStation 4, provided by Bandai Namco.