DRAGON BALL is one of the most impactful franchises in the world, and in the childhood of Generation Y, millennials, and Generation Z, I’m not sure about Generation Alpha — is Son Goku in Fortnite? Dragon Ball FighterZ came across my feed a while back after discovering the YouTube channel Lythero. Watching episodes of their playthrough, the gameplay, animation, and graphics look almost like the modern-day series, which sparked my interest in the game.
I sort of like playing fighting games; the best ones I’ve ever played come from the Dynasty Warriors series. As my old controllers have AVOs on me for button-mashing injuries, wearing down a new controller would be a waste of money. After waiting a few months for the game to come down in price (and my controller to get some wear), I picked it up with all the fighter passes on sale.
DRAGON BALL FighterZ is an arcade fighting videogame developed by Arc Systems Works and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Set between Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT, the first plotline centres around a mysterious event where hordes of grayscale clones mirroring the DBZ line-up have invaded the world, including resurrected foes like Perfect Cell and Frieza, whose colours aren’t saturated.
At the beginning of the game, you are introduced to a frightened Bulma, an Android 16 who is miraculously alive, and a Son Goku with a case of amnesia and silent protagonist syndrome. It turns out that you, as the player, are a sentient ball of light that possesses people and sends their conscience into a sunken place. It explains how (and why) you switch between fighters during combat, a seamless feature that keeps the action moving.
DRAGON BALL FighterZ, on the surface level, is your generic, bland fighting game. Chain your light and heavy attacks, block, and counter enemy moves; basically, not getting hit is key. Each fighter has their own fighting moves and special attacks that bring a sense of challenge to players, as well as experience points, collectable buffs, and the ability to rescue playable characters in each map. You can charge your “Ki Meter” (which goes up to seven) by fighting and/or physically charging to be able to do special attacks for extra damage or just spam the “go behind and charge kick” ability.
There are only so many times you can charge kick (with a meaty smack) Frieza into a building for a “destructive finish” before you realise you can defeat nearly every villain from the word go (as the clones are meant to have the same power levels as their non-clone counterparts), but plot armour saves them all the time. Cell has his solar flare, and Frieza has the Ginyu Force.
So, what makes DRAGON BALL FighterZ fun to play and so critically liked when released? Answer: the game is extremely well-made. The writing and dialogue are superb; characters both talk and are voiced like the show with believable quips and lines that do not over-stage the setting, story structure, and other characters. Not to mention, the animation and visuals are the best qualities of the videogame.
Made to look like the 2D art style of the anime, DRAGON BALL FighterZ looks and moves like the newer series. Vibrant colours, smooth animations, dynamic explosions, and cinematic fighting — what's not to love? In the midst of fighting, the game is able to represent fighting more realistically than the anime’s repetitive frames of kicks and blocks. While most of my fights were easy to do, even when I was outmatched by experience through the several game modes on and offline, it still was a challenge to win.
Multiplayer mode is broken up into individual stages fighting other players, tournaments, and the special lobby raids that I watched on YouTube, where you join a group of three to fight AI fighters in a tower-stage-like event. The lowest stage is weaker than the ones above. The offline arcade mode plays similar to it, rather than sending your selected fighters on a tournament tree that increases and pits you against AI depending on your previous match score. And finally, the story mode (or story arc) has you choose the direction you want to go to reach the boss fight on the map.
After playing it for a week, DRAGON BALL FighterZ is a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the visuals and sound design (both dialogue and effects), I could only experience the gameplay for an hour or two before getting bored. As you might have picked up from the teaser and article, I used the charged kick move a lot when fighting. With patience, I won a lot of the matches by simply blocking, countering, and then charging and kicking the opponent away. The charge kick isn’t strong or fast, but it’s a strategy to cheese your way through the game. Though it worked with the AI, the charge kick only got me pulverised in the online matches by players who have been playing since the game’s release in 2018. So, I used it to keep a distance from those smelly, sweaty players.
To end this article (of sorts), I want to leave my final statement about the videogame and a disclaimer. I don’t know why this game is heralded as a great Dragon Ball fighting game (or fighting game in general). Dragon Ball Xenoverse is better than this. DRAGON BALL FighterZ is a just-above-middle-ground videogame. It technically passes, but I would have refunded it if I wasn’t using it for work.
So, I reach out to any fans of the videogame who can fill me in on why this game is so loved. Did I miss out on some information that’s key to understanding the game’s design and aesthetics? Does a review say the same thing that I’ve said, and its score was boosted for the sake of fan bias? Only the commenters will indulge my curiosity because I am at level seven in my apathy meter.