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Dragon Ball FighterZ – Review (PS4)

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a genius blend of Dragon Ball zaniness and the meticulous detail of an ArcSystem Works fighting game. The fantastic visuals of the Guilty Gear series send up the entirety of Dragon Ball Z in a spectacular fashion, perfectly encapsulating its heart and soul. It lives up to the expectations of being one of the most anticipated fighters in the last decade, giving traditional stalwarts of the fighting game genre a run for their fight money.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is a return to form for Dragon Ball in the video game world. While more recent additions like Dragon Ball Xenoverse bring RPG and MMO aspects to the Dragon Ball world, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a fighting game with your favorite Dragon Ball characters. The fun, work, and passion of fighting games fuse with that same level of emotion and care that Dragon Ball brings. Dragon Ball FighterZ is oozing with style and enough substance to satiate even the most traditional fighting game player.

If Dragon Ball is known for anything outside of screaming, it’s the iconic characters. People clamor for their niche picks, and a lot of the time in the past, people got what they wanted. Older games featured dozens and dozens of characters, spanning multiple arcs, movies, Dragon Ball shows, and even older Dragon Ball games. With less than 30 characters in Dragon Ball FighterZ launch roster, ArcSystem Works is definitely leaning in the direction of quality over quantity. The roster still does a great job of highlighting iconic characters from Dragon Ball Z’s numerous arcs with a little bit of Dragon Ball Super thrown in for the contemporary fans.

Each character is filled with moves, poses, and frames directly lifted from their source material. Vegeta’s Final Flash is just as awesome in Dragon Ball FighterZ as it was in the Cell Saga, and every single character gets that same level of effort and awe in their respective super moves. In some cases, if you fulfill parameters from the show, you’ll have cinematic finishers, not unlike Mortal Kombat brutalities. For example, if you’re playing as Cell and you beat Android 16, if your opponent has Gohan on their team, he’ll turn Super Saiyan 2 like he did on the show, with Cell in complete awe. I’ll simply never get tired of seeing many of these scenes play out within  Dragon Ball FighterZ’s stellar engine.

That is where the game’s greatest strength comes into play. Dragon Ball FighterZ has a reverence and respect for Dragon Ball that no other game really has captured. Where previous games would mimic iconic moments within the confines of their engines, Dragon Ball FighterZ’s engine allows it to perfectly emulate the source material and still have it fit in the frenetic pace of a fighting game. Seeing flashy moves within the confines of other fighting games always has a spark of intensity and hype. Seeing a clutch Final Flash win you the game against someone who had you on the ropes is a full-fledged eruption of fiery energy.

It’s these iconic moments and artistic choices coupled with the Guilty Gear Xrd engine that really put Dragon Ball FighterZ head and shoulders above not only other Dragon Ball games but pretty much every fighting game on the market. Guilty Gear Xrd rightfully got a lot of praise for its visual style, with 3D models that emulate a two-dimensional look. With Dragon Ball, however, having a pre-existing anime and manga to draw comparisons and inspirations from make the engine shine even brighter than before. The game looks gorgeous in a way that no other Dragon Ball game has even come close to achieving. The little touches that Dragon Ball FighterZ goes for also deserve praise. Color palettes routinely reference different forms or characters (shout out to my boys Cell Jr. and erroneous Saiyan Saga colors Vegeta). It is a bit disappointing that they haven’t doubled down on alternate costumes, as Dragon Ball characters of every shape and size are ripe for different costumes. I express no shame in stating that I would easily throw down $5 for Vegeta in his pink ‘Badman’ shirt or Piccolo in his driver’s school attire.

Taking cues from Guilty Gear and Marvel vs. Capcom, the fighting is brisk, and at times, overwhelming. You have a team of three characters. While one is in play, the other two can be used for single-move assists or super moves. This means that at any time, you’re bound to have more than two characters on the screen and even more giant beam attacks. This also makes characters like Captain Ginyu and Nappa, who spawn more, smaller characters, even more chaotic. That being said, it’s a controlled chaos that you can deal with thanks to a few alterations made to the Guilty Gear formula.

There’s a system in place that lets you summon Shenron, the wish-granting dragon by gathering the Dragon Balls, which in-game means fulfilling certain parameters during the match. You won’t be seeing more than one or two of these dragons per match, but they offer one of four choices, ranging from reviving a dead character or healing your character to full. It extends the game, but it’s also something your opponent can easily see coming.

The narrative isn’t a lot to write home about outside of the overwhelming amount of fan-service. If you’re a mega-fan like me, you’ll get a kick out of all the interactions between characters you wouldn’t expect to talk smack to each other. It put a smile on my face more times than I can count, which is worth something to the fans of Dragon Ball, by and large one of the most passionate fans in all of nerd culture. It’s refreshing not having to rehash the Frieza Saga or the Cell Saga for the twentieth time, and it’s also not just a game of what-if’s that have popped up in recent years, either.

Some of the characters, especially the Saiyans among the roster, end up feeling homogenous. With everyone having teleports and full-screen beam attacks, tactics on the surface don’t seem like they dig too deep. It’s difficult to discern whether or not part of the blame can be put on the source material. There are simply lots and lots of Saiyans in Dragon Ball, more and more as the months roll on. The number of non-Saiyans in the fold also help flesh out the game’s overall feel, but looking at potential DLC characters down the line, I see many a Saiyan joining the fray, and I hope they take a good look at the existing roster before they throw in another version of Goku.

Whether or not Dragon Ball FighterZ becomes the next big franchise for Bandai-Namco remains to be seen, but it leaves a captivating first impression that is sure to be iterated upon for years to come. It does a fantastic job of being a great entry point for newer fans of Dragon Ball and fighting games alike, while not sacrificing the high skill ceiling of many competitive fighters. A lot of crossovers and licensed games with hot properties try to blend fan service and gameplay to various degrees of success. Dragon Ball FighterZ succeeds in going even further beyond.

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