When I was younger I had big dreams for how video games would play out in the decades to come. Completely rendered cities that you could walk through with every building accessible and filled with things to do! RPGs that would last weeks released on ten discs at once! Fully playable episodes of anime that looked just like the show! Well, those first two aren’t really a thing for numerous reasons, but Arc System Works has gone the distance to bring us playable anime fighters. With Dragon Ball FighterZ, you can finally enjoy powering up for several episodes in cel-shaded glory that looks like it’s coming right from your old DVDs.
This one’s easy to introduce: you know Dragon Ball, that anime franchise that’s all about fighting? Here’s a fighting game based on it. We’ve had tons and tons of those, of course, with recent winners like Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 cementing Dragon Ball games as some of the best you can get these days, but FighterZ really aims to recreate the look and feel of the show with modern technology. Along with Guilty Gear Xrd, it’s about as close as you can get to playing an episode of your favorite shonen anime. Pick your team of three badass martial artists (or two badass martial artists and Krillin, if that’s your bag) and get to punching.
I found that the fighting in FighterZ had a lot in common with several of its contemporaries. We’ve got assists and character-swapping a la Marvel vs. Capcom, presentation and overall feel that brings to mind Guilty Gear Xrd and a homing dash used to get in for attacks from Arcana Heart, of all things. The mixture of elements leads to an experience with a unique feel that still manages to capture the Dragon Ball style; it’s the kind of licensed anime fighter we’d hoped would exist the first time we saw Guilty Gear Xrd in action.
Attack motions tend to be simple and straightforward, there’s an easy/auto combo system in place for beginners, you don’t have to keep track of six attack buttons (just three and a dash), all in all you get the sense that FighterZ wants to open the door to the harsh-but-fair world of fighting games. Easy to pick up and tough to master, FighterZ offers a little for everyone.
You’ve got a surprisingly diverse cast of characters, though players who aren’t familiar with the source material might find themselves a little befuddled by what appear to be various versions of a given character – SSJ Goku, SSGod Goku, Goku Black, etc. etc. forever. Most typical playstyles are present; you’ve got your rushdown characters (a style seemingly supported by a majority of the cast and that’s typical to the show), your zoners like Frieza and even a grappler in Android 16. Since you choose three characters on a team, you’ll need to consider whether you want to focus on a balanced setup that supports multiple approaches or have different options available to fight different foes, and that’s saying nothing about the unique assist attacks that each fighter brings to the field.
You’ll use these fighters in various modes ranging from a single-player story mode (that, mercifully, doesn’t just cover the usual sagas all over again) to myriad options for online play. The usual cute touches that have been in every fighting game whose name isn’t Street Fighter V for years now are present, so you’ve got your customizable lobby avatars, your arcade mode and so on. FighterZ is a complete package in an era of gaming where there’s some concern that complete packages are going by the wayside. It’s nice.
We also can’t really talk about a game that looks like this without pointing out that it’s a game that looks like this. Look, I want to dump on the modern video game scene as much as anyone else – actually I kind of don’t, I think I’ve mostly grown out of that – but holy Christ it looks like a playable episode of Akira Toriyama’s anime come to life. It’s great. There’s fantastic nuances like deflected projectiles demolishing the background of a stage, beam super finishes resulting in impressive demolition cutscenes, cinematic “fatalities” called Dramatic Finishes that occur under specific circumstances that should be familiar to series fans and so on. The characters look, sound and act like you’d expect from the show. If you’ve been watching DBZ since you’re a kid and grown up with it, you’re going to fall in love with FighterZ.
As someone who hasn’t spent the weeks that will be necessary to get a full handle on the game, Dragon Ball FighterZ still feels like something worth playing and, more importantly, something worth learning. Other anime-based fighters feel slanted somewhat toward more experienced players, but this one recognizes that a lot of new players are going to be drawn in by the franchise and should be eased in somewhat. I’ve harped on this, but it’s important; new blood is what keeps a scene alive, and as someone who loves fighting games (and remembers the dark days right after arcades died but right before online play became ubiquitous) I’m all for letting people in.
Even the fighting game community is taking steps to make Dragon Ball FighterZ as inclusive as possible for new and old players alike; not completely getting bodied the first time you play online is a nice feeling and might encourage you to improve, as it turns out. Between the accessible gameplay, decent spread of single-player content and eagerness to welcome new fighters into the fold, it’s easy to recommend this one.