Furious fists! Flashy finishers! In this review, we catch up with last year’s Switch release of Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ) – and look back to see if it still lives up to the series’ long-running legacy.
Accessible Action, Egregious Explosions
The Dragon Ball franchise is no stranger to fighting games, with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 previously considered the sharpest of them all. However, Dragon Ball videogames have never quite hit the same mark of quality ever since. That changes with DBFZ.
From the onset, it’s clear why Bandai Namco chose to work with the expert fighting game developers at Arc System Works to craft this title. DBFZ’s fighting system is an interesting beast, with unique mechanics that perfectly fit the series’ overpowered warriors. Combos can be dished out seamlessly by stringing the A, B, X, and Y buttons in quick succession – while tapping the R button allows fighters to fly immediately to their opponents and keep the pressure up. Battles can end in a matter of seconds when pros hold the controller, and the bombastic spirit of the anime goes on full display with every match.
A definite plus is that the game has a ‘Simple Controls’ mode. Simple Controls essentially streamline the inputs required for special moves and finishers – while leaving everything else intact. This is a huge boon that helps beginners to grasp the game without burdening them with finicky button inputs. Some elite players may look down on this concession, but it means that gamers of all skill levels can enjoy fighting together. It’s good to see that DBFZ exemplifies this ideal.
Overall, the combat of DBFZ is refined in spades. There is a clear understanding that fighting games shouldn’t be just about burning super bars. Rather, they’re about expertly stringing together combos and countering your opponents’ tactics at the right moment. DBFZ is an absolute joy to master in this respect – which gives it remarkable longevity for a fighting game.
Pure Art In Motion
Arc System Works is back with their trademark art direction in DBFZ, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. On the surface, the game might not look particularly remarkable – especially with the cel-shaded artstyle being a staple in the industry today. However, characters really start to pop once they actually get moving.
Like the more recent Guilty Gear games, DBFZ employs an interesting technique where the animation frames of fighters are staggered, while the game still runs at a silky smooth 60 fps. Essentially, characters move like hand-drawn animations, and it looks breathtaking. The fact that this works without any frame drops or stuttering in handheld mode is especially beautiful to behold.
This is even more evident with the game’s finishers, where the animation frames stagger even further – becoming almost like a moving comic instead. You really have to see it to believe it. Memories of the original Dragon Ball Z definitely resurfaced whenever I bore witness to the artistry on screen.
In addition to its beautiful visuals, the game is also chock-full of tributes directed at die-hard Dragon Ball Z enthusiasts. Nowhere is this more evident than in the game’s Story Mode – where players experience an all-new tale set sometime during the events of Dragon Ball Super. Many fan-favorites such as Frieza and Cell make their return, with faithful nods to the events of the long-running anime.
A key bonus in Story Mode is how different characters converse with each other. Namely, players can swap in-and-out a team of three fighters to tackle the campaign – and certain combinations of characters can trigger special cutscenes where they chit-chat before battle. Some can be drop-dead hilarious, such as the fused saiyan Gotenks wondering whether he should address both Goku and Vegeta as his two dads simultaneously.
That being said, Story Mode can be a bit of a slog to get through. Players have to move through a branching map in order to reach a boss battle every chapter – but most of the time they’ll just be fighting clones of the main cast. It does feel like unnecessary padding after you fight clone Krillin for the 20th time (this isn’t hyperbole), and eventually I just found myself rushing to progress the story. Some have praised Story Mode for being 15 hours long – but a shorter campaign of 4-6 hours could probably have been just as effective, by cutting out all the filler.
Gather some friends and foes…hopefully
As with all fighting games, however, the main focus should always be its capacity for versus play. Generally speaking, it was a blast to run quick family matches – especially since simple controls mode evened out the playing field for my more novice cousins. If you can find a fellow Dragon Ball geek amongst your peers, you’ll be in for an even better time.
Online play is more of a mixed bag these days, sadly. Matchmaking for the game can be a little wonky depending on when you’re active, and sometimes I couldn’t find any opponents at all. There’s also the prevailing issue of active players slowly but surely dropping the game as bigger titles such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dominate the Switch landscape today – and I could feel that as I waited in empty lobbies. Without cross-play with other larger communities (like those playing through Steam), the competitive aspect of the game is simply less valuable overall.
As a disclaimer, this review focused solely on the base game as-is, without all the additional DLC characters that launched later on. However, I am confident in calling DBFZ a veritable feat in fighting game perfection in this state. The game is a masterpiece that has all the right nods to its original source material, features solid combat mechanics, and stands out visually from the rest of its contemporaries. It’s not surprising that DBFZ has such a cult following amongst Dragon Ball fans and tournament organizers nowadays.
Its dwindling online community aside, DBFZ still has a lot of punch left when it comes to couch multiplayer and Story Mode. When it comes to core fighting games on the Nintendo Switch, DBFZ will be a prime candidate for years to come. It’s one thing to satisfactorily capture the essence of the Dragon Ball franchise. It’s another to go even further beyond.
- The combat system keeps players of all skill levels on their toes.
- Highly accessible to newcomers, without actually watering down more technical play.
- The game is an artistic masterpiece on Switch. Hands down.
- Story mode can become a little monotonous sometimes, as it’s often padded with mostly soulless clones.
- Online play is getting increasingly silent, with bigger fighting games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate siphoning away all but the most devoted of fans.
VERDICT: This soup is fiery HOT! Existing fans will love what it has to offer. Meanwhile, newcomers will find an eye-opening gateway into the world of fighting games.
Soup Temperature: 8/10
A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.