It’s easy to feel lost when you first start Dragonball FighterZ. No, not lost in the numerous gameplay systems that are introduced in the tutorial, or the cast of characters that are unknown to anyone who doesn’t follow the anime (although either of those things can still happen…) In the absence of a traditional menu, one can literally feel lost in the map that you walk around in order to get to certain kiosks that allow for training, online matches, rankings and the like. When I originally played the beta I assumed that it was just a decision made to streamline the whole beta experience, and that this map would be a hub that you would first access through a traditional main menu in the full game – instead, it’s one of the first things you see after setting up your profile and selecting a server to join. It’s a little weird at first, but it’s nothing to dwell on – with the press of a button you can quickly pull up a list of locations to warp to, which may as well serve as your traditional menu, and the gameplay outside of the lobby makes you forget about the initial confusion soon enough.
Dragonball FighterZ – fully featured
Once you know your way around the map, you can appreciate the fact that Dragonball FighterZ is more of a “complete” launch than something like Street Fighter V. Yes, you need to disconnect and set up an offline lobby every time you want to do single-player stuff (or risk using them in online lobbies), and there’s a risk of lost connections, and your friends might be scattered across different lobbies (the game can automatically load you into a lobby with spaces, although if it’s not the one your friends are in you need to talk to Gate Reception at the entrance and switch)…but there’s still more to keep you occupied on day one than there was during the launch of Capcom’s game. Story and Arcade modes are here, there’s a shop where you can buy DLC or open loot boxes for cosmetic items, you can set up private matches with friends using the “Ring Match” feature… and of course you can do training, play matches locally or try your luck against strangers online. Even if you’re starting the game up and not knowing what to do first, Dragonball FighterZ offers quests that work like the excellent daily challenges introduced in SFV’s September update – for instance, the quests I had at launch asked me to try tutorials, combo challenges and ranked matches. It’s nothing new, but it’s a great way to keep players coming back and hopefully we’ll continue to see more varied challenges in the future.
Dragonball FighterZ – what’s the story?
I know that covering the single-player campaign in a 1v1 fighting game is like talking about the graphics in a rhythm-action game, but with the possibility of casual players feeling intimidated by human opposition (and the state of Street Fighter V’s story mode at launch) it deserves a mention. The story mode of Dragonball FighterZ consists of numerous “arcs” that task the player with moving around a map, fighting battles, recruiting allies and ultimately facing a boss encounter for the map. As the player continues to recruit more allies, they can add them into their team of three fighters, and after each battle you can change your team if some of your current fighters look like they need to recover. If anyone played Street Fighter EX3, they might recognise this format from the partner selection of the tag battles in EX3’s Original mode (maybe it exists in other ArcSys fighters that I haven’t played but I can’t be sure.) While the team mechanic reminds me of EX3, the map movement – where you have a limited number of “moves” and shift between connected nodes – feels more like something out of NES curio Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, and I never thought I’d be subconsciously making that comparison when playing a videogame from 2018.
Some nodes have nothing happening on them, others trigger battles against predetermined enemy individuals or teams, and there are allies on the map that you can rescue and recruit. In addition to the map movement, team management and character levelling, you can also obtain “skills” that behave like gems in Street Fighter X Tekken (another comparison I wasn’t expecting to make today) – you can use them raise attack, raise defence, obtain health regen and more. In short, there’s a lot to enjoy in the story mode, and so if you can’t keep up with the online warriors, it’s a nice way of keeping yourself occupied. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of the anime there are enough cutscenes between battles to keep you engaged, and the initial tutorial battles help ease you into the game if you don’t play a lot of fighters.
Dragonball FighterZ – demanding but fun
I know that I covered the general gameplay feel in my beta impressions, but it’s worth reiterating – the actual matches in Dragonball FighterZ feel immediately satisfying and fun in a way that hasn’t been captured since Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. The shared gameplay options available (normal attack chains, Dragon Rush moves that are like Persona’s All-Out Attacks, Ki Blasts that act as ranged projectiles, Vanish teleports that use a meter to escape a combo) mean that even before you’ve explored the unique special moves of a character you can enjoy the abilities that are more common amongst the roster. Maybe you want to rush in with your auto-combo but someone’s keeping you away with Ki Blasts, so you air-dash to close the distance but they activate a super, but you use *your* super meter to vanish… and on it goes. The worst matches are the ones where your opponent just won’t get off you and you’ve wasted all of your meter on escaping combos; the best matches are the ones where you’re both evenly matched, keeping up with the pace and (hopefully) clawing back an overall life lead. Dragonball FighterZ is definitely harder to wrap your head around than Street Fighter because there’s so much going on and lots of gameplay mechanics that are shared between characters, but these systems open up a lot of possibilities for every player.
I can’t promise that there won’t be moments where you find yourself unable to keep up with whatever an opponent’s doing, but there’s a lot of depth to enjoy for those players who want to invest time in learning the systems… at the same time, if you’re not after ranking glory and just want to have fun with friends, it’s definitely a more flashy and dynamic experience than certain other fighting games. Nobody is ever going to criticise a game like this for being “too busy”, and the depth is there for those who want it; the more casual players can still enjoy it at their own pace, and if you hook up with likeminded players you’ll have a lot of fun. The only other hurdle for people getting into matches has been the handful of connectivity issues – it’s nothing dissimilar to the issues seen during the beta, but they don’t happen often enough to ruin the experience for players. My only hope now is that the player base grows and continues to accommodate both the experts and the newer players; confusing lobby maps and online killers aside, Dragonball FighterZ is the most entertaining game out of the “new generation” of fighters that I’ve played, and it would be a shame to see people bounce off it as a result of a shrinking playerbase that only caters for the hardcore elite. And even if I do drop it when 3rd Strike comes back, the fun matches would have made it worthwhile.
Dragonball FighterZ is available now for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.