The Dragon Ball franchise has no short supply of video game adaptations throughout its life, but Arc System Works has created something truly special with Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Though There were few doubts concerning Arc System Works' Dragon Ball adaptation given their fighting game track record, the developers managed to exceed some already lofty expectations that are nonnegotiable whenever the Dragon Ball name is on the table. Dragon Ball FighterZ presents players with everything they'd hope to find in a fighting game – furious combos, character mastery, and the chance to trounce others in ranked matches being just some of these features – but it's got an understanding and appreciation of what makes the Dragon Ball anime so wonderful that elevates it above other attempts.
Before you even get a chance to enter World Tournament Arena, or Namek, or whatever fighting grounds you choose, the first thing that'll strike players is just how gorgeous this game is. The opening animation will catch your eyes and ears at the beginning, and it's a 100 percent accurate look at what you'll find in each fight. Iconic characters like Goku, Yamcha, Frieza, and Cell come alive with their facial expressions and mannerisms that'll draw you even more towards your favorites. The booming of two Super Dashes colliding or a Kamehameha cancelling out another energy attack make playing Dragon Ball FighterZ feel like you're watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super with a controller in-hand.
That's really where much of the success of Dragon Ball FighterZ comes from: Arc System Works simply gets the anime in a way that few others have. The attention to detail in Dragon Ball FighterZ is immaculate, and it shows a clear appreciation for the staple anime. Characters make their go-to references like Goku talking about being hungry while its usually the least of his world-saving worries, and Frieza retains his cocky, cackling laugh that's so much fun to hear each time he's picked. A Ki blast will be rocketed to the backdrop behind the fighters if deflected properly, much like they're knocked aside in the anime, and the transitions between the three-fighter teams feel exactly as they should when a new fighter issues a challenge to avenge their fallen teammate. One of the most satisfying anime homages is the cutscenes that occur if certain fighter conditions are met, such as Teen Gohan finishing off Cell with a Father-Son Kamehameha animation to lead to what's called a "Dramatic Finish." It's a touch that seems like it'd be a given for the memorable clashes between rivals, but it being there is just yet another way that Arc System Works carefully handled the reputation of Dragon Ball.
But despite being a faithful take on the anime, Dragon Ball FighterZ also manages to rope newcomers in with accessible gameplay and easy-to-learn, hard-to-master combos. Each character has a combo tutorial to explain their nuances and differing tactics, and while fighting game veterans will breeze through these and move straight to PvP, the tutorial is patient with newbies. Simple combos such as a chain of light attacks are all it takes to send opponents flying, but the way you finish these with Super and Meteor attacks and diversify tactics to throw off opponents is where the skill expression comes in that makes the high-level matches so impressive to watch via the in-game replay feature.
A downside of this accessibility is that it does lend its way to the possibility of button-mashing in hopes of putting on pressure or getting yourself out of a dreaded corner, but even then, there are ample tools to come out on top. Blocking appropriately is obviously your primary defensive tool, but vanish attacks, deflects that give some breathing room, and timing character swaps correctly allow for ample counterattack techniques to turn the tide of a fight. Gameplay videos prior to the game's release showed top-level fighters establishing (some may call it abusing) almost guaranteed combos while using the same attack or two over and over, but that's hardly a fighting game problem that's limited to Dragon Ball FighterZ and is something that'll be more or less ironed out as players adapt to seeing these trends.
The team makeup of Dragon Ball FighterZ also undoubtedly deserves a spotlight for how well it works and diversifies each fight. If a fighter starts taking too much damage, you can swap them out with another member of your team to let them partially regain their health, a tactic that's essential in winning fights. As an injured character leaves, another soars on-screen to take their place in a fast animation that keeps a steady pace and allows for yet another "I'll save you!" anime moment. An explosive collision centerstage follows the transition if a newcomer came in after a character was fully downed, and the fighters' positions are reset to allow for a breath of fresh air and let you get out of that cursed corner that you were held hostage in. While holding the button for the character swap will change your fighter, simply tapping it allows you to call in a quick assist from a teammate. This adds yet another layer of strategy with each character having a different assist, meaning that who you choose to round out your team is just as important when they're on the field as when they're on the sidelines.
Dragon Ball FighterZ also offers a little something for everyone no matter what you're looking for. The game's story mode which introduces a completely new arc outfitted with the playable Android 21 takes players through a board game-styled adventure where you move about a map, issuing and accepting PvE challenges along the way. The story mode brings back iconic characters new and old such as Android 16, Cell, and Beerus, and if you're looking for a non-PvP experience that lets you live out an anime adventure, it's the perfect place for you. Unfortunately, like the various Dragon Ball series, there are some moments that would usually be referred to as "filler." The story can feel a bit repetitive after a while, but Dragon Ball FighterZ thankfully has ways to spread your attention with features like the Arcade mode and the online arena. You can even return the game's social lobby for a moment to take a break to check out what avatar other players are rocking or open up some loot boxes, which are a blast to open by the way.
At its core, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a game that'll leave anime fans completely satisfied while giving fighting game veterans a challenge to master and transition into a PvP whooping. Accessibility is key here for players who just want their anime fix, and Arc System Works found a way to succeed in this area while still presenting others with a high skill ceiling to explore. Those who wish to climb to the top of the rankings will do so by mastering seamless combos and perfecting their team compositions, and for those who can't or don't want to do so, you can watch others do it through the previously mentioned replay feature and feel like you're still watching the anime that you know and love.
Throughout the Budokais and Xenoverses over the years, Dragon Ball FighterZ stands out as a staple in not just a Dragon Ball fan's collection, but in the game library of any fighting game aficionado as well. Dragon Ball FighterZ confidently presents itself as one of the best fighting games that'll be released this year as perhaps the best adaptation the franchise has ever seen, a co-op couch brawler and online PvP game that players will return to for years.
WWG's Score: 4.5 /5