To say that there have been a few Dragon Ball fighting games over the years might qualify as the understatement of the decade. To date, nearly 150 titles in the franchise have come out. With so many releases, it’s probably inevitable that the quality level will vary widely.
When it comes out in early 2018, Dragon Ball Fighter Z should land either at the top of the heap or somewhere near it. Microsoft announced the game at its E3 2017 press conference. The reveal video was impressive enough—it looked as good as an episode of the anime if not better. Not only that, playing the game revealed developer Arc System Works’ astonishing achievement: Thanks to its smooth flow and beautiful, highly cinematic style, it felt like you were right there in the anime.
Dragon Ball Z fans should have their collective minds blown when they play this game. Dragon Ball Fighter Z reintroduces 3v3 fighting and 2.5D, with stunning animated sequences and camera shifts for special moves and combos. This is a dramatic shift away from DBZ games of recent vintage, which sought to recreate the major battles of the anime rather than give players the chance to really fight.
Even though they didn’t make it a bundle of recreations tied together with interactive bits, Dragon Ball Fighter Z’s creators definitely went the extra mile to make the game feel like an actual Dragon Ball Z episode. They imbue the characters and settings with the anime series’ signature bold colors. On top of that, they intentionally roughened up the frame-by-frame animation for the big special moves and close-ups. Known as “double-framing,” animators do this to give sequences a feeling of motion and speed.
The game’s developers got this brilliant idea from watching recent Dragon Ball Z animated movies. They studied how the feature films’ animators framed the characters and cranked up the tension during battle sequences. This resulted in a game that made players feel like they were actually watching an episode of the long-running series.
Arc System Works took cues from their own past achievements as well. This team elevated the 2.5D game engine and style to unsurpassed heights with the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear games. DBFZ shows them taking what they’ve learned and pumping it up even further. It’s also pretty clear that Arc System Works is taking aim at e-sports and Marvel vs. Capcom players.
Game producer Tomomi Hiroki admitted as much in a recent Twitch Livestream: “We took really good elements in the e-sports space—2D fighting games obviously are huge elements of e-sports—and Dragon Ball, which is, of course, a really great platform, I think, for which 2D fighting game tournaments can be held on.”
Dragon Ball Fighter Z can seem challenging at first, but it’s surprisingly easy to play. The demo presented at E3 2017 let players choose up to three characters out of six (the finished game is expected to have much more):
- Goku, the rough-and-rowdy main hero of Dragon Ball Z. He may have been sent to Earth in order to destroy it, but he grew up to become its most valiant protector.
- Gohan, the son of Goku. He shows up in the game looking like he did in his super-whiny childhood days. But of course, you shouldn’t underestimate his fighting ability—not for nothing did he earn his reputation as one of the finest Z Fighters.
- Freeza, Dragon Ball Z’s first big-time baddie (reportedly based on what Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama considered the absolute scum of the earth: real estate speculators!).
- Majin Buu, who appears in his original pure form. He’s pink and acts like a child, but he’ll literally chew you up and spit you out.
- Perfect Cell, the android from the future whom Dr. Gero designed to be the perfect fighting machine.
- Vegeta, the fierce fighter and arrogant prince of the Saiyan race.
Each character has a similar set of moves: Some special attacks that you could use to form combos, a couple super-special moves and one ultra-super attack that drains some of a character’s energy and leads to a cutscene.
You can combine forces with your teammates to dish out pulverizing combos to your opponents. You can also have your team fight one at a time. Arc System Works added a nice bit of extra drama to swapping out your enemies: When you defeat one of them, there’s a short pause and BAM! Another one comes flying at you.
DBFZ holds on to some familiar Dragon Ball Z game features. These include the ability to power up from zero to seven when you’re standing still. You use up one or more meter levels to perform special moves or attacks.
In short, DBFZ should give Dragon Ball Z fans, fighting game aficionados and newbies all they could want. It looks great, it’s easy to pick up and it’s hard to put down. It’ll come out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One early next year.