This might not be the first attempt at a more “competitively viable” Dragon Ball fighting game, nor is it even Arc System Works’ first time with the license. However, with the way it’s shaping up this is a Dragon Ball game — no, a fighting game — like no other before it.
Fighting game heads will be well aware of Dragon Ball FighterZ devs Arc System Works. As a studio they’re one of the best in the genre, creators of the long established BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series. The animation in FighterZ take a lot of queues from the visual feast that is Guilty Gear Revelator, but it’d be a mistake to compare them too closely.
Mechanically, FighterZ is very much its own thing — offering some of the beautiful depth you’d expect from an Arc System Works game, but with tweaks that make it extremely accessible to fighting game newcomers. For many, this could be the perfect step to move from more casual anime-styled fighters (such as Xenoverse for example, the last Dragon Ball game), into the more technical.
It’s a four button fighter, with the top three face buttons giving you attacks from light to heavy, and the bottom being reserved for energy blasts. There’s not a whole lot of variations in the inputs beyond whether you’re standing and crouching, though there are a few such as forward-mid being an overhead. Energy blasts have some more options, altering the direction of where you shoot.
From light to heavy, each of the basic attack buttons has an auto-combo, which is baked into how the combos have been designed mechanically. It doesn’t feel like this is an over-simplification, as while it does make it easy to tap out some kind of combo, its broadness also makes it easy to begin to experiment and mix them together into your very own throwdown palette. It doesn’t really give anyone the advantage, but it does begin to level out that playing field in terms of understanding how to play.
So too are the special move inputs incredibly simple. All of them are quarter circles — you won’t find any Shoryuken motions here. The energy blast button has its own specials, but for the most part the light-high inputs simply alter the specials rather than give new ones. For instance, the height and strength of a dragon-punch esque kick. The heavy specials result in a super move that use a bar of energy, with more powerful super moves using 3+ bars, inputted by pressing two buttons at once with a quarter circle.
On top of this easy to grasp canvas you have some complexities. The homing button is a huge part of the game, dashing you toward your opponent no matter where you are on the screen, and being functionally similar to Arcana Heart‘s homing move. Light and mid gives you a throw (called “dragon rush”), and mid and high together gives you a teleport attack. The latter is more of a resource, but times when you do use it to dodge a big attack and hit the enemy in the back will feel incredibly hype.
Hitting back to block, and then tapping the energy button lets you deflect, a sort of universal parry move that bats away attempted attacks — whether it’s energy blasts, or even slapping away your opponent’s homing. These do need to be correctly timed. It feels like a heavily offensive game, with the defensive options such as the deflect giving you the option to interrupt and dash in with your own strikes rather than simply turtling.
The 3 vs 3 matches definitely build on some of Arc’s work on Dragon Ball Extreme Butoden, which used assists, but does beg comparisons with Capcom’s Marvel vs Capcom 3. Issues that arose from that system (such as some extreme abuse opportunities when switching characters) have been addressed. When your character is downed the new one comes in with a quick cutscene and a clash. “Snapback” moves are tied entirely to throws here too, so if you grab your opponent, and tap one of the tag buttons, it throws them out and replaces them.
Having three members in your squad gives it a lovely “dream team” feel. And, despite the basic controls for all the characters being the same, they each have their own uses and way they feel — the villains especially. Buu, for example, has a stun move that wraps the enemy in goo, and Frieza has a dirty blast move he uses as he recovers from being downed.
As you’d expect, tapping one of the two tag triggers brings in one of your characters for an assist, or you can hold it to switch — your new character zooming in as a homing attack. They can also be called in just to perform super moves. You can end up with a whole stack of characters on screen at once, laying down the pain in beautiful chaos.
And the game is indeed beautiful. It perfectly resembles the anime, and there’s incredible detail throughout everything, as you would expect from Arc. From little animation flourishes, to direct frame references to the anime and manga, and even background destruction when you deflect energy blasts. It’s more than a re-skin of anything they’ve done before, and feels Dragon Ball from death beam tip to destructo disc toe.
It’s a fast paced fighter that encourages everyone to get stuck into the action — it’s just as relentless as some of the best fight scenes from the anime. Energy bars fill up fast (and there’s even an input to charge it up), and life regens quickly when characters are out of play. This leads to some big hitting attacks, and lighting quick flurries. It’s all about response, response, response — even if that’s trying to power through a series of huge explosions from all of your opponent’s villains. Even for an observer it’s just as fun to watch, and will hopefully lead to some very exciting FGC play.
There’s still a lot more to see — such as the full scope of the game, all of the characters, and the details of how exactly they all differ from one another. This is an excellent taster, and gives us all the confidence that Dragon Ball FighterZ will be a fantastic fighting game bridging the midpoint between casual and technical.