Dragon Ball FighterZ


PC, PS4, Xbox One

The AI trans­forms from but­ton-shy novice to psy­chic wizard in the blink of an eye

Pub­lisher Bandai Namco En­ter­tain­ment De­vel­oper Arc Sys­tem Works For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

We left our visit to Bandai Namco HQ for E313’ s Dragon Ball FighterZ story with one ques­tion. While Arc Sys­tem Works ap­peared to have suc­cess­fully de­liv­ered a game that would ap­peal to two very dif­fer­ent groups – the genre-novice DBZ fan, and vet­eran fight­ing-game play­ers – how did it in­tend to bridge the gap be­tween the two, help­ing the for­mer on the long, tough road to be­com­ing the lat­ter? The an­swer, sadly, is that it hasn’t. Dragon Ball FighterZ is two games in one. It is two very good games, too. But it’s hard not to see it as a missed op­por­tu­nity, a game that seemed per­fectly placed to solve its genre’s big­gest prob­lem de­clin­ing to even en­gage with it.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is ei­ther a game in which you mer­rily mash but­tons and watch as a suc­ces­sion of bonkers-haired anime war­riors duff each other up on a screen filled with fire­works, or one where you spend hours in train­ing mode, ex­per­i­ment­ing end­lessly with team com­bi­na­tions and combo op­ti­mi­sa­tions. This is par for the course in fight­ing games, cer­tainly. Yet it’s es­pe­cially dis­ap­point­ing given the mass­mar­ket pull of the Dragon Ball li­cence, and that FighterZ’s maker has a rep­u­ta­tion as a fine teacher of fight­ing games.

Arc’s tu­to­ri­als are the stuff of leg­end, not just telling you how to do a move but why it’s worth know­ing, and when you should use it. Amaz­ingly, al­most all of that is gone. FighterZ’s tu­to­rial im­parts only the ba­sics – fair enough, per­haps, given the way the game brings long, flashy com­bos within reach of a novice. But it is al­most en­tirely bereft of con­text.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the Spark­ing Blast. Ac­ti­vated by press­ing two shoul­der but­tons at the same time, it can be used de­fen­sively to push an op­po­nent away from you across the screen. When used on the at­tack, it can ex­tend com­bos, can­celling a move’s an­i­ma­tion and caus­ing your foe to crum­ple to the floor. And it buffs your dam­age and health re­cov­ery, the strength of the ef­fect scal­ing ac­cord­ing to your num­ber of sur­viv­ing team mem­bers. It is an es­sen­tial tool that is ca­pa­ble of turn­ing a match in your favour, or putting one that’s al­ready go­ing your way to bed. How does the tu­to­rial ex­plain this vi­tal move? When at­tack­ing, ap­par­ently, it “tem­po­rar­ily pow­ers up your char­ac­ter.” On de­fence? “Turn the ta­bles with a Spark­ing Blast!”

Those who buy the game be­cause of their love of the source ma­te­rial won’t care, ad­mit­tedly. They cer­tainly won’t need it, since op­po­nents in the Story mode are po­lite, sub­mis­sive sorts, happy to be knocked around so long as you’re hav­ing fun. An­other novel sys­tem is the Ki Charge, which lets a char­ac­ter build up su­per me­ter for free by press­ing two face but­tons. You can be hit out of the lengthy an­i­ma­tion, how­ever, and if you try it on­line you’re ask­ing for trou­ble. In Story mode, though, you’re left to it, the AI only too ea­ger to give you the re­sources you need to fill the screen with a suc­ces­sion of beau­ti­ful cin­e­matic su­per moves. We get most of the way through the first of Story mode’s three arcs be­fore an op­po­nent blocks one of our at­tacks, and by no means does that sig­nal the start of a trend.

Story mode is for watch­ing cutscenes and mind­lessly press­ing but­tons, then. And that’s fine, be­cause Dragon Ball FighterZ rewards mind­lessly press­ing but­tons with joy­ous, dizzy­ing aban­don. Mash out light at­tacks and you’ll per­form a ba­sic combo, in­clud­ing an aerial com­po­nent; do the same with medi­ums and the re­sult­ing string will end in a su­per move. Most char­ac­ters can per­form a fire­ball at­tack with a but­ton press, which can be mashed for a rapid­fire vol­ley. And most share a movelist, with sim­ple, uni­ver­sal com­mands pro­duc­ing char­ac­ter-spe­cific re­sults, en­cour­ag­ing you to move around the cast with­out need­ing to spend too much time learn­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of each one – es­sen­tial in a story mode that throws new char­ac­ters at you at a fair clip. There’s a lev­el­ling sys­tem, with team mem­bers grow­ing in strength and sur­viv­abil­ity the more you use them. But it’s re­ally not needed given the hands-off na­ture of the AI; you’ll soon find your­self ig­nor­ing most of a chap­ter’s map screen, tak­ing the short­est route to the area boss, the gap be­tween your level and your op­po­nent grow­ing but never re­ally seem­ing to mat­ter. It’s abysmal train­ing for the real game, which you’ll dis­cover ei­ther in the up­per dif­fi­culty tiers of Ar­cade mode, where the AI trans­forms from but­ton-shy novice to psy­chic wizard in the blink of an eye, or when you head on­line. Sud­denly FighterZ be­comes a dif­fer­ent game; one of magic, sure, and as­ton­ish­ing beauty, but it’s one that a dozen-plus hours of the Story com­po­nent has done ab­so­lutely noth­ing to pre­pare you for.

It’s also one that’s very hard to fol­low: graph­i­cal splen­dour can be a hin­drance when you’re try­ing to work out which di­rec­tion you need to block in on a screen full of neon plasma and spe­cial ef­fects. And the source ma­te­rial doesn’t help ei­ther: when half the cast are vari­a­tions on the same manga boy with a colour­ful mop of hair, it’s hard to even tell which char­ac­ter’s yours.

At launch, de­spite mul­ti­ple beta tests, we en­counter nu­mer­ous net­work prob­lems, the de­ci­sion to clump play­ers to­gether in 64-player lob­bies mean­ing it feels like a bless­ing to ac­tu­ally get into a match. That will doubt­less set­tle down, both as Bandai Namco tweaks things be­hind the scenes and as hordes of ca­sual play­ers leave with tails be­tween legs when a game whose Story mode made them feel like a god sud­denly re­minds them that they are in fact an ant. The re­sult is a bril­liant fight­ing game for new­com­ers, and a won­der­ful one for genre fans, that some­how still man­ages to feel like a dis­ap­point­ment for so com­pre­hen­sively fail­ing to bring its two de­mo­graph­ics to­gether.

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